Aside from raising awareness to help keep the Raritan River watershed clean, this year’s recently resurrected Raritan River Festival also delivers good music from artists deserving a wider audience of musically and socially conscious people, says organizer Sam Missimer of New Brunswick. The festival this year also offers several ways to contribute to relief efforts for the thousands of people, including musicians, who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Missimer brought the nationally touring roots-rock group NRBQ to the festival last year, a major booking coup for the non-profit environmental festival. This year Missimer has arranged for two national acts to perform, the Sun Ra Arkestra, under the direction of Marshall Allen, and the Jim Weider Band. Weider, based in New York state, was the guitarist for the Band for 15 years, after co-founder Robbie Robertson left the group for southern California. Missimer did an admirable job of promoting and booking last year’s festival, held in Boyd Park off Route 18 in New Brunswick. This year, because of construction on Route 18, the festival, which takes place on Saturday, September 24 has been moved across the river to Johnson Park in Piscataway, an equally appealing site.
Missimer, who works for Venezia and Associates, an architectural firm in New Brunswick, has again focused his artistic efforts on ensuring that the free festival has plenty of cross-cultural and cross-generational appeal. "You look at the outdoor festivals around here that are of the same size, and you’ll notice they recycle the acts," Missimer says. His philosophy is "that people need music, and at the same time, musicians need access to wider audiences."
"Look around central New Jersey," he argues. "There is a lot of really great talent. But the venues are vanishing. For families in particular, to take their kids out and expose them to some good live music, is getting expensive."
Aside from guitarist Weider’s new instrumental jazz band and Sun Ra Arkestra, a large, blues and soul-based traditional jazz band under the direction of Philadelphia-based saxophonist Marshall Allen, the other performers are based in the Garden State. Spiraling is a rock band led by Tom Brislin, a brilliant young composer and keyboardist based in Bound Brook. Brislin, of Dunellen, has quickly developed a following for his pop-rock band throughout New Jersey, and he has spent time on the road touring with Yes and Meatloaf.
Folk singer Spook Handy will perform, as will a small showcase of up and coming singer-songwriters from the area, a concept organized by Bob Yahn, the artistic director for the Mine Street Coffee House in New Brunswick. Swampadelica is a blues and roots-rock group from northwestern New Jersey led by the keyboard player of From Good Homes, a group that gained a national following in the mid-1990s. Swampadelica recently recorded an album at Princeton native Trey Anastasio’s studio in Vermont. Anastasio is known to thousands of fans worldwide for his work with the jam band Phish. Natural Breakdown is a progressive bluegrass band, Missimer says, while Wild Blue Gypsy play "Hendrix-like blues-rock."
Aside from the music, reasonably priced good food will be served by New Brunswick-based restaurants and the festival will again have its beer garden, where non-alcoholic drinks will also be offered.
"The biggest problem we had this year was losing our traditional home in Boyd Park, which New Brunswick people can walk to," Missimer says, "but the city and the county have been incredibly supportive in allowing us to use Johnson Park." Once the Route 18 construction is finished, Boyd Park will have a proper ampitheater.
Solar power will be a big theme at this year’s Raritan River Festival, as consumers in New Jersey face ever-higher electric utility bills from an extremely hot summer and will surely face much higher gas and heating oil bills this winter. "We want to show people how they can look at lowering their dependency on power from `the grid,’ and show practical alternatives to lowering your electric bill by using solar power," Missimer says. In keeping with the theme, part of the main stage will be solar powered this year, he adds.
The signature event of the festival, he argues, always has been the cardboard canoe race, and this year is no exception.
In light of recent catastrophic events in New Orleans, a city that has played a central role in the development of America’s indigenous musical forms – blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll – Red Cross volunteerswill take donations from festivalgoers as they park their cars. A Raritan River Festival commemorative tee shirt will also raise funds for two important charities to help the people and city of New Orleans rebuild. Both charities, the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic and the Zulu Pleasure and Aid Society, are reputable organizations that are much smaller and more agile than the American Red Cross, Missimer says.
"Let’s not be passing blame any more," Missimer says. "Let’s figure out some concrete steps we can take to help these people."
