Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, along with the first lady, Tammy Murphy, had a vision: A new performance festival in their home state that could rival South by Southwest in Texas or Bonnaroo in Tennessee. And they had a plan to distinguish it.
“Austin and Nashville are great towns,” the governor said, referring to two famous arts hubs that are connected to notable festivals. “But if you stop to consider the cultural priorities of the states that govern them, you say, ‘Wait a minute.’ You’re hoodwinked if you get taken by the coolness.”
A festival in New Jersey, they argued, would be produced in a state whose values align with issues like gun safety and reproductive rights, a bragging right difficult to come by in the south. But what organizers are really touting with the event, which is being produced for the first time this summer, is the mix of homegrown talent and national acts (Halsey, Santana, Jazmine Sullivan) performing across three different cities, from the state’s largest city to the coast.
The North to Shore Festival will roam from Atlantic City to Asbury Park to Newark throughout the month. Its inaugural run will feature more than 220 acts — including music, comedy, dance and film — in 115 venues. “When you combine all the talent we have in New Jersey with the fact that our values are on the right side of history, we thought, there’s no reason we couldn’t give this a shot,” Mr. Murphy said.
In May, the festival doubled in size, in part because of a commitment to local talent. Grants of up to $5,000 were handed out to 58 New Jersey-based artists.
“What I love about it is that it’s a combination of the biggest names in entertainment and comedy and film,” said John Schreiber, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, which is producing the festival, “but it’s also a chance to turn up the volume on the local folks I call the local heroes — the artists, the creators, the presenters, the producers — who work in these cities 365 days a year.”
One example of this kind of artistic convergence is “You Got VERRRSED: NJ Poets vs. New York Poets,” which will take place in Newark on June 24, the day after Marisa Monte, a Grammy Award winner, performs there.
In each host city, venues stretch beyond the familiar. Newark, for example, will host “Jersey Club 101,” a combination dance lesson and party, at Ariya Plaza Hall, a local dance club known for hosting private events and the occasional concert, on June 24.
On June 9 in Atlantic City, a brewery, The Seed: A Living Beer Project, will host a multidisciplinary event, “From Earth to Cup,” with live music, pottery making and samples of its craft beers. The following afternoon at Sovereign Avenue Field, a popular skatepark, local hardcore and punk bands will play free shows in the “Back Sov Bullies Concert.”
While Asbury Park’s famous rock club, the Stone Pony, will see its share of action — with Eric B. & Rakim, Brian Fallon, Demi Lovato and the B-52’s all scheduled to perform — stages at the lesser-known Watermark, down the street, will also be in heavy rotation and can expect to see more traffic than usual.
Alexander Simone and his seven-piece band, the Whodat? Live Crew, will play there on June 14. Mr. Simone, 34, who is from the area and the grandson of Nina Simone, won a grant to take part in North to Shore with the band, which leans toward funk and R&B, after being nominated by local fans. The recognition confirmed something he already knew: “I am definitely one of the most known bands in this community,” he said.
Now he hopes that other parts of the country will pay more attention to his music. “Artists are coming this way, to Jersey, and bringing people with them the way South by Southwest brings people to Texas,” he said. “They’re coming to see what we have to offer on this end.”
Billboards along the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike are promoting the festival. Mr. Schreiber said he expects more than 350,000 people to attend. The overall windfall for New Jersey’s economy, he added, could be $100 million. “We’re betting the economic impact in all three of these communities will far outweigh any of the investment we have to make,” Mr. Murphy said.
Natalie Merchant, accompanied by New York City’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s, will perform in Newark on June 25. “I think it’s really ambitious and impressive,” she said of the idea behind the festival.
But her decision to participate did not have much to do with performing in a liberal-leaning state, Ms. Merchant said. “I tend to not penalize my fans in states with political conditions like abortion restrictions.” Instead, “I talk about them onstage.”
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