One of the more interesting new festivals to launch this year is the Basilica Music Festival
. Running three days starting tomorrow in the Hudson Valley city of Hudson, in upstate New York, this is a tiny event by concert industry standards. Organizers have said that no more than 1250 tickets will be sold; that’s probably the room capacity for the Basilica Hudson, the event’s primary venue.
Yet Basilica Music Festival (BMF) has the distinction of being sponsored by the kingmaking indie-rock blog Pitchfork, with the organizers seeking more of a curated approach
. The lineup is chiefly composed of solo performances (by some well known indie musicians, e.g., the main guys from black metal groups Liturgy and Krallice), art/noise projects, and DJs specializing in unconventional club styles — hardly the stuff of high-ranking searches on the Pitchfork website. The spirit of the 3-day affair seems strongly informed by the fine and performance arts, with a final event designated for an offsite tour/panel discussion of artist Marina Abramovic’s proposed Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art. At the less refined end of the spectrum, a riverboat has been chartered for a “sunset cruise” on the second day, while campground lodging in nearby Ghent has been incorporated into certain admission packages.
In keeping with the high-art currents, there further appears to be a site-specific ethos at work at BMF. No doubt performers and attendees alike will be struck immediately by Basilica Hudson’s raw yet engaging post-industrial space. Originally a 19th century factory, the venue is located across the road from the Hudson River waterfront right next to the city’s railroad station and still-operating industrial facilities. Inside the space, weathered brick walls, dusty concrete, the ceiling scaffolding’s geometry and the odd broken panel on massive windows create an exciting ambiance for those not expecting the usual concert-hall amenities.
The architectural texture of distressed brick can be further seen throughout the city of Hudson. A small rustbelt city (2010 pop. 6,713), Hudson is one of the Hudson Valley’s handful of cities set along the riverfront, industrial gateways to a largely rural area. Deindustrialization beginning in the mid-20th century hit Hudson particularly hard, and it still shows, with vacant factories and apartments dotting the city. Basilica Hudson’s creative director Melissa Auf der Maur (former bassist of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins) has described the city’s atmosphere
the best of a picturesque historical antique town mixed with industrial wasteland, framed by Hudson river skies. It’s a real urban mix set within a rural landscape, with a lot of Americana Lynch-ian charm. A cool melange of small town characters and big city visitors—totally nuts and beautiful. Best of all worlds combined!
But Hudson is no Brooklyn, no Wicker Park. Neobohemian “grit as glamour” (to quote sociologist Richard Lloyd) has emerged out of real rustbelt decline, indicated most notably by a population decrease of 10.8% from 2000-10. Economic distress registers in the socioeconomic conditions of Hudson residents today. In 2010, median household income in Hudson was $40,203, about a third less than the national figure. 21.8% of the population, and 39.3% of children under 18, live on incomes below the poverty level, which again exceed the national statistics (of 14.4% and 20.1%, respectively). 54.8% of the city’s adults haven’t attained an education beyond high school.
How has an indie-rock/high-art event like BMF come to a city like Hudson? It’s a fascinating story too long to tell here, but the short version is that the hipsters have followed the trail blazed by metropolitan restructuring and shifting leisure/consumption patterns based in the New York City area. At some point in the late 20th century, Hudson’s Warren Street changed from a down-on-its-knees commercial center to a thriving retail district for antique furniture and high-end design. Prices at these boutiques are well beyond the range of your average 20-something Brooklynite, never mind most Hudson locals. Commerce here is aimed largely at affluent metropolitans who make daytrips up to furnish their nests back in the city or in the swath of vacation homes from the Catskills across the river to the Bershires in the east.
If the pattern in Hudson is similar to most “quality-of-life destinations,” the local Chamber of Commerce probably had little to do in initiating Hudson’s transformation into an antique/design retail center. But who can blame them for urging on this transformation? Not that Hudson’s boutique economy is the kind to generate much employment for the city’s working class; entrepreneurialism and retail jobs of this nature require education and metropolitan savoir-faire. But the transformation does fill vacancies and boost rents, and so city boosters can only celebrate the aesthetic turn in the city’s economy. Even more, they can designate Hudson as “the next Music Mecca.”
I’m referring here to the slogan on Hudson Music Fest
, which runs concurrently with BMF. 2012 is the second year for this annual event, which is mostly a free affair —local bars, coffeeshops, and outdoor tents hosting performances by bands and musicians whom (I’m hypothesizing) are local talent. Interestingly, the schedule for Hudson Music Fest includes listings for BMF, suggesting that there has been some coordination between the two events, perhaps even a civic gesture on the part of BMF’s organizers to lend their support with a new high profile event. But that’s an open question. BMF’s website and promotional press has made no mention of Hudson Music Fest, whose online schedule clearly states
, on the eve of the events’ first day:
We are in the final stages of putting the schedule together. 75% of the musicians confirmed with 25% of those needing to change performance times along with the 25% who have not yet confirmed so the process is still in its fluid stage.
Thus, between BMF and Hudson Music Fest there seems to be an asymmetry of acumen about event organizing and promotion. Hudson Music Fest offers a wide array of musical styles, including the venerable nightclub genres of jazz, blues and rock, while BMF is going for a musical niche that will almost certainly alienate the average listener. Some questions I’d like to investigate further are:
- To what extent will the concert-goers of BMF catch some of the events associated with Hudson Music Fest? Basilica Hudson is located within easy walking distance of downtown Hudson, and Hudson Music Fest seems to have made some effort to schedule music outside of the nighttime blocks when BMF’s main programming will be held. In short, there’s going to be a lot of music downtown this weekend trying to reach the ears of BMF attendees — will they catch some of it in the public space of Hudson, or will they stay in a BMF bubble?
- Just what is the relationship between BMF and Hudson Music Fest, specifically between its organizers: influential music tastemakers versus local music/business boosters? Did they coordinate the scheduling of their two events? Can the two parties gain something from each other?
- Finally, how does BMF change the caché of Hudson, NY, to the metropolitan population whose economic weight is, for better or worse, driving most of the change in the city and throughout the Hudson Valley? As I’ve argued before, 20- and 30-somethings are in short supply throughout the Hudson Valley, celebrations and alarm over “the Brooklynization of [insert your favorite small town here]” notwithstanding. One indicator I’ve always looked to in this regard is the quality of indie rock (and other live music aimed at discerning music fans younger than baby boomers) to be found in the region; outside of the area’s colleges, there’s generally nothing to speak of. But just this last year, Club Helsinki in Hudson has been booking some really great acts (I caught a fantastic performance by Wye Oak last month). Is the Hudson Valley starting to establish a significant populace of (for lack of a better word) hipsters — or at least the destinations and designations of metropolitan cool that might attract them?