Preview: Jamaica Plain Music Festival

By Valerie Linson

Scott Thompson says that about once a month he’s sure to hear, “Hey, I saw you at the JP Music Fest,” while riding to work on the Orange Line.

“I guess that makes me a minor local celebrity,” says Thompson, guitarist for the band Tallahassee. And he had better get used to the attention as Tallahassee will be back at the Jamaica Plain Music Festival this year.

The JP Music Fest popped up last year after a few plugged-in residents of this musically rich Boston neighborhood decided it was time to show off the talent making its home in Jamaica Plain.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the inaugural JP Music Fest, and organizers are expecting even more this year when the event returns to Pinebank baseball field on September 8th . To perform, a band must have at least one member who works or lives in Jamaica Plain. And bands must play original music in their sets. The festival runs noon to 7 p.m. and involves 25 performances, culled from 150 applications.

“The festival is eclectic enough that you end up meeting people you’ve maybe heard about but never met,” says Lenny Lashley, another returning performer. “We’re all traveling the same circles, playing the different clubs and different bills. This is throwing it all together.”

This year’s mash-up includes the rustic rock of Tallahassee and Lashley’s Gang of One; Mariachi Mexamerica; Irish singer Eamonn Bonner; members of the Jamaica Plain Symphony Orchestra and the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra; and esteemed songwriter Dennis Brennan.

Musician Rick Berlin and Midway Café owner Shamus Moynihan triggered the fest after a chance meeting in a laundromat where they posed the musical question: “Why isn’t there a music festival showcasing JP artists?”

They pulled together a committee with community members who had expertise in navigating city permitting, marketing, setting up a sustainable not-for-profit business
model, and handling technical logistics, (not to mention possessing a general enthusiasm for making the festival a success). Even the bands play for free.

Through local sponsorships, fundraising concerts and events, and online Kickstarter campaigns, the JP Music Fest has gathered enough dough to set up twin stages, so as one band plays, another gets ready to.

“Everyone plays from five–25 minutes, so it’s not a lot of songs,” says Berlin, who will be performing with the Nickel and Dime Band. “But if you don’t like something, it changes pretty quickly.”

And if you do like something, Tres Gatos, a JP eatery and music store, will have a mobile record store on hand selling CDs by the day’s performers.

Learning from experience, the JP music crew this year changed the orientation of the stages so sound doesn’t carry too far out of the fest grounds (while still taking advantage of what Berlin calls a “Lord of the Rings setting” on Jamaica Pond). They have also enlisted four food trucks as opposed to last years one.

Moynihan books eight shows a week into the Midway, but says setting up the fest is a whole other kind of project.

“At the club, you expect an off night. But there are seven nights of music,” he says. “With the festival, there’s one shot to get it right.”

For a sampling of the “right” music you’ll hear at the JP Music Fest, simply click the link for a digital mix tape of this year’s performers:

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