While Adam Duritz may be known as the poetic and singular frontman of the Counting Crows, some days he would much rather be a fan of music than the one creating it. Of course the band -- as successful as they are -- can do their part to take out smaller bands on the road to help them to gain exposure. But opening for a band of their size and esteem can lead to indifference from an audience who is only there to see the headliner.
In 2018, Duritz and a few of his like-minded friends decided they would do more to pay things forward by hosting a two-day festival known as “The Underwater Sunshine Festival” at Bowery Electric to showcase some of their favorite underground acts. The festival returns this year for two nights at Rockwood Music Hall on Nov. 8th and 9th with 25 confirmed acts performing on all three of the venue’s stages.
"It’s a hard thing being in a band and you get very little recognition a lot of times, especially in independent world, there’s not a lot of people telling you, you should be doing it. People are telling you what are you going to do with your life? You don’t get a lot of encouragement or support," — Adam Duritz on the reasoning behind his Underwater Sunshine Festival
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Adam Duritz. Photo: Provided.
“This is our third one for ‘Underwater Sunshine,’ but a bunch of us worked on a thing called ‘The Outlaw Roadshow’ for about 10 years before this, which is very similar, run by my friend Ryan Spaulding, and I was sort of inspired by the things he was doing,” Durtiz explains regarding the inspiration behind this festival. “He split off to do his own thing a couple of years ago. After a while, a bunch of us who had been working on all got together for a friend’s wedding. We were all at my house for the wedding, and it was normally the same time of year where we would have been doing a festival. We just realized we all really loved doing it together and we still wanted to, and so we decided to do it.”
Even though Counting Crows have been a successful touring band since the early ‘90s, Duritz understands how difficult and discouraging it can be as a musician. With this festival he hopes he can provide a nurturing environment for bands and help them to recalibrate their faith in what they are trying to accomplish with their art.
“I spent 10 years in the clubs before Counting Crows took off,” says Duritz. “I remember all the doubts and all the fears about that stuff. I don’t know. There’s just something really rewarding about this. Really, I also remember how much I loved having a peer group of friends who played music because we were all struggling together. That can be lost when you get successful, unless you want to hang out at the MTV Awards, which wasn’t really my bag.”
This year’s festival boasts a pretty eclectic bill full of artists handpicked by Duritz and his friends involved with the festival. Fans will be able to see bands like Marcy Playground, Wild Pink, Wintersleep and Maria Taylor perform in Rockwood’s intimate environments. But one of the acts that Duritz is the most excited to see perform is singer-songwriter Stew with his band the Negro Problem.
“To me, he’s just f--king national treasure,” Duritz exclaims. “That guy is real. One of the truly ... maybe the great American songwriter to me. I think he’s so brilliant.”
And that’s the whole point, really. When speaking with Duritz nothing is more clear than his love of music and his willingness after all of these years to have his mind blown and be taken off guard and surprised by new music. His enthusiasm is contagious, even over the phone, and it’s something he hopes the bands that are booked will carry with them even after this year’s festival has concluded. This is a festival that is equally for the fans as it is for the bands performing. Shouldn’t that always be the case?
“[The bands] tend to meet each other and they have this really great experience. Then everybody goes to watch each other play, too. I’ve gotten back from a lot of the bands. It’s a hard thing being in a band and you get very little recognition a lot of times, especially in independent world, there’s not a lot of people telling you, you should be doing it. People are telling you what are you going to do with your life? You don’t get a lot of encouragement or support and sometimes ... I’d love if the bands blew up from our festival. That will be amazing. But a lot of them have told me it’s the thing that made them feel playing music all year. Just for the next year, they were on high for a minute and they felt good about themselves and what they were doing.”
While Duritz will only be enjoying the bands from the audience’s perspective at these shows, I ask him if constantly pursuing new music -- he hosts a music podcast under the same “Underwater Sunshine” name -- has inspired him to write new material for a future Counting Crows album.
“Yeah,” Duritz reassures, “I was over in England for a while. I went into hiding out on my friend’s farm for a while in August in the west of London. I just wrote for a while out there, so I’ve got some stuff that I’m working on that ... I hadn’t been writing for a while, so I got to writing and now I think maybe we’ll try and record next year. It’s not all done yet. I got to see how these songs turn out, but it’s getting there.”
Click here for information on tickets and a full schedule.