CitySong

WFPK recently spoke with John Harris, former Executive Director at The Clifton Center, about a new event in town called The Clifton Roots, Jazz & Heritage Festival. Just the title alone had us wondering who’d be at this event and what it’s all going to be about. It happens September 21st through October 1st at The Clifton Center.

WFPK: Hi John! What’s your role in the Clifton Roots,Jazz and Heritage Festival and what inspired you to do this?
John Harris: Hey WFPK! I’m the festival organizer, and the festival is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now. Right after I left my job as Executive Director of the Clifton Center at the end of 2015, the Center asked me to create a program that could be submitted to the the National Endowment for the Arts for funding. This project is the result, and I’m really excited about how it has come together. Needless to say, it’s not just the NEA that made it possible. A lot of folks have pitched into to make it happen, so I want to thank all of our sponsors and friends like the Louisville Folk School, U of L, and many others, who helped make it all come together.

What artists will we be seeing there?
It would take quite a while to list all of them in detail, but a big part of the concept is not just who we’re bringing to Louisville, but who is already here. You know as well as anyone how many great musicians we have in our own town, so the idea is to gather some of our great musicians with musicians from other countries. I really want to emphasize that the musicians in Louisville deserve to share the stage with some of the best musicians in the world. As it turns out, the number of other countries is at least seven, including Venezuela, Canada, Sweden, Cuba, Brazil, Spain and, of course, the U.S. I say at least seven because Appalatin alone has members from four or five countries, I think!

Just to mention a few artists that are really interesting, Betsayda Machado and her band, Parranda El Clavo is a really cool story. They’re a band that comes from a town of 1500 people in rural Venezuela. They played together as a community band for more than thirty years and didn’t play even a single concert outside of town. Then, last year, they suddenly got a call from the Lincoln Center in New York inviting them to play there. They played a short tour to a few major cities in the Northeast. This will be just their second tour. And they are incredible! It’s a joyous group of musicians and dancers, and the music is out of this world. People are going to love it.

Another one I’m looking forward to is De Temps Antan, a French-Canadian band that has gotten rave reviews on the world music scene for years now. What’s more interesting is that it looks like we’re going to be able to organize a collaboration with De Temps Antan and a couple of local bands. I don’t want to give away the fun, but I really think this has a chance to be one of those magical collaborations that can happen when you bring together great musicians from different cultures. That’s really what this festival is all about. It’s about crossing barriers, opening minds, and creating something greater than the sum of its parts.

There are a bunch of other great musicians, too, so I encourage people to go to the Clifton Center’s website to learn more about some of the others.

Most of the events are at The Clifton Center but not all of them. How come?
There are a few reasons, but the main one is that we wanted to get the music out to the community. That’s why we’re having pop-up concerts and instrument workshops along Frankfort Avenue. I really want to try to reach people who might not normally attend a concert or go to a music class. I think sometimes people are intimidated by doing something new like that, so we’re trying to break down some of the barriers that keep some people away, or at least make the barriers lower!

Are we calling this an “annual” event?
Well, that’s an interesting question. As you know, our beloved Clifton Center (or at least the non-profit organization that has been running it for the past 20-some years) is closing down at the end of the year. But if enough people like the event, and if it’s seen as a benefit to the community members and local businesses, there’s no reason we can’t do it again.

What’s your fondest wish for this festival?
My fondest wish is the same wish I always have for the programs I work on: that people will experience something new, that their musical and cultural horizons will be expanded, and that they are exhilarated not just by the beauty and power of what they hear and see, but by witnessing the amazing things that can happen when people from different places, with different cultures and religions, come together to make art together in a spirit of friendship and love.

I believe from the tip of my balding head to the bottoms of my feet (a pretty short distance, I admit) that cultural programming like this helps to create stronger, healthier, more vibrant communities and plays a role in preventing our society from descending into the type of society that… well… the type of society we’re obviously becoming. (Not to name any names, of course). We need much more programming like this, and more opportunities to experience other cultures in general, in order to help create a more harmonious world.

Where can people find out more about the festival and how to get tickets?
The best place is to go to the Clifton Center website. We’ll be adding more and more information as we get closer, and tickets are already on sale. I hope everybody can join us!