Venture into Downtown Syracuse any summer weekend and chances are you’ll wander into some type of cultural festival. The biggest of all these Clinton Square festivals is Taste of Syracuse, held the first weekend of June. I’d never been to the Taste of Syracuse Festival so I entered this year’s version totally green. Pre-fest research is a must, printing the artist schedule and reading up on the must-have food samples will help you make the most of your time.
This event is highly attended by all different types of people and gives a true Taste of Syracuse in that regard. The perfect weather also likely had a lot to do with the size of the weekend crowds.
Food vendors were plentiful, many with long lines to try the bevy of $1 samples being offered. And while I didn’t try the much hyped Bang Bang Shrimp, I did get my hands on the grape leaves from the Turkish Cultural Center booth and the vegetarian spring rolls with hot sauce from the Lao Village tent and both were delicious. The hot sauce, paired well with a Founders All Day IPA and the smooth Chicago style blues of The Nighthawks with Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin performing on the Main Stage.
The primary reason for my attendance at Taste of Syracuse was, however, the music. With 38 bands playing on three different stages over the course of the weekend, there were plenty of choices to be had for even the most fickle music fan.
Friday night featured Vinyl-Albums live, three different bands offering their interpretations of three classic albums: Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run, U2’s Achtung Baby and Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill.
One of the more uplifting bands of the weekend was the UAD Show Group/Kings of the Fall, performing on the Delta stage Friday evening. Their soulful sounds provided a nice diversion from the heavier rock and country artists performing throughout the weekend.
Syracuse rockers Under the Gun closed the night on the main stage, playing a mix of hard-charging rock anthems from the 80s up to the present.
Washington, DC blues legends, The Nighthawks with frequent special guest and former Muddy Waters band member, Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin grooved the main stage crowd on Saturday with a mixture of originals and blues standards.
Pale Green Stars were a standout band. This Syracuse-based band is part country, part punk, part alternative, and all entertaining. Upon first listening, the vocals of Jeff Jones reminded me of Art Alexakis of Everclear, yet still has his own distinct style and great stage presence. This three-man crew of talented musicians performed many originals from their album The Honkytonk Years, which is available to listen to in full on YouTube. Do yourself, and the band, a favor and purchase the album outright. It’s a good summer soundtrack.
Another band that drew my attention was the Rochester band Teagan and the Tweeds. Steeped in country but dipping their toes in the sexy blues of Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin while donning some Bourbon Street pizzazz, Teagan and the Tweeds are difficult to categorize, which is a good thing. Lead vocalist and guitarist, Teagan Ward has a voice that’s raspy and soulful and one that demands the audience’s attention. Her band mates are formidable as well. Bassist Jeremy Stoner brought out a tuba for “Give it Up or Let Me Go” and quickly won over the hesitant crowd. Teagan and the Tweeds frequent the Dinosaur BBQ circuit and refer to themselves as a BBQ band. For more information, check out their website: www.teaganandthetweeds.com.
For me, festivals are a way to discover new music, especially local music. While there seemed to be a dearth of cover bands on this year’s Taste of Syracuse bill, it was a treat to discover several bands out there doing original material and winning over crowds. Keep the local talent thriving and get out there and become won over, because, after all, every big artist was local at some point.
Friday Photo Gallery by Jim Houle:
Bret Michaels Gallery by Mark McGauley: