Years ago, the food and drink scene at a music festival was practically guaranteed to be an afterthought. Thanks to Superfly, the organizer of Bonaroo, Outside Lands and more, that is no longer a given.
“[For Outside Lands], we concentrated on what was great about San Francisco, which is the culinary scene there and the wine from Napa Valley,” says Superfly co-founder Kerry Black of the festival, which is now in its ninth year. “It was really the first music event to tie in those food and drink options.”
For Black, it felt like a natural progression—and one that’s continuing to inform the way that Superfly goes about structuring their events. “I used to go to three or four concerts a week,” explains Black; nowadays, he’s more likely to be spending those evenings at restaurants. “We’ve all become huge culinary fans,” he says. “Recently, we’ve been really into the cocktail scene… You can’t open a restaurant now without having a craft cocktail list.”
That’s more or less how Superfly came upon the concept for their newest event, Cocktail Magic, a traveling tour debuting this month in New York and Boston that celebrates cocktails and the bars behind them, along with food from local heavyweights and DJ sets.
Unsurprisingly, music factors heavily into the equation, and each event will highlight drinks inspired by songs, albums or artists that are relevant to the bars represented. For Boston’s Alden & Harlow, that means the boozy The Memory Remains, a rye and smoked cocoa and coffee bean-infused Curaçao number inspired by the Metallica song of the same name, which, according to bartender Seth Freidus, has an equally strong start and aggressive end. Also out of Boston comes a cucumber vodka-and-chartreuse highball that mixes music with wordplay: the Phil Collins from The Hawthorne. (Developed in jest, the drink has become so popular that the bar now hosts a party each year commemorating the Genesis singer’s birthday.)
“The first thing I thought of in terms of music was Bruce Springsteen,” says Natalie Jacob, who created the drink for New York’s Dutch Kills. “I had just seen him at Madison Square Garden and his music has always been a hugely influential part of my life.” The self-described “diehard Jersey girl” will be slinging the 10th Avenue Freeze Out, a frozen, spiced Piña Colada made with orgeat for a tiki spin that’s named for the Springsteen track of the same name.
“Sometimes developing a music-inspired drink can be as simple as what you feel like drinking while listening to a certain band or album,” says Mother of Pearl’s Jane Danger, whose whiskey and apple brandy-based Sound of Silver gets an herbaceous kick from a dash of rosemary tincture. Inspired in part by the rosemary varietal Silver Spires, the staff decided to call the drink the Sound of Silver when they found themselves listening to the LCD Soundsystem album of the same name.
This official mashup of music and drinks comes at a particularly ripe time. From last year’s opening of James Murphy’s Brooklyn natural wine bar, The Four Horsemen, to James Maynard Keenan’s move into winemaking, music professionals have lately been more vocal about the connection between drinking, eating and the industry. The two realms of culinary and music “attract a certain personality type that isn’t fit for normal, everyday life,” Nancy Whang told PUNCH in 2014. “It’s extreme behavior—really intense and all-consuming.”
Here, the element of music is not only a means of allowing bartenders creative license—it’s also a way of boosting showmanship at the event. “We want bars that are well-known for cocktails, but we also want bar teams that we know are going to put on a great show,” she explains. As opposed to a more run-of-the-mill tasting event, the blueprint for Cocktail Magic is designed to feel like a party—not unlike Superfly’s music festivals.
The name of the event is also meant to be taken literally: In addition to bartenders, Superfly’s booked a roster of magicians from around the country to perform at each event. It’s something that Black describes as being, well, just a cool thing to have at a drinks fest.
“In recent years, I’ve gotten into magic… and I thought magic could be something fun for people to enjoy while drinking their cocktails,” he says. “It’s as simple as that.”