Independent musicians who aren’t lucky enough to be affiliated with a major record company have a tough row to hoe. Unless they’re lucky enough to have a booking agent and manager, they have to do everything themselves: mailing lists, posters to announce upcoming gigs, calling fickle club owners and festival bookers, and of course, driving themselves to the gig.
The people who organize the annual Black Potatoe Festival, held on the grounds of the Red Mill Museum, off Route 78 in Clinton, recognize these basic yet vital realities independent musicians face, and in 2004 expanded the roster of artists that they present at the festival. Once again this year, music will be presented on two stages on Thursday and Friday nights, July 7 and 8, and all day and evening on Saturday and Sunday, July 9 and 10.
The festival presents a wide array of genres: blues, bluegrass, contemporary and traditional singer-songwriters, and even some ethnic music. Performers this year include blues-rock singer and guitarist Carolyn Wonderland from Austin, Texas; singer-songwriter Patrick Fitzsimmons; bluesy and Americana singer-songwriter Tom Gillam; Clinton native Gregg Cagno; Billy Hector’s Acoustic Armada, and bluegrassers the Beth Coleman Band, among many others.
Co-producer Jack Deveaney of Annandale is a former WNTI-FM deejay, and he works closely with guitarist, singer-songwriter, and music impresario Matt Angus, who is based in Clinton, to produce the annual Black Potatoe Festival, so named for Dan Quayle’s famous gaff. "I’m excited we’re having keyboardist Kevin Hearne, from the Barenaked Ladies, and his new band, Thin Buckle, who are flying in from Toronto for our festival," says Deveaney, adding that the festival organizers, a committee of five volunteers, are hosting blues singer Shemekia Copeland and her band on Friday night, July 8. Copeland is the young daughter of Texas-raised guitarist, singer and songwriter Johnny Copeland, who died several years ago after complications from heart surgery.
‘Another performer we’re excited about hosting is Ellis Paul," Deveaney says. "And this year on Sunday, for the first time, we’re doing an all-acoustic folk music day." Deveaney says he does not anticipate this will cause problems for the performers’ being heard, as the audience that comes to Black Potatoe is primarily there to listen. Deveaney says that this year festival organizers made 1,000 copies of a CD compilation of 21 of the 39 artists who have performed in past years, which will be handed out free. "We thought that would be a great way to promote the musicians as well as the festival."
Deveaney says that the bulk of the musicians this year are from the northeast, but some are also coming from as far away as Reno, Nevada; Austin, Texas; and Toronto. The festival’s booking board received double the amount of submissions from musicians this year than last year. "We partnered with a company called Sonic Bids, which has a member database of about 10,000 independent artists and groups, and people just applied online from all over the place." Deveaney says partnering with Sonic Bids, was essential because his small staff had become inundated with press kits and found they couldn’t keep up. Now they can cut down on the volume of paper in the office and take advantage of the electronic press kits Sonic Bids offers.
The Black Potatoe Festival started in July, 1997, as a CD release party for the Matt Angus Thing. Since then, it has grown to include nationally-known musicians like Levon Helm, former drummer for the Band; David Johansen; Hubert Sumlin; Voorhees-based Hammond B-3 blues organist Jimmy McGriff; and Springfield-based drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, a veteran of thousands of studio sessions and widely regarded as the most recorded drummer in the world. Co-producer Matt Angus, who blends blues, pioneer rock, and Americana music in the course of his own shows, will headline Saturday night’s bill with a two-hour set that will include members of the Harlem Gospel Choir, and others.
No festival is complete without food and beverage vendors, which this year will include plenty of vegetarian options in addition to catering provided by Ol’ West Barbecue, the Grist Mill Cafe, and other Hunterdon County-based restaurants. All food and beverges at the festival is reasonably priced, Deveaney says.
According to Deveaney, while it is possible that, in the coming years, this annual festival, always held the weekend after the 4th of July, could outgrow the scenic grounds of the Red Mill Museum on the upper end of the Raritan River, it’s not likely to happen any time soon. "We see it as a steady growth and a healthy growth, and we never want to grow it too much, too fast, too soon," he says.
Black Potatoe Festival, Thursday and Friday, July 7 and 8, performances start at 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, July 9 and 10, performances start at noon. Red Mill Museum, Clinton.
Performers include Kathy Phillips, Ellis Paul, the Matt Angus Thing, Shemekia Copeland, 90 Proof, Kevin Hearne and Thin Buckle, Carolyn Wonderland, Tom Gillam, Miche’ Fambro, Jen Elliott and Bluestruck, Julie Crochetiere, Warrior Poets, the Beth Coleman Band, Pat Guadagno, Patrick Fitzsimmons, Ina May Wool, Gordon Vincent, Gregg Cagno, and others. $20 in advance, $25 at gate. 908-735-6429. For the full lineup visit www.blackpotatoe.com.