This past weekend, the eighth annual Night Lights Music Festival was held at The Heron in Sherman, NY. Nestled in western New York’s Amish country, The Heron’s grounds bring attendees back to simpler times, reminiscent of the summer camps some of us were sent to as younglings. For the most part, the weather was stellar besides a heavy rainstorm rolling in during Octave Cat’s late night set on Saturday night.
One super special thing about Night Lights’ community is the festival’s focus on the physical and mental health of everyone attending. The security onsite is more focused on the well-being of each audience member than busting people for illicit activities, and on the grounds was an area called the “Sanctuary,” which was designated for those who needed to calm down or ease themselves if they were feeling particularly hairy.
The weekend started on Thursday night, with bands alternating on the smaller two of the three stages, the Cafe Stage and Drum Circle Stage. Intrepid Travelers took the Cafe Stage by storm with their jazzy improvisations, filling their set with musical segues and a few choice covers, including “Musicology” by the late funk legend Prince. The Buffalo-native group also featured one of their groovier tracks, the synth-heavy “Woolify,” towards the end of their set.
Fellow Buffalo-based group Space Junk were next and and brought their jamtronica stylings to the Drum Circle Stage. The band kept this set all original, as they were getting ready to perform a Disco Biscuits tribute set on Saturday. This first set featured the fan favorite “Das Bootie” into “Ascension,” as well as “Hammurabi’s Code,” all of which were delivered with Space Junk’s usual jam treatment, although Night Light’s environment seemed to breed something special in the group’s music, a theme that became common throughout the weekend.
Closing out the night on the Drum Circle Stage was a seemingly mysterious band known as Boss Tweed & The Carpetbaggers. Despite the mayhem they caused last year, the group was invited back to play again this year. Among the many profane songs they performed, “I Killed It With My Dick,” “I Fucked Your Wife,” and the eloquently named “Boners” seemed to get the crowd riled up the most. The band also shaved multiple audience members’ heads, pied several others in the face, and asked the audience for a dollar on numerous occasions.
Friday kicked off with Pappy Biondo of Cabinet’s side project Gatos Blancos on the Main Stage. Gatos Blancos featured a similar rocking bluegrass sound to Cabinet, while still remaining its own group.There are a few other well known artists in the group, namely drummer John Kimock of Mike Gordon Band and guitarist Justin Mazer of Ryan Montbleau Band, who showed off his impressive guitar skills throughout the set. Pappy immediately moved from the Main Stage to the Cafe Stage to sit in with the upbeat Buffalo bluegrass group Folkfaces.
Folkfaces performed numerous originals, all oozing with positivity and optimistic worldviews, which brought an overwhelming sense of joy to the audience. They’ve been making a name for themselves recently, touring extensively throughout the country, all the way from Buffalo to New Orleans. Funktional Flow performed on the Drum Circle Stage later that night, bringing their reggae-infused jams to The Heron’s grounds. Wild Adriatic brought their Led Zeppelin tribute set to the Cafe Stage, and after performing one of their original tunes, broke into numerous Zeppelin classics, including “Dazed and Confused,” “Communication Breakdown,” and “Good Times Bad TImes.” Lead vocalist Travis Gray’s voice suited the music perfectly, borrowing from Robert Plant’s soulful vocals at times while still maintaining his own soulfulness.
As the night crept on, Buffalo groove rockers Aqueous took to the Main Stage for their first set of the weekend. The group is a mainstay at Night Lights, and a big reason a lot of people return. For this first set, they broke out into the heavy rocker “Gordon’s Mule,” and then jammed out “The Median,” two fan favorites that really got the crowd going. After a stellar version of “Complex pt. 2,” they debuted their cover of Supertramp’s classic “Goodbye Stranger,” and brought it into the upbeat, yet spooky “Don’t Do It,” which featured a sit in from moe.’s Chuck Garvey on guitar. To close out the set, the group played keyboardist/guitarist Dave Loss’ magnum opus “Staring Into The Sun,” which they’ve performed at Night Lights every year they’ve played it.
