Interview With Niles Rodgers And The FOLD Festival With Bette Midler

North Fork Patch
Music Legend Nile Rodgers Reveals Full FOLD Schedule, Opens Up on Prince, Lifetime Passion for Music
He’s worked with legends from Madonna to David Bowie: Legend Nile Rodgers says it’s deep love of music that connects disparate artists.
North Fork, NY
By LISA FINN (Patch Staff)
May 7, 2016 1:01 pm ET


When music legend Nile Rodgers speaks about the upcoming “Freak Out, Let’s Dance,” or FOLD festival at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead this August, the excitement is palpable.

Grammy-winning composer, producer, arranger, and guitarist Rodgers will produce, perform, and host the second annual FOLD Festival, a three-day concert slated for Friday, August 12 through Sunday, August 14 in Riverhead.

And he said despite the extraordinary success of last year’s event, this year’s festival is set to be even more “ridiculous” with big name superstars still to be revealed.

After a master class hosted by East End Arts in Riverhead Saturday, Rodgers announced the lineup, set to include Bette Midler, performing Rodgers and Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire, as well as cutting edge contemporary acts like DNCE featuring Joe Jonas, DJ Cassidy, and Emin. In addition, Rodgers and the multi-platinum band CHIC will perform each night and also headline a special show starring fellow disco pioneers K.C. & the Sunshine Band and The Village People.

The show is co-produced by Peter Herman of Nile Rodgers Productions.

This year’s FOLD Festival supports the We Are Family Foundation, East End Arts and The Riverhead Police Athletic League

Rodgers, who founded the band Chic, brought the world hits such as “We Are Family,” “Good Times,” “Le Freak,” “Greatest Dancer,” “I’m Coming Out,” and “Like a Virgin,” has produced hits for Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, and Diana Ross. And, he has co-written and plays his Fender“The Hitmaker” on the Daft Punk hit “Get Lucky.”

The hitmaker has recently collaborated with Keith Urban on his new song “Sun Don’t Let Me Down,” which also features Pitbull.

On “shock value” of star-studded shows

Speaking exclusively with Patch on Friday, Rodgers said he decided on theme nights for the upcoming three-day event because he’s always trying new things.

During the 80s, he used to go to a nightclub, Area, in New York City, that featured theme nights. “I just thought we should try that and just see what happens.”

Reflecting on last year’s standout moment with Keith Urban, when the pair’s dueling guitars dazzled the crowd, Rodgers said Urban’s new album came out Friday; he was featured playing the guitar and whistling. “I’m an extraordinarily good whistler,” he laughed. “I could be hired just to whistle.”

Discussing how he chose the artists for this year’s FOLD event, Rodgers said the festivals are location-specific, with artists curated depending on what he believes people in that part of the country will think is “really fun and cool. I’ve been an entertainer all my life. What I find works is the shock value, when people expect something okay, and it ends up being amazing. They walk out saying, ‘Holy cow, I had no idea.’ That’s more fun than anything in the world to me.”

This year, Rodgers plans to bring back Grandmaster Melle Mel, who resonated with the audience at least year’s FOLD festival. “I had seen him before, but I’d never seen him do what he did at FOLD. He was amazing. He engaged everyone, sang songs from every era.”

When he first discussed creating his musical events in Riverhead – before the FOLD festival, Rodgers also brought the All for the East End event to Martha Clara, with stars Adam Lambert and Avicii among the performers that got the crowd dancing – Rodgers told Patch that he was inspired England’s Glastonbury Festival.

This year, he’ll also bring the FOLD festival to London in June.

“I like to give people a great time,” he said. “In today’s world, things really do cost a lot of money. When you look at our lineup and break it out, you say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m getting Bette Midler and Earth, Wind & Fire for $20, that’s cool. I want people to feel like it’s a real bang for the buck.”

Also, Rodgers said, a festival-goer can attend for one day or three, soaking up the live acts, allowing them to experience an artist they may not have paid to see. “Then they’re blown away and become a fan.”

Rodgers also said he strives to find sponsors to cover residual costs such as free parking and cleanup after the event.

