I AM back: Indie-rock fest returns after hiatus

The Brooklyn-based trio Hospitality headlines Saturday.
The Brooklyn-based trio Hospitality headlines Saturday.

I AM back: Indie-rock fest returns after hiatus

Last year, in the wake of the protracted economic downtown, the impending sixth edition of the I AM Festival, New London's upstart indie rock music event, was cancelled and became I'M NOT.

Fortunately, as founders and co-organizers Rich Martin and Sean Murray steadfastly insisted all along, the hiatus was just that - a temporary and visionary long-range strategy.

Retooled and newly conceptualized, I AM takes place Saturday in New London with four downtown stages, several national acts including headliners Hospitality, Sean Bones, Dom and Bear Hands, as well as popular area bands like The Hempsteadys, The Suicide Dolls and Sidewalk Dave.

"We are always looking for the best of the new crop of acts that are in full blossom any given year," Martin says. "I'm especially excited about Hospitality. They released their debut on the superb Merge Records this past spring. They play a really smart brand of pop rock that I think will prove infectious."

Martin and Murray have always been ahead of the curve in terms of booking soon-to-be-stars; previous I AM acts have included early-stage Matt & Kim, Girl Talk, Jay Reatard, Deerhoof and The Drums.

Martin laughs and says, "We really just cast lines out there and see what comes back and build the strongest bill we can from what's available with the festival's modest means."

Indeed, as last year's hiatus indicates, a festival like I AM, however hiply credible, is still in the building stage in terms of long-term financial stability.

"Last year, we simply didn't have quite enough oomph in the coffers to pull off the festival we wanted," Martins says. "We really didn't want to see all the work we'd done take a step back because of a lack of dollars. So we retrenched and regrouped in order to emerge with a stronger, more exciting festival this year. It was never a consideration that we wouldn't continue."

Along with shoring up the funding, Martin and Murray made the decision to focus the four festival stages in the downtown area - and abandon for the time being the traditional host stage on Waterfront Park's Custom House Pier.

This year, there will be two headliner stages downtown: the CT.com Stage at Parade Plaza and in the Hygienic Art Park on Bank Street. Two smaller showcase venues will be at the Oasis Pub on Bank Street and at the Telegraph on Golden Street.

"We've been talking for the last few years about moving up into the heart of the city," Martin says. "We're going to miss the sheer stunning beauty of the Waterfront Park, but events down there can feel very separate from the central business district."

Martin says the idea of centralizing the four stages in the Bank Street area is a conscious strategy that goes beyond one day of music and spirals into a committed and civic-minded direction.

"One of the goals with the I AM fest has always been to introduce the city and all it has to offer to incoming students at Conn College, the Coast Guard Academy, Mitchell College and other schools in our region. Moving into the city center, we hope, will give people a better chance to explore some of the galleries, historic places, retail stores, restaurants and bars that make New London such a fun place to live."

Left, The post-punk rockers Bear Hands
Left, The post-punk rockers Bear Hands Victoria Jaco

IF YOU GO

What: Sixth I AM Festival

Who: Hospitality, Sean Bones, Dom, Bear Hands, Bearstronaut, Math the Band, The Hempsteadys, The Fly Ones and the Lo-Lifes, The Suicide Dolls, Sidewalk Dave, The Sea The Sea, The Grave Robbers, Shake the Baron, MT Bearington (go to iamfest.org for show times and locations)

When: Noon-11 p.m. Saturday

Where: Four stages in downtown New London: Hygienic Art Park, Parade Plaza, the Oasis Pub, and The Telegraph.

What else is going on? The Indie Marketplace features dozens of crafts and merch vendors, and there will be plenty of food options. Beer and wine available at the Hygienic Art Park.

How much: Free

For more information: (860) 443-8001, iamfest.org

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