Hoboken will always have room for music—no town that so prominently celebrates Frank Sinatra could ever resist the draw of a strong voice raised in song. But with the end of the legendary tenure of Maxwell’s as a music venue last year, a vacuum has settled over the mile-square city. Into that breach steps the Lackawanna Music Festival, which returns to Pier A for its fourth edition on Saturday, Aug. 23.
“What we’re really trying to do is keep music alive in Hoboken,” said festival organizer Joe Mindak. “People aren’t keeping their venues open for live music in Hoboken because the young kids are looking for something different. All the bars have TV screens up and people are texting each other and I think people don’t realize how important live music is and what a great night it could be.”
Mindak hopes this year’s Lackawanna Music Festival can be an object lesson in the power of a good concert. The free, day-long show will combine the beauty of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline with the energy of nine up-and-coming bands from the New York area, including five from Hudson County.
The festival has been growing ever since it began in 2010. That year, it was a small event featuring local bands at Pier 13, an outdoor eatery in northeast Hoboken. The following year, it was moved to Pier A Park with the city’s permission and expanded to include bands from the whole tri-state area.
Along the way, its name changed from the hMag Music Fest to the Lackawanna Music Festival, both to be more distinctive and to honor its new location near the iconic Lackawanna train terminal.
Mindak said he expects at least 10,000 attendees at this year’s festival, up from around 6,000 in 2012, when Lackawanna was last held. The festival is free and lasts from noon and 10 p.m., allowing residents to cycle in and out as they please.
Something for everyone
This year’s festival features an eclectic collection of bands that span a wide range of ages and genres. “We want to have a good mix of music, including up-and-coming bands,” said Mindak. “For some of the bands, it’ll be their first time performing on a big stage like the one we have on Pier A.”
Not so for rap-inflected Brooklyn rock band Shinobi Ninja, which first played the Lackawanna festival two years ago. After being wowed by their performance in 2012, the festival organizers decided to bring the group back as a headliner this year.
Mindak described Shinobi Ninja’s musical style as “The Beastie Boys meets Metallica meets Lauryn Hill.” The group has been performing since 2008, and has even released their own video game iPhone app in conjunction with one of their albums.
“We were really impressed by [Shinobi Ninja] last time,” said Mindak. “Out of all the bands that performed that year, they outperformed the headliner.”
“What we’re really trying to do is keep music alive in Hoboken.” –Joe Mindak
This year, Mindak and his co-organizers made a point of featuring perfomers from Hudson County. Two of the bands, Karyn Kuhl Band and Nipsey, hail from Hoboken, and a third, Allison Strong, is a singer-songwriter who grew up in Union City.
Karyn Kuhl Band has deep roots in Hoboken’s rock scene. Frontwoman Karyn Kuhl got her start as the singer and lead guitarist for Gut Bank, a post-punk group that rocked Maxwell’s and ran with Husker Du, Sonic Youth, and Richard Hell in the 1980s. In the ‘90s, Kuhl led Sexpod, a rock trio.
Her current band was formed in 2010 and features James Mastro, the former guitarist for the Bongos and current owner of Hoboken musical instrument store Guitar Bar. They put out a new album called “Songs for the Dead” in September of last year.
Nipsey are a coalition of three veteran Hoboken musicians led by southern transplant Bill Hamilton who play, in their own words, “a blend of ‘70s rock mixed with punk and blues and a little in your face mayhem.”
“As Seen on TV,” Nipsey’s first studio album, was released in January. Bassist Dave Calamoneri and Hamilton are also members of Davey & the Trainwreck, a Hoboken country/folk band fronted by Calamoneri.
Allison Strong is a versatile performer from Union City—to call her simply an independent singer-songwriter would be an understatement. Strong plays piano and guitar, sings in Spanish and English and has perfomed on Broadway in shows such as “Mamma Mia!” and “Bye Bye Birdie.” She has also acts in TV and movies, and has done voiceover work for “Dora & Friends” on Nickelodeon.
Strong will release her debut album “Hacia El Sol” at the end of the month. Gadfly Magazine praised its “truthful, relatable lyrics…accompanied by a symphonic variety of instruments and styles.” In 2013, Strong took home awards for Outstanding Female Solo Artist and People’s Choice at the Fifth Annual Hoboken Music Awards.
In addition, two younger Hoboken bands will serve as openers for the festival. The first, Rest Ashore, was formed by a group of Hoboken high-schoolers and is recording their first full-length album this year. The second was drawn from students at the Garden Street School of Performing Arts.
The festival will feature two additional New York-based bands, all girl new wave outfit Plastiq Passion and roots rockers Butchers Blind. Butchers Blind’s “folksy, Mumford and Sons-type music,” in the words of Mindak, should go over well on Pier A, which hosted a sold-out Mumford and Sons show in July 2012.
Over the years, the Lackawanna Music Festival has become a stopping point for up-and-coming independent bands from the fertile New York music scene and beyond. Memorable past acts include Tokyo Police Club, Vacationer, The Walkmen, and School of Seven Bells.
Food, bounce house, NJ Devils, and more
For Hoboken’s burgeoning under-12 set, the festival will also host a free play area with three bounce houses, a rock wall, and a slap shot area organized by the New Jersey Devils. The New Jersey Devils mascot will be on hand to take photos and, presumably, to rock out. In addition, kids can cool off with free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Parents and other adults can look forward to a beer garden provided by Ale House and food from Biggie’s Clam Bar. In addition, attendees can check out local vendors, craft stores, restaurants, and charities in The Village, a special shopping area that will be set up on the pier.
North by Northeast?
In the future, Mindak hopes to follow the model of the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, expanding to a multi-day mélange of concerts, tech conferences and other activities. For now, though, he is happy to making at least one day special for Hoboken residents.
“If somebody wants to come down and they typically sunbathe on Pier A on a Saturday,” said Mindak, “they can still do that and listen to some live music at the same time.”
The 2014 Lackawanna Music Festival will take place from noon to 10 pm on Saturday Aug. 23 at Pier A in Hoboken. Admission is free to all, though beer and food must be purchased. More information can be found at www.lackawannamusicfestival.com.
Carlo Davis may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.