By keeping the parking free at Martha Clara, Rodgers said it’s helped the traffic flow remain seamless. To that end, he’s worked with sponsors to keep the parking free for guests, and also, to over cleanup costs. “We want to return Martha Clara to pristine shape when we leave. That costs money. But it’s the way I was raised. When people come over, you want them to walk into a nice room.”

Rodgers reminded that last year, no problems arose at all and the only person injured at the show was him, when he had to go to Peconic Bay Medical Center after hurting his knee.

His goal is to create a sustainable event. I want this to outlast me,” he said.

Seeking to shatter the status quo, Rodgers said while people normally go to shows in groups, at FOLD, individuals, perhaps those who are shy or have spent years playing video games, can go alone and just meet others.

Artists and friends

The reason why Rodgers is able to curate powerhouse lineups, he said, is due to the longtime friendships he’s forged with megawatt stars.

That’s why guests can expect not only A-list celebs such as Bette Midler or Keith Urban, but can also attend the festival knowing that anything is possible, and anyone star could possibly decide to stop by and take the stage. “They have an open invitation,” he said.

This year, bringing KC and the Sunshine Band, for example, is very personal for Rodgers. “At the beginning of the disco era there was this white guy doing records, he was playing in black stadiums and people were freaking out.” The band, which had hits such as “Shake Your Booty” and “Get Down Tonight” was a powerful force in the industry, he said.

Taylor Dayne will also perform this year; Rodgers first created the FOLD concept in Switzerland, where Dayne, he said, “brought the house down.”

FOLD festivals also create magical, once-in-a-lifetime moments, such as last year when Nicole Kidman called Urban during sound check and they held up the phone for Rodgers, he said.

Intergenerational appeal

Rodgers recently spoke at a school and said he was shocked to find that students were asking about one of the bands from the FOLD festival, Mystery Skulls. One of the most fulfilling things about the festivals is introducing a new generation to acts they might not have heard, and vice versa.

“As a composer and museum greatest feeling is when you walk out onstage and you know you can play for hours and hours and it’s all your own stuff. I could go out on stage for five hours.”

Rodgers also plays one or two songs from artists he’s produced, including David Bowie, Duran Duran and Madonna.

A dream fulfilled

From the beginning, Rodgers knew music was his siren song.

“This is what I was born to do,” he said.

As a little child learning classical music, Rodgers aspired only to be part of the orchestra. When he was playing woodwinds, “I didn’t are if it was first or second chair. I just wanted to be part of any viable orchestra.” Growing up in New York, those aspirations centered on the New York Philharmonic or the American Symphony Orchestra.”

Growing up, Rodgers had a band with one of Gloria Vanderbilt’s sons, whose father was famed conductor Leopold Stokowski. “He was one of the greatest American conductors we’ve ever had. I thought to myself, ‘This is too cool, sitting here with Leopold Stokowsi, a little black kid from New York City, hanging with a master.”

He added, “I didn’t come from an affluent background at all. I came from the poorest of the poor. I learned by working on the streets, panhandling or busking for spare change. That was a real job for me. I took pride in it, the same way as if someone was overseeing my work. I had to be the overseer of my work and I had to be responsible.”

Such moments shaped his future, Rodgers said.

“That’s what I want to be – I want to be that person who knows how to connect people. I feel best when working with disparate musicians that don’t seem like they go together.”

One example, he said, was a recent benefit he hosted for his We Are Family Foundation, featuring Bono and also, former United States President Jimmy Carter.

“It was U2, with funk,” he said, adding that he enjoyed playing U2 music with Bono. “Sure, the event was about the good stuff the Foundation does, and that’s great, what I live for – but the music puts us in a celebratory mood.”

Master classes

At his master classes, such as one offered Saturday in Riverhead, Rodgers aims to offer some insight for everyone, whether expert or novice. “I am really cognizant that everyone is not on the same level,” he said, and strives to offer tutelage for all.

The classes remind that in the end, it’s all about the music and artists, even international superstars, share their deep-seated drive and innate desire to share their passion.

