People Who Make NY Special

A Night of Live Music With NYC Producer Nicole Merritt

National Sawdust’s programming director is willing to take risks for the sake of the city’s music scene.

Nicole Merritt is a musical jill-of-all-trades. As a producer, conference convener, festival manager, and artist, it’s very likely that she’s been the driving force behind some of your favorite nights out on the town at live-music venues across the city. Currently, she’s sharing her musical expertise and passion with the lucky audiences at National Sawdust, Williamsburg’s home to cutting-edge music, as programming director.

WSWD?! global music expert Meera Dugal sat down with Merritt to discuss her dream concert bill and the best Brooklyn spots for noshing and moshing.

What Should We Do?!: You’ve worn many hats in the music industry. What drew you to this gig?
Nicole Merritt: I’ve enjoyed aspects of each of my jobs, but somewhere along the way I began to realize that I was most engaged when it came to creative conversations. With the help of mentors like David Baile, Shanta Thake, Bill Bragin, and Isabel Soffer, I started to trust in my own voice. I also became aware of the potentially awesome responsibility that can come with this job. Culture has the ability to transform your night, your perspective, and even our collective social conscious. I count myself extremely lucky to have been given the chance to contribute to our community in this unique way.

WSWD: What do you find unique about NYC audiences?
Merritt: Audiences here have high expectations, which is totally fair given the embarrassment of riches the city offers. On any given night, New Yorkers can see world-class artists from around the globe in every borough. That means as a presenter you have to stay on top of your game, creating authentic and meaningful experiences. That’s just one reason I’m so excited to be at National Sawdust, where there is an emphasis on artists sharing new works in a truly intimate space. (No, really. You are onstage with them at NS!)

WSWD: National Sawdust has a reputation of presenting new, cutting-edge music. What are you most excited about doing to continue to push the envelope?
Merritt: I’m probably the most excited to be working on the Artist in Residence program, which gives artists a chance to test and grow their ideas. There’s something immensely satisfying about helping an artist turn a potentially “risky concept” (meaning not solely created for commercial consumption) into a fully realized evening for adventurous audiences.

WSWD: Who would be your dream artist or dream bill to present at Sawdust?
Merritt: This is tough, but I would love to see what would happen if I could get Paola Prestini, Björk, Lido Pimienta, Emel Mathlouthi, Jojo Abot, Anohni, FKA twigs, and Aurora on a lineup or to collaborate on a project together (or just even in the same room with one another!). What a powerful night of intense, experimental, fierce female magic that would be. It might just change the course of herstory.

WSWD: If WSWD?! were to plan a day for you in NYC, what would it include?
Merritt: The day would start with yoga with Ira at the Bhakti Center, followed by the Sichuan dry pot at MáLà Project. Then I’d head back to Bushwick for thrift shopping with friends; my two favorite spots are G.G.’s Social Trade & Treasure Club and Worship. I’d do dinner with the hubs at Maite before catching a show at National Sawdust, after which I’d drop into the new spot Elsewhere for a concert or dance party.

Rapid Round!
Nicole Merritt’s Faves…in a NY Minute

Cocktail joint?
The best cocktail I had recently was a mezcal pineapple margarita at Guadalupe Inn, a sexy, ’40s-inspired supper club in Bushwick.

Music venue?
Aside from National Sawdust, I’d have to say Elsewhere, the new arts space–nightclub in Bushwick created by the former Glasslands team. The sound system is awesome, and as a short person I can still pretty much see wherever I stand in the main hall (super-rare!).

Coffee shop?
Right now it’s Bushwick Public House—coffee shop by day and chill bar–music venue at night.

Place to people-watch?
For me, Afropunk Brooklyn is the greatest and most beautiful fashion show on earth.

Place to dance?
Devotion or All Day I Dream parties, which rotate venues.

Street art?
Bushwick Collective Block Party is such a fun day—you get to watch incredible street artists do their thing live, with a backdrop of free music, outdoor markets, and open artist studios.

Eat, drink, and dance like Nicole Merritt. Ask our advisers about her fave places in BK!  Read about more inspiring New Yorkers in the People Who Make NY Special column.