Following Aqueous on the main stage were the funk outfit The Motet, the Denver-based 7 piece that always fill their shows with positivity and funky grooves. The group was on fire on Friday night, which happened to be saxophonist Drew Sayers’ birthday, a fact that vocalist Lyle Divinsky delighted in sharing with the audience multiple times throughout the set. The last major set of the night came from Fearless (A Pink Floyd Tribute), featuring Chuck Garvey of moe., Eli WInderman of Dopapod, Mike Gantzer and Evan McPhaden of Dopapod, and Matt Kellen of Mungion. The supergroup worked through many Floyd classics, including “Breathe,” “Time,” “Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Brain Damage/Eclipse,” and of course, “Fearless.” The highlights of the set included jammed out versions of “Have a Cigar,” “Run Like Hell,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “Young Lust,” which the group did not shy away from putting their own spin on. The entire crowd sang along to every song, and thoroughly enjoyed the group’s renditions of these Pink Floyd classics.
Upstate, formerly known as Upstate Rubdown, were the talk of the town on Saturday, taking to the Cafe Stage for an enthusiastic set of music. The three always wonderful female lead vocalists brought their harmonies to the forefront of the music, filling the audience with a feeling of joy. After some technical difficulties, the group decided to bring the show to the crowd, and performed a couple songs acoustically amidst the attendees. Tropidelic performed on the Main Stage next, bringing their funk-infused reggae music to life with a very active hour and a half long set. Throughout the set, the group did some synchronized dance moves, which really got the crowd going amidst the drizzling of rain that occurred. Following Tropidelic, lespecial performed on the Cafe Stage, and they were on fire, despite having driven all the way there from Connecticut in a rental van. The group brought out percussionist Chuck Morris of Lotus for a few songs, namely “Jackwise,” a popular track from their most recent album Cheen. The group also performed a newer song with Chuck, titled “Machine Elf Production Co,” as well as the fan favorite “Fruit Wolf Dance.”
Aqueous took to the Main Stage for the second time of the weekend after lespecial, breaking into their super popular “Kitty Chaser (Explosions),” to kick off the set. Following “Kitty,” the group performed a new song called “Say It Again,” (debuted in Buffalo last month at Cobblestone Live), before breaking into the oldie but goodie “Dave’s Song,” which was brought into the mysterious “Mosquito Valley pt. 2.” After a stellar rendition of “Mosquito,” the band debuted their version of Prince’s classic “Kiss,” with lead guitarist Mike Gantzer singing in a falsetto Prince-esque voice to really nail the song. Towards the middle of the jam, Dopapod and Octave Cat keyboardist Eli Winderman came onstage for a killer Moog synthesizer solo, before the group brought the jam into “Warren in the Window.” To close out the set, the Buffalo groove rockers performed the somewhat rare original “20/20,” which featured a strong electronic jam section towards the end, getting the crowd ready for Lotus’ set.
Lotus started their set off with the fan favorite “Wax,” a tense tune that features one of Mike Rempel’s best guitar melodies. The group kept the groove going throughout the set, bringing their well known jamtronica sound to the woods of Sherman, NY. Rounding out the night, Octave Cat took to the Cafe Stage for a late night set, and their music seemed to bring down some heavy rain. The group performed lots of original music, including “Intl Klein,” “Spar,” and their new single “Precarious,” which had the whole crowd dancing the night away. As the set crawled on and on the sky seemed to open up more and more, leading to the crowd removing all of their cares and dancing harder. The group seamlessly integrated their improvisations into the songs, barely even letting the crowd know that they were improvising in the first place. The group provided the perfect set to close out the weekend, and created many new fans at Night Lights.
The eighth annual Night Lights was a major success, featuring a lineup of incredible bands and homegrown (literally) food vendors. The festival will return in 2019, and NYSMusic hopes to see some familiar faces there. Check out the photo gallery below for a taste of what the weekend was like.
Photography by Matt Shotwell at Strawberry Island Dweller