Should Hurricane Joaquin skip New York City this weekend, another force of nature will perform in Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield on Sunday.
Artist and performer Yoko Ono and the latest iteration of Plastic Ono Band — a loose collective that she formed in 1969 with her late husband John Lennon and revived in 2009 after a 35-year hiatus — will headline the Modern Sky Festival. Founded in Beijing, China in 2007, the festival will make its second annual stop in New York with a lineup that includes English post-punk icons Gang of Four, Beijing “campus-folk” band Song Dongye, and Chinese rockers Miserable Faith and Hedgehog, among other acts. (The press release also promises that “Very Special, Surprise Guests” will perform with Plastic Ono Band. The festival travels to Seattle’s Mural Amphitheatre on Oct. 11, sans Ono, and with a lineup that includes the Black Lips and Ariel Pink.
Ono spoke to Billboard about the festival and what’s on her cultural radar these days.
Tell me about the Modern Sky Festival.
It started in China [in 2007], and it’s going to be Chinese bands and English bands and us. I like the idea that these days things are mixing, countries and people.
You’re performing with the Plastic Ono Band. Is it the same lineup of musicians who were on your last album?
I always say that Plastic Ono Band is loose and floating. There are no usual people. It isn’t the ones that entered the studio, so to speak.
The press release is promising special guests. Can you divulge any of them?
I’m not supposed to tell anything about this, so forget it. [Laughs]
You’ve spent a lot of time in Central Park with John and Sean. Have you ever played a concert there before?
I’ve been living here for such a long time, and we did a few gigs there. The last one was our Central Park concert in 1996 with John Zorn’s Masada, Cibo Matto. [Late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch also showed up.] A very exciting group of people.
Can you tell me about your relationship with Central Park beyond Strawberry Fields?
If we didn’t have Central Park in New York City, life would be a totally different experience here. We had a special thing in the sense that Sean, when he was a little boy, would play there almost every day. And John would take Sean there. The memories are very big. I heard that some people, some sort of real estate people, wanted to make a condominium city in the Central Park. I was like, “What?”
Is there a particular part of the park that’s a favorite of yours?
You probably think I’m going to say Strawberry Fields, but no. There’s some energy there, so I have some memory about that, but Central Park is so beautiful everywhere — everywhere. I just remember all these little corners. We enjoyed the full experience of Central Park.
I’m not a singer myself, but I would imagine that some of the vocalizing you do could be pretty hard on your voice. Do you have to do a lot of training for a concert?
It’s not really that hard on my voice. I mean, if it was really, really hard, I wouldn’t be doing it. But it’s a [vocal sound] that I kind of created, and, definitely, there are a lot of vocal exercises.
What’s on your cultural radar these days?
I have so much to do, work-wise, a lot of responsibilities. Some of them are responsibilities that I kind of gave to myself in a way, but it’s still there. So the thing is, when I relax, I usually like to just read. I’m a reader. I like to sort of promote reading. I mean, reading is so important for a kid, and I just want them to know that it’s a very exciting thing to do. It’s not boring at all once you get it.
What have you been reading recently?
Who Owns the Future [by Jason Lanier, about the dangers of information technology] and Creativity: Unleashing the Force Within by Osho [the spiritual guide]. And there is a Japanese book [that says] if you just wish something, in five minutes — not five minutes, five seconds — it gets done. You get it. You get the wish. Isn’t that interesting?
Is that something that you have experienced?
It’s a good idea, isn’t it? It’s that sort of immediacy created by sincerity, I suppose. There are just so many incredible books these days. I have another book that I’m reading [about men]. I just can’t think of the name of it. I’m going to go get it. [Long pause.] Sorry, it’s a bit of a joke. I’ve been preparing for the Sunday concert, and [the apartment] is a bit messy. [Laughs] But you know, we’re very strong on feminism and all that, about women power. But then I start to think, well, we really have to have some idea and concern for men power too. [Laughs] So there’s a book about that. It’s really a good book and that’s why I wanted to just find it. I can’t find it. Tons of stuff in this kitchen.
Do you spend much time online? Are their websites that you find interesting?
No. I still go to bookshops. I know most of them are closed now, but there are still some open, and it’s very interesting. You browse through and pick something yourself, and I think, psychologically, there’s some connection to [your choice].
Are you working on any new recordings?
I have something in mind for the next record, but I haven’t started yet because there’s so many things this year that I had to take care of. I was amazed. This was one of the busiest years of my life, actually.
You had that big retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art…
I know. I know.
One last question, for Beatles fans: Are there any new archival projects coming up that you can talk about?
No, because that’s one thing that we don’t want to do.