Mike Conklin is one of the L Magazine folks who, this week, will be bringing you the first Northside Festival (think of it as the East Coast answer to SXSW). He's coordinated four days of music in Williamsburg, all of which you can see for just $45 (badges here), though limited tickets are also available (here's a link for tickets to our show with Brooklyn Based). Earlier this week he told us what it's been like to tackle the Northside endeavor, as well as flying water bugs.
How did the idea for the Northside Festival come about? If I remember correctly, one day our Publisher, Scott Stedman, came running over to the corner of the office I share with Editor-in-Chief Jonny Diamond, yelling and screaming about this idea he had for a music festival that would be like a miniature CMJ, but specifically for Williamsburg. We mocked him openly, rolled our eyes, then quietly and begrudgingly acknowledged that, fuck, he actually may have been onto something. And here we are, six months later. He was right, we were wrong. Hopefully he never sees this.
What have you learned from planning this first one? Well, if you were to ask me this question again next Monday, I'm sure I'd have a completely different, much longer answer for you. As of now, I guess I'll just say that next year, it would be great if we didn't have to send the festival guide to the printer on the same day as a regular issue of The L -- especially if that issue happens to be the Summer Music Preview.
What bands are you most looking forward to see? I'm a pretty big Hold Steady nerd, so I'll definitely be at Music Hall for that on Thursday night. Aside from that and maybe Sunset Rubdown, whose new record I’m liking a lot more than anything else I’ve ever heard from the whole Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown/Handsome Furs clan, I’ll probably just be wandering from venue to venue trying to see as many bands as possible while drinking as much free or heavily discounted beer as possible.
What would be your ultimate lineup for a show? John Prine backed by Belle and Sebastian would be nice, wouldn't it? Then maybe Stuart Murdoch backed by John Prine and his band? It would also be nice if the Promise Ring, as they existed in 1998 or so, could be on there too. Is it weird that I still love the Promise Ring? And that I think Nothing Feels Good and Very Emergency are two of the best records of the 90s? I think it might be, but there it is. I also almost cried when I found out that the Van Pelt would be playing another reunion show at Northside, so I’m probably dating myself pretty clearly here.
Are there any local bands (playing the festival or not) that you recommend people listen to? Yeah, I mean, more than I could possibly list, really. I’m definitely excited to see all the bands we featured in our annual “8 NYC Bands You Need to Hear” issue back in April. I haven’t seen Drink Up Buttercup play yet, and I hear great things about their live show. Same for Knight School and Woods, too, though in their case I’m worried that the Pitchfork Best New Music tag might make it hard for even me to get in. Looking forward to Sharon van Etten as well, because her voice is so good I can’t even deal with it. Oh man, and the Drums, too.
What are you currently listening to? I've been on a strange Okkervil River kick lately, but really just a song called "The President's Dead." It came out in the Bush era, and everyone assumed it was going to be some sort of vicious critique of the president. In the song, he’s assassinated, but it’s actually more about the narrator (Will Sheff, presumably) taking stock of his own life as he tries to imagine how, in thirty years, he would answer the question “What were you doing when Bush was killed?” I think Sheff is one of the best lyricists around, and for my money, this song has the best verse he’s ever written.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. I tend to shy away from "only in New York" stories, because I feel like they perpetuate this notion that New York is a scary, weird place, when, for the most part, I don't find that to be particularly true. But one night in my last apartment, as I was talking to my wife with my back to the living room, I saw out of the corner of my eye a bug fly across the room. I assumed it was a moth or a beetle or something, but to my absolute, undying horror, it turned out to be a water bug (which is just code for “an enormous, frightening cockroach”) that, through a serious glitch in evolution, had developed the ability to fly. It landed on our couch, and when I went over to kill it, I realized I didn't want to squish it on the cushion, because couches are expensive and I definitely would have had to dispose of this one immediately. So I think I just kinda waved my hands frantically in its direction. Eventually, it flew over to a wall, at which point I killed it with a copy of Time Out NY. I would have used The L, but it would have been nowhere near big enough. I have not been the same since.
Which New Yorker do you most admire? My wife and my parents have lived here their whole lives, and I’m fond of them. As for non-family members, it’s kind of difficult to do much better than Lou Reed, right? He was in one of my all-time favorite bands, and he’s stuck it out here forever, living the kind of life most of us just aren’t talented or smart enough to have for ourselves. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are headed down that path as well, and they didn’t release The Raven, so I’ll go with them. Or maybe Lady Gaga.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? Air-conditioned subway platforms would please me to no end. As would cabins, front porches and mountains. Those wouldn’t have to be air-conditioned, but I wouldn’t complain if they were.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? Eh, under all circumstances, to an extent, but not seriously under any. This is an easy place to secretly be a coward who loves routine and is scared to death of change—no one judges the guy who doesn’t leave New York City, because they’re too busy judging all the people who never came here in the first place.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? Two, actually. On Mother’s Day of 2008, I was at Book Court in Carroll Gardens, when I noticed a baby in a stroller, whom I immediately recognized as Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger’s daughter, Matilda. It’s strange to recognize a baby even before you recognize the very famous former star of the WB’s Dawson’s Creek pushing her around, but the kid looked so much like Heath Ledger it was crazy. I’m not sure the second one technically qualifies as a celebrity sighting, but Leanne Marshall, who won the last season of Project Runway must have a studio right near my office because I see her all the time. I try to seem disinterested, but I fear that she’s on to me.
Best cheap eat in the city. Whenever I read any of those “BEST CHEAP EATS!” issues of local magazines, I always find myself thinking that none of them seem all that cheap. For real cheap eats, I prefer peanut butter and jelly on rye toast. In any city.
Best venue to hear music. I know it doesn’t have the best sound in the city, but I really love going to shows at Union Pool. Probably because of the empty fountain outside, which makes me feel like I’m in the movie Singles.