Last year Aaron Friedman took Fête de la Musique and moved it across the Atlantic, calling it Make Music New York. Tomorrow is the 2nd annual event, and thousands upon thousands musicians will take the stage around the city; venues will be on the streets, in bodegas, and other nooks around New York (Governors Island will become "Punk Island" for the day!). Earlier this week we asked Friedman about the huge task of planning such an event.
How did the idea for Make Music NY come about? Make Music NY is based on a long-standing French holiday called the "Fête de la Musique," where millions of people come out to play music on sidewalks and streets every June 21st. It's a little like Halloween -- people spontaneously come outside and do their own thing.
In France, it's huge -- 11% of French people perform or sing in public on June 21st, according to the polls. In recent years, the event has spread to Berlin, Barcelona, Sydney... and now, New York.
How long has it been going on for? Make Music New York began last year, but it's been going on in France since 1982.
How many people worked on the city wide event this year? There are four of us in the office: me, two interns, and an assistant I hired last month to help with permit issues. From the beginning, virtually everyone who has worked on this project has been a volunteer.
Is there a particular musician or band you'd like to see involved in the future? If we could find a way to move a grand piano out into the streets, I'd love to see Chick Corea perform.
How long does it take to book/organize? I spent most of 2006 just working to secure the political support to take over so many streets, sidewalks, and parks for music.
But the actual booking takes place during a two-month period, through our "matchmaking website" via Time Out NY. On one side, musicians describe their music, link to their websites, and explain any technical requirements. On the other side, stores, restaurants, bars, and gardens list the outdoor space they will make available, and what kind of music they want. Then people can find each other through the website -- or just sign up to perform in front of their own location.
How do you go about working with the city to get everything approved? We work with seven different city agencies, plus 52 individual police precincts throughout NYC, starting six months in advance. It's a very long, complicated process.
What venue or storefront or nook in New York haven't you accessed yet that you would like to? We almost got to use Pier 36 this year, a hidden 1/4 mile pier along the East River that recently opened to the public. It's completely out of the way, so we were hoping to have a loud Make Music New York dance party there until the early morning. Unfortunately, the permit didn't come through in time. Next year, if we can get it, that's going to be an incredible spot.
Can you share a good story from a past Make Music NY? At last year's MMNY, around 9pm, it really started pouring, thunder and lightening everywhere. "Lost Locker Combo" on Bedford Avenue just kept playing, and the crowd stuck around. Someone put it up on YouTube and you can see a guy, dressed as a female cheerleader, dancing in the rain with a bunch of skateborders. New York is awesome.
Has anyone complained about a MMNY event in the past? We got a few complaints last year, mostly from people who had no idea what was going on when their neighborhood was suddenly invaded by musicians. We try to get the word out, but there are always people who will be taken by surprise.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? I wish the streets were quieter -- fewer car alarms, horn honking, screeching subways, and construction noise. Other big cities really aren't as bad. But most New Yorkers don't realize that there's an alternative to this kind of sonic aggravation.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? I used to run a campaign to ban car alarms in NYC. I was just so fed up with the aggravating street noise outside my apartment, and I thought seriously about moving to Vermont to escape. But I'm still here.
What's your current soundtrack to the city? This week: Bjork, Henri Salvador, and Steve Reich.
Best venue to see music in NYC? On the streets, of course!