COLUMN FIFTY-SIX, FEBRUARY 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)
MUSIC AND POETRY FESTIVAL
McDonald is a writer based in Louisville, Kentucky who traveled to New York for
the festival. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
weekend of November 10-12, seventeen venues in the East Village hosted a
celebration that aspires to yearly
reprise. The First Annual New York City Underground Music and Poetry Festival featured dozens of musicians, songwriters and poets
from all over the country and the world.
The festival was the brainchild of producer Nora Edison and poet/songwriter
Casey Cyr, both all too aware of
the ungodly number of dollars---and connections--needed for an artist to
get his/her work out and noticed by the public.
Summer, Edison attended a very reputable (and expensive) music festival out
West, and recalled that it had once
been free of charge, had once served first and foremost to support its
she demanded of Cyr, "isn't there something like this in New York?"
agreed it was an idea whose time had come. "If you want
to get your video on MTV, you practically have to sell out a football
stadium four times over."
unknown artists are busy. "They're producing amazing work, and somebody has
got to give them a nod."
envisaged a free festival which would showcase some of the best unrecognized and
non-mainstream talent New York has to offer, and would foster the
principles of community support and
began an endless cycle of phone calls, emails, meetings, brochure designs,
blood, sweat and caffeine-induced
insomnia. After several weeks, the organizers developed a website
named a board of directors and articulated their mission:
focused , 3-day festival showcasing artists in the traditions of music and
spoken word who bring their creative
talents to New York City, the worldwide Mecca of art, and the thriving community
of night clubs that provide these
artists with a place to perform.
recruited as honorary chairman musician/composer David Amram, a man equally at
home conducting the New York
Philharmonic or recording with Barenaked Ladies. Amram’s
seventieth birthday was November 12, coincident with a concert at The
Knitting Factory that evening. The
concert, "Keeping The Flame Alive," went on well past 3 a.m., and
brought together an eclectic
spectrum of poets, musicians and writers from every living generation, each of
them looking to the past in order
to invent the future.
was a contemporary of The Beat Generation, a group, which, he said, tried
to combine a classical European method with a reverential hands-on approach to
spontaneous New World styles of
improvisation; something very hard to categorize. A lot of the subjects we're
celebrating now came from a community over 40 years ago of painters, poets and
artists who would support one another---kind
of our own 12-step program. The only thing we had in common was that we were so
different from one other.
and Cyr were never concerned about a lack of talent. New York probably has the
densest population of musicians, poets and artists anywhere on the planet. But
with the encouragement of Amram, they soon realized that the Underground, that
ethereal dwelling place of purity and brutal
honesty, extended far beyond NYC. Amram spoke about the City’s first
Jack Kerouac and I gave the first-ever jazz poetry reading in New York City at
the Brata Art Gallery in November of 1957, we were rejoicing in the spirit of
being inclusive, rather than exclusive, in the company of painters poets composers musicians actors dancers and
assorted dreamers who wanted to share their gifts
this mandate, brochures were sent out all over the country, submissions
considered, and talent booked from
places as near as Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and from as
far away as Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, California, Canada,
Britain, and Belgium.
and producing any event without corporate sponsorship can be daunting---as the
Pearl Jam/Ticketmaster debacle attests. Nevertheless, an impressive
roster was assembled that included Lee Ranaldo, Amiri Baraka, Rocker T, Ron Whitehead,
Tuli Kupferberg, George Dickerson,
Jack Newfield, The David Amram Trio, Ugly BoyFriend, Suicide King, Frank Messina
and Octopoet, Church of Betty, Chaotic Past, Olivia Cornell, Genesis P-Orridge,
John S. Hall, Al Aronowitz, Bob Holman, Hersch Silverman, and John Tytell, among
the venues donated their space, among them, The C Note, The Nuyorican Poets Café,
The Pink Pony, Tribes Gallery, The Living Room, Sidewalk Cafe, and The
Luna Lounge. Most events were free,
and others very inexpensive ($5 for the Saturday evening event at the
Nuyorican, $10 after 10 p.m.). Most of the artists mentioned above
featured there, and the evening
included a tribute to poet Gregory Corso which was filmed for a documentary.
many of the events occurred simultaneously, a visitor could begin Saturday
afternoon hearing Amiri Baraka at the Tribes Gallery, catch Ugly Boyfriend in
the early evening at The Living
Room, move to The Pink Pony to The Glue Puppets and poet Bob Holman, and finish
off at The Nuyorican with jazz,
world music, and spoken word. Originally conceived as a beatnik
rock 'n' roll party, the festival grew enormously, prompting Holman to
call it, "a giant squid whose
tentacles [were] out, erect and hongry."
and Cyr hope the festival will become an annual event, and would like to see
other cities around the world take
the initiative to produce similar festivals of their own. Amram
commended the event for its spirit of egalitarianism and wholesomeness.
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