The Utica Music & Arts Festival is becoming what is considered a tradition to those in and around the Utica, NY area. Those that attend just know to mark their calendars for that second weekend in September, in anticipation of one of the most eclectic mixes of music at some of the best Central NY music venues. Musicians vie each year for the few select spots, and each year we are introduced to new acts with huge talents. Eleven venues participated this year featuring music on both Friday night, all day Saturday, and into Saturday night. The artists space was set up at the Utica Auditorium, featuring face painting, a magician, vendors, and an indie garage sale, all while local artists create their spectacular murals.
Lukin’s Pizza, new to the Utica Music & Arts Festival this year, proved to be one of the most crowded venues as the UMAF kicked off the festival Friday night. Catching locals Pocket Change, a band whose sound is a melting pot of all their favorite genres rolled into one melodic beat, rocked the stage first with a warm mix of vocals and melodies as an appetizer of sorts for what was to come.
Returning this year were fan favorites Nick Piccininni and Jason Barady from Floodwood who turned up the heat and beat with the crowd this opening night. Their unique and energetic music is always a promise to get the toes tapping and hands clapping. This feel good music is one reason why they are crowd favorites no matter where they play. Whether as solo artists or all together, Jason & Nick always bring the party.
Following Nick and Jason were Driftwood, an Americana/Folk Music band from the Binghamton, NY area. These four musicians have evolved over the course of the years into one amazing group, keeping up the beat and the energy previously established this Friday night. Festival favorites and new to this attendee, they definitely have been added to the must see list of musicians when they come to town.
When giving out awards for most unique sound and most fun, Shinobi Ninja, a mash up of Hip-Hop, Punk, Metal, and Pop, wins hands down. These rockers from Brooklyn were mesmerizing. Their head banging, rapping, hip hop style of music and vocals drew you in and hooked you. As they flipped their dreads, shredded like a heavy metal band, and rapped tunes such as the Beastie Boys, they totally rocked their crowd. Total fun is how to describe these performers.
As Saturday rolled around, the fun continued down on Varick Street with UMAF favorites HafaSass, Mark Kroos, Miss Marlow, and Ryan Montbleau. The Nail Creek Pub was the venue to be at Saturday night as HafaSass set the stage for the night with their spunky sound. Next up, Mark Kroos returned to a full house and shared his magic. If I had to describe Mark’s talent, it would have to be as a prodigy. This young man is one of the best guitar players I have ever seen. Shredding out the catchiest of tunes on a regular acoustic guitar and a double neck electric guitar, his sound is pure magic. His one man band is all it takes to thoroughly entertain and ramp up a crowd. His ability to produce sounds on a guitar that mimic a train whistle, while playing a melody and singing a tune at the same time just leaves the crowd flabbergasted each and every time they see it. As his YouTube video of “Dueling Banjos” went viral, he jokes of how can he possibly follow that up. As he shares his new compositions, showcasing his amazing abilities to play a double neck guitar, I guarantee he will one day surpass that expectation of “Dueling Banjos” with an arrangement solely all his own.
Miss Marlow, another crowd favorite, is one of the most unique bands to frequent UMAF. Traveling all the way across the pond from the Netherlands to O’Donnels Pub on Varick Street, Miss Marlow is a four piece rock band whose signature sound can only be described as a mix of Led Zepplin, Stevie Nicks, and Heart all rolled into one rocking band. We are fortunate to have them each year and hope they continue to return.
Closing out the festival this year was Ryan Montbleau. First time seeing him, I was intrigued about him as I could get nowhere near the stage to shoot any photos. This standing room only crowd, packed in like sardines, were ready for Ryan to wow them, as was I. As he took the stage, he did exactly that. His style was one I could listen too forever. His sound to me was unique. His voice, melodic and sexy. His humor, candid and witty. Joined on stage by UMAF favorite, Jason Barady on mandolin, all I can say is what a perfect pairing. Peanut butter and jelly had nothing on these two. Jamming together on song after song, Ryan and Jason played for hours to an entranced crowd. Ryan’s seamless ability to just pull songs out of a set list in his head was evidence that this music was a part of him, a natural ability to perform, and a sound he just shares as a natural gift. If I had to describe his style, it would be Modern Folk mixed with Indie Rock. Their performance together was a gift and the perfect way to close out another successful festival.