Pulling at your Heartstrings: An Interview with Lauren Jahoda of Heartstrings Magazine

10371965_10100704777582155_7934603162987501284_nI meet a lot of people through the Red Line conduit. Artists sending their music, music lovers at shows, and other photographers in the pit at Newport. One of those in particular has become a dear friend and someone who I have to utmost appreciation and respect for. That person is Lauren Jahoda of Heartstrings magazine. We first met at Club Passim, she had swung through town for another show and heard about our little Locals Covering Locals matinee showcase and swung on through. We kept in touch, then hung out for a good portion of Newport Folk this summer, and she asked me to come this past weekend to her Livestock Fest in Old Bethpage, NY…so I did.

A little bit of a backstory (from her website):

A “Heartstring” is, by definition, 1. a nerve once believed to sustain the heart, and 2. the deepest emotions or affections. I chose the name for my magazine to represent the intrinsic, unrelenting pull of Americana music.

2011 — the first year I attended Newport Folk Festival (NFF) — is when this story begins. My experience there was epiphanic.

Since then, I’ve discovered , through my travels and the folks I’ve met along the way, that my baptism-by-NFF was profoundly that, and far from random. In fact, I have come to see it as a motif of sorts; a dazzling emblem or badge that signifies my participation in the universal sharing of a habitual, enduring relationship with Americana, Folk, Roots music and its community. This evocative genre vehemently demanded more and more of my attention. Perhaps it was the pioneering call of genuine and voluntarily-vulnerable voices, or the haunting tones picked, bowed or strummed from traditional wood and string. Whatever it was, I became instantly and wholly invested in the sound, and have never looked back.

Since NFF 2011, I have searched virtually everywhere, seeking out every opportunity to discover more of the different shapes and colors of what I was hearing. For me, music-discovery is personal gratification and growth. This community is my effervescence. We believe in the interaction. Interaction with the sound, its creators and supporting the ground upon which they stand.

And so, my passion and path naturally led me to establish Heartstrings Magazine.

In June of 2014, I began interviewing artists whom I had come to know and love — artists who Gregory Alan Isakov describes as our “friends and heroes” — including Gregory himself, Joe Purdy, Jonah Tolchin (Sky), Joe Pug, Joe Fletcher, Leif Vollebekk, Nathaniel Rateliff, The Last Bison and many more. I bought my plane tickets and began immediate and consecutive media coverage of Pickathon Music Festival, Philadelphia Folk Festival, Americana Fest, CMJ Marathon and more. This start led to my writing for Fest 300 and a concert-promotion offshoot — Heartstrings Presents, which came to fruition in January 2015, as a result of my desire to bring the live music I found on my travels, home. Our mission is to support and showcase established and emerging artists in intimate listening spaces. Toward that goal, Heartstrings Presents will feature Jonah Tolchin (Sky), Frank Fairlfield, Tom Marion, Zac Sokolow and Bill Scorzari in Huntington, New York, for our inaugural concert event on April 17, 2015.

And so…the interview:


RLR: You have been busy with Livestock and festival season the past few months but I understand there is a studio space in the works for Heartstrings. When do you expect it to be finished? What is the plan for it? Will it be a regular space where events are held? Are you going for a Daytrotter kind of a mindset to release sessions? Do you need a videographer…haha

LJ: We have a couple of ideas in mind for the studio space, which is an offshoot of Heartstrings and shares the name, but is mainly the project, and blood, sweat and tears of Bill Scorzari. It’s a 2,000 sq. ft space and he is building it on his own. I can’t speak for it’s finish date, but if I had to guess, perhaps a year, or within a year.

The plans for the studio include a state-of-the-art recording studio, as well as a live performance and event space to host concerts. It’s being built to host an audience — in fact one of the first items purchased for the studio were eight pews from a church in New Jersey from 1865…three years after Lincoln’s assassination.

And we most definitely will need a videographer.

RLR: Alright, alright…so what is the community like in and around the Huntington area? We are fairly spoiled here in Cambridge and building a community has come a bit easier. I imagine getting folks out beyond Manhattan can be a challenge.

