The 2017 outdoor music season is now in full force, and with it brings new festivals for jazz and live music fans. A highlight of this season’s schedule is the Village at Vanderelli Festival, being held on Saturday, June 10th from noon to midnight at The Vanderelli Room in Franklinton. There is a full and diverse slate of live music scheduled, along with art, activities for kids, and even a bit of live theater. Musician and promoter Gerard Cox, whose extensive contributions to live music in Columbus include the annual Whatyouwill improvised music festival (more on that below) was kind enough to answer my questions to provide more information about this exciting new event. Keep reading to learn more, including the full music schedule:
What inspired or led you to create Village @ Vanderelli? What is the concept or idea behind it?
Gerard Cox (GC): Well I think jazz and really ANY kind of instrumental music at this point has been marginalized and put at a remove in two ways– either it’s background music that’s taken for granted (in a loud bar or piped over speakers in a store, or on a commercial), or it’s this “cultural experience” in a glass box, along the same lines of going to the opera or visiting the museum. I guess after it being dismissed out-of-hand for so long one should be thankful that jazz is now accepted as a serious art form by cultural institutions and played in concert halls- but the unintended result I believe (along with demise of nightclubs) is that it’s been merged into the “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you” wing of culture. Institutions and concert halls have their role to play but grassroots scenes and activity is ultimately where the “battle” will be won, that being to try and make instrumental music relevant to the larger culture again.
In the programming that I do I am trying to do my small part to present instrumental music in settings that are informal, inclusive, and where the content itself is varied enough that it doesn’t simply become another self-perpetuating “scene”. This is also serving as a kind of punctuation or splash event for the ongoing series that I’ve been doing there– Second Saturdays with Sonikora, where we have been having bills every month with 2-3 bands and collaborations with artists working in different mediums, with the Rhodes-bass-drums trio Sonikora as the regular feature. It’s been a really nice casual hang on Saturday afternoons– some heavy music has gone down but the feeling in the air has been light and open. That’s what we’ve been going for from the outset. We are hoping Village might become a new tradition or even something that happens a few times a year. There’s obviously a lot of buzz Franklinton right now but live music isn’t something that’s been all that prominent in that, with the exception of what’s going on at Rehab Tavern. My feeling is that if you’re going to have great abstract art and people are being drawn down there from some interest in urban discovery, then you need some proper jazz and improvised music happening. It just makes too much sense; jazz has always been able to evoke the texture of a city.
What else can we expect besides a lot of live music?
GC: Village is a music showcase but it’s not any kind of formal listening event where people need to sit like statues or where coming and going is frowned upon. Also while music is the feature it’s far from the only reason to come out. The following for the music series there, and really for The Vanderelli Room in general– are just really sincere down-to-earth people that are easy to be around. There’s no scenester weirdness or any one specific demographic that’s cornered the venue (hence- Village…), and I think a lot of people who haven’t been down there would find that in itself refreshing. The gallery will also have a really outstanding exhibit up at the time (“Idyll: Visual Poems of Her, Colored” by David Michael Butler and we hope that people will wander through and take that in. We’re also going to have community art tables thanks to a generous donation from Blick Art, where people can make their own artwork or go through a guided activity. The plan is to have all of the pre-sunset music outdoors and have it be an outdoor fest with a few indoor things happening, but we’ve set it up so that it can all go indoors if it’s just too hot out or there’s a threat of inclement weather. We have a food truck lined up (Campston Cuisine, with Po’ Boys and Gumbo) and the event is meant to be completely family-friendly. Kids can use the art tables and there will be a few games and activities for them as well. There will be one actual visual art “set” during the day too. The Art Wrestling League Challenge is this fun, over-the-top kinda art theater where artists are given 20 minutes to produce a work around a theme, and the audience decides through applause which one they prefer. Artists trash talk each other and threaten mock violence as well; it’s a gas.
What do you think makes The Vanderelli Room and surrounding grounds a great space for a festival?
