KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival is still going strong. In its fifth year, the entertainment offerings are better than ever. After a couple nights at the main stage on Parcel 5 at Fringe Festival, I took a detour down Gibbs Street to check out one of the smaller Fringe Festival venues, Java’s Cafe. On Sunday, they featured a musical performance by art pop duo Tart Vandelay.
Java’s Cafe is situated beside the Eastman Theatre and across from the Eastman School of Music, making it a natural place for musicians and music-lovers to congregate. The wooden interior, warm lighting and art-lined walls lend to the cozy atmosphere. The venue is a perfect pairing for local indie pop artists Tart Vandelay. Tonight they performed as a duo rather than a full band. The founding members, Katie Halligan with her microphone and looping station and Martin LoFaso with his guitar, set themselves up in the corner of the shop, the tables already filled to capacity with family, fans, and people who came to see them for the first time. Among the crowd were members of The Demos, a testament to how supportive the local music scene is of each other’s work.
They started the set with a cheery song called “Spin.” Halligan worked her magic with the looping station to create repeating layers of playful vocalizations (“ba-da-ba”s and “ooh”s) and percussive beats with handshakers. Over-top this foundation, she began to sing in dulcet tones the optimistic chorus, “Spin, spin. Go with the flow. Let my orbit carry me where I need to go.” LoFaso chimed in on guitar, and his solo replicated the melody of the chorus. They radiated pure joy as they played, and the feeling was contagious. The audience was drawn in by their charisma. The typical coffee shop chatter and bustle seemed to be put on hold, as all eyes and ears were fixated on the splendor that is Tart Vandelay.
Tart Vandelay continued to spin an intricate web of acoustic strands, deceptively simple yet completely spellbinding. The set included all the songs from last year’s debut EP Frontier Pioneer, and a couple new ones that they’ve been working on. One of the new ones, “I’m Gonna Try,” is a great example of how they incorporate wordplay into their songwriting. The chorus “Try, try, do my best and do it again” was repeated with slight variations of melody and layered over each other. It’s like having an entire choir of Halligans, a delightfully enchanting concept that she is able to bring to life using modern musical technology. It was easy to let oneself get lost in the enchantment of sounds as the duo continued to weave their magic spell. The set was over way to quickly, time seemingly suspended and the world having faded away for a too-brief period of time. Halligan dedicated the final song to her father, who was in the audience: a heartfelt cover of Julia Easterlin’s “Go Straight Away.”
Tart Vandelay’s Sunday Setlist: Spin, Alien, I’m Gonna Try, Not Alone, Bells, How Hard Could It Be?, High Life, Go Straight Away (Julia Easterlin cover)
Tart Vandelay makes another appearance at Java’s Cafe on Thursday, September 21 at 9pm. Frontier Pioneer is available on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Spotify. Follow Tart Vandelay on Facebook for news and upcoming events. To read more about the band, see their recent interview with NYS Music.
Java’s Cafe offers a wide variety of environmentally-friendly and socially-conscious menu items, including free-trade coffee, an exotic collection of teas made from loose leaves, hormone-free dairy from a local farm, and allergen-free baked goods. They’re providing free entertainment during Fringe Festival.
Remaining Fringe Festival Shows at Java’s Cafe:
September 20 – 6pm – Cherrytree Jukebox (duo covering singer/songwriters of the past century)
September 20 – 8pm – An Evening With Logan Miller (singer/songwriter)
September 21 – 7pm – Dave DiPrimo Band (alternative rock)
September 21 – 9pm – Tart Vandelay (indie pop)
September 22 – 11pm – Ponder the Giraffe (alternative jam)
September 23 – 2pm – Daniel Henry (tribute to Frank Sinatra and Friends)
Rochester Fringe Festival continues through Saturday, September 23. Shows at Java’s Cafe and several other venues are free – arrive early for seating. Ticketed shows have been selling fast, so it’s best to purchase them in advance. For more information, visit RochesterFringe.com.