The College Music Journal (CMJ) Music Marathon and Film Festival took over New York City for five days on October 18th -22nd. Artists from all over the world poured in for the event that has been going strong for 31 years. The festival showcases the best independent artists in music and film, and brings together industry professionals to network, learn, and in some cases, find representation with a label or distributor. I still remember being turned away at the door during CMJ in 2004 when I tried to see the Arcade Fire play at Arlene’s Grocery. It goes to show that you never know who’ll be the next big band to hit.
One of my favorite parts of the CMJ Festival are the day parties and label showcases. Most of these events are free, and they give you access to see some of the best indie bands playing in smaller venues with fewer crowds. Throw in some open bars in the mix and you’ve got one hell of a party.
Some of the highlighted showcases this year included: the Fader Fort by Fiat, Brooklyn Vegan, Big Picture Media, Tell All Your Friends, M for Montreal, ASCAP, Windish Agency, The Deli, BMI, and Whotune, just to name a few. The best lineup for me, had to be the Free Yr Radio/KEXP, which featured Zola Jesus, We Are Augustines, Portugal. the Man, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
One piece of advice for those who are thinking of going next year, make sure you get to the venues well in advance. You want to see as many bands as possible, but since venues are usually at capacity, there’s a good chance you’ll end up getting turned away at the doors. This year it happened to me when I tried to see Gary Clark Jr. at the Highline Ballroom and We Are Scientists at Webster Hall.
Luckily, I was able to see some great music this year, and found some new bands and artists that I wouldn’t have discovered if I didn’t arrive early to a showcase. This was the case on the Wednesday night, when I spent the whole evening at the Bowery Ballroom and saw two showcases from 7pm until 1am (It was also pouring rain outside and it made it that much easier to convince myself to stay). I came out to see Boy & Bear and Motopony, but The Upwelling, The Silent Comedy, and Viva Brother equally blew me away.
Some of the other festival performances that gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling inside included: Shout Out Out Out Out and Miracles of Modern Science at Dominion; Army Navy at Fat Baby; Rachel Yamagata and The Barr Brothers at Rockwood Music Hall; Misty Boyce, Chris Cubeta & Liars Club, Matt Cranstoun, and Elizabeth and the Catapult at the Rock Shop.
As much as music is a huge part of what makes CMJ, it’s not the only thing the festival has to offer. Panel discussions and film screenings were a big draw this year. Some key panels included: A conversation with Daniel Glass (founder of Glassnote Records) and Matt Pinfield (MTV host and former VP of A&R at Columbia Records); How To Launch A Music Start-Up; and The Right Steps To Break A Band. Music inspired films included: “Pearl Jam Twenty,” and “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.”
This time around the festival seemed to go off without at hitch, and that’s what keeps bands, industry professionals, and of course fans coming out year after year. What keeps me coming back and drives my continued interest, is the idea of seeing that one epic band early in their career, before they go on to sell out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row, and eventually win the Grammy for Album of the Year. But even if they don’t go down this path, there are still plenty of amazing indie bands that are great performers playing in front of a small audience of adoring fans.