Rochester Fringe Festival Starts Off with a Bang

The city was alive with the sound of music Friday, September 15. Dozens of venues throughout the downtown Rochester area are participating in the fifth annual KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, featuring more than 500 music, art, and theatrical performances over a 10-day timeframe. I spent the evening at Parcel 5, the site on Main Street on which Midtown Plaza once stood. The plan for tonight was to catch a theatrical performance by French troupe Plasticiens Volants and a set of music by local legends Teagan and The Tweeds.

Teagan and The Tweeds

Upon approach to Parcel 5, I heard strains of syncopated reggae rhythms filling the air. Festival goers lingered around the lot, some heading closer to the stage, and others staring in fascination at props for the Plasticiens Volants show, and others joining the lines of food trucks parked along the street. Reggae music, courtesy of Rochester’s Noble Vibes, gave way to the sound of bagpipes from Rochester Scottish Pipes and Drums, as people continued to pour into the square.

The sun went down, and the lights came up on the far end of the lot. Plasticiens Volants began to perform a show they call “Big Bang.” Although the French street performance troupe was founded in 1976, this is their first time on tour in the US.

Curiosity abounded as people young and old were drawn to viewing a video projected onto an inflatable globe. Narration spoke about the origin of life. A film began, which showed the evolution of civilization. The significance of the experience was not lost on those who grew up in Rochester, the birthplace of modern photography and film.

Shadow puppets were incorporated into the visuals, and speakers pumped world music with a heavy techno beat. Suddenly, large inflatable balloons came to life, lifted by puppeteers who carried them through the crowd. Seashells and fantastical beasts and planets soared above the crowd, dipping and swaying to the music.

Children on tiptoe stretched their arms to the star-studded sky to brush the balloons with their fingertips. The music and narration told the story of The Big Bang as a sci-fi fantasy. The magnificently choreographed spectacle ended in a light display, with mirrors like facets of diamonds catching spotlights and splaying beams of light across the city skyline.

Teagan Ward of Teagan and The Tweeds posted a video of Platiciens Volants on social media as they prepped for their set, the final event of the night at this location. People gravitated towards the stage as the band cranked out boot-stomping tunes.

This was my first time seeing the band, and I was completely enraptured. My jaw dropped as I watched Teagan, a barefoot blonde bombshell, belt out whiskey bar blues.

Once the mesmerized gathering got over their initial shock, an impromptu dance floor opened up in front of the stage. Drummer Alfredo Encina provided a strong backbone and bassist Jeremy Stoner laid down grooves as deep as the day is long. They provided a foundation for Katy Wright’s stellar performance on the keys and Lou Giglio’s fancy fretwork. Tommy Formicola took it on home with his pedal-steel guitar.

The people behind me must have been fans, because they knew all the words to “Morning Glory” and “Give It Up or Let Me Go.” They even played a new song, “Route 100.”

Elsewhere, the city-wide party was still going strong. A silent disco was about to rage around the corner at the Speigeltent. Attendees donned headphones, through which they could switch between channels as three DJ’s in the tent dueled for the crowd’s favor. The dance wound down at 2am. (If you missed it, don’t worry, they’ll do it again on Saturday September 16, Friday September 22, and Saturday September 23.)

Plasticiens Volants will reprise their performance on Saturday, September 16 at 8pm. Arrive by 6:30 to catch local pop band The Demos, and plan to stay late for Ithaca’s Big Mean Sound Machine.

Rochester Fringe Festival runs through Sunday, September 24. For a complete listing of events, go to the website. Advance ticket purchases are recommended, as several shows have already sold out.