Jamaica Plain is rich with musicians, but low on venues. Semi-secret house shows and gigs outside the neighborhood are the norm.
Enter the First Annual Jamaica Plain Music Festival, which will shine a huge spotlight on the local music scene on Aug. 20 at the Pinebank ballfield at Jamaica Pond Park.
“It is our committee that has been the explosive start of this, but we’re standing on the shoulders of so many people,” said legendary JP musician Rick Berlin, one of the fest’s founders. “It’s like the whole music scene in the country is here in microcosm.”
At least 20 local bands will play the fest, with styles ranging from rock to Cuban jazz, from Delta blues to hip-hop.
Four founders of fest met in the Gazette office last month to describe how the idea was born, and how they have built the festival to last as a nonprofit organization. The members interviewed included Berlin, a fixture of Boston’s avant-garde rock scene; Shamus Moynihan, the music booker at the Midway Café; Randace Rauscher Moore, the executive director of JP Centre/South Main Streets; and Margie Nicoll, a widely exhibited JP artist.
One inspiration is a simple idea: Anything Cambridge does, JP can do better. Cambridge and Somerville have well-attended local music fests. Boston doesn’t have anything similar.
“[JP musician] Ben Crouch came up to me after a show at [Cambridge’s] Lizard Lounge and said, ‘Why isn’t there a Jamaica Plain music festival?’” Berlin recalled.
That conversation last year led to group discussion at the Brendan Behan Pub—“Shamus calls it his office,” Berlin joked—and then to full-on planning meetings at the Galway House restaurant, which now the fest’s lead sponsor.
The founders decided to set up a nonprofit to ease fund-raising and ensure stability. It will be a nonprofit in the true sense, with both performers and organizers going unpaid.
“We wanted people to take us seriously,” Moore said.
The group scouted various JP locations for the fest, including parking lots and English High’s field. Knowing that planning a concert in a park could be touchy, the organizers greased the wheels at the Boston Parks Department by showing up with a plate of homemade Irish soda bread, Moynihan said.
A Parks Department official suggested the pond ballfield, which organizers fell in love with.
“It was literally like the Field of Dreams,” said Moynihan.
The fest was an open secret for months. It could not be advertised until the permit was secure, but the organizers had to hold a series of fund-raiser concerts. Berlin and Moynihan also had to choose the line-up from more than 100 bands who applied.
Meanwhile, the fest began guerilla marketing with its enigmatic logo—a hat-clad white squirrel. It was inspired by the albino squirrels that once lived (and may still do so) around the pond.
The fest’s two stages will have artistic backdrops created by Nicoll. “The squirrel will be involved,” Nicoll said, declining to describe further. In modern JP style, one stage will be sponsored by the local grocer City Feed and Supply, and the other by the incoming Whole Foods Market.
The fest also will feature children’s activities, nonprofit information booths and food vendors, with proceeds going to the Boys and Girls Club of Boston.
In case of rain, the fest will move to the First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist in Monument Square. For more info, see the Sights & Sounds listings and jpmusicfestival.com.