Q&A with Justin Poindexter, executive director of the Music Academy of the American South
Y!W: John Mauceri was a huge supporter of the Music Academy of the American South as chancellor, so have their been any new challenges in producing this year’s event following his return to conducting and writing?
JP: We were all overwhelmed by the success of last year’s festival. People just came out in droves and encouraged us to keep building. There was never a doubt that we would do it again. The best part about MAAS is that there is just an endless wealth of discovery to be made in the field of southern music. John Mauceri, from the very beginning, knew that this was going to be special, that people would love it and be proud of it, and that it would need to grow. He was always thinking about how we can continue MAAS in the most inclusive, collaborative way. That spirit is deep in the culture of this festival.
Y!W: This year’s programming seems to take some of the basic tenets of last year — outhern music in both a popular and academic context — and seems to stretch the scope a bit. Where is the baseline for this year?
JP: One caveat for this year was that any artist performing in the concerts had to be willing to participate in a workshop, interview or master class. Every single artist responded enthusiastically. We really want our performers to see this area and MAAS as an opportunity to share their experience and encourage their creativity, and I think participating in the workshop side helped facilitate that. This is UNCSA, and we have a tremendous legacy of collaborative learning through the arts, and MAAS is a natural addition to our legacy.
Y!W: Were there any elements from last year that you sought to expand upon this year?
JP: Last year we focused primarily on the musical heritage of North Carolina and our surrounding area. This will always be a big part of MAAS, but for 2013 we have decided to back up the magnifying glass just a bit and bring in a more diverse range of musical influences. Genre collaboration is a big theme for this year. We’re seeing bluegrass virtuosos, the Kruger Brothers, perform with a string quartet in their “Appalachian Concerto.” We’re learning about the totally unique backstory of black and white influences that made Southern soul music. We’re even hosting a “song collective” where we put everyone from Piedmont blues legend Boo Hanks to Grammy winning banjoist and folklorist David Holt in a room and just see what happens. The amount of shared repertoire and experience is just remarkable.
Y!W: Assuming that the two master classes were placed at the beginning of the days so that non-players don’t have gaps in their experiences, is still an opportunity for enrichment there?
JP: The master classes are aimed at student musicians, professional musicians, hobbyists and just plain music fans. We put them at the beginning of the day so artists will have plenty of time for jamming and rehearsing before the show. I strongly encourage anyone who loves music to attend the workshops. They are designed to speak to all audiences. Ask anyone who attended last year and I guarantee they will enthusiastically respond.
Y!W: The performance with the Muscle Shoals trio, the Amigos and Jim Lauderdale has the feel of a studio jam session on paper; how much of this is going to be prepared performance versus spontaneous selection?
JP: Ha! Great question! The Amigos are good friends with Jim Lauderdale and are, of course, huge fans of his music. His influences and interests are so wide ranging: bluegrass, soul, honkytonk. We have outlined some tunes with him, but the door is wide open. We’re heading to Nashville to record after MAAS and are hoping to get Jim to join us on a track. It’s such a great honor to play with him. He’s just an incredible force in Southern music and in collaboration.
As for the Muscle Shoals guys, Jim and I were sitting at lunch after MAAS last year talking about how much we love Southern soul music and, “Wouldn’t it be cool if….” Jim knew some of them from a project he worked on last year. The whole Muscle Shoals film was just a remarkable coincidence. I got in touch with the producer of the film through Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood, and we just went for it. I still can’t believe we are going to be screening it. It’s not even officially released yet.
In the concert, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham have some gorgeous duets they do. “Dark End of the Street” and some of their other iconic songs. I know that is going to be incredible. David Hood is probably the coolest, most collaborative guy on the planet. He and Jim have worked together before. We’re just going to make sure everyone is comfortable and let them do what they do best. That’s the spirit of MAAS. We try to create an environment where artists can be free to experiment and collaborate.
Y!W: You mentioned last year that the idea is to eventually expand MAAS into the summer sessions; are you any closer to that goal?
JP: We’re just letting the audience decide where MAAS should go. This is our music and our home. If there is an interest, we’ll be working to satisfy it. I have to say a huge thanks to all the folks on the administration side, our artists and our funders. The enthusiasm is just contagious and I look forward to a really great celebration of some incredible music.
MAAS begins Friday at the UNC School of the Arts. Visit uncsa.edu/performances/MAAS.htm for the full schedule.