In case you were wondering, Justin Kreutzmann, who is on the board of the Asbury Park Music + Film Festival, is, indeed, the son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann.
More importantly, though, for fans of the annual festival, he is an experienced filmmaker who will have two works showing at this year’s event (which takes place April 26-29 at various Asbury Park venues, with proceeds benefiting children via the Hope Academy, The Hip Hop Institute and the Asbury Park Summer Recreation Music Camp).
“Break on Thru: A Celebration of Ray Manzarek and The Doors,” which Kreutzmann directed, will be shown April 28 at noon at House of Independents, and will be followed by a question-and-answer session featuring Kreutzmann and Doors drummer John Densmore. And the Grateful Dead documentary “Long Strange Trip,” which he co-produced, screens April 29 at 1:45 p.m. at House of Independents, and will be followed by a panel discussion.
For information on all festival events, visit apmff.org.
I talked to Kreutzmann by phone last week.
Q: Tell me first: I know you’re on the board of the festival. Are you living in New Jersey now?
A: No, I live out in Los Angeles.
Q: So how did you become so involved with the festival?
A: I lost a bet! No, no, no. My friend Eric Eisner (also a board member) got me involved. Two years ago, we came and did a panel about this Grateful Dead film that we were in the middle of making. Now we’re actually coming back to show the film. It was kind of weird to go and talk about a film that nobody had seen yet.
Q: And you got on the board because you just liked the idea of a music and film festival?
A: Yeah. I liked the people. My first visit there, I got really involved with what was going on, and they made me an offer and I was like, “Wow, that would be such an honor.” It’s how you keep getting invited back to these things.
Q: And, obviously, a lot of your work is films about music, so it made a lot of sense.
A: Yeah, boom! It was a home run. And what’s nice is, when I have projects like this Doors project, I was just thinking, “Wow, we could world premiere there. It would be awesome.”
Q: Well, let’s talk about that movie first, because you’re the director of that. How did you become involved in that project?
A: Well, first of all, like a lot of people in the free world, I’ve always been a big Doors fan. And I used to work up at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios, where it was like a webcasting/recording studio in Marin County. And to promote the Hollywood Bowl release (the 2012 re-release of The Doors’ live album, Live at the Hollywood Bowl), Ray Manzarek, who lived up in Northern California, came by, and we did a live webcast with (music journalist) Ben Fong-Torres. And so we filmed Ray, and got to hang out. It was just really cool. I remember thinking, we do so much Grateful Dead stuff up there, obviously, it was nice to have a Doors project.
And then when Ray passed (in 2013), I took a little piece of his interview, and sort of cut a tribute to him, and we posted it on the TRI web site. And I got a call from The Doors’ management, and they were like, “Do you mind if we show this at Ray’s memorial?” So I was like, “Wow, that’s quite an honor.”
Then, flash forward, two years later, I’m living in Los Angeles, and I get a call again from The Doors’ management. And they’re like, “We’re putting on a tribute to Ray. Do you want to direct it?” I’m like, “Great, great, great. When?” And they’re like, “Next week.” So it’s like, “All right, awesome.” The show itself was put together in two weeks, and the film was put together in a week. We just jumped on, and filmed it, and it took on a life of its own.
I’m not a big fan of “concert films,” quote-unquote, where people stand onstage and just play for two hours. So, The Doors were kind enough to let me into their archives, and we have a bunch of behind-the-scenes, and John (Densmore) and Robby (Krieger) telling us stories about the songs, and I used the footage of Ray Manzarek from TRI, so he’s in it, and we found some interviews that Ben Fong-Torres had done with Jim Morrison, so he’s in it. And we just kind of made a unique Doors project out of it. It didn’t start out this way: It basically was like, “Hey, can you film this concert we’re doing in a week?” And now we have a film.
Q: I’ve seen that very limited footage of The Doors in Asbury Park (in 1968). Are you using that footage?
A: Yeah! That’s another one of those cosmic coincidences. In the archives, it’s not really labeled where everything’s from. It’s just labeled by what period it’s from. And so, I ended up using some footage and later found out that, yeah, it’s from Asbury Park. So, how appropriate to be coming back 50 years later, and premiering there.
Q: Now, regarding The Grateful Dead film that’s going to be shown, what do you think is special and unique about that? There have obviously been other Grateful Dead movies over the years.
A: Well, this is the only official one we’ve done … I mean, it’s impossible to tell the whole story of The Grateful Dead in one film, but this is sort of the beginning, middle and end of the Grateful Dead saga, and it’s been a long time in the works. Amir Bar-Lev is, obviously, the director, and Eric Eisner is one of the producers, along with me. It’s a really interesting look at the Grateful Dead phenomenon. Martin Scorsese came on as executive producer; it’s such an honor to have him, and that gave us some filmmaking clout. I just think it’s unique. It’s made by Amir, so it’s made by a Deadhead, looking at the phenomenon. It’s not made from our point of view, “us” being the Grateful Dead family. So it’s really interesting to see that perspective on it, and it’s just a well-made film, I think.
Like I said, Eric and I were (in Asbury Park) two years ago. We had a question-and-answer thing, and I was like, “Who’s got questions? Nobody’s seen the film. What questions would you have, at this point?” So I made a pact that, when the film’s done, we’ll bring it back, and get to show it, and then we can talk. So I’m completing the mission.
Q: How involved are you with other festival stuff: Planning things, and steering the overall direction of the festival?
A: I’m on the board, and … just the other day, we had a discussion about scheduling, and getting my advice on, “Should we put this film on at this time?” Finding a way so the films don’t compete with each other, and everybody gets to see everything. So, it’s like, “We’ll show this one here, but it’ll interfere with your panel here …” And we’ve done some charity work: We auctioned off that you can go to a Dead & Company show as my guest, and we also auctioned off two tickets to support the festival. So, I live in California, but I’m doing what I can, long distance.
Q: Of the other films being shown at the festival this year, is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to seeing?
A: I’m really excited to see the Dylan thing (a screening of rare clips, April 29 at noon at House of Independents). I think they did that when I was there two years ago, but I got in too late. So I’m really looking forward to seeing it this time. That’s one of the things where it was like, “Whatever you do, don’t schedule anything that conflicts with the Dylan thing.” That’s going to be awesome, and I want to be there.
And then Warren (Haynes) is playing, who I’ve known forever, and love, and he’s such a sweetheart, so it’ll be exciting to see Gov’t Mule (April 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre).
I’ve never been to The Stone Pony, believe it or not. I mean, I’ve walked past it, but I’ve never gone in to see a show, so I’ve decided that this time I’m going to break the plane and enter the Stone Pony.
Q: Are you a musician, too?
A: No. God, no. I’ve always wanted to make films, since I was a little kid. When I was a kid, everybody in the Grateful Dead world wanted to be a drummer. Every freakin’ kid had to have drumsticks, and was beating on stuff. And I just finally told my dad, “I don’t want to be a drummer.” I swear to God, it was like telling him that our pet had died, or something. But he got over it, and he stopped putting drum sets in my room.
I love music. I love making music documentaries, and music videos, and everything to do with music, without actually playing it myself.
Here is the “Long Strange Trip” trailer:
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.