J. Peter Yakel had been noticing something missing from the local acoustic music scene.
Sure, there are bluegrass and folk festivals in the upstate area, such as the GottaGetGon Festival and the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, both of which bring in respectable acoustic music lineups from around the country and the world each summer. But when it came to local roots music, the scene was noticeably lacking a larger venue for smaller bands to play out in the area.
“If you go to any bar, you can hear grunge, and you can hear rock ’n’ roll, and you can hear metal and that sort of thing, but the bars are not really the place where you can hear acoustic music,” said Yakel, guitarist and vocalist for folk quartet Flood Road, during a recent interview in his hometown of Niskayuna.
“I mean, you might at a coffee shop. . . . But you don’t see [acoustic bands] playing out at places that you would see rock ’n’ roll bands and that sort of thing. So yeah, there’s a lot of discussions over periods of time, seeing people, and, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if there was something bigger, or something that we could do?’ ”
Rhythm on the Ridge
Ridge Stage: Happy Balky and the Good Livin’, Stoddard Hollow String Band, Ramblin Jug Stompers, Three Quarter North, Fairview Avenue, The Sweet Cider Trio, Hill Hollow Band, Flood Road
Lodge Stage: Roland “The Bard” Vinyard, Kevin Wayne Acoustic Comedy, Emerald Dawn, Technicolor Trailer Park, Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, Tom Keller, Larry Meyerhoff & Bailey Quinn, The Bentwood Rockers
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Maple Ski Ridge, 2725 Mariaville Road, Schenectady
How Much: $10, $8 (with canned food donation)
More Info: 381-4700, www.mapleskiridge.com
Flood Road had performed numerous times at the Maple Ski Ridge in Schenectady, including at its annual The Ridge Goes Red benefit for the American Heart Association in February. Yakel and the Ridge’s owners, Marilyn Peterson and Caroline LaHart, began talking about organizing something bigger — a daylong festival dedicated to local acoustic roots music.
On Saturday, their talk and planning will come to fruition with the first Rhythm on the Ridge acoustic music festival. The daylong event, beginning at 10 a.m. and stretching until 6 p.m., encompasses 16 bands from nine New York counties playing on two stages, along with two workshops and food and craft vendors.
“My thought with it [was], sure, I’m on board with something like this, but I would like it to be something that is beneficial to local artists, too,” Yakel said. “And that’s really how this has come about, to highlight some bands that might not make it onstage like that.”
For the Maple Ski Ridge, the festival is part of a push to raise public consciousness of the venue. Another festival, A Walk in the Ridge, oriented toward rock and country music, is scheduled for Aug. 1 this year, and the venue’s owners and managers are hoping to bring Rhythm on the Ridge back as an annual event.
“The business [Maple Ski Ridge] has been here almost 50 years, and in the past we’ve made attempts at smaller festivals, but we haven’t put the heart and soul into it like we’re doing this year,” said Kate Michener, co-manager of the Ridge.
“It’s the perfect location for this type of event. We have wide-open spaces, a natural amphitheater. . . . We’re moments from the city; it’s so peaceful and relaxing, a beautiful place to be, and we want to make that available to more and more people.”
In keeping with the local theme, the festival is also benefiting the Regional Food Bank. Attendees who bring in canned food donations at the gate will get $2 off the $10 admission fee.
“Regional Food Bank is one of those organizations that came to mind pretty quickly, because they do outreach in the greater community area, so it’s not just centric to Schenectady County,” Yakel said. “This also would cover Rensselaer County and Albany County and Schoharie, so they’re a large enough organization that they can do outreach to a lot of people that are needy.”
Yakel was charged with organizing the festival’s music, and from the beginning he had a clear vision of what he wanted the lineup to be stylistically. Through his own connections and advertisements on Craigslist and MySpace, Yakel received more than 48 submissions from bands across the acoustic music spectrum. A few requests that didn’t fit in had to be turned down.
“When I first put the notes out about the music, I indicated that this was going to be roots-type music, acoustic and Americana, folk, bluegrass genre,” Yakel said. “And some of the requests that we did get for participation were things that, they wouldn’t make it into it. Not music that I don’t necessarily like, but just wasn’t there, like some rock bands, heavy on electric and that sort of thing.”
But although Yakel and the festival’s organizers at the Ridge were specific in their musical choices, there’s still a large variety to the bands being presented, including folk, bluegrass, country and Celtic.
“All these kinds of bands love to play outside; they’re outdoor music festival-type bands,” Yakel said. “And the genres that are included here, between the Celt and the bluegrass and the country, it’s all sort of in the same theme, so there’s not really any one band here that’s way out in left field or right field.”
Local music fans will recognize such names as The Ramblin Jug Stompers, Three Quarter North and Happy Balky and the Good Livin’, who play on the outdoor Ridge Stage, and Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, who play on the smaller indoor Lodge Stage. The Ridge Stage is dedicated to larger bands, while the Lodge Stage features solo artists and duos.
Each band gets a 45-minute set; there are purposely no headliners at the festival.
“Every band in my mind is their own headliner; everybody gets the same amount of time on stage, it’s just a matter of scheduling,” Yakel said. “So the band that plays first is not any less of a band than the one that plays last.”
Ballston Spa’s Happy Balky and the Good Livin’ are no strangers to festivals, with numerous festival dates lined up for the summer. Lead vocalist and guitarist Zac Kissinger is excited to be playing such an event in the local area.
“I think it’s going to be awesome doing one so close to home, with all the bands that we’ve played with before and other local bands we haven’t had a chance to get out to see, we’ll get them all out in one place,” Kissinger said.
“The area could definitely be doing a lot more as far as music festivals; there’s a lot more that could be going on musically in the area than what actually is. There’s an audience for it, absolutely, just someone’s got to take the initiative to put things together.”
Other bands on the bill come from farther away, such as Ithaca’s Technicolor Trailer Park and The Stoddard Hollow String Band, which hails from Delaware County.
“It really allows people that like this kind of music to hear a band from Delaware County or out Ithaca way that they wouldn’t otherwise because they’re just not big enough to make it over this way on their own,” Yakel said.
Workshops at the event include a songwriter’s workshop run by Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh’s Deb Cavanaugh at 11 a.m., and a mandolin workshop run by Three Quarter North’s Dan Johnson and Ramblin Jug Stompers’ Michael Eck at 2 p.m. Festival-goers are encouraged to bring instruments for field picking and open jams.
“In fact, I like doing that [field picking] sometimes more than even going to the music,” Yakel said. “You meet new people and then you get to pal up with old people you haven’t seen in a while, too, and you can play the same song 100 different ways depending on who comes into the mix, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Depending on the turnout, Yakel is planning to make Rhythm on the Ridge an annual event. In the future, he hopes to expand the festival to include more stages.
“If it really turns out, we’d love to develop it into something larger, maybe a third stage or a fourth stage,” Yakel said. “So I can see it growing, but being as this is our first time, there’s a lot of unknowns. . . . It’s really an unknown as to what kind of turnout there’s going to be for the day, so we’re all hopeful and optimistic it turns out to be a nice turnout and a really good day.”