While growing up in Australia, singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett listened to a range of different artists and began to develop the kind of knowledge that would make her into a remarkable musician and curator.
“When I was a real young kid, I guess I listened to what my dad listened to,” she says in a recent Zoom call from France, where she was performing at a festival. Courtney Barnett brings her Here and There Festival to the Agora on Wednesday, Aug. 10. “He listened to a lot of jazz records. He listened to Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis and Nina Simone and that kind of stuff. And then, I listened to what my brother listened to, which was Nirvana and things like that. I’ve always loved a lot of different music.”
As she began to discover her favorite musical acts, she would make mixtapes and dream up her own festivals. She’d even design the T-shirts and pair up musicians for collaborations.
“Those mixtapes would have had songs on them by Janet Jackson, Nirvana and No Doubt,” she says. “It would have also been the Beatles. Jimi Hendrix would have been on there for sure.”
Barnett's past as a traveling musician also informed her decision to create the Here and There Festival. When Barnett first started playing shows, she drove vast distances through the Australian bushland and desert, passing occasionally through small towns and stopping at gas-stations and fast-food outlets. Eventually, she’d arrive at a city, unpack the car and sing. She's written a number of songs about those experiences, some which appear on her early EPs and debut album.
At about that same time, Barnett formed her own record label, Milk!, if only to put out her own music and release the music of artists from her hometown of Melbourne. She'd graduate to releasing music by a few U.S.-based friends she’s made along the way, namely Sleater-Kinney, Chastity Belt and Hand Habits.
“It was so low-key,” she says of the decision to start her own label. “I just started it, so I could sell my CDs through it. I started releasing friends’ music, and it just kept going from there. It’s been hard to maintain, but it’s so great and fun.”
Back in 2019, Barnett curated a festival named Sonic City in Belgium and realized her childhood dream had become a reality. That set her down the path that led to Here and There.
“Curating Sonic City gave me the courage to think about it more,” she says. “It always just felt like a bit of a pipe dream. I saw other festivals like ATP and how they curated things, and it never seemed possible. Sonic City was such a joy, making this child-like long list of bands that I loved and then passing it on to someone and being like, ‘OK. Make this happen.’ It seemed so outrageous, but watching the bands that night at that festival just felt so special.”
Then, in 2020, Barnett hosted an event for the Newport Folk Foundation and served as musical director, curator and performer along with several top-notch folk and indie artists. At that point, she started planning Here and There.
“I can’t take credit for a lot of the work that’s been done [for Here and There],” she says. “I know it’s a lot of work. We couldn’t decide on a place, so that’s why it wound up as a bit of a roaming festival. We found a bunch of places we liked, and we wanted to do a few different shows. Maybe one day, it’ll just be in one spot. That’s the fun of it, seeing how it grows and what happens.”
At the time of this interview, Barnett wasn’t sure if collaborations would take place on stage between her and the other artists.
“I would love to open the doors and the stage,” she says. “That was in my child-like brain when I was thinking about it. I want to make that space available and see what everyone does. I reckon that would be really fun.”
An impressive list of indie musicians, including Alvvays, Arooj Aftab, Bartees Strange, Bedouine, Caroline Rose, Chicano Batman, Ethel Cain, Faye Webster, Fred Armisen, Hana Vu, Indigo De Souza, Japanese Breakfast, Julia Jacklin, Leith Ross, Lido Pimienta, Lucy Dacus, Men I Trust, Quinn Christopherson, Sleater-Kinney, Snail Mail, the Beths, Waxahatchee and Wet Leg will join Barnett at various tour stops.
The Cleveland gig will pair her with singer-songwriters Lucy Dacus and Quinn Christopherson.
“I have played with them before and they’re both so great and talented,” she says of Dacus and Christopherson. “They’re also great humans.”
In addition, the Ally Coalition (TAC) will provide site-specific programs throughout the tour. Founded in 2013 by Jack Antonoff (Bleachers) and fashion designer Rachel Antonoff, TAC is committed to "bettering the lives of LGBTQ youth." To show her support, Barnett will donate $1 from every ticket to TAC and its work supporting LGBTQ Youth across the country.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]