John McLaughlin to Headline Jazz Festival in Raleigh

Abstract Logix label sponsoring two-day festival and celebration of the guitarist on November 20-21, 2010

John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin

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Souvik Dutta of Abstract Logix says the upcoming New Universe Music Festival he’s organizing in Raleigh, North Carolina, and headlined by John McLaughlin, is causing him some marital problems. “My wife is going crazy,” says Dutta, laughing. “She thinks I’m totally nuts. Aren’t we all?” Indeed, anyone committed to promoting jazz in this upside-down economy maybe should be committed as certifiable, as they say. But Dutta is undaunted. “I’m going for it, man,” he says. “I never expected to do this, but John’s coming to the States and I don’t know how often he’ll be coming to the States.”

Dutta, whose company is based in the Raleigh area, is the first one to admit that, as a longtime label guy, he’s new to festival production. He got into it largely as a result of his association with John McLaughlin. “I don’t personally do any live events, because I’m so busy doing other stuff, managing their tours, etc.,” he explains. “When I found that John was coming to the States, I said to him, ‘Well, you’re going to be at the Birchmere [in Alexandria, Virginia] and you’ll have two days off, so let’s do something in Raleigh.'”

The one-off concert by the founder of the Mahavishnu Orchestra quickly evolved into something more. “Next thing you know, I’m booking another artist of mine, Jimmy Herring, into the show to have a night of the two guitar players. Then it started. The phone started to ring, from all of my artists, saying, ‘Come on, let’s do it. Let’s have some fun.’ Then all of a sudden, we have Lenny White, Anthony Jackson, Wayne Krantz, Matt Garrison… We got a festival. This year I decided to keep in in-house with all of my artists.”

Funding wise, the festival will also be mostly an in-house affair. “Nobody has any sort of funding or sponsorship,” says Dutta, groaning audibly. “I have a friend of mine at Red Hat [IT company] and he’s a music fanatic. He gave me a little bit of money.” But for any festival or concert promoter, it’s all about ticket sales and butts in the seats. And Dutta is confident just based on the response thus far. “I think we’re going to sell it out. We’ve sold one third of the tickets already. And we haven’t even advertised locally yet.”

What’s been most surprising to Dutta, and to probably anyone else for that matter, is that interest in the festival has come from the far reaches of the globe. “People are coming from all over the world to the festival. People from Australia, Japan, South Africa and Europe have bought tickets already. It’s amazing. I’m shocked. Just a tenth so far have been from the immediate area.”

Although the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill is known as a growing metro area with lots of corporations and universities based there, it’s not really known for his jazz scene. “The area has a healthy music scene because of the universities here [Duke, UNC, NC State, et al]. I’m doing it at a venue, the Lincoln Theatre, which has a House of Blues sort of vibe. It used to be an old movie theater. The sound is fantastic. It holds 800. I wanted it to have a lively vibe. I didn’t want it to just be a seated thing.”

The festival will consist of concerts on two consecutive nights at the Lincoln Theatre with roughly four acts per night (see schedule of events below). “I’ve booked John before at that theater a few years ago. And we had 880 people for one show. That gave me the confidence to do this. I feel good about it.” In addition, Dutta says that the performances on both nights will be filmed for a DVD to be released in 2011.

One wrinkle that Dutta has added to the programming is a listening party to kick off each night. “We’ll be playing new records in Surround Sound in the venue with the musicians taking questions and listening to the music along with the crowd. It’s an interactive situation. People have been asking if there will be clinics, but this year, there’s no time for that. I tell people that they’ll be able to interact with the guys at the venue.”

Most of the acts are of the high-powered fusion variety, but perhaps because of McLaughlin’s connections to Indian culture, as well as Dutta’s own upbringing, the festival also includes collaborations with non-Western players as well. “There’s a violinist coming from India- Balabhaskar. He’s an amazing prodigy. He’s out of this world. He’s 18 years old and he’s going to freak people out. He’ll be performing with Ranjit Barot.”

However, there is no question that the centerpiece of the festival is McLaughlin and Dutta is committed to making it a special event for both the guitarist and his fans. “We’re going to celebrate the music of John McLaughlin at the end of the festival. We’re going to be revisiting the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra with all the players from both nights playing. That’s going to be very special.”

Most jazz musicians are not all that crazy about the jam format during festivals, often feeling like they’re forced to play tired standards, unrehearsed with musicians they’re not simpatico with, just so that the promoter or the audience can say they say Artist X play with Artist Y. What was McLaughlin’s reaction to the jam approach? “John doesn’t like the jam format particularly,” Dutta confirms. “But he’s like family to me. He’s the reason I’m in business to start with. And it’s all his friends. He’s not jamming with any strangers here. He’s a big influence to a lot of the people playing. It’s in the family for us.”

Dutta’s goal is to do the festival on an annual basis, but he’s also thinking of broadening the focus beyond jazz-rock. “I may mix in some different genres,” he explains. “I want to bring in somebody like Bruce Hornsby next year.”

For more information about the festival, go to their web site and for tickets you can go the theater’s web site.

Schedule of Events

Saturday Nov 20

6.00 PM – 6.30 PM Listening Party with Ranjit Barot and Wayne Krantz

7.00 PM-8.15 PM Alex Machacek with Jeff Sipe and Neal Fountain

8.30-9.15 PM Ranjit Barot

9.30-10.30 PM Human Element – Matthew Garrison, Scott Kinsey, Arto Tuncboyaciyan with Special Guest on Drums (Note: Gary Novak will not be here)

11.00 – 12.30 AM Jimmy Herring Band

Sunday, November 21

6.00 PM – 6.30 PM Listening Party with Matt Garrison, Scott Kinsey

6.30 PM – 7.45 PM Wayne Krantz with Anthony Jackson and Cliff Almond

8.00 PM – 9.30 PM Lenny White Band with Jimmy Herring

9.45 PM – 11.15 PM John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension

11.30 PM – Onwards The Grand Finale Jam: A Special Tribute to John McLaughlin