Though Joel Greer isn’t a musician, he has an excellent ear for music. Coupling that talent with a dogged determination to share his love of local and regional talent with others led to Summit Indie Fest. The all-day event, in its second year, offers a multi-genre array of performers from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and far away as New York.
“For lack of a better term, I’m a professional appreciator of music, but I was never able to play,” Greer said by phone from his home in Lawrence, Mass. “I thought that curating a music festival would be a good way to introduce a little bit of art into the world.”
Greer’s criteria for what to book is personal. “Let me find bands that I’d drive a long way to see on a Monday or Tuesday night,” he said. “It’s not about ticket sales, but more about following my heart [and] I also targeted bands that I consider under-appreciated.” It’s a wide ranging lineup – ten acts, playing on two stages, inside and outside Portsmouth Book & Bar, from afternoon into the evening.
Kingsley Flood is slated to close the show. They’re a Boston Music Award-winning band fronted by Naseem Khuri, a modern day Woody Guthrie with a keen contemporary eye, as evidenced in their 2018 album, Neighbors and Strangers. On one song, “Fifth of July,” the child of Palestinian immigrants sings, “call me a trespasser and untrue, and I’ll tell your history better than you.”
One of Greer’s favorites is Troll 2, also hailing from Boston – Jamaica Plain, to be precise. He likes the folk punk band’s mix of social awareness and offbeat spirit. “They have a fun saying – ‘when you come see us, we play music and you fall down.’ They never play down to a venue; they set their own atmosphere, and it’s so infectious.”
Brooklyn-based Def.GRLS sports a fun, lo-fi, ‘shrooms and surfing sound that fans of early B-52s records will gobble up. “The genre bending trio is impossible to pigeon hole,” a press release said, calling them “perpetually oscillating between the irreverent, macabre, hilarious and heartfelt.”
In 2018, Gretchen & the Pickpockets brought a soulful, brassy sound to the festival. This year, lead singer and keyboard player Gretchen Klempa returns with her own quartet. “She’s really great solo, with a really talented bunch of musicians backing her up,” Greer said. “The vibe is really cool.”
For straight up rock and roll, look no further than Carissa Johnson, whose full throttle approach recalls early aughts Boston bands Aloud and Damone. In 2017, the singer/guitarist won Boston’s highly competitive Rock & Roll Rumble and capped the year with a Boston Music Award win for Best New Act (she received four BMA nominations in 2018).
Asked which bands he’s most excited to have at the festival, Greer named As The Sparrow – “they’re large, it’s a full sound and they’re really top notch songwriters” – and The Wolff Sisters – “fantastic country folk” – and added he’s also a big fan of the downtown bookstore, coffee/craft beer bar, and performance space that’s hosting Summit Indie Fest.
“I wanted a venue that could really add to the event,” he said. “I approached Book and Bar because I know what a quality place it is and what an intimate setting it can be – so many big festivals lose their intimacy. I also know they totally believe in the arts too.”
Proceeds from the event will help build a music program at Team Summit, the youth development program Greer runs in Lawrence, but he’s quick to point out Summit Indie Fest isn’t a typical charity event. “It’s a music festival first; no baskets or 50/50 raffles,” he said. “My mission is to gather in the spirit of philantrophy, and share our love and passion for music.”