The College of Arts, Media and Design and Northeastern’s Office of Career Development recently hosted The Suffers and Newport Folk Festival staff alumna Brittany Manley, AMD’09, and Executive Producer Jay Sweet at Northeastern for a discussion on the important role of festivals in breaking new bands and talent.
Newport Folk Festival was established in July of 1959, almost 60 years for those of you good at math, dwarfing much younger festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW), Bonnaroo, and Coachella that have the same sort of notoriety and caliber as Newport. As the little brother to Newport Jazz Festival, Newport Folk Festival was created as a way to put in the “other” alternative music that was happening at the time jazz was pop music—and ever since its creation, their mission hasn’t changed one bit.
Brittany Manley, Production Coordinator of Newport Folk Festival, and Jay Sweet, Executive Producer of the festival, were sitting in a room with a band that they undoubtedly helped to popularize and started to discuss the importance of festivals like Newport in breaking new talent. The Suffers are a 10-piece band out of Houston, Texas and have labeled themselves in the genre of “Gulf Coast Soul,” which entails, as lead vocalist Kam Franklin put it, “it’s whatever we want it to be that day.” She, along with her fellow members of her band and manager Mark Austin, unanimously agreed—Gulf Coast Soul was the type of music they considered to be soul that day. And in a world of ever growing musical genres and typology, it is hard to put an exact label to what each band represents. Each artist has his/her own tastes, influences, and brand of music, and that is something that Brittany and Jay of Newport Folk Festival do not discriminate against when booking their festival.
As the lead organizers and bookers of the event, Brittany and Jay do not look at the strict classifications and genres of each artist they book, they themselves even asked the question, “what is folk?” during the panel discussion referring to one third of the festival’s title. Instead, they look at what the people want. The reason why bands and artists look at Newport Folk Festival with the admiration and respect is because it is the festival for the people. A little-known fact is that Newport Folk Festival does not pay astronomical amounts of money like other festivals that have the same draw. Yet, rock star Jack White, who would normally be in the six-figure range to book at a stadium, plays this festival for the same price as someone just starting off in the music industry. This collusion of rock stars, to artist that are just starting out, creates a dynamic unlike any other. When The Suffers played Newport for the first time, they were dwarfed by many of these huge stars, they were running on losing money for the trip arrangements, and their keyboard player broke his arm the night before their big debut. However, as they got onto the main stage around 11 a.m., thousands flooded the stage from the opening gates and millions were listening through NPR’s live stream of the festival. The Suffers gained immediate traction with their music that can only be described as their own, and the audience loved every minute. They have gone from touring in just Houston, Texas, to a nationwide tour, to a Europe tour in the coming Spring. The Suffers all agreed, Newport was an experience like no other, and even against all of the odds leading up to their performance, they were better off because of their time there.
For their recent visit to Northeastern, the audience did not leave empty handed. In addition to the first-hand musical education, they received a live impromptu performance, concert tickets to their show at The Sinclair in Cambridge that evening, merchandise, and a meet and greet.
Thank you to The Suffers, Brittany Manley, and Jay Sweet for coming to Northeastern and sharing their wealth of experience with us!