The National’s Scott Devendorf On ‘No Leaving New York’ Fest, ‘Homecoming’ Festival Debut, and Crying Over Jason Isbell

The National
Kyle Gustafson / For The Washington Post via Getty Images
– The National
plays The Anthem in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5th, 2017.

The National’s There’s No Leaving New York festival kicks off tonight, with an artist lineup curated by the Cincinnati natives with personal favorites Future Islands, Jason Isbell, Cat Power, U.S. Girls, Bully and others Sept. 29-30 at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, N.Y. 

The National bassist Scott Devendorf caught up with Pollstar days before the event to talk about how There’s No Leaving New York  came together and his deep love and fandom for the other artists on the bill, including Jason Isbell whom he says he may cry during the performance of.
“As our band has played many, many festivals over the year, I enjoy the smaller festivals rather than the the everything-under-the-sun vibe – even though that is great too – like Reading/Leeds, name your giant festival,” he says laughing. “Not a million bands, but 10 really great bands or eight really great bands. For us that’s really important. We want to love everybody that’s playing, and we do.”

Devendorf named off some of those bands in particular:

Cat Power, I’ve loved, loved loved and she’s my fave,” Devendorf said of the resurgent Chan Marshall whose much-awaited new album Wanderer drops Oct. 5.

“I’m heartbroken by that Jason Isbell song, ‘If We Were Vampires,’ about dying,” he says, laughing. “I’m really excited, I’ve never seen him perform and I’m probably going to cry when I do.”

On U.S. Girls, fronted by Canadian-American singer Meghan Remy and fresh off the acclaimed In A Poem Unlimited LP full of swanky attitude and danceable retro-pop: “I love everything about that record, what it looks and sounds like. I’ve heard their performance is pretty top-notch as well. I’m intimidated as well as excited to see them.”

The National co-founder Aaron Dessner made the first foray into the band’s artist-led or curated festivals, with the Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin in collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, as well as the HAVEN in Copenhagen and the Boston Calling Music Festival. 

The band also had its first Homecoming festival in its hometown Cincinnati, which included the band playing its seminal 2007 LP Boxer in full, along with sets from Father John Misty, Feist, The Breeders and many others April 28-29 at Smale Park. 

“It was a lot of fun,” Devendorf said, laughing that Homecoming was also a lot of work. “The audience seemed to really enjoy it, we lucked out with good weather, the park and the ease of coming to it and interacting with it was pleasant. I’m all for that sort of experience.”

“Our thing is everyone having a great festival experience, from the audience to the bands feeling welcome and included and not lost in the noise that can be a giant festival. That’s super fun but it’s not for everybody. It’s also nice to come and go as you please and see what you want to see.”

A big part of that, of course, is choosing the right venue, and The National had Forest Hills in mind after playing there last year as a solo show.

“Over the years we have played I think literally almost every venue you can play in New York,” Devendorf said. “From a tiny club to Forest Hills or MSG. I like the open-air thing and the ‘70s concrete reality of Forest Hills,” he says, laughing. “It’s not too big, not too small but perfect for a smallish festival.” The 13,000-capacity venue has hosted Portugal. The Man, David Byrne, and Jamiroquai just this month. 

The National, whose 2017 LP Sleep Well Beast won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, has been on the road for much of 2018, with recent boxoffice reports to Pollstar including July 31 at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, Wis., which sold 1,716 tickets and grossed $93,018, May 5 at St. Augustine Amphitheatre in Florida, which sold out at 3,702 tickets and grossed $156,255, and Ascend Amphitheatre in Nashville May 3, which sold 3,631 tickets and grossed $119,858. They also played Lollapalooza Brazil in late March, which sold 300,000 tickets and grossed $23.38 million.

Devendorf called Pollstar from Berkeley, Calif., ahead of shows with Cat Power and Big Thief, which he said he was jazzed about.

For its own set at There’s No Leaving N.Y., he said they may have some tricks up their sleeves.

“We’re definitely doing two unique sets, so we have some work to do to kind of catch up on some lost classics,” he says, adding that they are playing both nights.