MAPLEWOOD, NJ - What does a richly spiritual Mexican-American band from East L.A. and an Austin-based blues and soul guitarist who covers Black Sabbath on her new album have in common?
Both will be headlining the fourteenth installment of Maplewoodstock, a free, two-day, live music and arts festival that will take place on Saturday, July 8, and Sunday, July 9 at Memorial Park in the center of Maplewood.
And while the stage will be pulsing with 24 bands that will perform from noon to 10 p.m. each day, there is a lot more to the festival which has grown substantially since its single-day event debut back in 2004.
Expect a bevy of local arts and crafts vendors and a food court with options ranging from family-friendly chicken fingers to lobster rolls and gluten-free cupcakes.
And beer. And wine.
Escape the kids for a short while by sipping a cold one at the Beer Garden, featuring selections from Dave Hoffman's Climax Brewery of Roselle Park. The wine list will be curated by Maplewood's self-professed “wine geek” Hank Zona.
The youngins' will be kept busy at the KidZone which will include games, inflatable rides, crafts and more.
The organizers champion the idea of bringing the local and nearby communities together for this festival, which has become an annual ritual.
“We love seeing old friends and neighbors – and new friends! – relaxing on their blankets and lawn chairs, enjoying their picnic baskets, and packing the hillside park for a family-friendly weekend," says Drew Six, Maplewoodstock Chairperson.
The festival regularly attracts both critically-acclaimed headline performers as well as a mix of impressive local and regional musicians.
Saturday's headliner, Los Lobos, started as an East L.A. garage band in 1973 and came to international attention with their cover of Richie Valens' "La Bamba" in 1987 as well as their album “How Will The Wolf Survive?”
“We’re a Mexican American band, and no word describes America like immigrant," says Louie Pérez, a drummer, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for Los Lobos. "Most of us are children of immigrants, so it’s perhaps natural that the songs we create celebrate America in this way.”
Ruthie Foster, who hails originally from the small town of Gause, Texas, will bring her blend of blues, folk, soul, rock and gospel to her headlining show on Sunday night.
Foster, who cites Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin as influences, calls her performances "hallelujah time." Her newest album, “Joy Comes Back,” was released earlier this year, featuring an exciting range of cover songs. Not many can boast covers of both the Four Tops’ “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” written by Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder and "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath on the same album.
Maplewoodstock also offers up many other bands, selected from over 100 applicants "who span from Essex County, NJ, to Essex, England," explained festival promoters.
And the competition is stiff. Out of 107 applications, 21 bands were selected.
“What we try to do is select the best music, the best bands, while also mixing up the styles and sounds on the stage,” says Gary Shippy, one of the festival organizers. “But the roots of this event are about local bands.”
Those bands include Velvet Rose Band from Morris County, which will hit the stage on Saturday as well as PTW Voices, made up of current and former performing arts school students in Maplewood.
On Sunday, South Orange's Matt Mattheiss Band will offer up original songs from their new album “Living in the Grey” as well as featured act The Hip Abduction, which has gained national attention for their blending of African folk and early reggae/dub sounds. “The Hip Abduction is a young band which adds to the diversity of music we try to offer,” says Shippy.
While exact crowd numbers are not available for previous years, popular bands, such as The Wailers who headlined the festival in 2015, attract thousands. For Shippy and the event organizers, the goal is gather locals together. “We like to say we’re of the community and for the community,” adds Shippy. “We want to throw a huge neighborhood party.”
The Maplewoodstock website has general festival information, band bios, directions, and real-time updates. The music is free and open to the public. You can help contribute by patronizing vendors, purchasing t-shirts, as well as by donating on the festival’s website.