Long-running Black Potatoe Music Festival has an independent streak

Willy Porter headlines the last day of the July 8-13 Black Potatoe Music Festival.

Willy Porter performs on the last day of the July 8-12 Black Potatoe Music Festival.

In New Jersey, Independence Day has been followed, for nearly two decades, by Independents Days: The Black Potatoe Music Festival in Clinton traditionally takes place the week after July 4, and features independent musicians (i.e., musicians who record for independent record labels rather then the larger “major labels” that dominate the music industry).

This year’s 19th annual Black Potatoe festival — the name was inspired by Vice President Dan Quayle’s infamous misspelling of “potato” — takes place July 8-12, outdoors at the Red Mill Museum in Clinton. Roots music in many different forms will be offered by 43 acts on two stages. Some of the most prominent attractions include singer-songwriters Ellis Paul, Susan Werner, Willy Porter and Seth Glier, festival organizer Matt “Angus” Williams’ band The Matt Angus Thing, Bluebirds of Paradise (a new duo featuring Ari Hest and Chrissi Poland) and Gregg Allman collaborator Scott Sharrard’s Brickyard Band.

The festival, which started as a one-day event, has grown steadily, and has offered five days of music for several years now.

“We’ve stayed true to trying to be a place for independent musicians, and that’s very hard to do,” says Williams. “The biggest thing is we made it through the economy that crapped out just about every other festival in New Jersey. Nineteen years running … there are festivals that have been running as long, but not many that have focused on independent music.”

Over the years, he says, “We’ve kind of gotten a reputation of being a good place for singer-songwriters to go, and for musicians to go. It’s easy to run a festival if you’ve got Springsteen playing, or Bon Jovi, or the Foo Fighters. It’s pretty hard to maintain one with people who you don’t know by name. But we’ve gotten to the point where people know that probably somebody that we have here this year will be somebody they’ll be happy that they saw, three years from now.”

He says artists such as Paul, Werner and Porter “are some of the best songwriters in the country right now,” and that Porter’s “How to Rob a Bank” is, “not only, in my opinion, the anthem for the bank crisis and what goes on on Wall Street, but it’s probably the best-crafted song of the last 10 years, without a doubt. And Ellis has a song called ‘Hurricane Angel,’ about Katrina, that I don’t now why we didn’t see everywhere.”

(To watch videos of these songs, go to the bottom of this page.)

It’s too early to talk about the 20th anniversary festival, next year, Williams says. “I continue to take it one year at a time. But yeah, next year is a big year. Twenty is a long time.”

Here is this year’s schedule. To buy tickets or get more information, visit blackpotatoe.com.


6:30 p.m.: Supra, Ayers, Killcoyne, Shelly Quartet. (James Supra, Sarah Ayers, Andy Killcoyne and Mitch Shelly.)
8 p.m.: Alex Radus Trio
9:30 p.m.: Seth Glier

6 p.m.: Steve Kunzman
7:30 p.m.: Katie Henry
9 p.m.: Nalani & Sarina

Susan Werner performs at the Hamilton Stage in Rahway on Jan. 9.

Susan Werner headlines the second night of the Black Potatoe Music Festival, July 9.


6:30 p.m.: Wyland
8 p.m.:
Chrissi Poland
9:30 p.m.:
Susan Werner

6 p.m.: Grasping at Straws
7:30 p.m.: Tyler Sarfert
9 p.m.: Mia Bergmann


6:30 p.m.: Nameless in August
8 p.m.:
The Chris O’Leary Band
9:30 p.m.: Scott Sharrard & the Brickyard Band

6 p.m.:
Don Elliker
7:30 p.m.:
Liz de Lise
9 p.m.: Sammy Flow


11:15 a.m.: LO8
12:30 p.m.:
Chelsea Carlson
2 p.m.:
Jenny Cat
3:30 p.m.:
Mike Montrey Band
5 p.m.:
American Beauties
6:30 p.m.:
Karl Dietel
8 p.m.:
Bluebirds of Paradise (featuring Ari Hest and Chrissi Poland)
9:30 p.m.:
The Matt Angus Thing

Noon: The Collins Brothers
1:30 p.m.:
Pat Foran
3 p.m.:
Gary Reed
4:30 p.m.:
Brad Cole
6 p.m.:
The Coteries
7:30 p.m.:
Sara Hulse Band
9 p.m.: Blue Light Bandits


The Sharar Sisters will perform on the Quarry Stage, July 12.


12:25 p.m.: TBA
1:35 p.m.:
The Sharar Sisters
3 p.m.:
Gregg Cagno
4:30 p.m.:
Willy Porter, with Carmen Nickerson
6:30 p.m.: Ellis Paul

Noon: Ted Lyons
1:05 p.m.:
Liam Kyle Cahill
2:30 p.m.:
P.D. Brody
4 p.m.:
Christian Bauman
6 p.m.: Tim Rice


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