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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the July 7, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Black Potatoes on the Raritan

While the annual Black Potatoe Festival has grown a lot in the last five years, the event hasn’t outgrown its lovely setting, and that’s a good thing. The festival, which showcases the music of New Jersey-based and other quality independent musicians with national profiles, like Levon Helm and the Barnburners, is held on the grounds of the Red Mill Museum, a short way off Route 78 in Clinton.

It’s a beautiful festival site, with the Raritan River nearby, the old grist mill on the site, and plenty of shade trees. Jack Devaney and Matt Angus co-founded the festival eight years ago to showcase Angus’s band, the Matt Angus Thing, as well as other independent musicians.

“We’re trying to position the festival as an alternative for New Jerseyans who are passionate about independent and roots music,” Devaney says, but adds that “we’ve got some talented pop and rock bands on the bill as well.”

Devaney, a former radio DJ at WNTI-FM in Hackettstown and at Emerson College’s radio station in Boston, has a background that includes working for Delsner/Slater Enterprises, the former New York-based concert promoters.

It’s called the Black Potatoe Music Festival because Devaney’s partner, Matt Angus, founded his own label, Black Potatoe Records, to showcase the music of his own band as well as other talented independent artists from the Garden State. The name Black Potatoe comes from Dan Quayle’s famous faux pas. Back in 1988 Matt thought, “‘If you can be vice president of the U.S. and spell potato wrong, you can do anything,’” Devaney explains.

The lineup for this weekend’s Black Potatoe Music Festival in Clinton includes performances from New Jersey-based singer-songwriters Kathy Phillips and Gregg Cagno and their bands on Friday evening, Levon Helm and the Barnburners with harmonica player Little Sammy Davis on Saturday, when the sacred steel players the Campbell Brothers will also perform, and music from the Vivino Brothers, Jimmy and Jerry, on Sunday. Other performers include Springfield-based drummer Bernard Purdie and Vorhees-based Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy McGriff on Sunday.

Since it began as an outdoor CD release party for Matt Angus’s “Thing” (on the grounds of the Red Mill Museum) in 1997, the festival has evolved into something much bigger, and while the number of patrons has grown, there is plenty of room for them on the museum’s grounds. In the last eight years, the Black Potatoe Festival has presented Helm, the legendary drummer from The Band, and his Barnburners, Andy Summers of the Police, Buckwheat Zydeco, Jorma Kaukonen, Dickey Betts and Great Southern, and a variety of New Jersey-based musicians and groups, including the Holy Goats, Matt Witte’s New Blood Revival and Laurie and Gregg Cagno.

Devaney and Angus are especially excited to be presenting Springfield-based drummer Purdie, a veteran of thousands of studio recording sessions, organist McGriff, and Sunday’s show by the Vivino Brothers, their first show together in New Jersey in more than a decade. Purdie will perform with bassist Jerry Jemott, also a veteran of thousands of recording sessions. A complete schedule is available on the website, www.blackpotatoe.com.

“Bringing the Vivino Brothers back to New Jersey to perform together for the first time in 10 years is exciting,” says Devaney, who adds that “as promoters, our philosophy is that there is plenty of good music out there, other than what MTV, VH-1, commercial radio stations, and Rolling Stone magazine are telling us about.”

— Richard J. Skelly

Black Potatoe Festival Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, July 9, 10, and 11; 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday, noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Artists include Levon Helm and the Barnburners, featuring Little Sammy Davis, the Vivino Brothers, Jimmy McGriff, the Campbell Brothers, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Jerry Jemott, The Matt Angus Thing, Kathy Phillips, John Ginty, Christine Martucci Band. $20 to $60 in advance. Visit www.blackpotatoe.com or call 908-735-6429


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