Stephen Dima produces the Seaport Music Festival at the South Street Seaport
How did you start Seaport Music?
I was originally involved with the concerts at the World Trade Center, which was presented by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. After September 11th, the River to River Festival was formed as a way of rebuilding through the arts and bringing people back downtown. I moved over to the South Street Seaport which is one of the presenting partners of River to River and together with the events director Matthew Albanese created Seaport Music. I really felt like the Seaport was this "undiscovered" venue in a way. At least in the perception that most people had at the time. Our goal has always been to create a one-of-a-kind place to hear live music, particularly new bands, outdoors and for free.
We love “introducing” bands and help them increase their fan base. Many times Seaport Music has been home to a band’s first major outdoor show in New York City. We've been graced with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Polyphonic Spree, Damien Rice, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Ted Leo, Nelly McKay, Joanna Newsom among others – all of whom have achieved much deserved success and subsequently played established NYC music festivals and clubs.
What do you do when you're not working on the festival?
Work on the the following summer!
Actually, I have my own company, Dima Productions, and in addition to working with the Seaport and River to River, I produce the annual Target Children’s Day and Fireworks at South Street Seaport (which is June 10th incidentally), handle production for the New York Comedy Festival in November and shows for radio companies like Emmis Communications, among other projects.
I also co-host a Friday afternoon radio show, with my dear friend Delphine Blue, on eastvillageradio.com. We feature many of the bands booked for Seaport Music and those that we wish we could book if we had deeper pockets!
Tell us about this year's line-up.
We're very excited about this year. Tonight is the River to River Launch show with Super Furry Animals. Dead Meadow is supporting along with a DJ set with Dominic Thomas from Finders Keepers records in the U.K. All starts at 6pm!
Hot Chip, Josh Ritter, Juana Molina, Nicolai Dunger, Sugar Hill Gang, the Box Tops featuring Alex Chilton (also from BIg Star), Dave Alvin and of course our all-time favorite and the "patron saint of seaport music" Ted Leo. Those are just to name a few!
We’re also excited about some great new artists like Benjy Ferree, Tralala, Oppenheimer and Mike Wexler.
How is it different from other outdoor venues in the city? The bridges, the lingering fish?
Pier 17 is more-or-less New York’s original outdoor deck with tall ships to the back of the bands and skyscrapers to the front. All of our shows are free and though we don't "promote" this kind of behavior per-say, you can drink and smoke. Though we didn't say that (mind you, it is totally legal).
Do the performers enjoy it?
What’s not to enjoy? A large audience, New York harbor and tall ships as the backdrop, liberally supplied libations. Of course, bands love the venue!
What's your favorite thing about the festival?
Two things. First, turning people on to a band that they might not have heard before. Secondly, giving some bands the opportunity to play before their largest audience ever. Both are all about the music. Matthew says it's being able to smoke backstage.
How was the turn out last year?
Excellent of course! Over 6,000 people for Ted Leo and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and over 12,000 for Sugar Hill Gang. The line up was outstanding and the weather terrific, which makes all the difference in the world. Incidentally, even when it rains we try our hardest to put the show on (Ted Leo during the biggest rainstorm of summer 2004 for instance), so pack a poncho.
Thoughts on the city:
What's your favorite subway?
Any train to Fulton Street.
What's your favorite indoor musical venue?
Bowery Ballroom, because it’s consistently the best venue for sound, view of the stage where everand quality bands. We try to emulate outdoors what they do indoors.
What's the best or worst neighborhood gentrification trend?
The most exciting thing to me is the rebuilding and the re-development of historic Front Street.
Who has better headlines - the Daily News or Post?
You mean it’s not the same person?
Actually, I think I'd have to go with the Daily News, they just printed a feature on me that made my dad proud.
Seaport Music's first show is tonight's Super Furry Animals show, and there are free concerts through September 1 at Pier 17.
Photographs by Wellington Lee