New York is a great state for live music. With a variety of venues throughout the state in both small towns and big cities, music fans can find something happening any night of the week from all genres of music. We asked the NYS Music staff of writers and photographers, all of whom see a variety of music, along with our readers, for their opinions on the best towns and cities for music in the state.
The venues are not the only reason why New York is such a great place for music. With the amount of national, regional and local acts touring through the state, we get the chance see bands and artists rise from their infancy playing bars and small clubs to playing larger theaters and arenas. In addition to the best music towns, we also asked our staff and readers for what they think are the acts to which we should pay the most attention.
Best Music Town
The NYS Music staff represents every region of the state, and while they see the most music in their hometowns, they are not afraid to travel a bit to see quality music. When asked about the best music town in the state, there was a wide variety of responses. One would expect New York City, being, by far, the largest city in the state, to come out on top. However, that was not the case. The two cities with the most votes from the staff were Buffalo and Syracuse. Our readers, on the other hand, did choose New York City, which tied with Albany. Buffalo came in a very close third for the readers.
Buffalo, being the second largest city in the state and one of the largest in that region of the country, sees a lot of music come through its various venues, ranging from small clubs and bars to the large New Era Field. The Buffalove Music Festival takes place in the Buffalo area and feature a large number of Buffalo-based acts. Many popular music acts got their start in Buffalo including the Goo Goo Dolls, Spyro Gyra and one of the current popular bands, Aqueous, whose latest EP, Best in Show, was our staff pick for album of the year.
Syracuse, the fifth largest city in the state and home to Syracuse University, features a number of popular music venues such as Funk ‘N Waffles, the Westcott Theatre and the F Shed. The K-Rockathon, a music festival held by three related radio stations, has been held in the city for the past several years at the New York State Fairgrounds, though there was not one held this past summer. The Syracuse Jazz Festival boasts itself as the “Northeast’s largest free jazz festival” and has featured such artists as Aretha Franklin, Trombone Shorty, Wynton Marsalis and B.B. King. The Syracuse Area Music Awards, or the SAMMY’s, take place every year honoring musicians from Syracuse. Jon Fishman, the drummer from Phish who grew up in Syracuse, was awarded a SAMMY for lifetime achievement in 2015.
Albany, and the Capital District in general, received a number of votes from both our staff and our readers. The area is home to many musical happenings throughout the year, including the Alive at Five free summer concert series and the national and regional performances at various venues around the city sponsored by WEQX. The city is home to two venues with some of the best acoustics in the country, the Egg and the Picotte Recital Hall at the Massry Center for the Arts. The Times Union Center, originally the Knickerbocker Arena, has played host to numerous music greats. The Grateful Dead’s Dozin’ at the Knick features live recordings from their three night stand there in March 1990.
New York City, which took best music town last year, is one of the best cities in the world for music. A number of well-known artists and bands have called the city their home. New York City is also home to several world-class venues, including Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. It’s no surprise that the Big Apple was voted one of the best music towns in the state for the second consecutive year.
Bands on the Rise
Along with great places where music happens, New York is known for the musicians themselves. As many would expect of a state like this, some of the artists and bands become fairly well known on a regional or national level. While there were many bands chosen in the Bands on the Rise category, there were two standouts each from our staff and our readers. One commonality between the four bands highlighted here is that they are all from New York, even though the category is not limited to the state. Two of the bands represent a couple of the best music towns.
Staff Pick: Formula 5
Formula 5 was chosen as one of last year’s Bands on the Rise, and they haven’t stopped to take a breath. Currently working on their third studio album, they have been touring non-stop around the Northeast and Midwest. Their fall tour, which brought them out west for the first time giving them a little car trouble, is just finishing up while winter dates are in the works. The four-piece improvisational funk band features Joe Davis on guitar and vocals, Greg Marek on drums, James Woods on bass and Matt Richards on keyboards and vocals. They have opened for Twiddle, Dopapod, Spiritual Rez and the Heavy Pets. They’ve played full sets at various festivals, including Catskill Chill, Buffalove, and Strange Creek. They’re playing a free Phish pre-show on Dec. 30 in New York City at American Beauty.
Staff Pick: Space Carnival
Space Carnival has been on the scene since 2013, but has been making waves in the scene. Their debut album, Drawn in By the Sun, was released in July.They release two professionally shot and edited videos of their song “Moon Boots” off the album, one from a show in April and one from October. They are currently wrapping up some fall tour dates, with the last scheduled show this Saturday, Dec. 17 at Stella Blues in New Haven, Connecticut with Chromatropic. Music fans can expect more from Space Carnival in 2017.
Reader Pick: Aqueous
Aqueous had a very busy 2016, and it won’t end for them until after their opening slot for Twiddle on New Year’s Eve. The year saw them touring nearly non-stop. They hit most of the local festivals, such as Disc Jam and Buffalove, including a headlining slot at the Great Outdoors Jam. They also hit the national stage at Electric Forest. They had two musical releases this year, the recording of their 2015 Halloween show Dark Side of Oz and their EP Best in Show. The summer saw them introduce Rob Houk as their new drummer. As one of the hardest-working bands in the state, Aqueous is certainly one to watch in years to come.
Reader Pick: The Other Brothers
From: New Paltz
The Other Brothers, recently interviewed by our own Karina Verlan, is a “neo-soul” band that formed in 2012 while students at SUNY New Paltz. The band grew to its current six-piece formation this past year when they added percussionist Jared Nelson and keyboardist Gabe Marquez. While they have no shows lined up for the remainder of the year, they are in and out of the studio working on their debut album.