August 06, 2019 News & Features » Cover Story

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Booking the Acts 

A Q&A with Katy Riley, project coordinator at Johnson Marketing Inc.

click to enlarge katy_riley.jpg

There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for this year's 10th Richmond Jazz and Music Festival at Maymont.

Katy Riley, project coordinator at JMI, is responsible for putting together the lineup for this year's festival — a job that starts much earlier than you might think.

Her responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Style Weekly: How did you get involved?

Katy Riley: I started as an intern while a student at [James Madison University]. I worked with the production manager overseeing all three of the festival stages. After graduation [in 2017] I came here full time. I first got involved in the booking process in 2018 and was more heavily involved this year.

How do you choose the artists?

We are trying to curate a lineup that wows, with a good mix across genres.

The booking months are January through May. It's very much a collaborative effort. I will create a list of acts who I think would be a good fit, and supplement it with suggestions from colleagues. Everyone here is very music-minded. I'll take that to [founder] Ken [Johnson] and add on his suggestions. From there, it is the process of reaching out and seeing what is possible. The list is ever growing.

We keep in mind a lot of artists who may not have been unavailable one year to invite later. One of those this year is Terence Blanchard. We wanted him last year, but he was too busy writing scores for films. And Maze with Frankie Beverly, they would have been our headliner on Sunday last year but got rained out. We saw that as a nice surprise for our patrons.

We don't operate as much with a theme. We'd like [attendees] to come out for the artists you love, like Jill Scott, and discover some others. That makes for a memorable experience.

What about the lesser-known bands?

I saw Cautious Clay at a music festival in D.C. last year. I was really captured by his performance. I saw Erin and the Wildfire multiple times when I was at school in Harrisonburg. A lot of our other acts, like Big Boi, impressed us on the [NPR] "Tiny Desk Concerts." I know he's a big name, but seeing him in that stripped-down setting showed another side of his talent. He can pivot in a variety of ways.

We have so much local talent, like Kenneka Cook, Weekend Plans, and Brunswick. Saxophonist Trey Sorrells really commands an audience, and he is also appearing with Frédéric Yonnet later the same day.

Which performance are you most excited about?

José James doing his celebration of Bill Withers, performing all of the hits [Withers is known for classic songs such as "Lean on Me," "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lovely Day"]. Withers isn't performing anymore, but he's given his blessing to James, and the performances have been well-received. In addition to that, selfishly, I was really looking forward to Maze last year. To have them back and to see it come to fruition will be really nice. I am typically at Stage 1 or 3, but if I can sneak away to see Shaggy all the way over at Stage 2, I will do my best.

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