A festival as diverse as its community

Music event a first in Jamaica Plain

Among those performing at the inaugural Jamaica Plain Music Festival are jump-blues group Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers. Among those performing at the inaugural Jamaica Plain Music Festival are jump-blues group Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers.
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / August 19, 2011

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It’s a weekday afternoon inside the Brendan Behan Pub on Centre Street, and the Jamaica Plain Music Festival’s board of directors is gathered around a contraption on the bar, mixing leisure with labor. With a firm squeeze of a steel handle on a machine resembling a paper hole-puncher or notary seal stamper, the task at hand is demonstrated: the handmade pressing of promotional buttons featuring the music fest’s mascot - a grinning albino squirrel, hat propped jauntily on its head.

The white-furred, red-eyed, and rarely seen rodent, which organizers say is a semi-mythical creature around these parts - sort of like the Jamaica Pond’s Loch Ness Monster - seems an apt symbol to celebrate the uniqueness of this place and the diversity of its inhabitants. Those characteristics were integral to the launch of what’s being billed as the first-ever Jamaica Plain Music Festival, a 20-band blowout scheduled for tomorrow between 1 and 7 p.m. at the Pinebank Baseball Field. (Go to for directions, artist lineup schedules, and rain date details.)

This is a long time coming, say organizers, who hatched the idea in December and received city permit approval the day before we sat down to chat with the planning principals. And it sprang out of a simple question posed by a friend of longtime JP resident and singer-songwriter Rick Berlin, whose latest project is a collaboration with the local Nickel & Dime Band (who’ll be among tomorrow’s performers). Neighboring communities like Cambridge and Somerville have had music festivals. So why not JP?

“It was an immediate call to action,’’ says Berlin, who helped put the wheels in motion with co-festival founder Shamus Moynihan, who also books the Midway Cafe. “It was such a powerful, no-brainer, have-to-do-it thing. The goal was to emphasize the fact that there’s incredible musical talent in this town . . . and they deserve to be heard.’’

A cross-section of JP-based, -bred, or -affiliated artists will converge on two stages tomorrow, ranging from the jump-blues outfit Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers to jazz saxophone master James Merenda. The concert will also include the rap-rock crew Sweatshop and Celtic punks Old Edison. Tallahassee brings its rustic Americana from the bar to the baseball field, while the Chris North Dream Quartet provides a blazing flip side to the brooding folk equation.

Meanwhile, the Model Planes offer alternately smooth and scuffed-up indie pop, and Darkbuster frontman Lenny Lashley brings a scruffy roots-rock sensibility to the proceedings. Also on the bill, among others, are the haunting acoustic outfit Little Bones and banjo-wielding singer-songwriter Amelia Emmet, who performs as Mr. Sister.

Along with Berlin, Moynihan fielded roughly 80 applications from musicians who sought to be part of this inaugural event.

“It’s pretty humbling,’’ Moynihan says. “The idea just snowballed, and it’s bigger than any of us individually.’’

As a just-announced special addition to the afternoon, Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano is scheduled to fly in to play a four-song set, backed by the Nickel & Dime Band. Although Gano is technically from Wisconsin, his sister, as it turns out, lives in Jamaica Plain.

Key to making the festival a reality were several fund-raisers (Bob Dylan and Neil Young tributes and a drive-in movie and outdoor barbecue, among them), a successful Kickstarter campaign, and donations from local businesses. Combined, these efforts have netted nearly $17,000.

Ultimately, the cooperative chemistry between the festival’s board of directors - which, in addition to Berlin and Moynihan, includes Randace Rauscher Moore (executive director of JP Centre/South Main Streets); David Mueller (a certified public accountant who, as treasurer, spearheaded the effort to create a nonprofit corporation); Patricia Sheehan (public relations); and Margie Nicoll (art director).

None of the staff or bands are being paid. Instead, most of the funds will be used to pay for the staging, sound, assorted generators, tables, portable bathrooms onsite, posters, and pressing up those albino-squirrel buttons.

“Six weeks ago, we were talking about devoting our own money to the festival because we didn’t think we were going to make it,’’ Moynihan says. “But there’s no way this wasn’t going to happen.’’

Mueller, a self-described “finance guy,’’ says he’s stunned at the outpouring of support.

“I thought it would be something fun and worthwhile, but I never expected it to be like this,’’ says Mueller. “I think we tapped into a whole other demographic that a lot of people haven’t been able to reach. It’s earth shoes to tattoos - we’ve got everybody here!’’ (His reference to that clunky footwear choice from the ’70s prompts laughs from his cohorts around a table at the Brendan Behan.)

“Nothing in the world moves me more than music,’’ says Rauscher Moore, who has lived in Jamaica Plain for 15 years. “The pond is literally one of my favorite places on the planet, and to have something outside like this is so incredible. [Planning this] was a beautiful way to spend six months of my life.’’

Jonathan Perry can be reached at


At: the Pinebank Baseball Field on Jamaica Pond tomorrow, 1-7 p.m. All ages. Free.