Outside of being a solo musician, John Fuzek has a lot going on. He performs as a guitarist in the Neil Young tribute band Forever Young. He also puts on the Providence Folk Festival every summer. As if that’s not enough, you can also catch him stage managing at the Rhythm & Roots Festival that takes place during Labor Day Weekend at Ningret Park in Charlestown. Fuzek will be joined by his fellow Forever Young bandmates Amy Bedard, Sean Finnerty and Pete Vendettuoli at Pump House Music Works in Wakefield Saturday evening.
We had a talk ahead of the show about managing time, Rhode Island’s singer-songwriter community and what people can expect from the festivals he’s involved with later this summer.
Rob Duguay: First off, how do you manage your time between all your solo work, being in Forever Young and the festivals you’re involved in?
John Fuzek: I have always been very involved in musical pursuits, it keeps me crazy (laughs). I also book the Point Stage, which is a small second stage for local acts, for the shows at Bold Point Park in East Providence but that isn’t as time consuming as the rest of the stuff. Unfortunately the Downtown Sundown Series I used to organize has passed on. It went away with the old location at the Roger Williams Memorial in downtown Providence. The Providence Folk Festival is now going to be held at Larisa Park in East Providence and there are about ten other folks working on the planning.
I try to spend as much of my time playing music as I can and that is why I got into all of this. It is a juggling act to be sure, but the people I play music with are like family to me.
RD: As long as you love it then it’s not really that much work at all.
JF: Yeah, it can definitely be a labor of love at times.
RD: When it comes to the Providence Folk Festival, how do you go about finding musicians to perform? Is it all friends or do you make an effort to network yourself?
JF: Well, I know a lot of musicians but unfortunately, as I get older my exposure to the younger ones has dwindled. I don’t go out a lot just to hear music that much anymore as I would rather be playing it. Sometimes I am connected to new acts through my own shows. A lot of folks I have worked with are people I have ended up performing shows with over the years. I catch performers that I am on the bill with, usually in other states.
As for the locals I keep tabs on them through social media and through recommendations from other performers and the festival committee. The only friend that I really book is Dan Lilley with his band The Keepers. He is my guilty pleasure every year for the festival. I honestly think he is one of the best and hardest working local singer-songwriters around and has been at it for over forty years.
RD: The singer-songwriter community has always been a vital part of the music scene in Rhode Island. How did you initially get involved and what do you think of it’s evolution since you started performing live?
JF: I have been a part of the music community in Rhode Island for over 35 years. I actually got a late start to performing live though. I was one of those folks who wouldn’t play outside of their bedroom. It wasn’t until I was in Newport one night, coincidentally after a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert that I heard some guy singing Neil Young’s “Cowgirl In The Sand”. It was painful, I told myself that I could do better than that and I went out and got my first paying gig.
I actually think that it may have been at the original AS220, the one that was over above the Providence Performing Arts Center. I made one dollar, that was their token pay at the time, and I have been performing ever since. After I formed the Fuzek-Rossoni duo with Mary Ann Rossoni things really moved fast. We performed a lot, not only locally but around the Northeast and with other national acts as well, we won awards and garnered a good following. We are actually doing a thirtieth anniversary show later this year.
While I was with Fusek-Rossoni I wound up having some writer’s block and Mary Ann gave me a flyer for a group that had just formed called the Rhode Island Songwriters Association. I went to the meeting even though I am not much of a joiner. There were a couple of people there and it seemed kind of good but I knew lots of other people who should have been involved. I gave Mary Wheelan, the woman who started it, a few suggestions, my two cents turned into five dollars and she handed things over to me. I kicked everything into overdrive and started having workshops, showcases, festivals, album releases, public relations blitzes, increased the membership and basically turned RISA into what it is today, 26 years later.
From that I formed Hear In Rhode Island, the organization that produces the Providence Folk Festival and Bold Pont Park Point Stage as well as other things. This is how I got involved in the community.
RD: That’s a whole lot, especially since you refer to yourself as a late bloomer. The Rhythm & Roots Festival is a unique experience that has tons of music and even a zydeco tent. What made you want to get involved with it?
JF: I was recruited by Chuck Wentworth over 20 years ago. At the time I was working for the Newport Folk Festival and he used to be one of the stage hosts because he ran the folk shows on WRIU in Kingston. I was running a local stage at the festival, I already knew Chuck through my music connections and he asked me if I wanted to stage manage at Rhythm & Roots. I said, “Sure, why not”. I thought he meant one of the smaller stages at the festival but when I got there I was in charge of the main stage.
RD: What can folks expect from this year’s Providence Folk and Rhythm & Roots Festivals later this summer?
JF: Well, as far as the Providence Folk Festival this year we are just trying to make it happen. Fundraising is tough, it is hard to get backing to present free events and we want to keep it free. The team is working very hard trying to put all of the pieces in place so it can happen. Moving an established festival to a new location and finding new funding is hard. We are trying to get this one under our belt and are looking forward.
We may not have a big name headliner this year but we will certainly have a lot of great local talent. As for Rhythm & Roots, that is all Chuck. He works his ass off putting it together. He and I get along so well because we do things in the same manner. We do much of it in our heads and it is hard to communicate to others what we actually do.