Astoria Music & Arts Annual Astoria Music Now! Festival
I grew up in Astoria, in the 1980s. The only live music heard was beaming through the doors of the Greek nightclubs, or from the marching band in the Little League parade around Ditmars, and annually for the Independence Day fireworks. One afternoon, while I was strolling along Shore Blvd., I heard a unique full-blown band spilling their heart and soul onstage in the middle of the lawn at Astoria Park. I walked closer wanting to dance, only to find another smaller stage in the distance with a dynamic girl strumming her acoustic guitar painting the people with her poetic words. There was cotton candy, children smiling with face paint, grungy groups and hipster families sprawled out on the lawn picnicking, beautiful arts and crafts tables, and delicious, eclectic food vendors. It was the year 2008, and the much-needed debut of the Astoria Music and Arts event, ASTORIA MUSIC NOW! had finally arrived. (www.astoriamusicandarts.org)
Founder and native Astorian, Justin Finley says, “AM&A grew as a reaction to a lack of performance space for live, local, original music in the neighborhood. Looking back to that first year’s summer festival, it felt amazing, very euphoric, like it had the potential to go on for years to come.”
And so it has. Now in its seventh year, Astoria Music Now! has expanded and become something to look forward to each year for the locals, and newcomers from afar. As the movement grew, Nicole Mourelatos (stage name Doris Cellar) and Kendra Lathan joined the team. This year Mourelatos helped convert AM&A to a non-profit organization, contributing to all of NYC by helping to bring music and art from all five boroughs together. Last year they distributed over 1,000 programs at the festival. “We are grateful to our many generous sponsors, some of whom are Shillelagh Tavern, Katch, Ovelia, and Karaoke Shout,” says Mourelatos, who spearheaded this year’s Astoria Music Now!, the FREE event will take place throughout Astoria Park from 12 pm – 9 pm on Saturday, August 29. “This year’s theme is ‘New World Queens’ and we are excited to have such a culturally diverse line-up,” adds Finley.
Thirty bands will be featured, along with over 30 visual artists, painters and sculptors. Entertainment includes the bluegrass rock band, The Rusty Guns, and Eskarioka, an energetic explosion of punk rock with a fusion of cumbia, Balkan, salsa, hard-core dub and reggae. Also performing is Lulla Miyuki, a talented Japanese singer/songwriter/composer from Tokyo, and the famous Little Club Heads; DJs Amira & Kayla, a nine-year-old twin sister duo, who began DJ’ing for the monthly Family Dance Party at Broad Street Ballroom. Children will also enjoy the Wonderspark Puppet Show, and a pie-eating contest sponsored by Astor Bake Shop, and much more. The festival is petfriendly with a focus on ecoawareness.
“It’s very important that we remain family-friendly because I’m a dad myself, so it feels great to have that element designed in our program,” says Finley. There were challenges last year, with impromptu art not being aligned with the vision for their organization, but currently Finley encourages, “We put careful attention into the talent involved this year and for our future.”
Finley is a sound engineer, filmmaker, and the lead singer and lyricist for the psychedelic power pop band Space Jump Live (www.facebook.com/SpaceJu mpLive) which is one of several bands performing at the Astoria Music Now! afterparty being held at The Irish Whisky Bar from 9:30 pm to 2:30 am on August 29. Mourelatos, a singer, songwriter, producer, and multiinstrumentalist (https://soundcloud.com/doris_ cellar) helped to keep Astoria Music Now! alive this year. “I was going to take a year off to film, but Nikki gratefully persisted,” says Finley. If it rains, the show must go on, and attendees will be redirected to Bohemian Hall’s Beer Garden tent, and several other venues TBA. Astoria Music and Arts plan quarterly fundraising events which are announced daily on their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. They encourage you to please get involved by contacting them to become a sponsor, artist or volunteer.