Art + Culture

Q+A: Jan Bell of The Brooklyn Americana Music Festival

The Brooklyn Americana Music Festival brings together the best of Brooklyn’s original and traditional Americana, Folk, Country, Roots Blues and singer songwriters, with outdoor stages in the Archway and Brooklyn Bridge Park.  The festival returns for a second year in 2016 from September 23-25. We sat down with Jan Bell, the founder of The Maybelles and the Brooklyn Americana Music Festival, to discuss this exciting event.

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How did The Maybelles form?

The band was started in the late 1990’s when I became involved in a number of festivals including the DUMBO Arts Festival. I started to play on the back of a pickup truck at an old iron workers tavern called Between the Bridges. I also performed many shows inside the loft apartments of 68 Jay. Back in those days, musicians were able to play on rooftops and other unconventional locations. I decided to start a band and tour across America with the name Maybelles, which was named after the country singer Maybelle Carter. I now curate over 200 shows a year and it was that love of folk music that led to the creation of the Brooklyn Americana Music Festival.

Why did you choose to focus on Anglo-American folk music?

I didn’t choose this type of music…it chose me. As an artist person, I felt a deep connection with Americana folk music when I was in my early 20’s when I moved to America. The folk music I heard in my travels to the Appalachian mountains and other rust belt states was very similar to the types of music I grew up with in Yorkshire. The city has deep roots in coal mining and steel, which is also very similar to the towns I came across here in the States.

What is the Brooklyn Americana Music Festival?

The idea started in 1999 when I started to perform at Superfine and I met the founder of the DUMBO Arts Festival who convinced me to perform on stage during the event.  This helped me understand the logistics that such a large event required.  For a number of years I performed at the old St Ann’s Warehouse and in Fulton Ferry Park at the site of Jane’s Carousel. When the DUMBO Arts Festival ended in 2014, people expected me to keep the live music going, so I decided to start my own event. The first festival in 2015 was a great success that featured mostly local artists. Sponsors included the DUMBO BID, Coney Island Brewing Co., Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, Superfine, The Lighthouse, 68 Jay St Bar, and many others.  This year we are hoping for many more as more excitement builds around the festival.  More information on who will be performing will be on the website.

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Your biography says you moved here from Northern England.  What made you decide to move to NYC?  Why did you choose DUMBO?

I moved to NYC because of its rich folk music history. I settled in the East Village first, but the rising rent in the neighborhood forced me to look for a new home.  I fell in love with DUMBO the very first time I saw it and lived in 25 Jay for a while.  Back then it was a real close knit artist community. It was more rugged and looked nothing like the gentrified area we see today; artists like myself had more freedom to express ourselves.

Are there any new developments you would like to share?

I’m thinking about introducing my new album titled “Tug Boat Heart” that deals with long distance love in the age of gentrification.  It’s really a love letter to the community despite the changes that have taken place over the years.  The new album will feature 9 songs, which were all recorded in Park Slope.

What is your favorite spot in DUMBO?

Brooklyn Bridge Park is probably my favorite place to be.  I love looking out over the river!  I also really enjoying riding my bike along the waterfront down to Red Hook.  If I had to choose a business, I definitely couldn’t live without Luke’s Lobster and Recycle a Bicycle.