‘I AM’ OPEN YOUR EARS AT
NEW LONDON MUSIC FESTIVAL ROLLS OUT THE NON-CLASSIC ROCK
TThe idea that just because summer is in the rearview mirror, there will be no more outdoor musical fun in the region is just not true. And in New London, it hasn’t been the case since 2006. On Sept. 13, the third annual I AM Festival— which is short for Independent Arts and Music— takes place as always in the city’s Waterfront Park on the Thames River. An instantly popular event bringing together cutting edge and up-andcoming musical artists of all genres, as well as various artistic workshops, activities and interactive events, I AM draws a multigenerational crowd from across New England and NewYork that joins happily with the locals.
Plus, there’s that wonderful meteorological segue in the air— from suntan lotion and warm, saltwater breezes to those teasing autumnal scents of woodsmoke and turning leaves in the brisk air. Not a bad setting for a day of fun.
This year’s festival stars headliners MarthaWainwright (folk-pop), Oakley Hall (alt-country), Kidz in the Hall (hiphop) and Jay Reatard (punk)— along with an amazing array of local and regional talent.
“Diversity has always been the priority,” says Sean Murray, who books many of the I AM artists for the New London Music Festival outfit that puts on the event. He points out that where many music festivals reach to older artists from the past to attract crowds, the goal at I AM is to attract attendees with acts on their way up. “That’s the challenge: to study individual artists and see where their careers are heading.”
The first I AM festival, featuring indie rock heroes Girl Talk, Rainer Maria and the Rye Coalition, stunned happy locals when the trains unloaded music fans from all over and parking lots were full of cars with out-of-state plates.
But event organizers were confident the festival would be a success from the word go.
“We fully expected that, with the right budget, we would be able to attract national acts, who in turn would attract fans from out of town to visit our city,” says Rich Martin, who operates the New London Music Festival. “New London has always been a music town. That it hasn’t been recognized by any national authority as a musical mecca is perhaps only because of our relatively small footprint and budget. But I think, nationally, there is a growing awareness of what we’re doing, and the I AM Festival is becoming the focal point.”
Murray adds, “We’ve learned that this is an important event to the city’s arts scene as well as Connecticut’s music scene in general. We try to invite some of the most active players in the state to come and promote what they do here. Connecticut record labels, nonprofit organizations, promotion companies and venue representatives— all rubbing elbows and networking with each other. Meanwhile, you’ve got a huge crowd just enjoying the event. It’s really a great thing to see.”
While music is certainly a huge draw, Martin says this year the efforts to focus on other artistic disciplines will be bigger than ever. “We’re definitely going to branch out,” he says, describing plans to include an ongoing silk-screen printing demonstration, a virtual art gallery with projections of the works of local artists, a workshop on how to build a guitar, and poetry readings.
“We want this to be a great festival for all the obvious reasons,” Martin says. “But also just because New London is a great arts city— and more and more people are realizing that.”
TOP, WATERFRONT PARK IS ALIVE WITH MUSIC AND MUSIC FANS DURING THE DAYLONG I AM FESTIVAL; ABOVE, SHAWN CUNNINGHAM OF NEW LONDON GIVES HIS DAUGHTER RAVEN, 4, A LIFT DURING THE 2007 EVENT. PHOTOS TIM COOK / THE DAY.