FOOD, FUN AND MUSIC—OH, THE MUSIC! GET READY TO ROCK OUT AT GTP 2018
It’s been seven years since the Greenwich Town Party made its debut at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. The passion project of Ray Dalio, the founder, co-CIO and cochairman of Bridgewater Associates, the daylong festival was conceived as a way to lift the spirits of a community suffering the aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis.
What started as a grassroots effort spearheaded by a small group of residents has morphed into a well-oiled machine. Led by a four-person board, the event’s development committee is composed of volunteer “ambassadors” who work on the party year-round, handling everything from fundraising and community outreach to the annual auction. “The Greenwich Town Party has now become something that people change their schedule and stay in Greenwich for,” says Ray Rivers, GTP copresident.
The founders knew what they were doing when they brought in New Orleans jazz great Buddy Guy to headline in 2011. The response was overwhelming, and the bar was set high. Since then, a who’s who of musical greats have graced the main stage, including Paul Simon (with a surprise drop in by Dave Matthews), Hall & Oates, James Taylor and Santana. This year’s headliner is perhaps the most impressive yet: Eric Clapton, a multiple Grammy Award winner and a three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “We’re thrilled,” says Rivers. “He’s the most iconic name we’ve ever had at the event.”
As always, the festival—this year scheduled for Saturday, May 26—will feature plenty of family-friendly activities (arts and crafts to carnival booths), great food (barbecue and burgers to panini and cupcakes), and music by six local bands. Local charities will set up booths and vets will hand out red poppies underwritten by Greenwich resident Michael Freeberg—a reminder of the true meaning of Memorial Day. “We always want people to participate,” says Rivers. “Whether it’s the Boy Scouts, the vets or various civic organizations, these are the little things that make it the best. The day of the show, I look around and see all the smiles and everyone having a great time. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
SETTING THE STAGE
This year’s main-stage lineup features multiple genres from rock and roll to bluegrass: “Each one of the artists is accomplished in his or her own right,” says Rivers. “When they all come together, it will truly be an event to remember.”
During his five-decade career, Eric Clapton has released forty-five albums and received numerous awards and honors; he is ranked No. 2 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list (second only to Jimi Hendrix). In February, Showtime Networks debuted a new documentary, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, on the musician’s rise to fame. His appearance at the GTP is one of three concerts he’s scheduled to play in North America this year. Also on the main stage: the twelve-piece modern roots tour de force Tedeschi Trucks Band, returning for their third visit to the GTP; the legendary ensemble Preservation Hall Jazz Band, here for the second time; Colorado-based string band Trout Steak Revival; and local favorite Scopoletti & the Truth, also back for a second visit.
We spoke with Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks Band and Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall Jazz Band about life, community and, of course, the world of music and the icons they admire.
Cofounder (along with his wife Susan Tedeschi) of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Derek Trucks started playing slide guitar at the age of nine and was touring by eleven. In 1999 he stepped into Duane Allman’s slide-guitar spot in the Allman Brothers Band (his uncle Butch was a founding member) until its final appearance in 2014. He toured with his good friend Eric Clapton in 2006 and 2007. GREENWICH magazine caught up with Derek by phone at his hotel in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he and the band were finishing up their winter tour.
Q THIS WILL BE YOUR THIRD APPEARANCE AT THE GREENWICH TOWN PARTY WHERE YOU’LL BE OPENING FOR ERIC CLAPTON. HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOU TWO HAVE BEEN ON STAGE TOGETHER?
Eric and I stay in touch. I imagine the last time I was on stage with him was at one of his birthday shows at Madison Square Garden. When I heard he was part of this year’s Greenwich Town Party, that added to the urgency of being here. He doesn’t play that many shows any more. It will be nice to reconnect with him. It will be a reunion of sorts.
Q LAST YEAR WAS A TOUGH YEAR FOR YOU. (BUTCH TRUCKS DIED IN JANUARY AND GREGG ALLMAN DIED IN MAY.) HOW IS 2018 SHAPING UP?
2017 was an intense year; a tough one for a lot of people in our circle. When it ended there was definitely the feeling that we were turning the page. It was a much-needed reset. We were happy to be back on the road. It felt different but in a good way. After we finish this part of the tour, we’re going to head into the studio to make a new album. We’ll get in and record and then take a step back and see what we have.
Q DO YOU FEEL A RESPONSIBILITY TO CARRY ON GREGG’S MUSICAL LEGACY?
I’ve always felt the best way to honor the music is to play a tune or two, sometimes a direct nod to them. But the best way to carry it on is to tap into what made you feel a certain way about the music in the first place. The same is true with Leon Russell and BB King. There’s a certain sense of the way they made the music and then the need to keep moving it forward. I think it’s most important to make music that’s living and breathing. In this day and age even with touring bands that’s a rarity.
Q YOU SPEND 200-PLUS DAYS A YEAR ON THE ROAD. HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO BALANCE YOUR PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL LIFE?
We’re trying to trim it down as we go. A lot of people in the band have kids and family, and we’re trying to make the traveling a little more civilized. The day after we finish this tour, our son turns sixteen. It’s crazy. Your son turns sixteen and you’re shopping for a car and you wonder, how did that happen? When we get home, Susan turns into super mom. She’s up at 5:00 every morning, making breakfast for everyone.
