I didn’t visit a beach until August. And my tan lines were pretty atrocious given that most were burned onto me at one festival or another, leaving shorts and tank top lines all over, but given what I’ve had the privilege to see and hear--I can’t complain. It’s been memorable and inspiring.
The photos below capture some of the major moments of the
Sterling Stage: I started my summer at Sterling Stage for Folk Fest during Memorial Day weekend. This shot is from Ameribeat in July, a much drier festival weekend, but the feeling of Sterling never changed throughout my visits all summer long. It's funny looking back on my two-hour interview with producer/promoter/programmer Eric McElveen in May, which lead to my first cover story as music editor, after fully experiencing being immersed in the Sterling community. From May to now, it's odd, but comforting how some place can come to feel so much like home.
Sterling Stage: I will conquer the hula hoop one day.
Kellish Hill Farm: Kellish has a similar homey feeling to Sterling and producer of the venue, Kathy Kellish, with her genuine personality and boundless excitement for everything there, makes the experience even more endearing. This is a shot from a Diamond Sunday performance at the Farm's festival in July.
Super Ball IX: I always joke about this picture, ". . . And on the eighth day God came down through the stage of Phish . . . and it was good." Super Ball IX was such an incredible experience in so many ways it's hard to condense into a few thoughts, but my story on the event seemed to get the job done: read it here.
NYS Blues Fest: Again, it's hard to condense events that spanned weeks of build-up, more than 20 hours of music in a single weekend and countless memorable encounters/performances into a few words, but at the core Blues Fest was a tremendous experience. The performers were incredible thanks to Todd Fitzsimmons' nearly spotless programming, but it was the overall feeling of the fest that really connected with me and others I met. Artists performing stuck around to see each other take the stage. People came from Michigan, Ohio, Canada and elsewhere to join in the event. The Inner Harbor made the whole hot weekend more comfortable. And the energy from artists like Dana Fuchs made everything electric.
Blues Fest: One-man band, Ben Prestage, became one of my favorite acts of the summer.
Blues Fest: Canadian trio, JW Jones, was fun to watch, especially as they rotated instruments...or just all played the same together.
Blues Fest: Age means nothing when the music's good.
Blues Fest: Terrance Simien, the happiest man alive.
Blues Fest: Seeing the mighty return of Jose Alvarez was like watching a long-lost brother reunite with family. Colin Aberdeen called him brother, Ronnie Earl called him son and the set with Terrance Simien and local guitarist Mike DeLaney was a Syracuse celebration.
If you haven't seen the video of Ronnie Earl up close and the late-night jam fest at Al's just yet, now's probably the best time:
Jazz and Wine Fest: This is one of my favorite shots from that weekend in Clinton Square. AudioInflux added a fresh taste to the jazz of the weekend, with a little funk, soul and reggae accented by lead singer and drummer, Chris English.
Bright Eyes: I first listened to Bright Eyes when I was still in high school. At that point I read Rolling Stone magazine front-to-back until the pages were falling out and the RS reviews of I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn had me so intrigued that I went right out and bought I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning first, and later dug into Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. I reviewed the album Cassadaga later on in college for the James Madison University paper and so distinctly remember my friend Danny strumming and singing "First Day of My Life" (one of my absolute favorite Bright Eyes songs) one late night/early morning at his apartment. Needless to say, having the opportunity to interview lead man Conor Oberst was dreamlike and seeing him live and in the flesh was something of a bucket list moment.
Rusted Root: Since I was in elementary school I was babysat by my neighbors who I still call Mom and Dad to this day. Lucky for me, they had excellent taste in music and fed me a solid dose of Grateful Dead, From Good Homes and, naturally, Rusted Root. Again, seeing them live at Paper Mill Island was like coming full circle back to where my music education began.
Rusted Root: salute.
Rock Camp: I worked for the School of Rock (yes, it exists) during the summers of 2008 and 2010. In 2008, I was lucky enough to be in a school and spend every waking moment with those kids during the six weeks of Rock Camp. I thought it was the greatest thing on earth watching those mini-rockers shred out some Judas Priest or pump out some AC/DC. But the Red House Rock Camp somehow beat out those camps. Though SoR had a songwriting camp that did encourage kids to write, it wasn't the same fearless environment fostered in the Red House. Rather than say, "You're playing the Doors wrong. John Densmore doesn't drum like that," the kids were pushed away from that and toward creating their own style and find their own voice. The result: some incredible music and some truly empowered kids.
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus: Just before Sausage Fest I got a call from an extremely excited parent. These calls usually go two ways, but this went a third unexpected route when the voice on the other end brightly told me his son was 17, a guitarist . . . and in the band The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. I knew of the group from when I worked at Z100, a major radio station in New York City, and saw them perform at Zootopia joined by Gym Class Heroes, Rihanna, Maroon 5, Fergie and more. After I picked my jaw up from my desk and started researching the young Josh Burke, I saw a phenomenal story take shape that was only further confirmed when I saw him perform live with the group and afterward chatted with lead singer Ronnie Winter. Winter's confidence in Burke was inspiring and his obvious musical knowledge further confirmed that his choice to bring Burke on wasn't just for show. Winter believes Burke's the man for the job and Syracuse can look forward to watching one of their own take on the world as Burke continues with RJA. Though I've already written the feature, the story is just beginning...
But it gets better...
I had a friend from home (northwest New Jersey) visit recently during Jeff Tortora’s brief trip back to Syracuse while he was taking a break from his regular gig performing with the Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. I took my friend to see Colin Aberdeen on Tuesday night at Limerick, and on Wednesday we saw Turnip Stampede at PJ’s (though they were missing vocalist and guitarist John Mcconnell), then we trotted over to Al’s for Pale Green Stars with guest Tortora and finally made it just in time to see Pete Anderson tearing down at Dinosaur. In two typical (for me) weekdays I successfully had my friend, also a guitarist and knowledgeable music fanatic, so in awe of Syracuse and the talent that so nonchalantly plugged in and played in bars here and there to crowds that I think frustrated him. Here he was from out of town, getting blown away by this bottomless supply of great music, while others around him gossiped loudly or sat outside where they couldn’t see or hear the music.
He was jealous that there was so much music available, not only conveniently and for free, but that it was not the garage bands that shouldn’t leave the garage or cheesy, washed up cover band types we settle for near home. These were original musicians who could really, really play.
The best came when Adam Fisher of Turnip Stampede let his fingers rip on guitar, simultaneously singing and then switching to pick up the bass for some obscenely funky tune. Both my friend and I stopped and stared wondering the last time we saw someone tear apart a bass like Fisher was barely two feet from our faces. I agreed that my brother, a bass player for more than 19 years, might be able to pick something up from the bass-shredder before us.
Then, minutes later when Tortora got behind the kit of Pale Green Stars, the two of us once again stopped and stared wondering what must be in the water that all these wild musicians come from right here in the red-headed stepchild of New York City--Central New York.
Red-headed or not, there’s a reason I live here and not there.
It’s moments like that--and there have been far too many to name--that I not only stop and thank God that a music editor position existed in the world and I actually got it, but also that after seeing Magic Slim, Dana Fuchs, The Average White Band, Robert Cray, Phish and all kinds of other incredible bands, that I can also see some pretty amazing musicians right here in Syracuse. Are they all Ronnie Earls in the making? No, but Syracuse has some serious talent roaming the streets and to have someone from out of town come and recognize that helped reaffirm what I’ve been trying to say through my articles thus far.
Get out and support local music because it rocks right here.