LJ: As far as the community goes, it is a bit of challenge. We are competing with NYC/Brooklyn and touring bands don’t always have a reason or place to go beyond the 5 boroughs. Personally, when doing shows, I don’t target a city audience. I’m targeting a Long Island audience. My hope would be that if we do a much larger scale festival that we would appeal to the city folk. The Long Island scene in terms of Americana/Roots is found in pockets, and is very niche. There are some great organizations and people who are very much involved and enhancing the scene, such as the Bluegrass Club of Long Island, and the Folk Music Society of Huntington, and other groups. We could all probably be a lot more powerful if we came together. Another challenge I find is engaging a “young” audience, i.e. the 20-30 year age range. It’s a market that is hard to tap into here. However, on Sunday, at Livestock, more than half our audience was in their 20s and 30s, so something was working.

RLR: Here’s a tough one…you have frequented and covered a whole slew of festivals over the past year or two and it seems that its where the original inspiration for Heartstrings grew from. If you have to choose: what is your favorite festival to attend and why?

LJ: Hmm…fest questions. In graduate school, I used to be a habitual archivist/researcher of all things academia, English literature to be specific, and to be more specific, graphic memoirs and comics (that was my specialization). But ever since I got out of school my research shifted towards festivals. I’m fascinated by them. In terms of favorite, I’m sorry but I have to pick two: Pickathon and NFF. They are the two festival archetypes, from which we all should learn. Those two festivals are the supreme representations of what a festival should be. If Pickathon and NFF got together and had a baby, that would be my heaven. But I will also say that, I appreciate them for different reasons and they are situated at opposite ends of the country and are what they are for those reasons, so I’m fine with them being separate.

Pickathon is the perfect size festival. It’s the experience festival. The music is one of 10 different focuses, and each one is as amazing as the next. At NFF, there is only one focus, and that’s the music. It’s the music freak’s mecca. It’s where you can bet your dream collaboration will come true.

Pickathon was the first festival I covered as “Heartstrings” and the entire trip out to Oregon that weekend was a rather profound transformative experience for me. In some ways, I found myself and my career on that trip. I traveled alone for two weeks in the Pacific Northwest after that and it’s an experience, as a whole, that I will never forget.

RLR: Well, we certainly share a common thread in our love for Newport Folk. So what has been a highlight for you, the top moment, from NFF?

LJ: I can come up with about 5 favorite moments from NFF, but generally….for me…NFF is the closest thing to my wildest dreams materializing and coming true. It’s like finding someone who understands you, who can read your mind, and is always one step ahead. Does that make sense? (laughs)

RLR: Talk about what the future holds maybe as well. What are the aspirations for Heartstrings long term.

LJ: Long-term…..I have a few things in mind. One of which is a much larger, outdoor, summer festival. And of course, a dedicated a concert series consistently throughout the year. Right now, we are iin the testing process. We are testing out different venues, different acts, different audiences, and seeing what sticks. Once we do, this will be a regular thing. If we are successful enough, I’d love to open my own venue one day. Being in our infancy though, that idea is somewhat far-fetched, but a dream nevertheless. I would love to have a committed, reliable medium-sized venue/landmark for artists and fans to go for this music. Medium-sized venues are hard to come by in this area. We have large venues, and bars.

(Connecticut roots/americana duo The Meadows Brothers at Livestock)

RLR: so, what would you want someone who doesn’t know much about Heartstrings to know? It is part magazine, part promotional company, part event planning. a whole bunch of things, though you aren’t cranking out articles every day. So what is the main, major focus of it in the end and what people should know about it?

LJ: You’re right. The main focus isn’t the magazine. However, it’s the foundation and infrastructure of the company. The magazine has sort of been my segway towards the larger picture, which is the events. Simply, the magazine is how I started, and it is also how I stay connected to the musician community.

RLR: So what is the ultimate goal? is it sunk into the live show and experiences and sessions that come from the studio space as the focus. providing a place for artists to come, a reason to go further out than NY proper and give people a reason to love the music

LJ: What people should know is that our ultimate goal is to create events, and thus experiences to benefit all parties involved — organizer, artists, attendee. Every inch of every event is personally crafted and based from that infrastructure. For instance, who you see playing at Livestock or the next show, is who I am personally listening to in my car.