The Guard d’Avant progressive music festival will return to Military Park on Fourth of July weekend, and this year Peter Winstead, Jr. and his branding firm, The Honors Program, have added three additional days’ worth of programming to pregame the festival itself.
For Winstead, Jr., it’s all part of his strategy to keep growing Guard d’Avant into a summer institution, and to keep surrounding Newark with more cool experiences.
“Every year that we’ve done it, everyone wants it to last a little longer,” said Winstead, Jr. when we spoke recently at Burg in Military Park. “So this year, like other festivals out there, we created a kickoff weekend.”
Guard will maintain the general format of the previous three years: five Tuesday shows in Military Park (5:30 to 9:00 p.m.) featuring performers and a DJ. But this year, Winstead, Jr. has added an extended weekend of events leading up to the festival itself.
There’s a panel about the importance of branding for Black businesses featuring Ouigi Theodore of clothing brand The Brooklyn Circus and Ali of A Noble Savage at Prudential Center on July 1st, which Winstead, Jr. will moderate himself. Then a Sunday brunch at Freetown Cafe (41 Halsey Street) on July 2nd, and a pre-festival cookout in collaboration with Dinosaur BBQ and Mercato Tomato Pie on July 3rd (an RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org is required to get the address).
The festival itself kicks off on July 4th in Military Park with performances by Heron Preston, ENI, and a DJ set by Peter Wins (the DJ moniker of Winstead, Jr. himself.)
As in previous years, Winstead, Jr. has pulled together an eclectic mix of critically acclaimed artists and DJs. And per tradition, Winstead, Jr. himself will perform during the show’s closing night on August 1st. Before the Newark native returned to the city to live downtown, grow The Honors Program and start a family with his wife, he was a successful alternative R&B artist, Peter Hadar, who performed and earned fans around the world. It’s Hadar who will show up on the Guard d’Avant stage on the festival’s closing night.
On the lineup, Winstead, Jr. has been customarily thoughtful about who to bring to the stage. He said a keen understanding of what resonates in the city is required to pull together a successful event that is at once resonant, high-quality and, always a requirement for Winstead, Jr.: straight-up cool.
“Newark is a niche market. You have to know how to program for it,” he told me. “If you’re not in this market every day, you won’t really know and understand it.”
There’s also the challenge of competing for artists in an increasingly crowded festival market. “Afropunk is a couple miles away. You have the Roots Picnic in Philly. There’s Panorama. We’re battling with huge festivals to get some of these acts,” he said. “I want to have those same tier artists for our community, and I think the community really appreciates the fact that we’re bringing new music–something different and good. That’s what’s going to be the foundation of Guard d’Avant.”
The acts Winstead, Jr. brings to town aren’t household names, but there’s a good chance some of your favorite artists know who they are. “These are the burgeoning acts that will be at Coachella or Afropunk next year,” Winstead, Jr. said. He hopes, in part, for the Guard d’Avant stage to be the place where Newark and the surrounding areas can have the insider’s experience of getting a taste of these artists early. Knowing who they are, booking them, and cultivating the right experience around their performances requires insider knowledge and, well, taste. That’s where Winstead Jr. comes in.
He is adamant that experiences like Guard d’Avant are a necessity for creating a robust and livable city where people come and, more importantly, stay. “We want to create experiences that push forward the quality of life in Newark,” Winstead, Jr. told me. “Quality events are a necessity.”
A denizen of downtown who has a preschool-aged daughter with his wife, he intuitively senses gaps in lifestyle amenities not just because he has a sixth sense for marketing and branding, but also because he lives and works here. In addition to infrastructure, Winstead, Jr. says, the city needs cool cultural experiences. Consistently.
Over the past two years, Guard d’Avant has been a proof of concept in that regard (as have other events The Honors Program produces, like the Thursday “Supertaste” parties at Burg, and a series of Millennial and Gen X-targeted events he has produced for NJPAC). It draws a large and diverse crowd, great artists, the vibe is love, and “it feels like you’re somewhere,” as a close friend of mine, also a Newark native, puts it when he has an experience in Newark that he’s used to having to travel across the Hudson to get.
“Our goal is to serve Newark, but also to serve New Jersey and get people to come to Newark as a place of entertainment,” Winstead, Jr. said. “We want Guard d’Avant to be a mainstay here.”
Guard d’Avant opening weekend kicks off with the Duka Panel & Market at Prudential Center on July 1st (12 – 7 p.m., RSVP at email@example.com); Sunday brunch at Freetown Cafe on July 2nd (RSVP to reserve a time slot at firstname.lastname@example.org); and a cookout on July 3rd (12 – 7 p.m., RSVP for the address at email@example.com). The Guard d’Avant festival itself kicks off on Tuesday, July 4th and runs every Tuesday through August 1st.
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