Did you know the JP Music Festival will be celebrating seven years of showcasing Jamaica Plain musicians this year? Today, we are chatting with Shamus Moynihan, one of the founders and producers of the festival, about discovering Pinebank Field, the very first JP Music Fest, and how the festival has grown but has also stayed the same. Be sure to check out the JP Music Fest on Saturday, September 9 starting at 12pm!
K: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
S: I grew up in Southie. I’ve lived in Boston my whole life. I moved to JP in 2005. I moved to Hyde Square and I’ve been here ever since. I don’t want to live anywhere else. Hopefully, I can afford to stay here forever. I rent but I rent from a friend so I am lucky.
K: We have heard Rick Berlin’s version of the JP Music Fest’s conception. What is yours?
S: Rick and I used to always use the same laundromat in Hyde Square. We’ve lived a block away from each other for forever and we’d always run into each other at the laundromat. I was working at The Midway at the time and I was doing a lot of stuff with JP Centre/South (JPCS). I used to help with the First Thursday events and was coordinating a lot of art shows and fundraisers. Rick came up to me one day at the laundromat, it was probably a Saturday, and he goes “Why isn’t there a Jamaica Plain music festival?” I was almost stunned. Like, why isn’t there a JP music festival? It makes sense. JP is one of the most art and music rich neighborhoods in the city by far.
Literally that day, I walked out of the laundromat and started making phone calls. I called my friend Randace, who was working with JPCS at the time, and she made some calls to the City. She really got us in. I had no dealings with the City before that and I would have had no idea who to call. She connected us with the Parks Department and they gave us a list of places to look at. We went to a couple of them but they weren’t really a good fit. Eventually, we heard about Pinebank and we were like “What’s Pinebank?” I realized it was the top of the Sugar Bowl. We walked up there and it was like “Field of Dreams.” It was the winter and it was freezing. We walked up there and we said “This is it.” We didn’t want to look at any more spots. It’s the perfect place for it. There are no immediate neighbors who can be bothered. It’s a big open field. The pond is right there. People can walk around the pond and come and go as they please. It’s such an underutilized space. People come there and are surprised there isn’t more stuff that happens there. The location definitely brings attention to a lot of the cool stuff we have in JP.
K: What role do you play in organizing the festival?
S: Rick and I call each other co-producers. Besides Rick and me, the other founding member is Ferris Mueller. He is a CPA and was the treasurer of JPCS. He helped us incorporate as a 501c3. I had no idea how to do any of that stuff.
Rick and I select all the bands. We sit down, go through all the applications plus the people we would like to have play, and we sit in Rick’s room and listen to all this music. It’s insane. It’s really hard because we get over 100 applications every year and there are so many people who deserve to play. We don’t want to pick the same kind of music to play all day. We want to celebrate different types of music and different cultures and it’s hard trying to cram all that into seven hours. After we pick the bands, I deal with a lot of the fundraising, the permits, the police, the park rangers, and with City Hall. That’s what I am good at.
Our board of directors balances each other out perfectly. Once we pick the bands, Rick deals with them. There’s so much back and forth with them. Rick is a musician and that’s what he does so he is really good at that. Like I said, I deal with the official permits and all that stuff and Rick wouldn’t want to touch that with a ten foot pole. Ferris does all the financial stuff. Margie Nicoll is our art director and she does all the day-of designs, stage plots and all that cool stuff. Justin McCarthy is our graphic designer. He came up with our squirrel logo. Charlie McEnerney is our marketing guy and he does all the promotion, PR, and interviews. It’s a really cool group of people. We work so well together. It was funny, after the first festival, Ferris sat down and said “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares about taking the credit.” I think that’s a Truman quote. We make sure everyone checks their ego at the door. As a core group we work really well together.
K: Are you a musician?
S: I am not a musician at all. I have no musical talent whatsoever. I live vicariously through all my amazing, talented musician friends. I’ve always been a music lover. I’ve always been an art lover. Most of my friends are either artists or musicians so it works out well.
K: How has the festival changed over the past seven years?
S: In some ways drastically and in some ways not at all. The first year we really had no idea what we were doing. I was bartending and booking shows at The Midway but that’s a 100-person room. Actually, I think it was a 60-person room when I was working there. None of us had ever put anything on this scale on before. We had very little money and everything was bubble gum and duct tape. We had borrowed sound equipment. The microphones were giving people electrical shocks. We had a main stage and a little side stage that was like a tiny platform that we couldn’t even fit a band on. The stuff was wired backwards. We had to bring our own generator. We were pushing this giant diesel generator up the hill. It was a lot of fun! Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong but it was such an amazing day.
The first year, Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, whose sister lives in JP and his mom lives in Brookline, came out and played. I had met him a couple of times but Rick had played on some shows with him. He offered to come out on his own dime and play with Rick’s band. He wouldn’t even let us buy him dinner. We gave him a t-shirt and that’s all he wanted. Gordon is a really nice guy and we keep in touch. That really helped us the first year. It got us a lot of press.
