Schenectady

The Upstate Beat: NipperFest celebrates local music on two stages

The Figgs perform at 8:30 p.m. on the main stage at NipperFest on Saturday (photo provided)
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The Figgs perform at 8:30 p.m. on the main stage at NipperFest on Saturday (photo provided)

The Nipper dog — the 28-foot-tall steel and fiberglass canine statue with a tilted head that looms over a warehouse on North Broadway in Albany — is the unofficial Capital Region mascot and the icon for Nippertown, the local music and arts blog. The online magazine began as a labor of love by local journalist Greg Haymes and musician Sara Ayers in 2009. After Greg’s death in 2019, Ayers passed the reins of Nippertown to Jim Gilbert and Laura DaPolito, who have done nothing but good things to expand the site and continue Greg and Sara’s mission of celebrating local music and culture.

This weekend, Nippertown hosts the very first NipperFest, a vision that Gilbert has been wanting to realize for some time, but the pandemic got in the way. The free festival takes over Schenectady’s beautiful Central Park, with its Music Haven amphitheater, this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. There will be nine food trucks, craft beer, local non-profits and 15 bands on two stages: one main stage and one acoustic. For the full skinny and set times, download the NipperFest app in the App Store or visit https://nippertown.com/nipperfest.

The lineup — all bands with local roots — includes several Thomas Edison Music Award (Eddies) winners and nominees, two Capital Region Music Hall of Fame inductees, the winner of NBC’s “The Voice,” and some burgeoning hometown stars. 

A few of the highlights:

Bad Mothers are Albany grunge rockers who met at the College of St. Rose and since have been on an upward trajectory, signing a deal with Black Country Rock Media, owned by Shooter Jennings, son of country singers Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. Bad Mothers also released a self-titled debut album and some cool music videos, including one for the sharp track, “Wasted,” with its nod to Queens of the Stone Age. Don’t sleep on them at 1:15 p.m. on the main stage.

Girl Blue is the stage name — inspired by Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone — of singer-songwriter Arielle O’Keefe, who hits intense, personal notes on songs like “Fire Under Water.” That song, her debut single, and her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” have been featured on Spotify and television shows. Catch Girl Blue, who won Eddies Awards this year for Solo or Duo Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year, on the main stage at 3:45 p.m.

Sirsy sat out much of the pandemic, instead reaching their many adoring fans through live-stream videos that combined the band’s powerful pop-rock songwriting with hilarious comedic skits. As soon as it felt safe to do so, the duo got back on the road in their trusty van and have since been touring all over the country. Welcome Sirsy, the “little band with a big sound,” back to the area during their 5 p.m. set on the main stage.

Sawyer Fredericks grew up on his family’s 88-acre farm in Montgomery County and was “discovered” by talent scouts who saw YouTube videos of him performing at local farmers markets. The 16-year-old singer-songwriter then became the youngest winner ever of NBC reality television singing contest, “The Voice.” Find out what the blues-folk singer with a powerful voice and deep-seated, emotional tunes has been up to lately when Fredericks headlines the main acoustic stage at 7:30 p.m.

Super 400 formed in 1996 in Troy and quickly gained renown in the Capital Region for blending a masterful ’60s and ’70s heavy rock vibe with contemporary melodic pop to create a sound of their own. The trio — featuring Joe Daley on drums, Kenny Hohman on guitar and vocals, and Lori Friday on bass — sold out over 20 shows across Europe on their last tour. They also won a local Eddies Award for Rock and Pop Artist of the Year. See Super 400 on the main stage at 6:30 p.m.

The Figgs, who formed an unbelievable 35 years ago in Saratoga Springs, have never stopped being a creative musical force. The sheer speed of their sets may have slowed down from their bristling young-punk days, but the band — a trio with Mike Gent (guitar, vocals), Pete Donnelly (bass, vocals), and Pete Hayes (drums, vocals) — are as vital as ever. They’ve served as Graham Parker’s band for multiple tours and records, toured as the backing band for Tommy Stinson (The Replacements), and performed with a who’s who of rockers. In 2021, they were inducted into the Capital Region Music Hall of Fame, and in 2022 they released their 16th LP, “Chemical Shake.” The Figgs headline the main stage at 8:30 p.m.

Schenectady County SummerNight

Thousands of people will gather in Schenectady this Friday, July 22, for SummerNight, the downtown block party that closes a portion of State Street to traffic and spills over onto the Jay Street pedestrian mall. Expect food trucks, fried dough stands, local brewery tents and family-friendly activities like climbing walls and cannoli-eating contests.

The music headliner is Better Than Ezra, perhaps best known for their 1995 album, “Deluxe” with its lead single “Good,” a number-one hit and mainstay of alternative rock radio back in the day. It can be hard to book a headlining band for a public, free event like SummerNight. The act needs to appeal to a wide range of people and have name recognition, yet not bust the budget. That’s why groups who had their heyday decades earlier tend to get the nod.

But Better Than Ezra, founded by Kevin Griffin (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Tom Drummond (bass, backing vocals) is not just a ‘90s band. The New Orleans quartet with memorable melodies and confessional lyrics has been consistently active over the last few decades. Taylor Swift did a high-profile cover of their single “Breathless” in 2010, and the band continues to tour and release recordings, including a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in 2020.

SummerNight also features sets by local acts Hasty Page, Sly Fox and the Hustlers, Grand Central Station Band, DJ Ketchup and DJ HollyW8D.

The Week Ahead

— Aside from his somewhat diminished vocal range — a result of surgery in 2000 — the raspy-voiced, legendary British singer Rod Stewart still displays a charisma that transcends vocal limitations. The last time he was at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs), he thrilled with a set that drew from his greatest hits, including “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” “Maggie May” and “Stay with Me” from his days with the rock band Faces. Expect more fun on Friday, July 22, when he performs at SPAC with not-to-be-missed opening act Cheap Trick. 7:30 p.m.

— We’re not sure what to expect but it will likely be weird when Gibby Haynes, the founder and lead singer of the legendary Texas punk band Butthole Surfers, appears at No Fun (275 River St, Troy) on July 22 with the Paul Green Rock Academy for some rock and roll insanity. Paul Green is the founder of the School of Rock, as depicted by Jack Black in the movie by the same name, who since opened The Paul Green Rock Academy. This is the fourth time Haynes has toured with Paul Green’s students, and this tour features new original material. 7 p.m.

— If you are not at NipperFest, head to SPAC (108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs) on July 23 for Backstreet Boys. The boy band favorites have come a long way from the Florida shopping malls they first played in 1993. Although long past their late ‘90s heyday, they still draw the crowds and have a new album, “DNA,” to showcase. 7:30 p.m.

— “Everybody go: Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn,” is an indelible line in “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, the first worldwide rap hit. Catch this song and more when the legends of hip-hop perform a free show at Empire State Plaza (100 S Mall Arterial, Albany) on July 27 joined by Melle Mel & Scorpio. As members of the first rap group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Melle Mel and Scorpio made Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five a household name with hits like “The Message,” “White Lines” and “New York, New York.” You know what they say, “White lines, don’t do it!” 5:30 p.m.

Kirsten Ferguson at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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