Good old New Jersey has often been the brunt of jokes from the other states (and the world). Those of us who are a true “Garden Stater” have all the upsides at our fingertips. We’re the most diverse state. We have one of the most vibrant arts scenes. We have the best food (see the diversity thing), beaches, great music, education, tons of history and our hands don’t smell of gasoline. If you know, you know.
The other 49 don’t seem to listen. Maybe it’s time for a different strategy.
The North2Shore (N2S) festival represents something new for the Garden State. Perhaps inspired by the wildly successful South by Southwest festival (SXSW) in Texas, it seeks to bring together a truly diverse range of people, including locals and visitors from different backgrounds. It presents an excellent opportunity to see huge stars, meet new people, and connect with each local community. (Many of the events are free to attend, but tickets or reservations may be necessary.) Hosted by three great cities, Atlantic City (June 4–11), Asbury Park (June 14–18) and Newark (June 21–25), the festival promises an unforgettable experience filled with cultural enrichment, live music, technology, film and a vibrant community atmosphere.
In addition to global headliners like Halsey, Santana, Bill Burr, Jay Wheeler, Stephen Colbert, Alanis Morissette, Marisa Monte, Demi Lovato, Daymond John, Natalie Merchant and The Smithereens, many events will feature some of New Jersey's lesser-known artists who will have an opportunity to prove themselves to a national or even global audience.
To that end, dozens of North2Shore grants have been awarded to artists and groups in each city to enable them to bring this vision to life on each weekend of the festival. We spoke with four artists/entrepreneurs/community leaders who are fired up to share some of the best of their respective communities with the world at large.
Sean Towers and his wife, Amanda Cardinali, will be using their grant to support "From Earth to Cup," a multi-disciplinary experience that combines live music and pottery making with samples of flavorful local craft beers. They run The Seed: A Living Beer Project, a local brewery in Atlantic City whose core mission is to use beer to engage the community and build connections not just among people but to the land and sea.
"The North2Shore project was brought to us by another grantee in Atlantic City,” says Towers. “We had a lot of meetings with other grantees just to see what's going to happen in the City. It's been really exciting to see all the different things going on and how the small businesses, in particular, were supportive of the program and supported by the program. The grant money helps us pay the artists and host the events. We are a grantee for a single-day event, but we are throwing events the other three or four days of the festival in the City.
“I think my biggest hope for North2Shore, for all three cities, is a sense of universal community. We all have these big inclusive communities, the culinary world, the art world, the music world, and seeing that all come together-folks can come in and move around the city and experience all that in one place at one time. My wife and I have always viewed ourselves as makers, and we really appreciate other folks in that space. The brewery has become our medium and our means to share the creativity in our minds with others. It's special to be able to listen and watch how other folks are able to display and portray their emotions, their creativity, what excites them, in ways that we are not able to."
Henrietta Shelton, another Atlantic City grantee, is co-author of Chicken Bone Beach and President and CEO of the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation. It was a racially segregated section of beach in the city. The CBB Historical Foundationhas promoted remembrance while celebrating and embracing all races with jazz, a uniquely American music form. The foundation will be using their grant to support two free jazz concerts: the Chicken Bone Beach Youth Jazz Recital at The Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University on June 4 and Tim Warfield & Terell Stafford featuring the Temple All-Stars on the Kennedy Plaza stage on the Boardwalk between Mississippi and Georgia Avenue June 10. CBB has produced concerts and community events for 22 years in Atlantic City.
"We are very excited that the north is combining with the south," says Shelton. "North Jersey has such fantastic entertainment and arts. We are growing in South Jersey. We hope we can appeal and help them realize what kind of entertainment we have here! The grants are helping us reach a new audience. I think North2Shore is going to help people focus on us and bring us into the limelight. In addition to the concerts we have a wonderful youth music institute with about 50 students-we can always use more support. We have a fantastic beach and a fantastic boardwalk. Atlantic City has a lot to offer. I'm hoping North2Shore brings attention to how much fun people can have here–the music, the ocean, the boardwalk, or just the enjoyment of the fresh air. I'm hoping the North meets the South, and we connect. You know - one state!"
Medina Citi is a talented entrepreneur and community advocate in Newark, NJ. He is one of the founders of =SPACE (pronounced "equal space"), a 19,000 sq. ft. shared workspace and business incubator occupying three floors in the heart of town. June 23, the organization will be presenting "Newark Levels," a celebration of music through the contemporary history of Newark's art and culture.
"We safeguard a lot of creatives who do digital and performance content production,” says Citi. “Each floor has a performance space and studios. The event is split across three floors, featuring performances from Sophia's Daughter, Janétza Miranda and Mikee Mula. This amazing group and others will showcase their talents, highlighting various genres of music that impacted Newark and made it the arts and culture hub it is today," said Citi. "From jazz to soul to hip-hop, it's going to take you through an auditory history of this great city. If you want to experience rich art and artists that fly under the radar while making significant original works in jazz, poetry and neo-soul–you want to come to Levels!
“All of us grantees convened to share the events we are producing, and I was wowed! There's a block party on Halsey Street, a six-piece multicultural orchestra playing in one of our parks, … Ferry Street will be closed for everyone to walk up and down and enjoy all that great food and music! My hope is that we continue to be this open to lighting our city up."
As a youth, Alexander Simone, grandson of the legendary Nina Simone, learned to play the piano while growing up in a religious household. He is a musician, producer, and community leader in Asbury Park, NJ. He is also prolific artist, musician and songwriter.
"We are already feeling the impact of the festival," says Simone. "It's already bringing people together, bridging the gap between north Jersey, south Jersey - bringing unity to the independent artists in these different towns. I hope this is the start of something that goes on for a while. Our show at the Watermark on June 14 is bringing together a lot of arts- poets, painters, tap dancers and live musicians. It overlooks the beach and the boardwalk. It couldn't be a more perfect place."
The show at the Watermark will feature Asha Griffith, a prolific hip-hop artist/tap dancer/choreographer from NYC, Chill Smith, a hip-hop artist; and Zal Walton, a local artist and soul singer. They will be joined by other local artists, comedians, poets, and creatives from around the tri-state area.
A few words about the comedy, film and technology events in the festival. Montclair Film will be hosting eleven events as part N2S, and all except the largest will be in Atlantic City. The organization will host a comedy event with Stephen Colbert and Jim Gaffigan at NJPAC June 24. The Newark International Film Festival will be held in Newark in conjunction with N2S. Passes for the series can be purchased through a link on the N2S website. Ten technology events across the three cities will feature discussions on health and entrepreneurship, an e-sports competition, and TechUnited New Jersey will present their NJ Catalyst awards in Asbury Park June 15.
The North2Shore festival offers a unique opportunity to explore the worlds of film, music and comedy with parties, screenings, showcases and special events. Hosted by a fabulous major city and two amazing, quirky beach towns, these events will be framed with some of the most wonderful communities and people in the Garden State.