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Hundreds of musicians, artists and observers alike will soon band together to attend and perform at the bi-annual Antifolk Festival, held at Sidewalk Café the week of September 19th through September 25th. Sidewalk Café, located in the East Village on 6th Street and Avenue A, has reopened its doors to the public this past August. After a five-month renovation, regulars are left with various opinions on the club’s new design.
“The entire building needed a structural overhaul, which required every bit of equipment, from the PA to the kitchen to the bar, to be gutted,” explains Sidewalk’s musical impresario, Ben Krieger. “I was not involved in how things were built back up, but I’m pleased with the direction that was taken. The PA and backline, simply put, are a lot better.” In addition to the new sound equipment, Sidewalk has installed orange lighting in its bar area, baiting their guests with a new sleek and sophisticated atmosphere in which to sip cocktails and liquored-up milkshakes.
“It’s a shame they removed the front awning. Huddled together out of the rain and snow, or out of the bright sunshine- that brings people together,” states Jeffrey Lewis, a staple of the Sidewalk community and self-declared member of the Antifolk movement. “With no awning, you just go outside and go home. Also there’s no longer a downstairs area to tune up and hang out. But things always change. You have to appreciate them while you have them, and appreciate them as they are.” Lewis will be a featured act at the Antifolk Festival on September 20th at 11:30pm.
Antifolk, a musical movement combining the punk and folk genres, came to be in the 1980’s when singer/songwriter Lach (pronounced ‘Latch’) was unable to play shows in the downtown area do to his music being deemed ‘too punk’ by bookers. Lach started the Lower East Side after hours club, The Fort, to give other artists in the same situation a chance for their music to be heard. The Fort’s opening fell on the same date as the New York Folk Festival, leaving Lach to coin his event the “Antifolk Festival.” Several venue changes later, the movement known as ‘Antifolk’ secured a home at Sidewalk Café in 1993 and it’s inhabited the back room ever since.
Questions and confusion arise among outsiders who are not familiar with the term ‘Antifolk.’ Is Antifolk a musical genre that pokes fun at the likes of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie? Are its components the opposite of the contemporary folk genre? Very few have the answer to what the true nature of antifolk represents, although several spectators have associated it with the mocking of contemporary folk. Jeffrey Lewis takes a stab at the definition:
“I’m actually the only person who has a real answer to that question. To be Antifolk, an artist must fit the following two categories. If an artist only fits into one or the other of the following two categories, then the artist is not antifolk. The two categories are: A.) An Antifolk artist must have a connection with the Sidewalk Cafe open mic scene in New York City- performing at Sidewalk, and being part of that community in some way or another. B.) The artist must combine folk music and punk music in some way, either from a literal musical combination of both, or from taking a large influence from a knowledge of both folk music and punk music.”
The Antifolk Festival kicks off with the Monday Open Stage on September 19th, 2011, which is open to anyone who desires to perform. Signups begin at 7:30pm and the night goes until late. Really late. Each performer draws a number to determine their time slot and is entitled to two songs or eight minutes of stage. This weekly event allows regulars to connect with newcomers.
“If you walk out the door the minute you see you have a high number at the Monday Open Sage, you’ll never make it at Sidewalk, or probably NYC in general,” Ben Krieger advises. “Your talent is only one ingredient to success. You need to show up and stay out late. If not at Sidewalk, then somewhere. Charisma is currency.”
Highlights of the Antifolk Festival include JJ Hayes, Debe Dalton, Jeffrey Lewis, Crazy and the Brains and Prewar Yardsale. For a complete list of performers and dates, visit www.sidewalkmusic.net.