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High Line Festival

High fidelity

David Bowie curates the High Line Festival, recruiting pals Ricky Gervais, Arcade Fire and more to benefit the elevated park (which the fest isn’t on or, at times, even near). Our exclusive behind-the-scenes preview explains it all.

Photograph by Jimmy King


  • Flipping the bird: Performance artist Laurie Anderson gets “weird” again, filling another show with feathered friends. A David Bowie interview.
  • Pussy galore: The bizarre chanteuse Meow Meow gets ready to pounce.
  • Cyberspace oddity: Exclusive! Bowie interviews Ricky Gervais by e-mail—sort of!
  • Must : Ziggy zeroes in on ten Spanish-language flicks.
  • Keeping track: More highlights of the High Line Festival.
  • High Line: Behind the scenes: What does it takes to turn a stretch of land from overgrown weed patch to beautiful High Line? Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Parks & Recreation Department, tells us.
  • The Time Out New York High Line Guide: Your ultimate resource for swank eats, stylin' stores and everything under the trestle.

At first, it’s hard to wrap your head around the High Line Festival: The ten-day music and arts extravaganza is curated by David Bowie (who’s not performing), named after a public park that’s still being built (on an elevated train track, which runs from 34th Street to Gansevoort) and features shows all over the city (including Radio City Music Hall, a ways from the High Line itself).

“It’s sprawling, I know,” admits producer and nightlife impresario Josh Wood, who conceived the fest a year and a half ago with his partner, theater producer David Binder (Legally Blonde). “But that’s its nature: It’s supposed to be a celebration of New York.” The duo originally wanted to mash up their backgrounds to “show everything New York City has to offer—great film, theater, nightlife, dance and music.” Then they thought of bringing in an artistic icon to curate the lineup, “so every year it’s like taking a trip through New York with David Bowie or Björk or Bob Dylan or Madonna, to see the things that interest them and turn them on.”


A longtime Manhattan resident, the Thin White Duke got the first nod. His roster includes Montreal rockers Arcade Fire, performance artist Laurie Anderson, The Office star Ricky Gervais and ten obscure Spanish-language films, not exactly a New York–centric selection. “Right,” says Wood with a laugh. “The idea wasn’t about using New York talent but showing things that are available to see here. And we chose David because he’s a New Yorker—always going out and seeing new bands. When we started working together, he’d be like, ‘Meet me at BAM on Friday,’ or ‘Webster Hall on Saturday.’ Everything in the festival is handpicked by him.”

The High Line connection came later. Targeted for destruction during the Giuliani years, the 1.45-mile-long track is now being renovated into a promenade, with green space, night lighting and a branch of the Whitney. Wood and Binder, who live in the neighborhood, hooked up with the group Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit spearheading the project, and will devote 5 percent of ticket sales to it.

The High Line renovation will cost an estimated $160 million–$180 million, according to Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Department of Parks & Recreation. “The hope is to raise $50 million of private money and a fair amount of federal funds,” he adds. Estimated time of completion of phase one: 2008, with the final phase two done by 2009.

Until next year, residents aren’t allowed atop the structure, squashing the hopes of anyone expecting to see Arcade Fire rocking from 30 feet above. (Another reason for that band’s far-from-the–High Line Radio City gig: lots of seats, which means more money can be raised.) As for Bowie’s offstage-only role: “It was his choice; he wanted it to be about the other artists,” says Wood.

In the next few pages, the onetime Ziggy Stardust talks to TONY (which is a media sponsor of the festival) about the Spanish flicks, grills Anderson about birds and forwards a surreal e-mail exchange with Ricky Gervais, in which the musician disappears halfway through. Odd, yes, but when Bowie’s involved, what do you expect?—Michael Freidson

The High Line Festival runs Wed 9 through May 19.

Photographs: Clockwise from top left, James Shaughnessy; Courtesy the city of New York © 2004; Joel Sternfeld

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