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Courtney Barnett brings ‘Here and There’ festival to Beak & Skiff

Courtney Barnett
Mia Mala McDonald
Courtney Barnett

Since releasing her first record in 2013, Australian singer-writer Courtney Barnett has garnered an international following, winning fans with her distinctive vocals (a mix of singing and talking), sharp-edged guitar riffs, and raw yet often humorous lyrics.

Her 2015 debut album “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” earned her a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, and her 2018 follow-up “Tell Me How You Really Feel” also earned widespread praise.

All the while, Barnett exhibited a curatorial bent, running her own label, Milk! Records, in her hometown of Melbourne, and helping to program a couple of festivals: Sonic City in Belgium in 2019 and a special event for the Newport Folk Foundation in February 2020.

All of those influences factor into Barnett’s latest creative venture, Here and There, a touring festival that will come to Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette on Sunday, Aug. 14.

Taking its name from her 2012 song “Scotty Says” – “I got lost somewhere between here and there, I’m not sure what the town was called” – the festival showcases a mix of well-known and up-and-coming indie-rock artists, all curated by Barnett.

“When I was a kid I would make mix-tapes and dream up my own festivals, I’d even design the t-shirts and pair up musicians for iconic collaborations. I’d listen to the mix-tape and pretend it was the live recording of a concert, all my favorite artists on stage together,” she wrote on the festival’s website. “This concept was something that remained floating in the back of my mind when I started playing music. Here and There feels like a natural culmination of energy after years of touring, and ten years of working on my label Milk! Records. It’s something I’ve been forever daydreaming about, and part of an always evolving project to share spaces and build new platforms for art and artists that I believe in.”

“It's the kind of thing that's been at the back of my mind forever,” Barnett said in a recent Zoom interview from Joshua Tree, California. “But we really started working on it in 2020. It was a bit of a pipe dream – at the time, it seemed like there might be no gigs ever again, so I think it was just fun to work towards something, even if it would never happen.”

The tour rotates its lineup at each of the 14 dates. Among the two dozen acts are Waxahatchee, Sleater-Kinney, Lucy Dacus, Japanese Breakfast, Bartees Strange, Alvvays, Wet Leg, and Chicano Batman.

“A lot of the artists are people that I have seen, and some that I haven't seen, but I liked their music and was keen to see them live,” Barnett said. “And I think that's the exciting thing – it's a good mix of everything, and hopefully something for everyone, you know?”

Besides Barnett, the Beak and Skiff show will include:

Hana Vu, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter whose latest release is the EP, “Parking Lot,” a follow-up to her 2021 album, “Public Storage.”

Faye Webster, a singer-songwriter from Atlanta who recently released an EP titled “Car Therapy Sessions.”

Snail Mail, the indie-rock persona of singer-songwriter-guitarist Lindsey Jordan, a Maryland native whose second album, “Valentine,” came out in November 2021.

There’s a non-musical component to Here and There, as well, with the tour partnering with The Ally Coalition, which “provides critical support for grassroots non-profit organizations dedicated to bettering the lives of LGBTQ+ youth,” and HeadCount, which is a “non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy.”

“We always try to do that for shows, in general, but for Here and There, we had a little bit more power behind it, and it’s a bigger kind of operation with some big-name artists,” Barnett noted. “So it's great to be able to harness that power for good things like The Ally Coalition and HeadCount. We’re trying to work with local communities on a different level and bring people together, which is what music should do, always.”

Last year, Barnett released her third studio album, “Things Take Time, Take Time,” which dialed back the loud rock guitar riffs in favor of a more introspective approach.

“The album was mainly written in quiet and solitude on acoustic guitar and drum machines,” said Barnett, who recruited her friend, Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, to co-produce the album. “Then in the studio, I gravitated towards more piano and organ kinds of sounds. There’s a bit of guitar, but I guess I was just experimenting a bit with how different instruments change songs.”

Onstage, though, the new songs have taken on a whole new persona.

“Live, they've really come together, which is what normally happens,” she said. “They start one way, then they turn into something different in the studio, and then they turn it into something else when you start playing them live. And with the energy of the crowd, they get a bit faster and a bit louder. They get all these different lives, and they're really fun to play live.”

Barnett also is the subject of a new documentary, “Anonymous Club,” in which her friend, filmmaker Danny Cohen, followed her on and off the road beginning in 2018 and also asked her to voice and record her thoughts. The film weaves together those components with concert footage to create a compelling portrait of an artist who has acknowledged her own struggles with anxiety and depression.

“It's been an overwhelming process, watching it all come together,” Barnett said. “And it was kind of terrifying. But now I'm like, ‘Well, you know, it is what it is. And it turned into something bigger than me.’ I just hope that people find something positive within it for them.”

At this point in her career, Barnett can draw on a decade’s worth of material for her live shows, in which she’s joined by her longtime bandmates, bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie. But does she still relate to her older songs?

“They’re all different,” she said. “I still like a lot of my old songs – over time, they take on different meanings and I can see them from different angles. And it's really interesting, actually, to look back on the way you were at a certain time and where you were emotionally. We went through a bunch recently, because we're all trying to figure out if we should play some different ones for Here and There. So it's always fun to revisit them; it feels very nostalgic.”

Like many artists, Barnett was unable to tour during the first year of the pandemic, but she’s grateful to have been on the road since last fall.

“Touring has been amazing lately,” she said. “I mean, it's been very difficult just because of the world events and the situations that we'll find ourselves in – plus, touring during COVID has been just difficult. But in a way, it's very rewarding, because people are really grateful. I had a newfound appreciation for performing, which a lot of people had – once it was taken away from all of us, it made us all realize how much how important it was.

“For me as a performer and as an audience member – I've gone to lots of shows since – I've had some really beautiful moments. And I just love that the people who have been coming to our shows seem to really appreciate the music, so it feels really special to be able to be a part of that.”

If you go

What: Here and There, a touring festival curated by Courtney Barnett, with Hana Vu, Faye Webster and Snail Mail.

When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14 (gates open at 4 p.m.).

Where: Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards, 2708 Lords Hill Road (Route 80, just off Route 20), LaFayette, New York

Cost: $40-$125; advance tickets available online.

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, and its affiliates.