Given that it’s an independent music festival with a growing reputation, after 16 years, Charlotte Kendrick looks forward to the annual Black Potatoe Festival every July. The festival has been blessed through the years by nearly rain-free weekends, held as it is in mid-July on the grounds of the Red Mill Museum in Clinton, just off Route 78. The Skillman-based singer-songwriter-guitarist has performed at two previous Black Potatoe gatherings. The festival, which begins Thursday night, July 11, typically draws a crowd of up to 1,000 people on Saturday and Sunday.
“We met Matt Angus maybe seven years ago, and I performed there in 2011 and in 2009,” Kendrick says. She and her husband, producer Dan Rowe, will perform on the River Stage at the Black Potatoe Festival on Friday, July 12, at 6 p.m.
Kendrick, raised in Pound Ridge and Bedford, New York, began playing guitar as a teenager. Kendrick’s father sang in college and worked in finance in New York City while her mother was a housewife. After college, she served two years in the Peace Corps in West Africa. When she returned she got a job bartending and began playing the open mike nights at lower Manhattan’s Sidewalk Cafe. She released “I Get Stupid,” her debut album in 2003, produced by her husband, Rowe, who works by day in finance at William Sword and Co. in Princeton. Her other releases include “North of New York,” and “Live at the Roger Smith.”
A stay-at-home mom for now, Kendrick has three young kids, 10 months, 2 and 5 years old.
“It’s been really difficult, almost impossible to get out and perform,” she says. “It’s been difficult to write as much as I want to, so we’ve been doing private parties and house concerts and stuff I don’t have to promote all that much.”
She met Rowe at the Sidewalk Cafe’s open mike night.
“He produced my first album and it was a really great fit and we’ve been playing music together ever since,” she explains of her 2003 debut, “I Get Stupid.”
“Growing up, I loved the Indigo Girls and Bonnie Raitt and Sarah McLaughlin. I took piano lessons, but when I was away at camp there was this girl at camp who played guitar beautifully. I was maybe 12 at the time. I found I took to the guitar better than piano. I didn’t really start writing my own songs until later, after I got out of the Peace Corps.”
Asked what she finds appealing about being a singer-songwriter, Kendrick says it’s the chance to express herself and tell stories about her own experiences and the experiences of close friends.
“I like the structure of songwriting, I love it as a vehicle to say what you want. I can work with verse and chorus and bridge and there’s structure involved,” she explains, but adds she tends to shy away from political songs.
“Most of my songwriting is personal and they say you need to write about what you know, so I keep it pretty simple and honest and straight forward.”
Kendrick is as enthused about the lineup of other musicians playing at Black Potatoe as she is about performing there herself. The lineup includes some incredible talents: Hackensack’s multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Linda Sharar on Friday evening; Jimmy Vivino and the Barnburners headlining on Friday night; Pat O’ Shea and the Honest Men on Saturday afternoon, along with West Coast singer-songwriter Willy Porter.
Festival organizer Matt Angus and his band, the Matt Angus Thing, always close the show on Saturday night, but he’s quick to invite other performers up to sit in with his band, making the closing set a grand finale of sorts.
Up-and-coming Manhattan-based singer-songwriter Chris Bergson and his band, who, like Vivino, have played at many of the late Levon Helm’s Rambles in Woodstock, N.Y., will perform on Sunday afternoon. Bergson mixes up styles including blues, jazz, Americana and roots-rock in his sets, accompanied by a terrific horn section.
While some of the other names on the bill at Black Potatoe may not exactly be familiar to fans of contemporary folk, Americana or blues music, that’s the point of the Black Potatoe Festival in the first place; to focus on independent and largely unsigned performers and groups. Organizer Matt Angus and his volunteer committee have a knack for spotting talent; it seems very few patrons go away from the festival without being moved or uplifted by some artist or group that they had never heard of before.
Kendrick’s husband Rowe will accompany her on bass and harmony vocals on the River Stage Friday evening. Her sound has been described as Americana-folk-rock reminiscent of Patti Griffith and Lucy Kaplansky.
Kendrick didn’t know what to say in describing her sound, except, “it’s all of those things and more. Some people compare me to Suzanne Vega, but I don’t really see that. I know we love Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, we love their sound, but I don’t think we sound all that much like them.”
Charlotte Kendrick, River Stage, Black Potatoe Music Festival, Red Mill Museum Grounds, Clinton. Friday, July 12, 6 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, July 11 through 14. Admission: $20 for Thursday and Friday, various packages available for Saturday and Sunday. 908-391-0769. www.blackpotatoe.com. www.charlottekendrick.com.