As Memorial Day Weekend approaches, music fans across the country are preparing for their various treks to festivals to launch the summer season. Among those is the iconic USA edition of Mysteryland, one of Europe's longest running music festivals. With its second go round this year in the Bethel Woods, New York's historic grounds where festivals like Woodstock have been held, the festival has really revamped itself to give as much of an "experience" to fans as possible. Included in that intention is the curation of stages through branding and talent booking, giving each stage its own platform to have its own feel. With NYC's underground like Verboten joining the charge, also comes beacons in the city's nightlife in Webster Hall's stage. A unique and new endeavor for the venue who has brought the best emerging and established talent to its marquees, they'll bring artists like Bakermat, Klingande, Goldroom and Giraffage to Mysteryland on May 24th.
Ahead of the weekend, we got to chat with two of Webster Hall's head honchos, owner Lon Ballinger and co-president Kenny Schachter, on what they have seen throughout the years in dance music and what the future might hold.
EM: Starting at the beginning – what was the initial concept behind Webster Hall?
Lon Ballinger: The plan from the start was to recreate an original Webster Hall as a meeting place for New Yorkers and all the citizens of the world and it could last forever. (Lon Ballinger)
EM: How did you get together to make it come together?
LB: We wanted Webster Hall to be New York City’s nightclub. That way, with the beautiful old building being so full of music and NYC history, it could become almost like a cultural landmark that New Yorkers would always love.
EM: What is one of your strongest memories of the early days?
LB: We had many memories especially from opening night, having wall to wall people from 3rd Ave to 4th Ave. It was a spectacular opening party. One for the history of the city.
EM: Are there any artist appearances, surprises that stand out in Webster's history that were a crucial part in making Webster the iconic venue it is today?
LB: Our epic Halloween and New Years Eve parties…some concerts like Ray Charles and a 19-piece string band, Mick Jagger's show, president Clinton announcing he was running for president ..9/11 was humbling time but the New Yorkers rallied to save us, Paul Simon's live recording, Carlos Santana’s show, Prince's performance for 5 networks, Black Keys, Madonna's pajama party, Kings of Leon.
I am proud that our children, Kenny, and the whole team have continued our pledge to be New York City's music club and to treat everybody equal and always include everyone.
EM: I remember hearing Zedd say that Webster Hall was his favorite venue to perform at before he hit the mainstream music audience. You caught on to the dance music movement pretty early on in its rise with the addition of your DJ nights on Fridays/Saturdays – how did you know to make a move on that?
KS: Thanks Anton! Dance music has always been a part our DNA. Webster Hall Records sold over a million dance compilations back in the 90's. In 2007, we began to really focus in on the DJs and producers making waves around the world. We fell in love (all over again) with the energy and uplifting vibes that dance music stands for. At that time, we began a full venue renovation, upgrading our sound, lights, and building. We designed new weekly parties with the goal of building a platform to help grow dance music artists. It took off. Opening acts became our headliners in a matter of months.
EM: Was there a moment when you knew that Webster Hall's future would have a large footing in the dance music scene in New York?
KS: There were many moments. The first time we had MSTRKRFT in 2008. The first time Justice played Webster Hall. When LCD Soundsystem released “Sound of Silver” and played our stage in 2007. Dance music was becoming this generation’s version of punk music. Webster Hall has been at the forefront of New York City culture and music for 130 years. We are honored to carry on the tradition.
EM: How did you concept working together with Mysteryland? What was your intention with bringing the venue to life outside of its four walls?
KS: We actually began talking to the good folks at Mysteryland last year. By the time we starting chatting it was already too close to the festival date for us to get involved, so we decided to postpone talks and try again the following year when we would have enough time to properly plan it. When we got the call this year, we jumped at the opportunity.
Our team literally produces numerous events every day across all three levels of Webster Hall. The intention is to bring our knowledge, experience, and passion outside of the “office.” To step out of our everyday routine and help curate something amazing in a unique and nostalgic setting with the people that started electronic dance music festivals.
EM: What are you most looking forward to in seeing that executed?
KS: We can’t wait to see people experiencing the final product of all the hard work, creativity, and love that ID&T and their curation partners put into the planning of this festival. That will be magic.
EM: Where do you see this going from here?
KS: What do you think of this as a new tag line: "Webster Hall New York City – Tonight. Tomorrow. Forever." To answer your question, there’s more to come. A lot more.