Nile Rodgers on Working With Beck and Staging FOLD, His New Music Fest

By Lori Majewski

To pull together the lineup for Nile Rodgers’ inaugural FOLD festival (the acronym’s a nod to his band Chic’s disco anthem “Freak Out,” and David Bowie’s career-changing 1983 single and album “Let’s Dance”), the superstar producer-songwriter began with the artists he knows best: Pharrell, his co-writer on the Daft Punk smash “Get Lucky”; Duran Duran, for whom he mixed “The Reflex” and produced “Notorious”; and Chaka Khan, a performer at the recent fundraiser for his We Are Family Foundation.

But there are two other marquee names set to play the concerts August 4 and 5 at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, NY, who’ve yet to benefit from an association with Rodgers and his Midas touch: Keith Urban and Beck.

That’s about to change. During an interview this week with Yahoo Music, Rodgers proudly played two songs on which he’s currently collaborating with Urban, plus Rodgers revealed he and Beck (as well as another FOLD performer, flamboyant British chanteuse Paloma Faith) will record together for the first time a few days prior to the festival at a Long Island studio.

Rodgers recalls meeting Beck on the red carpet before Chic played Elton John’s annual Oscar party back in February. “He said, ‘I’ve been wanting to call you for five years!’ I said, ‘I been wanting you to call me for six!’” That night, “We did the [FOLD] deal.”

Coincidently, Rodgers and Beck are back-to-back Grammy winners for Best Album: the former in 2014 for his work on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, the latter a few months ago for his hazy, atmospheric Morning Phase. Now, with Beck heading in a new, dance-driven direction for his next, as yet untitled, long-player — its first single, the funky, uptempo “Dreams” made its radio debut this week — a partnership with the legendary “Good Times” guitarist seems like a match-up made in dance floor heaven.

Look for Beck and Rodgers to jam onstage at FOLD too, with Rodgers promising guest appearances during artists’ sets. Meanwhile, in addition to playing their own set, Rodgers’s Chic will function as the backing band for Chaka Khan and Janelle Monàe. (Monàe recently accepted an invitation from Rodgers to contribute vocals to “Pressure Off,” the new single he co-produced and co-wrote with Mark Ronson for Duran Duran’s upcoming album, Paper Gods.)

In addition, FOLD has just added a DJ tent, which will host Q Tip and other acts to be named later, says Rodgers, who at 62 also has ample credibility in the current dance scene. Named one of Rolling Stone’s 50 Most Important People in EDM, he’s worked with English electronic-music duo Disclosure and Australian twin-sister act Nervo, and during this interview he casually singles out Avicii as “my favorite writing partner.”

FOLD’s bill is nothing if not eclectic, featuring musicians from multiple genres whose heydays span four decades — which is the main reason the concept was turned down by all the major concert promoters, according to Rodgers.

“[Promoters] don’t believe that it’s the music that connects us,” he explains. “If you look at the way that people promote concerts, they promote to affinity groups: all the people who like eighties music, all the people who like punk rock, all the people who like hip-hop.” Though Chic receives endless offers for shows with all-‘70s disco bills, “I absolutely refuse to do them,” Rodgers says, “because [disco] is not all that there is to my music.”

The location also frightened off potential promoters, says Rodgers, who, after months of pitching promoters ultimately decided to bankroll FOLD himself. (He’s co-producing the festival along with music industry veterans Michael Ostin and Peter Herman.)

“If you look at the history of people trying to promote shows out there [on Long Island], it’s been very difficult. So I took the concept of Glastonbury. [Chic] played Glastonbury for the first time two years ago, and I became friendly with the [organizers]. I said, ‘This is amazing! How did you do this?’ They said, ‘We made friends with the neighbors and made them like our partners.’ So I started thinking: ‘Let me go to the locals, like all the contiguous farmers, and make them part of the tribal council.’” Together, they devised plans for parking, shuttle buses, and even an official FOLD after party in downtown Riverhead.

With a maximum capacity of about 10,000, FOLD is far more intimate than many of the music fests. (Glastonbury hosts up around 175,000 concert-goers, while Coachella 2014 had an aggregate attendance of just under 580,000.) Also, FOLD will be the first time Duran Duran and Beck fans can see them before they head out on their own headlining tours. Thus, Rodgers is cautiously optimistic about his festival’s chances for success.

“If I break even, I’ll be thrilled,” he says. “Even if I lose a little money, I’m fine, Because next year people will realize that it works, and we’ll be OK.”