The Hoboken Art and Music Festival, held twice a year, has served up a mix of music over its 18 years, from homegrown local bands like The Fuzzy Lemons to classic rock stars like Joan Jett. The bands are designed to appeal to a range of tastes – and getting the most popular acts is sometimes a matter of luck and modern trends.
“As time goes on, all of a sudden different acts become oldies,” said Hoboken Cultural Affairs Director Geri Fallo, who coordinates the festival. She also said that increasing costs and bands’ schedules are a factor in who headlines.
Fallo said when the festival started out 18 years ago, the organizers would book acts like the Duprees and the Drifters. As time progressed, they moved on to ’60s acts like The Turtles. But they were also able to get more modern acts like Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Fountains of Wayne, and the Smithereens.
“Patti Smith is still relevant,” said Fallo. Smith, who was drawn to perform in Hoboken by the heartfelt invitation that Fallo sent her, has performed at the festival three times.
“She has just been wonderful,” noted Fallo.
“You just never know whoever is going to come out of woodwork.” – Gerri Fallo
“Sometimes you are in the right place and the right time,” said Fallo. “Sometimes we don’t just luck out…[the band] is not in the neighborhood.”
She gave the example of former headliner Leon Russell, who happened to be in the neighborhood two years ago around the time of the festival. Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year and has played with a number of stars including Elton John, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, and Bob Dylan. He is best known for his hit singles “A Song For You” and “Tightrope.” Fallo said that Russell’s agent called and said ‘We just need something to finish up the weekend.” Another group, the New York Dolls, was also in the area and added the Art and Music Festival to its tour.
“You just never know whoever is going to come out of woodwork.”
“Sometimes popular bands with star-power are outside of the cultural affairs budget,” said Fallo. “A lot of those acts, the classic rock acts, they are just more expensive.”
She noted that the costs to put the festival together have gone up over the years from the price of staging to the sound system to the toilets. The city keeps the festival free and uses revenue generated from vendor fees and sponsorships to help sustain the work of the cultural affairs department, which also gets grants.
Upcoming fall festival
This year, thousands of visitors, artists, residents, and musicians will gather on Washington Street from Seventh Street to Observer Highway on Sunday, Sept. 30 for the event. (A date on an early city mailer listing summer events was incorrect). The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, rain or shine.
Every year the event features hundreds of artists, sculptors, photographers, and craftspeople, as well as rides, games, face painting, local businesses, food vendors, and more. The event attracts between 30,000 to 50,000 people.
Throughout the years, the mission of the Art and Music Festival has remained the same.
“We certainly want to highlight Washington Street and get people coming in to town,” said Fallo, who has organized the event since it began. “I think it wonderful for people to see and get exposed to the art that is out there.”
On the main stage
Among this year’s acts will be the Sensational Soul Cruisers and Hello Radio. Over the years, headliners have included indie rock groups such as the Fleshtones and the Doughboys, and local favorites like Swingadelic and the Fave.
“If you mix up the music, you can try to appeal to different peoples’ tastes and reach different demographics,” said Fallo.
This past spring, the event featured three stages of live bands, including The One & Nines, The Front Bottoms, Demolition String Band, and the dB’s, which were fresh off a 25-year recording hiatus.
Last year’s bands included the Romance Commandos, Specktrum, The Benson Ridge Project, Erin Lee and the Up Past Bedtime Band, Big Jeff and the Bouncy People, and LiL Monstaz.
The stage has also drawn Latin jazz musicians such as Frankie Morales, who used to be the lead singer with Tito Puente's Orchestra.
Featuring local and state talent
“We’ve always had local bands,” said Fallo.
The spring festival last year brought in Dave Lambert, who is the vocalist and lead guitarist of The Fuzzy Lemons, an old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll band. He also plays the harmonica and mandolin.
When asked why his band decided to take part in the festival, Lambert said, “How could we not?”
He added, “Hoboken is our hometown, our turf, our stomping ground, our alma mater. We first did it three years ago in 2008; the first summer after the band was formed. We haven’t been able to do it again until now, and we’re thrilled to be back.”
Many bands return to play the festival a second or third time. Last year the band Skanatra returned to the festival after having performed at some of the first few festivals in the 1990s. The group played a variation of Frank Sinatra’s music with a bit of a “ska” style. Sinatra was born in Hoboken and is one of the city’s famous sons.
BuzzUniverse from Elizabeth also performed in the festival and had just released a new album. The group had returned for the third time.
The cultural affairs office asks people in the music industry for suggestions, in addition to reaching out directly to agents to see if bands are in the area during the time of the festival. Other times, agents approach the cultural affairs office to tell them that one group or another seeks to round out their schedule in the area.
Fallo does not poll residents for band suggestions, but said that the practice of polling residents with the free summer movies has been successful and she may just try it with the festival in the future.
“It might be a great idea with the festival,” she said. “It would be interesting to hear what people have to say.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.