In preparation for this weekend’s Emerging Music Festival, Downtown sat down with Dan Fishman, the producer and booker for the festival.
Where are you from, if outside NY why did you choose NY?
Dan Fishman: I grew up in Connecticut – in New York’s long shadow. As a kid, I used to visit NYC with my family and it always seemed like a place where extraordinary things happen. Plus, I love arts and parks and this city has some of the best of both.
How long have you been producing and why this particular festival?
DF: I’ve been at Bryant Park helping to produce cultural events for over three years now. Emerging Music Festival is just one of the over 40 free performing arts events we put on at the park every summer as part of Bryant Park Presents. Our sister company 34th Street Partnership also puts on dozens of concerts every year – and I help with those, too. In total, it’s around 100 free public cultural events every summer.
You are so young, how did you get into music and then producing?
DF: I became interested in music relatively late actually: I didn’t listen to music regularly until college. Somehow early my sophomore year something clicked and I started listening to at least one new album of music every day. Then it became two or three. At some point, I realized that I should do something more than just listen, so I started writing about music for the school paper. Then I became music editor of the paper – and I was hooked.
I produced events while I was in school – poetry readings, a film festival, some larger literary events. It was fun: I never thought I could do it for a living. At some point, I realized that it could be more than just fun, too.
How did the festival come about and why?
DF: Our events team at the park wanted to showcase local bands and to do something larger and more informal than we usually do. We decided that it should be celebration of music and culture from New York City, so we brought in local food vendors and beer and limited ourselves to only booking young NYC-based acts. Then we added dozens of picnic blankets and giant lawn games and hula hoops. It became something completely unexpected for the middle of Midtown. People loved it.
How did you go about choosing the artists for this festival?
DF: I look at a dozen or so small venues in NYC and see who they’ve booked in the past year and listen to recordings of as many of those artists as I can. Then, I look at blogs – and ask musicians for recommendations. From all of that, I try to make a list of 25 or so favorites and to see those artists perform live if I can: or at least to see video recordings of their live performances. From there, I try to make as diverse a lineup of artists as possible.
What do you look for in emerging artists? Anyone in particular you’re excited to see this year?
DF: I look for one specific thing that makes their sound unlike what I’ve heard before: even if it’s just a voice or a way of using an instrument. I like the element of surprise.
How many artists for this festival are NY centric and does this matter since it’s a NY festival?
DF: They’re all in or around NY. I like the idea of celebrating some of the great young musicians that are here: there’s so much talent. It gives New Yorkers a chance to hear musicians who might live in their neighborhood. Plus, I think the bands like the opportunity to play a big free concert outdoors in the middle of their city – and to bring their friends and fans.
There seems to be many music festivals in NYC for the summer months, how did this trend start and how does one decide which one to go to?
DF: I’m not sure I know how it started. I do know, though, that there is something special about outdoor music in green spaces s urrounded by skyscrapers. I’m a big fan of many of the free music series in parks, including SummerStage and Lincoln Center Out of Doors. My recommendation is to pick a day that works for you, a venue you trust, and a kind of music you’ve never heard before.
NYC, as much as we complain, the weather is usually good with the exception of three hard months, will there be other seasons where we will see outside music festivals?
DF: At Bryant Park we program large outdoor cultural events starting in late April and go until the end of September. There’s so much going on in NYC during the peak summer months, it only makes sense to expand the calendar. People still want to be outside listening to music.
What makes this festival stand out?
DF: The audience experience. It’s as accessible and as permeable as a festival can be. It’s completely free. There are no lines or tickets at all: you just walk right in. Any mode of public transportation can get you here. We hand out picnic blankets if you didn’t bring one. There’s food and beer if you want it. You can stand close to the stage and have that experience. You can learn how to juggle or play giant Jenga or just relax on the Lawn.
Our hope is to create a venue where people feel comfortable. And once they’ve arrived, we hope they experience something new.
Who chooses the food and beverage supplier?
There you have it, ladies and gents. According to Fishman, the audience experience is what makes this festival stand out. And why deny yourself this experience? Grab a jacket, an umbrella, and head on out. All performances are free.
Photos courtesy of Bryant Park