Pleasantville’s Music Men
A chat with the Pleasantville Music Festival’s executive directors, Rich Sarfaty and Sol Skolnick.
The Pleasantville Music Festival, started six years ago as an outgrowth of a local, sporadic coffeehouse-type concert series in a church, has become a bona-fide and much-anticipated annual Westchester musical event (Can you hear us, Clearwater?) with major sponsors (The Peak, Verizon, Holiday Inn); an impressive artist roster (Joan Osborne, Roger McGuinn, and this year, Jakob Dylan and Rusted Root, among others); and an audience that continues to grow exponentially (from 800 in 2005 to close to 6,000 last year). The not-for-profit fest, which will be held on July 10, is headed by two guys who, on the surface, seem to be as different as Eminem and Vivaldi: Pleasantville residents Sol Skolnick, a no-nonsense 57-year-old mortgage planner/broker and president of the Pleasantville Board of Education, and 52-year-old Rich Sarfaty, a soft-spoken guitarist and furniture maker who grew up in Yonkers hanging out with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Here, we chat with the men behind the music.
How did the Pleasantville Music Festival come to be and how did you get involved?
Sol Skolnick: It was the brainchild of Jim Zimmerman, a Pleasantvillian who was a musician and who is now a therapist, and then Mayor Bernard Gordon, who wanted to add another cultural event to the Village scene. When Jim decided to take a less active role in the festival, I volunteered to help lead it forward with Rich, who’d already been in place.
Rrich Sarfaty: It was a coffeehouse in town, and they had approached the Mayor. It was a slow start because it was more of a folk festival than a rock festival, so it didn’t draw from a wide group. I started out as stage manager in 2005, then became stage manager-slash-musical programming director, and then Jim retired and Sol and I became co-executive directors.
Why Pleasantville? I know you live here, but…
SS: When it comes to culture and creativity, Pleasantville has always been the “little town that could.” This is the birthplace of Reader’s Digest, the site of Usonia, the home of the Jacob Burns Film Center, and a magnet for artists and authors. It’s just basically a small town with big-town energy.
You have some really cool sponsors. How did you snag The Peak?
RS: Jason Finkelberg, who’s the GM of Palmal Radio, which owns The Peak, lives in Pleasantville. He came to us and his thing was, we had this festival going on in his backyard and he wanted to be part of it. So, it was lucky, and it helped us expand our reach. The Peak has helped us get good acts, because they have access that we don’t have. When the station came on board, the mojo of the festival started to grow exponentially, and other sponsors came on board, too.
How do you determine the lineup?
SS: We aggressively solicit local artists from the Hudson Valley and the greater Metro area. We take ads on Craigslist, solicit through Twitter and our website, and work with The Peak.
Any “dream artist” you’d love to have?
RS: Well, I’d love to have the Allman Brothers, and others, but most of them are out of our price range, and we’re really more interested in serving the community. We’ve tried for the Derek Trucks Band, but haven’t been able to get them due to scheduling problems. And Levon Helm is out of our range, but we just keep plugging away.
What do you want people to know about the festival?
RS: It’s just a big ol’ backyard party.
(Top): Jakob Dylan headlines this year’s fest; Joan Osborne serenading the PMF crowd in 2008 (above).