Saturday marks the return of a Whaling City music staple as artists, vendors, and music fans flood the streets of New London: the I AM Festival.
The lineup includes a solid slate of Brooklynites Hospitality, Math The Band out of Providence, as well as Connecticut’s Modern Merchant, MT Bearington, Ferocious F***ing Teeth, and many more.
Started in 2006, last year was a sabbatical of sorts for the festival. As an admission free, nonprofit affair, there is heavy reliance on grants and donors to sustain the event. Stars simply didn’t align in 2011.
“Last year didn’t have quite the funding,” said Rich Martin, Managing Director of Hygenic Art Park and one of the main organizers. “Instead of doing a lackluster job, we decided pull back and regroup for this year.”
As a result, the event that started as a Waterfront Park ‘welcome’ concert for Connecticut College and Coast Guard Academy students has grown into a downtown draw.
Twenty-one bands will play between four venues, including Parade Plaza, Hygenic Art Park, Oasis Pub, and the Telegraph. Venues are all within a five minute walk of each other, and schedules are staggered to help concertgoers see all the bands.
“I loved having a year off, it kind of revitalized and cleaned the slate for us.” says Sean Murray, who books for both the festival and the Oasis Pub. “Downtown makes more sense.”
“The Waterfront feels like its own deserted island. Only people who knew about it would come. You want people to stumble into the event and say ‘Woah, what is this? The city is bustling!’”
Aside from the music, a goal of bringing an anticipated three- to five- thousand additional people to New London is to give downtown a shot in the arm.
“We’re going to be sort of in the middle of everything. Hopefully this will give people a chance to explore our amazing city as well as hear some amazing music,” said Martin.
New London sits at a regional crossroad for music, with most of the area’s important medium-sized cities an hour away. With bands from Hartford, New Haven, Providence, and Worcester willing to make a short drive, in addition to their own robust scene, I AM has never been at much of a loss for good acts.
Bigger artists at past festivals have served as a sort of tastemaker, says Martin, with a history of regional groups on the verge of breaking out.
Notable alumni of I AM include Matt & Kim, Deerhoof, and Jay Reatard. Perhaps their greatest victory was snatching up Girl Talk for less than the cost of an iPod.
“I don’t even know how that one happened.” says Murray. “At the time he was still a scientist, and was only doing gigs on the weekends… I didn’t see any hype on him, I just thought he was really cool, and people would like his style.”
The months after Murray booked Girl Talk were filled with the mashup DJ’s appearance on magazine covers, and the rest was history. At least a thousand people showed up just for his act, Murray said.
This year has its own potential for breakouts. Both Murray and Martin are rooting for Dom and Hospitality, the headliners at the Parade Plaza stage. Martin also recommends The Sea The Sea at The Telegraph.
Suicide Dolls at Hygenic Park make a good show, and MT Bearington is closing out the night starting at midnight at Oasis Pub.
A full lineup and more information is available on the event’s site, www.iamfest.org.
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