Highlights of Utica Music and Arts Festival

With a sprawling lineup spread out over a dozen venues and three nights, seeing all that Utica Music and Arts Festival (UMAF) has to offer is a daunting task. Contributing writers Pete Connors and Lindsay Jones, as well as Online Editor Pete Mason, went to a few shows this past weekend to see a small sample of UMAF 2012.

Thursday September 13th – by Pete Connors and Lindsay Jones

The 5th installment of Utica Music Fest kicked off on Thursday night with Pink Floyd tribute band Childhood’s End, a special Saranac Thursday at the Saranac Brewery. Leigh D’Agastino of Saranac Brewery said she was very happy with the turnout for the kick off party, a “much larger crowd than 2011.”  The crowd was a bit older but most were enjoying the set (and $3 Saranac’s) with some even breaking out their air guitars to play along. The band breezed through “Pigs” and more obscure Floyd tunes before taking on multiple selections from Dark Side of the Moon, including “Breathe”, “Time”, “Money”, “Us and Them” and “Eclipse”.   There were few lulls in the set as it was easy to tell that they had been covering Floyd for 30 years, as keyboardist Steve Schad pointed out while introducing his band mates before the end of their set.

Post-Saranac, Nail Creek Pub was the place to be for UMAF headliner Zach Deputy. The Cleveland, Ohio based soul outfit Winslow got the crowd dancing while early arrival Zach Deputy mingled with the crowd andposed for pictures, and was generally happy to be part of the weekend.  Zach took the stage and it was going to be a special night. He kept the energy high from song one and the crowd was locked in and happy to go along for the ride, knowing that there were two more days of music to come.

Friday September 14th – by Lindsay Jones

Friday night started at Pier’s and Blake, an up and coming venue located in a turn of the century mill building, which had long been vacant and recently been turned into a restaurant as part of the effort to revitalize downtown Utica.  Slip Madigan, a hardworking band out of Buffalo was finishing up their set, and upon recommendation from a friend, there was no disappointment, with improvisational and original work both impressive. As they closed, a secondary stage was set up in the small anterior room, where smaller but very popular acts were playing setbreaks, including Syracuse bluegrass favorites, Boots and Shorts and Home Body,a crazy good, eclectic electronic duo out of Massachusetts.

As Twiddle, a Vermont based band with a strong local following prepared to take the stage, the room filled with artists, locals and those looking for a solid dance party. Twiddle has a captivating organic style and was heavy on the funk. Their prog-rock feel, along with their solid hooks had the audience captivated and dancing long into the night.

Saturday September 15th – by Pete Mason

Nail Creek Pub was once again the start to the night, with Utica natives Sassafras Jenkins taking to the porch. their psychedelic The Doors-meets-Traffic sound and soaring guitar licks from Irwin Winkler made them a huge highlight right out of the gate. With the full band in sync, they sounded great and will surely benefit from a larger room to play in the future. A notable cover of “White Rabbit” and their original “Make it painless” were highlighted by Irwin’s guitar, Nikki on tambourine and vocals and Ryan on keys and vocals. Look for an interview with this group on before years end.

Over at Swifty’s, Side Effect, a jazz trio made up of Mazza, Allanson and Lockwood took to the bar. Of note was “Waiting for the win”, a funky number with great guitar, as Mazza meandered around the bar thanks to cordless amp while bass and drums held down the fort.

Ending the night at Pier’s and Blake with Aqueous was the right way to go. With many up and coming bands around the state, Aqueous has shown that they are one of the next to make the jump to a full touring act (see Jimkata, Timbre Coup). Precision tightness whether composed or mid-jam, clear communication as to the direction of the jam and most of all – They look like they are having the time of their lives on stage! Some bands miss this mark and get too serious, but Aqueous does it right. Following their set over in the smaller room, Birdseed Bandits roused the late night crowd with a cover of  Mumford and Sons “The Cave” that provided a late night jolt to a weary but happy crowd.

Overall, Utica Music and Arts Festival was a fun, potpourri of music and fun, spread out around the city. A concentrated version for next years festival should prove to be beneficial to both bands, venues and fans, keeping the music local and everyone dancing throughout the night.

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