In the four-plus years I’ve been working for the Gazette, I’ve been to The Egg more times than I can count, usually to review a show.
It’s always been one of my favorite venues in the area — the sound, in both the larger Hart Theatre and the small Swyer Theatre, is impeccable, the staff is always friendly and the wireless Internet flows freely (an important thing when you’re trying to file a review on deadline).
Not to mention the amazing artists that have played on those stages — I’ve witnessed incredible shows there by Billy Bragg, Colin Hay, Stephen Stills, The Psychedelic Furs and Mary Chapin Carpenter, to name just a few off the top of my head.
Last Saturday, I once again found myself heading to The Egg, this time as a performer — something I’d never even dreamed was possible.
My band, The Hearing Aides, was part of the bill on the third annual Capital Area Indie Fest, hosted by Sandy McKnight, the Columbia Arts Team (CAT) and Exit 97.7, WEXT-FM, along with other local up-and-comers Robert Ruark, High Bridge North, Stellar Young (who before this show were known as The City Never Sleeps), and Tor Loney and The Fjords.
Brooklyn’s Jodi Shaw, Best New Artist at CAT’s Songfest 7 held this summer at Helsinki Hudson, and Molly Durnin, who won the Exit Factor competition held at The Linda the Thursday prior, were also on the bill.
All the musicians began filing into the Swyer Theatre at 3:30 p.m. that day for sound check. Many had never been inside the place before (such as my bassist, Rob Piccola, who ended up parking a few blocks away and wandering around the state Capitol for an hour before finding it). Others had had this experience before — Ruark was returning to play solo, after playing the last two Indie Fests with his band White Noise Radio.
For all the musicians, though, the experience was a dream come true, as cliché as that sounds.
“Before I lived in Albany, I had an aunt who lived here, and I always used to just look at this weird building and wonder what it was,” John Glenn, lead vocalist for Stellar Young, said.
“When I moved here I found out it was a venue. Of course I’m really interested in music, and I also like to run — I live up the street, so I’m always running past it. I’d actually never even been inside The Egg until about two weeks before we played — I saw Coheed and Cambria play there, and it was just a great spot.”
The crowd began filing in at 6:30, eventually filling nearly two-thirds of the 400-plus seat theater. Attendance was up from previous years, with McKnight estimating the crowd at about 250.
“One of the great things I thought happened this year that I don’t think happened in past years, was that the audience for all the different bands — people came to see different bands, but stayed for everybody else,” McKnight said.
“We had a pretty full house right from the beginning, and it stayed that way right until the last note. Many even stayed in the lobby afterwards — we had quite a crowd in the lobby afterwards.”
Tickets were sold at the door, but most of the attendees had purchased tickets previously from one of the performers. The artist who sold the most tickets got the longest set and closed out the evening — in this case that was singer-songwriter Loney, who fronted a trio, The Fjords, featuring bassist Sarah Clark and drummer Scott Smith of Charmboy.
“My fans — people I had invited and sold tickets to — all talked about all the other acts — no one just talked about the one piece of the show they originally came for,” Loney said. “One friend of mine in particular who doesn’t really go out to shows — this exposed him to things he wouldn’t normally be exposed to. There was some of that among the bands as well — we’re all doing a common thing, we’re all in a pretty similar space in terms of this being a new experience for us, so it felt nice to share that also.”
As producer, McKnight got to open the show with an acoustic set, performing two solo numbers including his latest single “Someone,” and two numbers with fellow Columbia Arts Team heads Liv Cummings and Christina Dellea. (He also made a well-placed crack about filling in for Elvis Costello at birthday parties, just as my bandmates and I were discussing his eerie vocal similarity to the British rocker.)
McKnight had played on The Egg’s stage more than any of the rest of us — in addition to fronting bands during the first two Indie Fests, he has also opened for a few larger shows that have come through the venue in the past. He preferred the solo setup this year — “It probably was more effective in that setting, I think, than doing it with a full band.”
Ruark took the stage solo after McKnight, belting out rock-oriented originals on electric guitar. Shaw was up next, although I didn’t get to hear much of her set — I was with my bandmates waiting in the wings to go on, and not focused on much else.
The first half of the evening closed out with The Hearing Aides and High Bridge North, shifting the focus to full bands. Stellar Young kicked off the second act with a bang, showcasing mostly new songs.
“It was nice to be playing a show where it wasn’t — it wasn’t a bar, or outside,” Glenn said. “Everybody was just very focused on the music, which was really cool. We like to play really intricate things that sometimes people overlook.”
Durnin brought noise levels down with her acoustic set, which segued nicely to Tor and The Fjords. Loney used an acoustic guitar through the house-provided Fender Twin amplifier, a combination that I wasn’t so sure about at first, until I heard it. The acoustic guitar provided warmth, while the amp gave the band’s sound plenty of kick.
hanging out backstage
Although playing on the Swyer’s stage was definitely a highlight, the accoutrements at the venue were also exciting. Each band or performer was given a dressing room upstairs behind the stage that looked exactly like something out of a concert movie, or “Spinal Tap.”
For me, hanging out with all the other bands backstage, before and after the show, was a highlight — that sense of camaraderie can sometimes get lost when you’re slogging through club gigs every week or month on your own.
I also learned that my band lives up to its name, perhaps more than I had hoped. We played at about one quarter of the volume that we usually play at, and were still told by one of the stage hands that, at only three people, we were louder than an eight-piece ska band that came through the venue before.