After three years in the middle of the former playground of Borscht Belt comedy, All Tomorrow’s Parties America is bringing its annual I’ll Be Your Mirror event to the beach. From Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 2, Asbury Park will play host to one of the world’s most unique festival experiences. PopMatters spoke with the festival’s founder Barry Hogan about where ATP has been and where it’s going.
ATP America Presents I’ll Be Your Mirror boasts a lineup curated by Portishead and ATP this year, with performances on tap from Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), Public Enemy (performing Fear of a Black Planet), Swans, the Horrors, Mogwai, Battles, the Pop Group, Ultramagnetic MC’s, Company Flow, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and many, many more. There’s Criterion Cinema featuring screenings of films from their vast collection, comedy, DJ sets, rock & roll bingo and trivia and so much other one-off cool shit, it’s no wonder past ATP attendees are so dedicated to the festival, traveling from all over the world for its intimate and friendly atmosphere.
Fittingly, the locations for the past four years have come on the recommendation of friends and colleagues, with both Kutsher’s and Asbury Park coming into play thanks to childhood memories.
“The manager of Dinosaur Jr., Brian Schwartz, he said to me, ‘If you’re doing this in the States, you’ve got to come look at this place I used to go to when I was a kid in the Catskills called Kutsher’s,’” Hogan recalled. “We went to look at it and went, ‘Wow, this place is amazing.’ We fell in love with it and decided to do the event there”.
Though the Asbury Park iteration is on the threshold of its inaugural weekend, the town actually came into the picture well before the Catskills.
“Before Kutsher’s, we looked at the Paramount and Convention Hall (in Asbury Park),” Hogan said. “There’s a guy from Other Music in New York called Josh Madell, and he used to go there as a kid, and he said, ‘If you ever do it in America, you have to go to this place.’ He took us out there, showed us the Hotel Berkeley, where Johnny Cash used to live and owned and what have you”.
The idea of Asbury Park cemented itself in Hogan’s mind after a visit to Asbury Lanes for a birthday party a few years ago.
“I thought, ‘I love this: This is magical,’” Hogan said. “We had so many people saying to us, ‘You’ve got to do it here,’ so we made the decision to come down and check it out”.
The decision to move ATP from the Catskills wasn’t an easy one to make, but Hogan said it was important to maintaining the integrity of the festival.
“We did three events there and they were great, and we were very happy with how everything went with Kutsher’s, but we found it financially restrictive to make it work without raising the ticket price to sort of an insane amount which would put people off,” he said. That comes not only from years as a music promoter, but also years as a music fan, something which puts the promoters of ATP squarely in the company with the people who come to their events.
“Myself and Deborah (Higgins), who is my wife and helps run the festival, we’re just passionate about music and we’re passionate about presentation,” Hogan said. “We’re kind of like an alternative to other festivals. You go to a festival, and they’re trying to charge you for everything. They charge you for the program with the schedule inside, and to walk into certain areas. It’s crazy. The whole thing with ATP is, yeah the ticket is not the cheapest thing in the world, but it’s good value for your money when you look at it and think about what you receive. We give away free booklets, and the quality is great. Seeing Jeff Mangum and Public Enemy in a space like Convention and Paramount, that’s kind of unheard of.”
This brings the conversation around to the sometimes uncomfortable topic of money, and the underlying internet buzz that a festival like ATP might not be able to make it work in the U.S. on a consistent basis without making compromises that would sully what they’re all about. Hogan said that while things are going well for the first visit to Asbury Park, there are always questions about whether it’s something that can be sustained.
“Obviously they’re expensive projects to put together,” he said. “It’s hard to say with the economy so up and down whether people will have enough money to come out to things like this, but this year has sold more tickets than Kutsher’s had ever done, so we’re really pleased. We want to keep doing it, of course, and we’re hoping to be able to continue coming to Asbury Park. And if it works there, we hope to be able to expand it to other locations. But before we start trying to turn it into a Starbucks, I want to make it so that Asbury is kind of the crowning jewel and starting point so everybody always refers to it as the place where it really began and expand from there, if it does”.
Hogan said the temptation to go for some craven money grab isn’t something that’s ever even entered his mind.
“Obviously, we could have veered off the track and gotten someone like Limp Bizkit to curate or somebody like that, and that’s when things would go horribly wrong. Fred Durst would probably turn Asbury Lanes into a nudie bar or something”.
Though the lineup is set in stone, Hogan did make an allowance for the possibility of an impromptu set by one of the area’s most celebrated native sons: Bruce Springsteen.
“I’ve heard that if you walk around the boardwalk you might see him,” Hogan said. “If he wants to come down to the Paramount, he’s more than welcome. We’ll give him a guitar and he can perform Nebraska for us, and we’ll be very happy”.
Whether Springsteen shows or not, Hogan said ATP has always been quite lucky, and this year is no exception.
“It’s like we’ve taken our records and put them on the floor and said, ‘I want this person and that person,” he said. “And I guess over the course of time we’ve worked with a lot of these artists, so we’ve been really fortunate”.
Still, Hogan has a wish list.
“Dream curators? I don’t know if they necessarily would want to curate, but someone I’d love to see would be Kraftwerk play ATP,” he said. “And we’ve also been quite vocal about the fact that we love Wes Anderson films and the music in his films we’ve always liked, so we thought he would be a good curator if he’s available and interested. The list is kind of endless, I guess”.
The future of the festival could be in Asbury Park, provided things continue going in the right direction. Makes sense to its founder.
“So much musical history has taken place here,” Hogan said. “It’s a perfect place for us and it will open people up for people who maybe live in New York but have never been to Asbury Park and are curious about it. Hopefully it will ignite their interests. I hope people will enjoy the event enough that we’ll be back”.
Stream or Download the ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror USA Mixtape (Curated by Portishead & ATP)