by Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy on Sep 12, 2019
Credit: BK Americana
The fifth Annual Brooklyn Americana Music Festival returns to Brooklyn Bridge Park with its Liberty View Stage on Pier 6, Saturday and Sunday, September 21 & 22, 2019. In celebration of the wide-range of female talent in Americana music today, this year’s Liberty View Stage features an all-female lineup of performers who span a range of genres including — traditional and modern Country, Folk, Blues, Old Time, Bluegrass, and Jazz. The event is free and open to the public. Learn more about Brooklyn Americana in our interview with Founder Jan Bell below.
What is the Brooklyn Americana Music Festival?
BKAMF is fifty live music concerts over four days — free music for the whole family. Thanks to the support of the Conservancy and Brooklyn Arts Council, the 5th annual festival takes place on September 19 – 22, with a “Women’s Stage” in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Well-loved and pioneering waterfront establishments showcase live music. Brooklyn’s best Americana artists will share the stage with bands from Austin, New Orleans, Nashville, Seattle, and as far away as Dublin, Ireland.
What has been most meaningful to you about your experience in the park? What have you enjoyed most?
I am excited to return to Pier 6 this year. The gently sloping Liberty View Lawn allows families to kick off their shoes, dance with their kids, and lay out a picnic blanket. It is such a majestic and humble place to gather together. You can relax and take in wide array of acts in Americana music — including the fiddle, banjo, three part harmony, and accordion. I love watching the boats, small and large, go by ‘backstage’ while the bands play. It’s an absolutely magical experience. I’ve also enjoyed watching younger emerging artists take off in their careers through this festival. Our community has grown and thrived as folks rub shoulders for the first time, then meet on tour around the country and abroad.
What lead you to create Brooklyn Americana?
I’ve produced live music at the D.U.M.B.O. Art Under the Bridge Festival at several locations since 2000. Later known as the DUMBO Arts Festival, it folded in 2014. I’ve lived and worked in Dumbo for twenty years and there was a strong appetite to keep the live music going. I managed to get a telephone call with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, as he was urging festival organizers to consider keeping the music alive. He was so positive and encouraging. His thumbs up spurred me to go for it. I researched how I could make it a reality by raising funds and applying for grants. At the time, we were witnessing an accelerated rate of gentrification in Dumbo, which had forced many visual artists to leave. Thankfully, many musicians held out. We don’t need light and space, or peace and quiet the way visual artists do. We can hole up in a basement studio late-night and make magic, while splitting the rent several ways.
What is special about Brooklyn Americana?
The Brooklyn Americana Music festival is rooted in community. When I first moved to Dumbo in 1998, Superfine had taken over the kitchen at Between the Bridges, Iron Worker’s Bar. They had a line out the door in a fairly derelict neighborhood, and asked me to help them put on live music. The bar was tiny, but the chef Laura had a 1964 Ford Pick Up truck that we turned into a stage out front. I started with tribute shows to country classics like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and Johnny cash — musicians the iron workers and artists might appreciate. The Federation of Black Cowboys of America would come down to these shows on horseback and give us rides. It felt like outlaw territory!
We also did late night firehouse shows on York Street. The month after September 11th, we did a benefit for Henry Street Fire House. They lost eight men in 9/11, both fathers and grandfathers. We raised the roof with all the firemen who came down. It was a night I will never forget. We followed up with a toy drive for all the kids who lost their fathers. These examples show what Brooklyn Americana Music Festival is about. We celebrate community — knowing, caring, and giving freely to your neighbor in need. Other than the opening night, the festival is entirely free of charge.
What motivated you to partner with the Conservancy?
I remember when the docks off Furman Street were all abandoned. When I was at Superfine, we would host events honoring the people at the forefront of this movement — turning the abandoned docklands into a park. Part of the vision was to create a cultural landscape, as well as a green one. This sparked me to approach the Conservancy with the idea to present live music. They already worked hard to produce outdoor movies at Empire-Fulton Ferry Landing. Today, they are producing hundreds of free events for the whole family throughout the park.
What do you do when you’re not in the park?
I sing and play with my band The Maybelles, both original songs and some rare gems from classic country and folk heroes like Loretta Lynn, Hazel and Alice, and Jean Ritchie. I work as a live sound engineer and book Brooklyn’s longest running bluegrass brunch at Superfine every Sunday. I also moonlight as a bartender, presenting live music every Saturday night at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo for the past 14 years. Superfine and 68 are both artist owned-and-operated and long-time friends and neighbors. I’m also the live music booker at Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, and sometimes teach songwriting at the Jalopy Theatre and School of Music. I was born in Yorkshire, England. My last album is dedicated to my grandad ‘Dream of the Miner’s Child’.