We learned so much from our mistakes that first year. Once people realized that we were the real deal and weren’t just joking around, more donations started to roll in. We raise all the money from local businesses. It’s never going to be the “Powerade Presents: JP Music Festival.” All the funding comes from local businesses and the small fundraisers we do around town throughout the year. Most of the bars and restaurants are so generous and it’s humbling. The Galway House was our first major sponsor. We were raising 50 bucks here and there and then Eddie cut us a check for a lot. I don’t think you could do exactly this festival in a lot of neighborhoods.
K: Why not?
S: I think because the sense of community here is so serious. People will always offer, even if they don’t have a lot of money, to donate a couple of bucks. People always offer to help volunteer. We make the festival about the neighborhood. Every band has a connection to JP. They live or work in JP. They like to show off that this is their festival. You have Boston Calling and all the other festivals around but this one is really community grown.
K: Has it grown size-wise?
S: It has grown exponentially. The number of people we had last year was an amount I couldn’t even count. I think we had over 5,000 people but that might even be a conservative estimate. The police and the park rangers said they had never seen a crowd so big so well behaved. I just went to the City for our event hearing and the Boston Police said they had never had a problem. Seven years and we have never had a problem. Why would there be? It’s a free event open to the public and everyone is so respectful and there are so many kids there. We have a whole kids section where they get to make their own instruments and things. It’s a neighborhood slash family thing. Obviously, we don’t serve alcohol. There are plenty of bars and restaurants nearby.
The biggest thing we’ve upgraded is our gear. MJ Audio, which is based in JP, has been our go-to company since day one. Once we had a little bit more money to spend they showed us what they could do and now we have two huge stages. All the money basically goes to the sound and the stage. I mean, if we are going to do a music festival then we are going to do it right. If we are going to do just this one day then we want it to be amazing.
K: The musicians must really appreciate that.
S: They really do! We pay them too. The first few years, we had no money so we told them that they could sell their CDs and merchandise and keep all that money. Four years ago, we started being able to pay the bands. It’s not a lot but it is something. It’s a beautiful thing. We keep it simple.
We don’t have a ton of vendors. We don’t have activist things. I, personally, am a very politically active person but we didn’t want to make this festival political. We just want to hang out for a couple of hours and listen to some cool music. It’s great to just check out mentally for a bit in the park and just listen to some music. Eighty percent of festivals are people hawking sunglasses and asking you to sign petitions. We don’t want people to be bombarded. We have food trucks. We have all the bands selling merch. We sell JP Music Festival merch and that is it. We have people beating down our doors trying to sell glow sticks and t-shirts and all this random stuff and we always say no. We don’t do that. It’s the music festival.
K: Do you have any plans for the future of the festival?
S: If we can just keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing I think we’ll be good. I think we’ve got this down to a science at this point. What else could we do? It’s just a music festival. Come hang out in the park and listen to music. That’s it. When I presented it to City Hall I told them we are not changing a thing and they were so happy.
K: What other community activities are you involved in?
S: When I started the festival it took up a lot of my available volunteering time so I made a decision to choose quality over quantity. I focus just on the festival. Sometimes I will help with shows at The Midway. Last year, there was a fire on Creighton Street. Fifteen residents were displaced and most of them were my friends. I helped organize fundraisers for them and we raised almost $20,000. Any time something like that happens, I will put my hands in absolutely but besides stuff like that the main focus of my volunteer time is with the festival.
K: Besides the festival, do you have another favorite event in JP?
S: I love all the events in JP. I go to almost every event in JP. First Thursdays are going to be making a comeback so that is really cool. I love First Thursdays. It’s great to get out and discover your own neighborhood.
Porchfest is amazing. Mindy and Marie are good friends of mine. We work on projects together. I helped them out with the permitting for the “Light the Line” event. That was a great event. We do a t-shirt exchange at Porchfest every year and then they come up on stage and introduce a band every year at the festival. It’s really cool. They started after our third festival so Rick and I sat down with them and told them that we would help them out in any way we could. It’s not a competition, you know? No one is making any money off of any of these events. We do this because we love this neighborhood. All we have in this world is each other.
K: What are some of your favorite places in JP?
S: Obviously, the pond. It’s our little oasis in the city. I love the Emerald Necklace. I know it’s cliché to say that but I really do love it.
I love all our little businesses and independent restaurants. I love The Galway House. It’s like going into a time machine to a mid-80s bar and restaurant. The people sitting at the bar are totally different ages, sexes, classes, and races. There are lawyers sitting next to carpenters sitting next to artists and musicians sitting next to people with a ton of money. It’s a great place to sit down, have a beer, and eat a giant $9 steak. It’s got that old school JP vibe. They’ve never changed anything and it works. It’s always packed.
K: Do you have any hopes for the future of JP?
S: I hope we can keep what makes JP special, like knowing your neighbors and knowing the local business owners. When I have a friend from out-of-town and we’re walking up Centre Street they will look at me and go “What are you, the f**king mayor?” It’s just how life is here. You can’t walk three blocks without seeing at least three people you know.
I hope we can stay here. I hope we can afford to live here. The biggest problem all over the city is the affordability. It’s a problem all over the country. When does it end? How much more can a third floor condo really go for? When does it stop? Who are these people who are paying a million dollars for a two bedroom third floor condo? It’s crazy to me.