Nothing beats a hot summer day like great live music, friends, a beautiful city, and beer. Cold, fresh-brewed beer at that. Utica, NY was certainly hoppin’ as Saranac Brewery hosted Slightly Stoopid, SOJA, and Zion I, The Grouch, & Eligh on July 22 in the outdoor courtyard.
Zion I, The Grouch and Eligh kicked off the summer evening in the brewery district with their bright harmonies, feel-good rhythms, and conscious hip-hop lyrics. Zion I is swiftly attracting fans on this tour promoting his new LP due out in September, titled The Labyrinth.
Humid air from the blistering sun didn’t seem to phase anyone in the audience as the cool, crisp ales flowed from the kegs and moistened the lips of the awaiting patrons. Following a brief refreshment break, SOJA danced onto the stage with instruments in hand and crushed a 45 minute set of their smile-inspiring original reggae-rock music, which included some dread swinging and tasty drum-line solos.
Front man Jacob Hemphill continuously gave props to Utica for their unmatched energy, in between songs from the Virginia-based groups’ most recent Grammy-nominated album, Amid the Noise and Haste. Before exiting the stage, Hemphill again gave praise to the tour headliners for their generosity as well as the crowd and Saranac Brewery, wishing everyone to “Thanks and Have a great … everything!”
Before Slightly Stoopid‘s set, Saranac’s own Fred Matt embraced the stage and took to the microphone to give a slurred thanks to all in attendance and took a traditional selfie, while holding up a fresh brew, stacked with a couple thousand excited fans behind him.
Moments later, a rumbling Star Wars Imperial March pumped from the PA speakers grabbing the crowds attention, making way for another Return of the Red Eye Tour performance. The group kicked into gear with “Champion of the Charles,” as Miles Doughty yelled out “It feels good to be back, Utica!” while fist-pumping his chest. After a few songs, Doughty and Kyle McDonald switched up instruments allowing McDonald to sing a few tunes including “Officer” and “Just Thinking” with special guests The Grouch and Eligh, before beautifully singing “The Prophet.”
Taking turns singing and switching guitars seemed to be of second nature to McDonald and Doughty as they each continuously electrified the audience with energy and inspiration. “Too Little Too Late” provided some fast-paced dancing for fans with it’s up-beat Ska rhythms and horn-play. Doughty playfully asked “Where’s all the good Utica chronic” before hammering out “Rolling Stone” and “Ain’t Got a Lot of Money.” Hard work and extensive touring was surely paying off for the west-coast group as the audience cheered and sang along through a set ending “Anywhere I Go.”
Returning for a solid 4-song encore, the group emerged amongst a dimly-lit stage to “Cantina Song,” further augmenting their semi Star Wars themed tour. While having much appreciation for the Grateful Dead, yet not being a “jam band,” Slightly Stoopid played a rather enjoyable take on “Franklin’s Tower,” sprinkled with some light piano work by Paul Wolstencroft. The group ended the night by staffing every inch of the stage with the help from SOJA on the Dennis Brown tune, “If This World Were Mine.”
Set: Imperial March (Star Wars), Champion of the Charles, Til it Gets Wet, Somebody, Up On a Plane, Hold It Down, Officer, Just Thinking (w/s/g Grouch & Eligh), The Prophet, This Version, Prayer For You, No One Stops Us Now, Collie Man, Too Little Too Late, Del Roy → 2 AM, Serious Man, Closer To the Sun, Stones 1, Bandoz, Ain’t Got A Lot Of Money, Don’t Stop, Don’t Care, Anywhere I Go
Encore: Cantina Song (Stare Wars), Franklin’s Tower, Train, Express Yourself, If This World (w/s/g SOJA)