GC: The Vanderelli Room is the first consistent venue I’ve been able to work with in a long time where I feel like I can actually do some things and try to build a little momentum. I’ve been in the desert for longer than I would care to have been, doing things with venues by committee here and there but with very little consistency or regularity. The lack of a partner venue just makes it really difficult (and expensive.) AJ Vanderelli has been welcoming and supportive from the outset and has given me the latitude to try and develop and grow things. The gallery itself I think is one of the most relaxed listening rooms in town, and having a large outdoor stage is a real bonus. Moreover I just think AJ has put out an honest welcome mat to the larger community from the beginning, and the proof is there. You’ll see all kinds of people using and visiting the gallery, but it’s not anything that’s been contrived or schemed for. It’s just people responding to the salt-of-the-earth vibes that she puts out there. I’m proud to work with someone like that. She’s not a big talker that deals in buzzwords or flatters herself about her own idealism – she just leads humbly and plainly by example.
What will the music be like?
GC: This is more eclectic than what I usually do– this is not an “avant-garde jazz” fest and there’s plenty of tonal and groove-orented music on the slate. l think the commonality between all of the groups– even with some of the further-out stuff, is that they are art-oriented but they want to play to the room and relate something to whomever is there at the time. I wasn’t going for a heavy intentful listening-vibe with this event, although obviously I have nothing against that. I was thinking more along the lines of a summer fest vibe with bands and artists who can play non-cliche music that families and everyday people will dig. Plus it’s meant to be a celebration so it should probably act like one. What are we celebrating? Life, art, community, friendship– pretty much anything that’s worth celebrating any old time. I personally think of it as a way to celebrate and announce the Vanderelli Room as a viable, worthwhile music venue. AJ has indicated to me that she’d like to have more live music at the space and I think that’s in the cards.
Any particular highlights worth noting?
GC: I’m really excited to have Al Son Del Iya on board; this is the Latin Jazz/Salsa band that drummer Justin Campbell often plays with. They have a really nice compact and punchy sound and you know, I think Latin jazz is just severely underrated in general; I think it strikes a perfect balance between being complex and being fun and accessible. Also Alex Burgoyne has been doing lots of great stuff lately and his new band, Favorite Daughter, will be playing. One of the best additions to the program was a late one. It turns out AJ Vanderelli and James Gaiters are good friends and colleagues; they both work with students of varying abilities, including students with autism. So James offered to bring his band Watu Utungo, which is a pretty hot groove band that does some cool revamped covers and really gets inside of rhythms. They have a nice populist bent but are able to pull that off without watering down the content or dealing in cliches, which is not an easy thing to do.
The second weekend of June is usually when you hold the Whatyouwill Festival. What are your plans for that festival in 2017?
GC: So Village at Vanderelli actually has its practical origin in the abandoned ship of Whatyouwill in June 2017. Whatyouwill is still very much alive but this year we found that many people who have been involved in the past simply couldn’t make the date. Because of popular festivals here (Comfest etc.), moving the festival forward a weekend or two wasn’t really an option. Dale (Whatyouwill host) and I have actually tossed around the idea of moving Whatyouwill to the fall here and there, mainly because the weather in June anymore can just be so dicey. We’ve lucked out a few years, but there have been just as many years where it was either just too muggy and sweaty or there was this threat of intense thunderstorms. Unlike the Village fest, we don’t really have an indoor space that can fully accommodate a large crowd if you have to take cover. So we’re going to try having it in the fall, at least for this year- see how that works. It’s scheduled for September 24th and 25th, which according to Farmer’s Almanac is like this total sweet spot weather-wise here in Central Ohio. Daytime highs in the mid-70s, clear, but nighttime lows are still in high 50s so the camping isn’t too chilly. We look forward to having more artists be available, and also to be able to have college students actually attend for once (as performers and audience members…)
What is the best way to get to Village at Vanderelli?
GC: Great question as there will be a lot of street closures around Franklinton due to the Columbus Arts Festival. The Main and Rich Street bridges are both blocked off, but E. Broad Street is still open, so use Broad Street, then turn onto McDowell (close to Spaghetti Warehouse) and just drive through the neighborhoods. The Vanderelli Room is at 218 E.McDowell.