Q YOU’VE TRAVELED THE WORLD DURING YOUR CAREER AND SEEN FIRSTHAND THE EFFECT GREAT MUSIC CAN HAVE ON AN AUDIENCE. HOW DOES MUSIC BRIDGE DIFFERENT CULTURES AND COUNTRIES?
I think about this question a lot. Especially with music from the South—blues and R&B—no matter where we are, when people hear something that makes them feel something, that’s important. We’re in a weird time right now—everyone is in their opposite corners, everything is insanely divided. The more you can make people see and feel, that’s important. Even at our shows you can see a good representation of the country we live in, but in that moment they’re all feeling the music. I remember traveling overseas during the Bush era and we were playing at a blues festival, and even though the Europeans weren’t sure about Americans, they were still in love with the music that’s made here. Music has a way of cutting to the chase.
Q HOW HAS YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH SUSAN ON STAGE STRENGTHENED AND EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
I’m learning more and more how to play behind a singer and make it right. Susan has a way of connecting really deeply to people through her guitar playing and singing. That rubs off.
Q YOU’VE PLAYED WITH SOME OF THE GREATEST OF THE GREATS. WHAT’S THAT BEEN LIKE FOR YOU?
I’ve been really fortunate in my life. I’ve played with BB King and Stevie Wonder and Wayne Shorter. I’ve been fortunate enough to run into them and share the stage. Susan and I have been incredibly fortunate to have musical connections with a lot of our musical heroes. We still have to pinch ourselves. Some of those moments, like with BB, are magical. Making music with him is like a shock to the system. I want to try to honor those things and carry on in the same way whatever they were generous enough to share. I use it as fuel in a lot of ways. I don’t want to let those people down.
Legendary New Orleans ensemble Preservation Hall Jazz Band takes its name from the hall that Allan Jaffe and his wife, Sandra, founded in 1961 to showcase the living legends of New Orleans jazz. Under the guidance of their son, Ben, the band has grown and evolved while maintaining his parents’ vision. Their 2017 album, So It Is, was inspired by a trip to Cuba, and they have also collaborated with the Foo Fighters, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire and Elvis Costello. PHJB was also awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence. We talked to Ben by phone from his home in New Orleans.
Q WHAT DID YOU FIRST THINK WHEN
YOU PLAYED THE GREENWICH TOWN PARTY LAST YEAR?
I remember thinking, what a wonderful way for a community to celebrate and come together under the joyous umbrella that is music. That was how Jazz Fest got started. It was an event for the community to celebrate the music of its community.
Q IS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT THAT STANDS OUT FROM YOUR APPEARANCE IN 2016?
One of the best things about an event like the GTP is that it’s about the musicians as much as it is about the audience. Usually at bigger festivals you pass each other in a golf cart heading off in different directions. It was beautiful the way the producers curated the lineup so that all the musicians were friends and peers. Back stage it felt like a reunion; it was cool to hang out in a teenager chill room [at the Arch Street Teen Center] and have an opportunity to break bread together.
Q THE GTP IS ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY. HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS IDEA OF COMMUNITY TO PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND?
When my parents established Preservation Hall in 1961, they created a stage and a platform for those aging jazz pioneers to have a voice. In 1961 that was a very big statement, it was a time of the segregated South and Jim Crow. For many years Preservation Hall reflected what was going on in the community, but then eventually it became part of the community, a cultural institution as powerful as the African American churches. My mom and dad couldn’t anticipate this is what PH would become, they just had a natural instinct that valued family and community. And we apply that to everything we do. We have a historical road map as we move forward.
Q WHAT ROLE DOES HISTORY PLAY IN YOUR MUSIC?
In New Orleans, understanding our history is very important. We are an African city, a Spanish city, a French city and a Native American city. We are not English. To find anything similar, you have to go south.
Q CASE IN POINT, CUBA. WHAT DID YOU TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR 2015 TRIP THERE?
We put out a great album with great music. It is beyond reproach. During the time of writing it, we went to Cuba on a spiritual and physical journey. As a city we have a long history with Cuba, and this trip was a chance to peel away at some of the layers of this relationship. There is an important Cuban population here that has impacted the music, the art and the food. Equally important is our relationship to Haiti. We have a huge Haitian population. New Orleans is the international and cultural epicenter of the new world. All of it created the music we’ve come to know as jazz. Part of our mission is to understand our history and use it as musical inspiration moving forward.
Q HOW DOES PH NURTURE THE NEXT GENERATION OF YOUNG MUSICIANS?
We turn to our own upbringing and own experience. In New Orleans, this process is very organic. Every person is born with rhythm; it’s in their DNA. Someone in the community will notice, maybe an elder statesman or a church member or a family member who will supply them with an instrument or bring them to Preservation Hall to sit in on a rehearsal. It’s up to the foundation to provide those opportunities to burgeoning musicians, to enable them to sit and learn at the feet of the masters.
Q WHO ARE YOUR MUSICAL ICONS? WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH?
People who are musicians of the world, musicians whose music extends beyond borders. I’ve been blessed to work with many important musicians: Stevie Wonder, Manu Chao, Youssou N’Dour, Gilberto Gil. Gilberto is someone that breathes the same air we breathe, drinks from the same glass. His music is bigger than one place. Youssou N’Dour, Manu Chao, Stevie Wonder and Gilberto Gil in Preservation Hall. That would be a crazy band. You heard it right here, right now. That is my idea of the greatest musical moment of my life.