When Lollapalooza was introduced in the early 1990s, it was reportedly Perry Farrell’s attempt at bringing the eclectic nature of a European music festival to the States. Two and a half decades later, music-based festivals have become a norm of sorts in this region, many of such also including food, tech and film tie-ins. The Brooklyn-based Northside Festival, which is currently in its eighth year, launches Jun. 7.
Running through Jun. 12, the week-long Northside Festival will bring an estimated 100,000 attendees. Among the 400-plus participating artists will be Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson, country-pop hero Kacey Musgraves, Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst, and hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash. Partners of the festival helping to curate programming include AdHoc, Bloomsbury Publishing, Hive Mind PR, Pitchfork, Noisey, and Wharf Cat Records. Ultimately, Northside will benefit the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, a non-profit dedicated to building a stronger North Brooklyn by improving parks and playgrounds.
Dana Keith, the Northside Festival’s Director, spoke to Downtown about the festival — which will be streaming through Kiswe — and so much more. Dana took over as Director in 2014, also working with the festival’s parent company Northside Media Group as Director of Business Development. A Williamsburg resident that attended college in Burlington, Dana came across as both down-to-earth and intriguing.
Where did the idea for the Northside Festival come from?
Dana Keith: We were looking at how successful SXSW was and also noticing how many people down there are coming from our backyard. It spurred the question: Why doesn’t New York have its own discovery festival when so much of the talent and the attendees are right here? And that’s when Northside was born!
How does this year’s festival compare to the event when it started eight years ago?
DK: Northside started out as a four-day festival, with a few hundred bands — music only! And we held our festival headquarters in the back of a vacant shop on North 6th Street! Now Northside is a week-long music, innovation and content festival with two conferences at six stages, a 100+ exhibitor innovation and tech expo, multiple outdoor music stages, over 30 indoor music clubs with 400+ bands playing.
We close off Bedford Avenue for two days, we’ve brought huge talent in — Brian Wilson playing Pet Sounds, Conor Oberst and Kacey Musgraves co-bill, Wolf Parade and Grandmaster Flash both playing free shows. In a nutshell, the scope of the festival has continued to grow to showcase what’s next in music, innovation and content.
Around how many people are on your team? Or at least any idea how many people it takes to make a festival like this happen?
DK: Our full-time staff is about 25 and we have hundreds of volunteers and project-based employees who really help make the magic happen. The staff is so crucial and we’re lucky to work with many people year in and year out!
I’m assuming it’s too late now for someone to apply to volunteer this year, but for someone interested for next year, what’s the best way to submit to be a volunteer?
DK: Not too late! Email info@northsidemediagroup — and thank you!
At what point did you realize that Brooklyn was “the” place for a lot of people, and not just a place outside of Manhattan?
DK: Our founders Danny and Scott Stedman — who are brothers — had the prescience to recognize that 14 years when they launched The L Magazine!
Are there any restaurants that are partnered with the Northside Festival? Or if not, any local restaurants you can recommend?
DK: Yes, we are partnering with a number of great local restaurants: Barcade, The Gibson, The Gutter, Huckleberry Bar, Broadway Stages, Daddy’s, Beer Street, Rocka Rolla, Skinny Dennis, Lucy Dog, George & Jack’s…
Is Brian Wilson the biggest performer you’ve had headline at the festival?
DK: Yes! We’re all so personally thrilled by Brian Wilson playing Pet Sounds — and the influence that album in particular has had on many contemporary artists who will also be playing the festival, it’s such a synergistic and exciting performance for Northside.
Are there any plans for the Northside Festival to release a DVD or some sort of compilation of performances?
DK: We do have a live-streaming partner for music this year: Kiswe! For now, that’s the best way to watch performances of the festival.
Once this year’s festival has wrapped, what’s ahead for you on the work end?
DK: I also handle business development for our other media like Brooklyn Magazine and BAMbill and events — SummerScreen, our outdoor film and music series in McCarren Park, kicks of in July, and then Taste Talks in Brooklyn in September, then Chicago in October and we’re launching L.A. in November!
When you’re not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
DK: Well, I’m running the Brooklyn Half Marathon this Saturday, so that’ll be an adventure. Our staff likes to try and do it together every year! I’m happy trying new restaurants in the city, reading new fiction, and making my own essential oil blends — hippie alert!.
Finally, Dana, any last words for the kids?
DK: Don’t sleep on Northside! In a time when so many of the festivals — Governors Ball, Panorama, Coachella — are being consumed by large corporations — AEG, Live Nation, you know the drill — Northside really is a last holdout in independent booking, and we’re so proud to give artists, entrepreneurs and innovators a stage who might not have a voice elsewhere.
This is a chance for you, the listeners, learners, startups, music lovers to show that you want that!