Utica Music and Arts Festival 2015 – A Destination Fest

The Utica Music and Arts Fest has quickly become a must-do summer ending activity in Central New York. The 8th Annual version of UMAF, was held at various venues throughout Utica the weekend of September 11-13. The biggest problem involved with attending this festival is being able to fit in all the great music available throughout the weekend.

Going in without a plan is probably the best way to attack this weekend. Doing it this way, one can experience such pleasant surprises as the young brother and sister combo of Jocelyn and Chris Arndt, who played a Saturday mid-afternoon set at Nail Creek Pub, in the process winning over those in  attendance.

Jocelyn Arndt
Jocelyn Arndt

Joceyln is slight in stature, yet huge in vocal talent. She has a soulful, bluesy voice backed up with power; think Bonnie Raitt channeled through Grace Potter with a visit from PJ Harvey. Jocelyn’s animated vocal delivery commands attention. Her brother Chris, who is also her co-writer, delivers a solid and crisp sounding blues-rock style guitar that is the perfect accompaniment to Jocelyn’s voice.

The band’s tour itinerary is scant during the school year, as both are students at Harvard, but they will be hitting stages across New York in the coming weeks.  Check here for dates.

Spending the weekend bouncing between Lukin’s and Nail Creek Pub seemed to be what many people were doing but to do so is to miss out on many of the other acts. Tiny’s hosted several jazz influenced bands, including Notified and the Carmen Caramanica Jazz Trio, while D.A. Bentley’s entertained the EDM crowd with sets from DJ D.A., Vongel and Phungeye among others. Harlee’s Pub & Grille was geared towards the metal. Local favorites Nineball and Street Rock Mafia provided Friday crowds with high energy entertainment at Harlee’s. Nineball is also festival producer, Joe Sweet’s main project.

Lukin’s hosted Conehead Buddha on Friday night. The Albany-area band has been on the jamband circuit for twenty years and showed no signs of wear this weekend. While the band has taken a hiatus here or there within that time, on this night it provided a sharp mix of reggae, ska and jam that has endeared Conehead Buddha to the northeast scene all these years. Also saxophonist Shannon Lynch provided much of the theatrics throughout the set, anchoring the big horn sound Conehead Buddha is known for.

Conehead Buddha
Conehead Buddha

Female artists took ownership of this year’s Utica Music and Arts Festival. In addition to Lynch and Arndt’s performances; on Saturday, the festival faithful were treated to the eclectic mix of jangle pop of Sirsy. Lead singer and stand-up drummer, Melanie Khramer and her partner, guitarist Rich Libutti, had the Nail Creek crowd, the biggest one of the weekend to this point, dancing and singing along. Khramer has the uncanny ability to engage the crowd with humor and powerful vocals with lyrics that may take you to a darker place. The fact that the music is typically so upbeat and Khramer so quick-witted with her banter, may disguise some of the darkness in the lyrics but it also gives the listener pause.  Krahmer’s Ella-like voice and stage presence added a terrific touch to the band’s final song of the night, a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” 

Melanie of SIRSY belting it out.
Melanie Khramer of SIRSY belting it out.

Sirsy will be in Utica again on Dec. 8, performing an all-ages show at The Tramontane (known familiarly as The Tram). The show begins at 8:00 p.m. and will be a celebration of the band’s new EP to be released the week prior.

Exploding onto the Nail Creek stage after Sirsy’s set was Brooklyn’s Shinobi Ninja. With an elaborate and energetic stage show led by lead singer, Baby G, clad in an Iron Maiden t-shirt. It was clear from the start that this wouldn’t be your typical rock show. The band’s uniqueness has been described as being “like the Beastie Boys, Slayer and Lauryn Hill all mixed together.” After witnessing the band’s performance, that is an appropriate description. The following video gives a good impression of a Shinobi Ninja experience. Mix in some metal, reggae, rap, a little punk and a whole lot of jumping and you get this. 

The uninitiated looked on in puzzling disbelief once the Ninjas took the stage, however in the short time they performed for the UMAF crowd, most of the leery were won over. The true venue to witness Shinobi Ninja is a live one. If this band doesn’t make some noise on the national scene in short order it will be a surprise.

UMAF faves Hank and Cupcakes followed Shinobi Ninja to a welcoming reception. Also based in Brooklyn, this duo is all about the performance. The husband and wife duo originally began performing together while serving in the Israeli Army at the age of 19. Colorfully dressed and highly animated, lead singer Sagit “Cupcakes” Shir isn’t afraid to get into the face of the audience while performing. In addition to pulling off vocal duties, Shir also drums and plays piano while bassist Ariel “Hank” Scherbacovsky keeps the beat and uses samples while safely tucked away stage right.

Hank and Cupcakes deliver a performance that begs to be seen and the elbow to elbow crowd in front of the Nail Creek’s outdoor staage proved that on a rainy Saturday night in Utica.

Hank and Cupcakes rockin' the Nail Creek
Hank and Cupcakes rockin’ the Nail Creek

The other Saturday night headliners performed nearly simultaneously up the street at Lukin’s. Floodwood, a bluegrass based band comprised of moe. bandmates Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico, as well as Jason Barady, Nick Piccininni and Zachary Fleitz, put together a two set show that, unbeknownst to all in attendance, would turn out to be one of the band’s final performances with this lineup. Schnier and Fleitz announced their departure from Floodwood in a release just a few weeks ago.


The band packed the house at Lukin’s, playing right up to the 2:00 a.m. hour, performing Floodwood originals mixed with some moe. covers, Dead covers and other bluegrass.  A Floodwood show is always a good time. Varick Street Legend, Rainbow Young even made an appearance opening the set with a rousing version of the “Star Spangled Banner” that included maximum audience participation. Rainbow’s presence was seen at Lukin’s throughout the weekend, cementing the festival as a true Utica tradition.

Rainbow Young, Varick Street Legend, performing the National Anthem prior to Floodwood’s set.

If you’re in a music glut and looking for something new to listen to, the Utica Music and Arts Festival is the perfect venue to get you out of that funk. Festival organizer Joe Sweet and his booking crew go out of their way to include a huge variety of music to the festival each year. The 2015 edition was no different. And at a cost of $10 for a weekend bracelet, the music lover in you simply cannot go wrong attending this destination festival.






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