By Kathryn G. Menu
The Hollywood screenwriter and Sag Harbor resident talks about Music to Know, a two-day music festival planned for August 12 and 13 that Collage is organizing with fellow Sag Harbor resident and Sole East Resort owner Chris Jones. The festival was approved for a mass gathering permit by the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday and will boast two stages and a number of bands for an estimated 9,500 concertgoers at the Principi Farm on Montauk Highway in Amagansett.
Where did the concept for this festival develop and how did you come to be a part of it?
This past summer Chris Jones did a five concert series at his hotel Sole East. So we were hanging out, our kids go to elementary school together, and after the summer was over and everyone left we started thinking, “that was really fun and could we do it in a way where more people in the community could get involved and we could give money to charity?” Chris started exploring the process and available pieces of property where it would be feasible and not disruptive because from the first minute we wanted to approach this as people who live here full-time, and we don’t want to walk into the IGA and be considered bad guys who created all this noise and traffic. So the goal has been how can we do this in the most responsible way where the most people benefit, and that was the genesis of it.
We are both very fortunate in that we have full-time jobs and we are not doing this because we need the money. In your 40s you are compelled to give back, so that was the start of it.
How did you come to decide that the Principi property was the right space?
We looked at a bunch of properties in Montauk first. We knew there was this cool idea to call it “MTK: Music to Know” and we knew there were open properties there so we checked them out and hired some people who have worked with the police and the fire department. In vetting those there were too many issues. Then that piece of property was introduced to us through John Kowalenko and his Ladles of Love concert because that was so successful last summer and went off without a hitch.
By comparison, this is a 22-acre piece of property. We are asking for 9,500 people and for instance the Newport Jazz Festival hosts 50,000 on 20-acres. We are looking to have a low impact.
Speaking of Newport Jazz Festival, when you were researching this festival, were there other music festivals you hoped this could emulate?
Not exactly. We see ourselves as more of a boutique festival. I am fortunate enough to be friends with the guy who founded Austin City Limits and that is 80,000. We are talking about 9,500. This is a market that can sustain that. We are used to the fireworks show where 30,000 go, we are used to the Hampton Classic, to Super Saturday, so a small event like this where it is done professionally has a greater chance of success. So many of these things fail. We want to partner with the Town of East Hampton, do this responsibly and hopefully it is sustainable.
Meaning it would become an annual event?
That would be great.
You have said this could be an economic benefit for the area. How will it benefit the community from an economic perspective?
From now until it happens we figure, and this is a conservative figure, 700 people will have to get hired. Some of those people will have to come from other places, but a very large number of them will have to be hired locally, from selling lumber, banging nails, all of the construction, the barricades, the parking layout, and then there is an entire retail and food and beverage component. Then there are also the people we will need to work the back of the house, the electric, the water. It goes on and on and on. The opportunity to hire that many people feels really good for the soul.
How will local businesses like The Art of Eating, John Kowalenko’s catering business and other food vendors and retailers be able to get involved in this?
John is a key production component to this. He will be doing all our catering and additional responsibilities. One of the things we are looking to do is load in as many local restaurants and chefs and retailers as we can, where we give them booth space where they can sell. There might be some out of town people, if Bobby Flay wants to set up a grill we can do that. We will have a beer garden and wine terrace, but for the most part it will be about getting local restaurants we all know involved and that would lead to further familiarity in the off-season. Or if an established restaurateur wants to try a new brand this is a way to introduce it to 9,500 people.
The site plan is set up where we have all this availability for restaurants and lifestyle sales. The charities will also have booth space because it is great to write a check, but it is equally important to get people to know the work these charities are doing and sign up themselves and see how they can be a part of their ongoing mission instead of just knowing a portion of the ticket is going to help these organizations.
The music will be the reason to go, but once you get there we want people to experience a lot of other things about this region that they might not be familiar with.
You have offered a charitable donation connected to the festival. Are there any specific charities you have in mind?
With the charitable donation, we are viewing that money as being a part of our costs and we have told the town board this, because with a music festival there is no guarantee we will make money. We are guaranteeing $100,000 as a donation and how that is allocated we have yet to figure out.
We are open to suggestions on what charities benefit, however, we are already guaranteeing the food pantries a donation. Surfrider is another organization that has come up that we are excited about, and beyond that there is a lot of money we would like to allocate to a lot places, and it doesn’t just have to be a charity. It could be creating a scholarship. There are a lot of people with a lot of different needs.
There has been talk of a television show connected to the festival. What’s the story there?
This would be an annual event, but we wanted to think about what we could do in the off-season. We thought there is an opportunity here to develop an American Bandstand type of show called Music to Know where every week you would have a countdown of new and interesting bands that is driven online with a partner we may already have in place. Introduce a band a week and have it as a syndicated show. That could be produced locally. It does not have to be produced in the city or anywhere else. There are a lot of great places that are underutilized and a lot of talented people in film and television that would rather do something out here than somewhere else. It is about building business here. Those are real jobs that are full time jobs and creating something really neat. In so much of this, as exciting as it is to talk about job creation and charity, it is also important to remember that we live in an area so filled with culture; and music seems to be a piece not fully realized, so this is another way to build something great.
How will your career as a screenwriter aid in this project?
I am very fortunate to have incredible representation in the William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. They have a giant music department and I have a ton of friends in the music industry, from people in bands to promoters and people who run their own festivals. Those friends have always been people I enjoyed socially and now we can build something together, so that is great.
Give me a dream team lineup for the first year?
Billy Joel, topping the bill.
Well, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney live pretty close by too.