Best of NYS Music 2015: Staff Picks for Bands on the Rise

While we said fare thee well to our staff picks for the best albums, festivals, venues and shows of 2015, we welcome the new music experiences that 2016 has in store, and with a new year, comes new talent on the rise.

Every year we shine a light on the music scene’s rising newcomers currently flying under the radar — but not for long. Here we note the five bands that the NYSMusic team has pegged as the emerging artists to keep an eye on in the New Year.

Some of the groups have already toured the globe, shared the stage with notable acts and appeared on national television, while others are still in heavy rotation at their local venues and surrounding regions. But you can be sure to expect new records, show announcements and other surprises from our 2015 bands on the rise.

1. THE BLIND OWL BAND

FROM: Saranac Lake, NY
ALBUM: This Train We Ride is Made of Wood and Steel (2013)
WHY WE DIG THEM: Formed in 2010 after meeting at Paul Smith’s College, the Blind Owl Bandhas become a household name in the jam circuit after putting on impromptu lot shows during Phish runs at SPAC, followed by heavy touring throughout the northeast and having now appeared at more than 25 festivals, including the Peach Music Festival Backwoods Pondfest and Winter Carnival. Coining their style as Adirondack freight train string music, the North Country bearded quartet—Arthur Buezo (guitar, vocals), Christian Cardiello (double bass, fretless bass), James Ford (banjo, vocals) and Eric Munley (mandolin, vocals)—released their debut 15-track album Rabble Rousing in 2012 and have since shared the stage with Trampled by Turtles, Railroad Earth, Hot Day at the Zoo and Yonder Mountain String Band. Their raw, contemporary bluegrass style throws the genre’s traditional rules to the wind characterizing” their sound as if they stood on top of their mountain reaching out their beat up instruments grabbing various concepts of music, holding it captive ultimately for a presentation unique to the scene,” described Tabitha Clancy, and according to Laura Carbone, experienced live, they move, twist and turn, fingers a flying, bass a spinning and the audience pressing closer to the stage, dancing and feeling the joy of what is The Blind Owl Band. Hoot!

2. CASTLE CREEK

FROM: Syracuse, NY
ALBUM: The Only Life (2014)
WHY WE DIG THEM: Winner of the 2015 SAMMY Award for best blues recording, the Central New York-based band Castle Creek, comprised of Kim Monroe (vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass) and Chris Eves (vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums), debuted their first full-length—and self-produced/engineered—album in 2014. Since then the alternative blues rock duo has extensively toured regionally and nationally from Maine to Texas to California and played at international festivals in Ireland and Japan. Most recently Castle Creek performed as guest vocalists with the Zac Brown Band for three east coast shows during their “Jekyll and Hyde” tour, landed a main stage spot at the winter NAMM show in Anaheim, toured with Tony Lucca from season two of The Voice and last March Phish drummer Jon Fishman sat in with the group for a surprise four-song jam at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse. After seeing the band open for Tyler Farr, Kathy Stockbridge recalled how the duo’s vocals complement rather than overshadow each other, noting that “they both display such very strong vocals and instrumentation. The fact that they can play and sing the same instruments simultaneously without becoming one sound and over powering the other is what makes their sound so unique, so soulful, so bluesy.” Castle Creek has also opened for artists like Cabinet, Johnny Lang, Floodwood and John Popper and the Duskray Troubadours. Up next the band will release an EP recorded at Abbey Road Studios while touring abroad.

3. FORMULA 5

FROM: Albany, NY
ALBUM: Live Five, Vol. 1 (2015)
WHY WE DIG THEM: The Capital Region’s favorite improvisational funk jam band Formula 5  has become a staple in Albany’s live music scene, opening for bands like Twiddle, the Heavy Pets and the McLovins, and putting on some of the most unforgettable Halloween parties in the area. While this band is no stranger to our best-of roundups for previous years, Formula 5 has progressively made their mark in the jam circuit since we first interviewed them back in 2012. Then the four-piece group dreamt of recording original studio albums, playing festivals like Catskill Chill and Disc Jam and wowing crowds at established venues such as the Brooklyn Bowl—and they’ve since accomplished just that and made many more career highlights, including releasing Formula 5 (2013) and Edging on Catastrophe (2014) and sharing the stage with Natalie Cressman (Trey Anastasio Band) and Elise Testone (American Idol finalist). Although founding keyboardist Mike McDonald played his last gig with the group this month, Mike Bohuski and Steve Malinski are confident that Joe Davis (guitar, vocals), Greg Marek (drums), James Woods (bass) and Matt Richards (keys, vocals) “demonstrated themselves to be a band with some staying power,” noting F5’s “tight aural soundscape,” and that fans should “expect great things from this band in 2016.”

4. FUNKTIONAL FLOW

FROM: Buffalo, NY
ALBUM: Let It Settle (2015)
WHY WE DIG THEM: Founded in 2010, Buffalo-based funk, rock, reggae quintet Funktional Flow has risen in the music community’s ranks in the past few years, playing at Night Lights Music Festival and Buffalove Music Festival and sharing the stage with the likes of Warren Haynes, Railroad Earth, New Riders of the Purple Sage and notable local groups Twiddle and Aqueous. Comprised of Jeffrey Kuebler (guitar, vocals), Ben Whelan (bass), Joey Lewis (guitar, vocals), Jim Edgar (drums) and Matthew Lester (keys, saxophone, vocals), Funktional Flow released their self-titled album in 2011 and recorded their third studio effort Time Will Tell at Sonic Farm Studios this fall. The band recently gave fans a sneak listen of the album’s first single “Back Door” from the forthcoming 12-track record to be debuted in March 2016. While the band did face a departure of members this year, it surely did not stop the group from evolving into a tighter sound with two new bandmates in tow. And after witnessing this seamlessness at Buffalove 2015, Jen Foster and Thomas Sgroi noted that Funktional Flow “definitely earned their three sets, and stood on par with the headliners.”

5. VULFPECK

FROM: Ann Arbor, MI
ALBUM: Thrill of the Arts (2015)
WHY WE DIG THEM: It’s been a big year for Los Angeles funk group Vulfpeck. Since arriving on the scene in 2011, the band has released four EPs and made international news in 2014 after sneaking the silent album Sleepify on Spotify to fund an admission-free mini tour; they raised $20,000 in two months. The four-man rhythm section formed at the University of Michigan—Jack Stratton (keyboards, drums, guitar), Theo Katzman (guitar, drums, vocals), Woody Goss (keyboards) and Joe Dart (bass)—self-produced their first full-length release Thrill of the Arts through a 59-day Kickstarter campaign in October, and the album landed a number 16 spot on the R&B Albums chart and earned a review in the Wall Street Journal. The multi-instrumental quartet made their Brooklyn Bowl debut this fall with two nights of sold-out crowds. Pete Mason recalled the band’s showmanship, noting that the way the band was “moving around on stage and switching instruments, with two keyboardists at times, added a degree of difficulty not seen by many acts.” From a YouTube video to the Big What Festival in North Carolina to appearing on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Vulfpeck is proving that independent musicians in the 21st century can provide much more than studio session backtracks.