Justin Finley is the founder of Astoria Music & Arts, “a non-profit promotions company obsessed with exposing the best kept secret in New York: what’s going on in Astoria.” As the name suggests, they specialize in promoting musicians and artists throughout the neighborhood; if you find an open mic, festival, or other related event in the area, it’s likely that Astoria Music & Arts is involved.
We asked Justin a few questions to find out some more about Astoria Music & Arts, how it’s grown, and what plans are in store for the future.
What made you want to start up Astoria Music & Arts?
The lack of venues in the neighborhood and a generally “nose up” attitude toward Astoria from other neighborhoods and boroughs. It was as if we had very little to contribute culturally to the city, which is not the case at all. Astoria had a burning desire to constantly stay relevant, and Astoria Music & Arts was an effort to make that happen.
How has AM&A grown and changed from what it once was to what it is today?
The neighborhood has grown and so has AM&A. Shows are booking themselves now, which gives us time to concentrate on a handful of choice events throughout the year rather than putting our focus on small weekly shows. These smaller events are important and a lot of fun, but spending so much of our resources on them was wearing us out and watering down the brand.
The most recent festival in Astoria Park brought roughly 2-3000 people out and boasted artisan food vendors, an art island featuring over 30 visual artists, a theatre/vaudeville stage, a comedy tent, an acoustic tent, a three-hour short film screening tent with filmmakers from all around the globe, and our two main band stages. All in all, upwards of a thousand (predominantly local) artists featured this year. I’d say it was easily our most ambitious project to date.
What are some events you have coming up?
We are very excited to be bringing three very unique “AM&A family” bands to the new space at Front Toward Enemy on November 7th. Formerly known as Canz, the newly redesigned Front Toward Enemy has enormous potential to be a viable answer to the lack of a solid venue in our neighborhood. The location (40-11 30th Ave) is convenient enough to get there quite easily from train or bus, and is cavernous enough to offer proper rock acoustics without disturbing the neighbors. The three bands featured on the 7th will be The Missing Teens, Space Jump Live!, and Devil’s Corner (with members of Thunderbang).
For the tots, we are doing an afternoon harvest event in the park (in partnership with the Astoria Parks Alliance’s annual parks leafing event) Saturday November 15th from 12:30-3p on the main lawn (with a rain date scheduled for the 22nd). Expect face painting, magicians, environmental theatre by the Green Circus, and a 40 minute acoustic set of family songs featuring an array of musicians from around the neighborhood.
AM&A’s events seem to be a healthy balance of adult nightlife and family-friendly events. Is that how you always indented it to be?
Not originally—we were primarily focused on nightlife until most recently as a matter of fact. Quite a few parents we’re not too happy about the placement of the comedy tent in such close proximity to the playground at our festival last month in Astoria Park. The unfortunate result of this was an unhealthy amount of unhappy e-mails flooding the New York City Parks & Recreation Manager’s inbox.
I get it—I’m a dad to a two year-old and I completely relate as to why these parents were upset, and moving forward, this will never happen again. This festival is a learning process and it still needs room to grow. So as a result, we are creating the harvest event as an exclusive children’s event to bring family-friendly fun back to the park.
Lastly, what do you see in Astoria Music & Arts’s future?
A much bigger festival next year. Expect bigger name headliners and much more interactive sculpture art.
To find out more about Astoria Music & Arts, visit their website or join their Facebook group.
Cristina Guarino is a writer by day, writer by night with the crippling tendonitis to show for it. She’s an Astoria native with deep roots in Queens, from her four years at Queens College to her prior stint as a full-time reporter for the Queens Gazette. She can be found at her blog, http://crgwrites.wordpress.com, or on her Twitter at http://twitter.com/crguarino.