Rock meets jazz and soul meets blues at the East Rock West Rock New Haven Music Week festival, which kicked off its festivities last Friday.
Since East Rock West Rock was founded in 2009, it has become a vital part of New Haven’s music culture, said five performers interviewed, helping up-and-coming bands to break into the music scene and providing more established performers with new venues.
New Haven has always had a rich history of music, said Randy Borovsky, the general manager of Ultra Radio, an online radio station that promotes Connecticut artists. Artists and bands of all genres, from Bob Dylan to the Doors to Kings of Leon, have come here to perform at one point or another. Yet the city has also experienced fluctuations in its musical output, Borovsky added.
Patrick Mansfield, the festival’s founder and owner of Anna Liffey’s, said he started East Rock West Rock to counteract what he saw as a dearth of opportunities for local musicians to perform. With few venues for live acts and an emphasis on DJs and house music at bars and clubs, Mansfield said he wanted to bring back a culture of live performances in the Elm City.
Local artists interviewed said they have indeed felt a jolt of fresh energy revitalizing the music scene in the last five years. Dave Van Witt of the New Haven band Sidewalk Dave said this resurgence owed to a number of factors: new bars featuring live performances opened, more studios and rehearsal spaces were built, New Haven-based Safety Medium Records grew to fame and East Rock West Rock, New Haven’s first music festival, was launched.
“When I think of the music scene in New Haven, the first word that comes to mind is ‘growing,’” local musician Sean Rainey said.
The increasing number of open-mic nights at bars and the introduction of an official music week have done much to promote the music scene in New Haven, Rainey said.
Mansfield said he modeled East Rock West Rock on the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Tex. He said he hopes that eventually people will come to see New Haven Music Week as the place to break into the music scene.
“Around 29 years ago, there was no real music scene in Austin,” Mansfield said. “Now Austin is associated with live music. I think New Haven could eventually be another Austin.”
In the three years since its conception, East Rock West Rock has grown from a two-venue festival to include around 12 venues with over 100 musical acts over the course of the week.
The biggest constraint to the festival’s growth, Mansfield said, is insufficient funding and support from the New Haven Arts Council. Mansfield added that he has poured much of his own money into the festival to keep it afloat.
Still, five Yale music professors interviewed said they had never heard of New Haven’s music week. Mansfield said he hopes that the festival will bridge the disconnect between Yale and local New Haven music in the future, by bringing in Yale bands like Plume Giant, who performed at East Rock West Rock last year.
John Elliot, a musician who came to East Rock West Rock on his tour of the East Coast, said he felt New Haven’s music scene has an edge and musical energy that reminded him of Memphis.
“There’s a tension in the city that lends itself to a certain kind of music,” Elliot said. “They’re real artists. They don’t perform self-congratulatory bullshit.”
East Rock West Rock runs all week and ends on Saturday, Oct. 15.