The Utica Music and Arts Festival delivered without a doubt a one-two punch that the community needed in order to highlight the Mohawk Valley’s growing music and arts scene. Founded several years ago by Joe Sweet and Zee, their vision to bring an eclectic mix of music musicians and artists to Central New York has slowly but surely taken seed. Over the last six years the community has come to embrace this movement to make this a destination for attendees and artists alike with more than a thousand performers submitting their music for review to become part of the 2013 history. With a bright blue sky as the backdrop and a canvas the size of a billboard, the artists created their masterpieces as audiences watched their visions unfold right in front of their eyes.
This year’s partnership with Mohawk Valley Community College was the perfect setting Saturday for the Greens Fest activities and artists to showcase their work. Interactive art projects allowed children in attendance to be part of the art themselves while face painting creations by Kitty Glitter made them walking works of art. Special chalk artist from upstate New York, Eric Muruscak, known for his amazing 3D murals, created a life size hole that many dared to cross while snapping photos of their fearlessness. The activities were numerous and wherever one looked there were musicians, magicians, jugglers and dancers who provided non-stop entertainment throughout the day. The scent of Green’s stone baked pizzas and Polish cuisine wafting through the air made it difficult to choose just where to eat while vendors displayed and sold their handcrafted creations to those strolling through the grounds. From one side of the city to the next, venues opened their doors welcoming musicians from all over the world to perform. Attendees traveled all over the state to catch glimpses of their favorite performers and were not disappointed in the least.
Friday night began at the Hotel Utica, an absolutely perfect gem of a space. Once hailed as the premier location for the rich and famous that passed through the central New York region, its newly renovated interior became the perfect setting to check in, grab the schedule and head out to the venues featuring your favorite artists. Performances were non stop throughout the Hotel all weekend and as patrons stood above on the mezzanine watching performances in the lobby, one wondered why this wasn’t utilized more. The beautiful sounds of Arielle, carried throughout the lobby as patrons sat comfortably tapping their toes and enjoying this bohemian feel. It is even said that perhaps a ghost was sighted throughout the evening.
O’Donnell’s Pub & Grill
O’Donnell’s Pub & Grill, located on Varick Street welcomed artists throughout the weekend. Artists such as locals The Upstate Outlaws, a rock band featuring Andrew C. Styles on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Brice Dunn on bass/backup vocals, John Swiech on drums and tin whistle, Mike Frantz on weirdness guitar/backup vocals, and Matt Pett on lead guitar lead off a weekend of rockers to take the stage in the pub. Also performing there was Fred Gillen Jr, who came from the Hudson Valley region has a folk style of music and playful banter that amused the audience while his tunes eased them into a comfortable swaying back and forth. Suns of The Empire, a local band from Rome, NY that has played together for the last 13 years rocked the house with opening number “Stuck in the 80’s” as well as some of their tunes like “Wrong is Right” and “Beating a Dead Horse” while new tunes like “Falling Down” will appear on their upcoming CD scheduled to be released soon.
One highly anticipated band this year brought back by popular demand all the way from Denmark was Miss Marlow. Miss Marlow is fronted by Marleen Pfeiffer, and accompanied by Søren Larsen on guitar, Trine Wester on bass, and drummer Jon Clausen. This band brought the house down with their unique and sultry vibes of rock and roll reminiscent of the Pink Floyd era. With each number, the crowd gathered clapped and cheered inciting them to continue to play even when their set was over. Due to the amazing response to their Friday night performance, the festival was able to talk them into squeezing in “just one more set” Saturday night for those that couldn’t make Friday’s stellar jam session and before they moved on for their national tour of America. Miss Marlow was a must see show and you have to hope they return next year for those that may have missed their performances this time around.
Nail Creek Pub & Brewery
The Nail Creek Pub & Brewery also located on Varick Street once again opened their doors this year to a multitude of artists over the weekend. Seth Adam, a Connecticut native returned to the festival this year after Central New York and Utica made a lasting impression on him at last years event. Joined onstage by John Jackson on Mandolin, Violin, Guitars and Vocals and Gerry Giaimo on Guitars and Vocals, this trio’s unique blend of rock, alternative country, and folk sound moved the audiences they played for both at the Nail Creek and at the Greens Fest Stage. If you missed either of these sets, make sure you don’t miss their new release of their latest single “Push and Pull”, off of the new record, “Steel Tempered Pride,” coming out Oct. 1st.
Also performing at the Nail Creek was Los Angeles based Poeina Suddarth. An energy radiated from her as she prepared to take the stage. Her warm welcoming smile and playful attire put the audience at ease immediately. When she began to sing, her sultry, strong voice mesmerized and captivated those listening. Preparing for an upcoming European tour, you can check out Poeina’s music on iTunes and find out more about the tour on her Kickstarter campaign.