26th Annual Raritan River Festival, Saturday, September 24, noon to 7 p.m., Johnson Park, Piscataway. Performers include Sun Ra Arkestra, Swampadelica, Jim Weider Band, Spiraling, Wild Blue Gypsy, Natural Breakdown, Spook Handy. Free. 732-249-6242, ext. 303, www.raritanriverfest.com.
Maurer Productions, Kelsey Theater, West Windsor, 609-882-2292. "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16, noon to 6 p.m. by appointment. Seeking a multi-cultural cast of actors , 18 or older, with the ability to act, sing, dance, and have fun. Production is in January. Visit www.charliebrownonstage.com for audition package.
Passage Theater, Mill Hill Playhouse, Trenton, 609-392-0766. Seeking a young male actor, ages 10 to 14 for the role of Scott in the musical "Move It and It’s Yours." Rehearsals begin in October in New York. Production opens October 27. Auditions in Trenton on Sunday, September 25. Prepare an upbeat song and a joke or story to tell. Call for appointment.
Villagers Theater, 415 Demott Lane, Somerset, www.villagerstheatre.com. "The Day They Shot John Lennon" by James McLure to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his assassination in December. Actors should be ages 16 to 70. Bring a headshot and resume. Readings will be from script. Monday and Wednesday, October 3 and 5, 7 p.m. Also seeking actors ages 10 to 45 for December production of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Kathryn Schultz Miller. Saturday, October 8, 2 to 4 p.m., and Sunday, October 9, 7 to 10 p.m.
Roxey Ballet, Lambertville, 609-397-7616, www.roxeyballet.com. Open auditions for "The Nutcracker" on Saturday, September 17. Audition fee, $25; participation fee, $100. Girls 11 and up should bring pointe shoes. Parent meeting at 5:15 p.m. Ages four and up.
Pennington Dance, 131 Burd Street, Pennington, 609-737-7596, www.penningtondance.com. Sunday workshops on Sundays in Hip-Hop, October 30; African dance, November 6; and Broadway repertoire, November 13.
Rutgers University, College Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-932-1458, ext. 2294. Non-credit writing working in creative non-fiction and memoir on Wednesday evenings, September 28 to November 16. $350.
Villagers Theater, www.villagerstheatre.com. Accepting original unpublished plays for the 2006 New Playwrights Series to be presented as staged readings in February. Comedies, dramas, farces, one-acts, and shorter scripts will be considered. No musicals. Sent to Catherine Rowe Pherson, Villagers Theater, Box 6175 DeMott Lane, Somerset 08875. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope.
Princeton Area Community Foundation seeks nominations for the Bud Vivian Community Service Award presented to an individual who has helped promote change and opportunity in Princeton by identifying a community a need, fashioning a plan, drawing others into the process, and persisting until solutions were found. Mail to PACF, 15 Princess Road, Lawrenceville 08648 by October 15. Visit www.pacf.org or call 609-219-1800.
Princeton University Center for Human Values seeks applications from scholars and teachers interested in devoting a year in residence at Princeton writing about ethics and human values. Applicants typically have a postgraduate degree and receive stipends. Sent to Rockefeller Fellowships, University Center for Human Values, 5 Ivy Lane, Princeton University, Princeton 08544 by Tuesday, November 1.
Mercer County Literacy Volunteers seek donation of a large television set, a DVD player, two umbrella stands, a wall coat rack, standard door and door installation, counter for kitchen sink, a step stool, garbage pails, and plastic mats to go under desk chairs. Contact June Vogel at 609-587-6027.
M.C.F.O.O.D.S. seeks canned and non-perishable food items, and personal products for Hurricane Katrina victims. Call Jennifer Apostol at 609-409-5033. Items may be dropped off at libraries in Plainsboro, North and South Brunswick, and Monroe.
HomeFront seeks formal dresses in all sizes, especially sizes 14 to 24. More than 60 formerly homeless single parents who have met their goals in HomeFront programs will be honored at a formal event in November. Visit www.homefrontnj.org or call 609-989-9417.
West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South seeks clothing, shoes, purses, linens, towels, and stuffed animals to benefit Post Prom 2006. Drop off Saturday, October 8, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Penn-Lyle Road, West Windsor. Call 609-716-1940 for information.