The Hudson Valley is alive with new music festivals. This Saturday sees the launch of Positive Jam Festival at Arrowood Farms in Accord, headlined by The Hold Steady. Known for hard-driving songs that synthesize classic and indie rock, The Hold Steady are producing the festival. The six band line-up also includes Guided By Voices and some emerging acts as well. It promises to be a good day of live music for fans of indie rock.
Recently, I caught up with Craig Finn, The Hold Steady’s lead singer and lyricist, to find out more about the festival and how his Brooklyn-based band decided to hold it upstate.
Adam Snyder: “Positive Jam” was the name of the first song on your first album. You’ve said it was sort of a manifesto for The Hold Steady’s existence, are you making a similar declaration by calling the festival Positive Jam?
Craig Finn: The Hold Steady just turned 20, so this summer seemed like the time to do something celebratory, and the idea of doing a festival was something we’ve always thought of. Our first big summer playing festivals was in Europe, and I remember driving around and talking about it, like, who would be on our festival? What would it be called?
There were these 70s rock festivals, The California Jam, The Texas Jam, and I thought, wow, I think we already have the perfect name.
AS: So you’re hoping this will be a regular thing.
CF: That’s our intention, it’d be great to build it every year. It is a lot of work, so we’ll see if we’re feeling that way on August 7th [laughs] but it’s our intention to build a summertime event for Hold Steady fans.
AS: Guided By Voices is another band in the festival with a highly recognizable name. For fans of that band, as far as you know, it’s Robert Pollard with his newer line-up, not a reunion of the classic line-up?
CF: I’m almost positive it’s the most recent line-up, which has been playing for a number of years, which is to me classic in its own right.
It’s funny, when we started our band there were several things in common. For one, we’re big fans and looked up to them. They were a little older when they became recognized, as were we. They’re mid-Western, like most of us, and tend to drink a lot of beer on stage, which we’ve done also. They’re also very prolific, they’re a band we look to as saying it’s really good for your fans to have a steady stream of music coming out.
Funny enough, we’ve never played a show with them, and so twenty years in we finally get to play a show with them.
AS: There are four other acts playing Positive Jam, how did you go about curating the line-up?
CF: It was kind of a mix, looking at what was available and what was on tour. I saw The Tallest Man on Earth at Newport Folk last year, and thought it was really excellent. They’re from Sweden, I thought it was a cool thing to bring people from far and wide. I also thought with two big guitar bands playing last, a kind of a folk band might be nice, to give a little breath, maybe not overwhelm people with six big guitar bands in a row.
Laura Stevenson is a friend who’s opened for The Hold Steady. We all love her music and we thought it was appropriate because she actually lives in Saugerties and some local flavor might be cool. And also it’s nice to have a woman songwriter in there.
AS: Oceanator is a woman too?
CF: Yes, that’s a great young band that’s working really hard right now. And the other one is I Get Wild who have a Talking Heads cover band. I think it’s nice in the middle of the afternoon to have music that everyone’s familiar with. You’re like, I know these songs, it’s great, danceable, and fun. I do hope there will be kids there, I think it’s fun music for them too. Annie Nero who leads the band is a friend of ours and also a Kingston resident.
AS: Sounds like you have connections to the area.
CF: Yeah, Annie’s husband Josh Kaufman is a record producer who has produced all of our records for a number of years. There was a studio in Woodstock called Isokon run by a guy named Dan Goodwin, so we started recording there. Over the years we started recording a lot at a place called the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck. Our creative life seems very tied to that area. Franz Nicolay, our piano player, actually lives in Red Hook.
So we started to think about a festival, and the idea of Arrowood Farms as a site came up, it seemed like, yeah, we should do that.
AS: Did you have to sweat the details?
CF: Management has done a lot of that. Our agent had been involved with festivals up there before at the Arrowood Farms site, they seemed to have a real handle on how this stuff goes, and are really connected to the music in the area. But there’s certainly many phone calls etc. that go into putting something like this together
AS: How about the VIP ticket? Online it says it includes access to what’s being called a VIP hangout area. Does “hangout area” mean that the bands will be hanging out there too so fans can hang out with them?
CF: No, I think that’s just a chill place with other advantages. But the night before we’re doing a pool party at the Inness resort, and that’s gonna be a cool event, like, swimming obviously, and we’re gonna do more of a storyteller set, talk about how the songs were written, what they mean, maybe a little lower volume kind of laid back set than a traditional Hold Steady set. So that’s gonna be really fun, and we’re gonna be DJ-ing. That is a place where we’ll definitely be hanging out.
Positive Jam Festival kicks off at noon this Saturday August 5th at Arrowood Farms in Accord. General admission starts at $140, VIP tickets with various amenities are $268. The Prelims pool party at nearby Inness in Accord is on Friday night August 4th from 5-8pm. Tickets for that are $88. There’s a slight discount if you bundle the events together. All tickets are available online.
The festival is rain-or-shine, and kids ten-and-under are free with a paying adult. See positivejamfest.com for more details.