Saturday afternoon brought one of the most talented guitar players currently touring to the Nail Creek. Based currently in Williamsburg VA, Mark Kroos’s unique style of playing two guitars simultaneously amazes audiences. This type of performance is unique and his one of kind musicality and vivacious personality won over the crowd immediately. It is no wonder UMAF quickly booked Kroos to join them this year and his performance surpassed the anticipation of those who snuck a peek at his videography online in advance. Audience members became more engrossed after each number and yelled encouragements and love after each song. His playful banter and interesting stories outlined each number and amused those in attendance. This insight to Mark’s writing and performing only made audience members more engrossed with each number. The only downfall to his visit to UMAF was the fact that his set was so short and he couldn’t stay longer to play longer as he had another gig in Pennsylvania early the next day. Check out Mark’s video performing “Dueling Banjos”, solo.
The Green Onion Pub
Friday night ended at The Green Onion Pub on Genesee Street with UMAF returning favorite Randy Niles. Randy has participated in UMAF now for four years and has become family. Randy is based out of New York City and his eclectic sound is reminiscent of a mix of soul, rock, pop, folk, and blends to into an Indie sound that is unmistakably remarkable. When I first saw Randy play last year, I was amazed at his musical genius and mesmerized by his one man band sound that is known as looping technology. With a few beats, strums, and clicks he lays down a background accompaniment that compliments and grooves along with his lyrics. This sound is unmistakably unique and wows audiences wherever he plays. When asked his thoughts on UMAF and his experiences with the event he stated “UMAF is not just a festival, its an idea that has opened up not just opportunity for the arts but for a community and I’m glad to call myself a part of that community.”
MVCC – Greens Fest
Saturday kicked off the Greens Fest at the perfect venue, MVCC. The collaboration this year with MVCC was genius and was the perfect setting to showcase the artists as they painted, the vendors showcasing their handmade wares, the food vendors specializing in everything from pizza, to fries, to pierogis and of course greens. This family filled event had magicians, jugglers, Kitty Glitter, and interactive activities that amused the children while parents enjoyed the stages with more UMAF selected artists. From the moment it began, the crowds were constant and the energy was felt by all in attendance.
Saturday Afternoon shows on the main stage featured Jenna McDaniel, Ray Mazza and The Gutter Bandits, Seth Adams, The Rick Short Band, and My Pet Dragon. My Pet Dragon is always a crowd pleaser with their unique sound that is a mix of rock, pop, and indie elements. Their music is the type that gets the crowd moving and dancing each and every time. My Pet Dragon is led by singer/guitarist/producer Todd Michaelsen and actress/dancer Reena Shah. Together they give audiences a high energy, feel good performance each and every time. Check out their latest hit “Moonshine” and see for yourself how toe-tappingly pleasing they are.
Throughout the city, venues continued to showcase talent with artists of every genre of music imaginable over the weekend. However as a special treat this year, KROCK and GPO Federal Credit Union brought to Central New York nationally known artist Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts. Hanna Park buzzed from the moment the first opening band, Red Hush, took the stage. The band’s performance set the bar high for an evening of rocking energy. Hometown favorite Nineball followed with a performance that incited the crowd even more, preparing the them for the main event and special guests Scott Weiland and The Wildabouts. After many years of performing with Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, the crowd was anxious to welcome him back with open arms. Never skipping a beat, his transition to performing with his new band The Wildabouts was seamless and the performance outstanding. His sound was spot on and his performance of the utmost showmanship. He was truly a superstar singing to a Central New York crowd as though it was a sold out Central Park event.
Finishing out the night at the Hotel Utica, crowds joined in the explosive performance of the band, Moon Zombies upon returning. With a name such as Moon Zombies you were assume they are dark and ominous, yet they are nothing like their name. They were a wallop of high energy rocking tunes that hit you in the face like a wave crashing on a rock. When asked what genre of music they consider themselves, they stated “FunSkaPunkFunkPowerPopiliciousness”. Hailing from Rochester, NY, Moon Zombies have participated for two years now with the UMAF and what a diamond of a group. The energy level was brought to you by Majic Wand on Vocals, Guitar and whatever happens to be laying on the stage; The Letter J on Guitars, vocals, foot work; DJ Late Payment on Bass/Funk Harvester; Danny O’Wallop on Drums, percussion, vocals, bottle returns; AdRoc on Keys, Buttons, Knobs, Glockenspiel; and last but not least Hard Work on Saxophone.
With an anticipation of the crowd nearing the final hours, everyone made their way upstairs to the ballroom to see local band Floodwood perform. Introduced to everyone as a “progressive string band” the introduction truly downplayed what the audience was in for over the next two hours. High energy banjo, fiddle, and mandolin pumped up the audience with each number as bass and drums lay down the back line beat. As each number the band played, the audience danced, stomped, clapped, yelled, and became part of the music. The crowd cheered and begged to continue as the night wore on, especially when members of the band joined the crowd and played the floor.
Floodwood is the perfect mix of talent to bring the perfect mix of music to the audience. For upcoming tour dates and their latest cd please visit www.floodwoodmusic.com. Floodwood closed UMAF like no other possibly could. Their performance celebrated what Utica Music and Arts Festival was all about, the love of music, culture, art, and community.