There were more than 50 sets of music, panel discussions and other offerings at the three-day SouthNext festival, which took place last weekend at the South Orange Performing Arts Center and other nearby venues. I attended only five of them, as well as checking out some of the community art projects in the festival’s outdoor Creative Midway, so I can only give a partial review. But I was still impressed by what I went saw.
Festival headliners The Smithereens were in good form in their headlining set on the SOPAC’s main stage, playing hits, obscurities and Beatles, Who and Free covers; and Alexander Kariotis and his Rock Opera Orchestra boldly and skillfully bounced back and forth between rock and classical in their afternoon main-stage set. In a more low-key vein, Tori Erstwhile and The Montys performed quirkily humorous songs in the cabaret-like setting of the SOPAC Loft.
In a discussion titled “Anatomy of an Earworm: How a Hit Becomes Hot,” Def Jam executive VP of promotion Rodney Shealey gave a peak at what his job entails, and the philosophies that have led to Def Jam’s success; and a panel titled “Artistry vs. Monetization” looked at the challenges of getting a project done in the entertainment industry’s present climate.
There are several unique things about this annual festival, which launched in 2015 as South by South Orange and adopted its current name this year. It draws mostly from local talent, meaning people who live in South Orange, Maplewood and nearby towns. And it’s not just a music or film festival, but also explores other art forms (visual arts, dance) and other fields of interest (technology, politics, education), and how all these worlds interact. “Creative Collisions” is its slogan.
“This idea of a collision is analogous to what our community is about,” said SouthNext founder Stephen Schnall, who is also a South Orange Village Trustee. “We like uniqueness, we like differences. Even if we thought we might not be fans of a particular genre, we see things from different perspectives, and we highlight that. We don’t shy and run away from it.”
He said he was satisfied by the quality of this year’s offerings, but acknowledged that the Smithereens concert felt a little disjointed from the rest of the festival, and that overall attendance figures did not live up to the festival’s projections.
“The fact that it was Father’s Day Weekend was a challenge,” he said. ‘In a strange way, the fact that it was good weather was a challenge: Last year, it rained on Saturday, so people didn’t come out because of the bad weather. This year, some people may not have come down because of the good weather: The pool and The Shore look good.”
That said, he’s already thinking about how things can improve, next year.
“As a trustee, I’m trying to find something that I think will promote our town, and do something positive. Maplewoodstock has, I think, done that for Maplewood, in a great way, and there are a lot of examples of locations that have put themselves on the map, if you will.”