From Sunflower Bean to the Smithereens, Alice Cooper costumes to evolving androgynous rock fashion, hip hop’s 50th anniversary to primitive garage rock, VersoFest 2023 returns for its second year, March 30 through April 2, celebrating music, media, and creativity in Connecticut, the tri-state area, and beyond.
An extension of Verso Studios at The Westport Library, VersoFest is a media festival and conference where experts share their perspective and vision; where intimate workshops provide creators the opportunity to deconstruct, improve, and hone their craft; and that features performances that entertain and inspire.
“Our state-of-the-art media facility Verso Studios grew out of The Westport Library Makerspace, with a vision to engage a broader audience in media production and educational events,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “VersoFest is our call to the community to be immersed in some of the greatest local and global multimedia talent. We are developing a special space and significant driver for our creative and business communities in the region.”
Last year’s inaugural festival welcomed more than 2,300 visitors over three days of concerts, panels, and workshops. 2023 raises the bar with New York City’s Sunflower Bean kicking off the festival in concert on Thursday, March 30, hot off the band’s headlining presence at South by Southwest.
The Smithereens featuring Marshall Crenshaw follow on Friday night with Americana opener Amilia K Spicer and the legendary Miriam Linna serving as vinyl DJ.
Saturday and Sunday provide the panel and workshop programming — and then some. Highlights include the Steve Lillywhite Keynote Conversation with Chris Frantz, Saturday at 1 pm. Lillywhite is a lauded record producer whose credits include the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, U2, the Psychedelic Furs, XTC, Morrissey, the Pogues, Dave Matthews Band, Guster, Phish, the Killers, and many more.
Earlier in the day, Deadheads and gearheads of all ages can enjoy a course presented by Steven Van Zandt’s educational foundation, TeachRock, on the Grateful Dead’s 1974, three-story, 28,800-watt hot-rodded PA system, “The Wall of Sound.” In addition, Anthony Coscia’s stunning 1:4 scale model recreation of the PA will be on display as a VersoFest installation in the Trefz Forum space, playing music intermittently throughout the course of the festival.
Come Saturday afternoon, author and journalist Rachel Felder will host a panel entitled, Evolving Rock Fashion: From Marianne Faithfull, to Debbie Harry, to Lizzo, with three fashion experts. Katie Settel, the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater’s in-house photographer, will share a master class taking workshop participants through her journey, influences, and technique. Continuing in the photography realm, artist Dylan Hundley (Lulu Lewis) moderates a photography panel with Fairfield County natives Settel and Michael Friedman, and New York City's Julia Gorton and Lynn Goldsmith (who currently has a landmark art/IP case at the Supreme Court).
Saturday night will feature the rescheduled Malloy Lecture in the Arts, featuring renowned artist and Psychedlic Furs frontman Richard Butler in conversation with Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Frantz (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club).
Sunday features an all-day inaugural VersoFest Record Fair presented by Record Riots, with a handful of vinyl dealers wheeling and dealing in the library hub space.
Norton Records co-founder Miriam Linna is the subject of VersoFest’s Music Oral History with Beehive Queen and SNL singer, Christine Ohlman. Linna is a pioneering and guiding force in rock ‘n’ roll as a founding member of the Cramps, co-founder with her late husband Billy Miller of leading primitive/garage/punk/R&B label Norton Records, and hip pocket paperback publisher Kicks Books, as well as mastermind of Kicksville Radio, dedicated to 24/7 broadcasting of the lost heroes of rock n' roll. Ohlman’s stunning Joshie Jo Armstead music oral history was attended by tri-state area rock ‘n’ roll glitterati, and highly regarded as one of VersoFest 2022’s best offerings.
Linna will also host a very special table of goods at the record fair, including rare and never-before-seen Norton and Kicks memorabilia.
Early Sunday evening (5 pm), Connecticut celebrates the 50th anniversary of the advent of hip hop with a Legends Beats and Grooves block featuring scratch DJ demonstrations and discussion from the originator of the scratch, DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore, DJ Grandmaster Supreme (Lauryn Hill), DJ Ragoza, Tony Tone (Cold Crush Brothers), HOT 93.7’s DJ Billy Busch, hosted by Terrible Tee, with special performances.
Alice Cooper fans get a two-fer with the mini-museum exhibition of Alice Cooper Group costumes, stage props, instruments, unpublished photos, and more in Dr. Dreary’s Snakes! Museum of Alice Cooper Artifacts on Saturday and Sunday, plus a special screening of the documentary Live from the Astroturf featuring a Q&A and book signing (Snakes! Guillontines! Electric Chairs!) with original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway that will conclude Sunday's programming. The film chronicles the surprise 2015 reunion of the original Alice Cooper Group at independent record store, Good Records, in Dallas. Record store owner and reunion conduit Chris Penn will also be in attendance.
Prior to the official festival, Dunaway's super group, Blue Coupe (featuring Joe & Albert Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult), play a VersoFest fundraiser, Friday, March 10, with support from DJ B The T Sr.
The full schedule for VersoFest 2023 is available here.
Food trucks will be on site Saturday (The Steak Truck) and Sunday (Walrus Alley) in the library parking lot to supplement the many offerings of the Library Café.
All concerts and workshops are ticketed events; Dr. Dreary’s Snakes! Museum will also require a ticket for entry. (See all registration and ticket links here.) Panels and keynotes are free and open to all ages. A cash bar with wine, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks will be available all four nights of the festival. All VersoFest 2023 concerts are co-produced with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. A selection of events will be recorded by Verso Studios Crew Call and available on-demand at a later date.
Ed. Note: Story updated March 1 adding the Malloy Lecture in the Arts to Saturday night.