“Musicians are natural teachers. They love giving away knowledge. It’s almost like musicians are from an old society, a village.”

But, while they’d like to be talking about technique or chords, “The problem is, when you get famous, people don’t want to hear those elementary, rudimentary discussions.”

Professionalism during the dark times

Rodgers acknowledged it’s been a very difficult year. His mother has been ill and is battling Alzheimer’s and he deeply mourned the loss of good friends and colleagues David Bowie and Prince.

Asked how he carries on with such enthusiasm and joy despite the heartache, Rodgers said. “I can be 100 percent honest – it’s knowing that i have a job that a have a job to complete that makes me get through everything.”

Rodgers, who has battled cancer in recent years, said Thursday was a particularly rough day for his beloved mother. “It was heartbreaking.”

To make it worse, Rodgers found film footage he’d created when he was interviewing his mom for his book eight years ago. Looking at the film now, Rodgers realized she was had early stage Alzheimer’s, even then. When he spoke with her this week about the film shoot, his mother remembered the childhood memories, which are long term, but not the film shoot at all, due to short term memory loss.

“Every day, I know I can expect heavy calls from my mom’s caretaker at any moment,” he said.

But forever a devoted son, Rodgers books flights every single morning and every single night on a commercial carrier, to be sure he can drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to his mother’s side in California if she needs him.

“It’s important to me, that I can do that, and be there for her,” he said.

On losing Prince

The news of Prince’s death cut deep.

Soon after the news broke, Rodgers turned to Twitter: “”#RIP our dearly beloved #Prince. Tears and love on our tour bus. @CHICorg @nilerodgers I’ll never forget my brother. We’ve had #good times.”

Rodgers told Patch the last time he ever played with Prince was live in New Orleans on July 4 two years ago.

“Prince and I were good friends,” he said. So close, that when Rodgers bought a home on Turks and Caicos, Prince followed suit. “He moved there because of me. He told me, ‘I’m moving to Turks and Caicos. I never hard of it, but I bought a house there,'” he said, remembering.

Rodgers grew reflective. “Prince and I knew each other a long time,” he said. The enduring and deep respect they shared was so rich and spanned decades, Rodgers said.

And at the FOLD festival, Prince’s legacy of nurturing new artists will live on: One of the acts this year, KING, a female soul trio, was discovered by Prince.

Rodgers said he heard of the women, two of whom met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, when Avicii, who performed at the AFTEE festival after working with Prince in Las Vegas, told Rodgers that Prince had called and discussed KING.

To concert goers who plan to attend the FOLD festival, the number one event on Long Island last year, Rodgers said, “It’s going to be ten times better than even last year. This year is going to blow last year away.”

Ticket sales

Three-tiered ticket packages are available. All ages are welcome:

General admission: $99 per day. Includes free parking and free shuttle from the Riverhead train station

GOLD VIP – $299 per day. VIP access to the Gold Stage Viewing Section, Gold VIP commemorative laminate and matching lanyard, access to the Gold VIP Tent and Lounge with includes the following: Welcome glass of white or red wine, or premium beer, complimentary hors d’oeuvres, private VIP cash bar, unlimited bottled water, complimentary VIP parking access to VIP rest rooms for the duration of the event.

PLATINUM – $499 per day. Exclusive meet and greet and photo opportunity with Nile Rodgers and other select artists, VIP access to pre-event sound check, VIP access to the platinum stage viewing section, the closest position to the stage, access to the platinum VIP tent and lounge, which includes the following: Welcome Bellini, Prosecco, white or red wine, sangria, or premium beer, complimentary hors d’oeuvres, complimentary three course meal, complimentary two Glasses of MCV red or white wine or two premium beers, private VIP cash bar, unlimited bottled water, and one FOLD Festival gift.

FOLD Festival tickets may be purchased through Ticketmaster®. Tickets will be offered at the specially priced amount of $79 to local residents of Riverhead, and its’ surrounding towns, and may be purchased at the Martha Clara Vineyards. A valid driver’s license from one of the towns on the North Fork is required to purchase tickets.

For additional information and to buy tickets, click here.

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