Columbia University grads and indie rock group Vampire Weekend have spent the better part of the last year treating revelers in Europe and South America to its African and Caribbean-inspired guitar rifts and rhythms with a 1980s-pop bend. The band, which with seemingly relative ease found critical success even before they released their self-titled freshman album in 2008, has since played virtually every great music festival around the world, from the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California to the famed Glastonbury Festival in Scotland and the Jisan Valley Rock Festival in South Korea. Despite being courted by a number of festivals in the United States, this year the band’s only scheduled festival stateside will bring them back to New York where they will headline the MTK: Music to Know Festival in East Hampton on the weekend of August 13-14, along with Bright Eyes and British pop darling Ellie Goulding.
Chris Jones, who founded MTK with fellow Sag Harbor resident Bill Collage, said he has been listening to Vampire Weekend since 2006, right after the fledgling band formed in a Columbia University dorm room. Band members Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij and Chris Tomson brought their Afro-pop melodies and rhythm to battle of the band contests, parties and even at literary society functions on campus. Word quickly spread about the group, which is named after Koenig’s freshman year film project, the band’s unique sound and witty lyrics, songs like “Oxford Comma” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” fueling the band’s rise, despite the fact they had yet to record an album.
In 2007, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” was ranked 67 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Top 100 Songs of the Year,” and the band embarked on a tour in the United Kingdom, backing up The Shins. In 2008, they release “Vampire Weekend” and in 2010 released their sophomore effort, “Contra.” It debuted in the number one spot on the Billboard charts.
“I think they appeal to a really wide audience, a little bit like Mumford & Sons,” said Jones this week. “They have a great following with a younger generation, but their music also seems to resonate with an older generation, which is important.”
Jones added that as live bands go, Vampire Weekend is “phenomenal.”
MTK will be the band’s first stateside festival this year, performing as the headlining act on Saturday.
“They obviously have great taste,” joked Jones.
He later added that the band choosing to play MTK spoke not only to the marketability of the audience on the East End of Long Island, but also to a level of confidence in the festival itself. Collage and Jones hope it becomes an annual event, and in its inaugural year have been able to attract some of the more celebrated up and coming artists, not just in rock, but also in rhythm and blues, pop and folk.
On the forefront of the alt-folk scene since the mid-90s is Bright Eyes, the Sunday night headliner at MTK.
Led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Conor Oberst, backed ably by multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis and piano and trumpet player Nate Walcott, Bright Eyes quickly found success in the music industry, its 2004 singles “Lua” and “Take it Easy (Love Nothing)” earning the top two spots on the Billboard charts after their release.
The Omaha, Nebraska-based group released a slew of albums, featuring the best of the Omaha music scene and beyond, but it was not until 2002 with the release of “Lifted” that the band became a critical darling. However, it was the 2004 release of “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” followed by a tour with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. on the Vote for Change tour that Bright Eyes found commercial success as well. The band released “Cassadaga” in 2007, and “The People’s Key” this year.
The group has collaborated with musicians such as fellow MTK performer M. Ward, Lou Reed, Jonathan Rice, Jenny Lewis, Nora Jones and Steve Earl.
“He is just an enormously talented musician, and very well respected within the artistic community,” said Jones. “It is great for us to be able to recognize an artist who the artists love, and we are honored he will be playing his first show on Long Island with us.”
Bright Eyes will open for Coldplay the week before MTK at Lollapalooza in Chicago. According to industry sources, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin’s wife, the actress and cookbook author Gwyneth Paltrow, who found her own musical success this year through her film “Country Song” and a memorable stint on the series “Glee” will perform in the VIP tent during MTK.
Collage and Jones courted British songstress Ellie Goulding for months, but added her to the line-up just a month and a half ago. Jones credits his wife, Karen, for predicting Goulding’s star would rise long before she played the reception for Prince William and Princess Catherine this spring.
“She predicted Ellie’s star would rise for 18 months before it happened,” said Jones. “And then she came on board and blew up.”
Goulding’s album “Lights” debuted in the number one spot on the U.K. charts and was released with six new tracks as “Bright Lights” in 2010. Since then she has toured at a break-neck pace, including performing on Saturday Night Live and true to her roots played Elton John’s “Your Song” for the royal couple’s first dance.
“To be honest, the rest of the bands are equally talented as the headliners,” said Jones. “They are just not as well know, but in terms of talent they are all up there. We are lucky to have them.”
The MTK: Music to Know Festival will take place Saturday, August 13 and Sunday, August 14. For more information visit, www.musictoknow.com.