Despite constant rain Saturday, spirits were high on the first day of the 65th annual Tulip Festival.
By the end of Los Angeles alt-rockers Silversun Pickups’ headlining set about 5:30 p.m., Washington Park had been turned into a mud puddle filled with wet tulips, wet vendors, wet bands and wet festival-goers. But aside from a few heavier downpours early in the day, the showers were mostly off and on, and nothing was delayed.
“Obviously, the weather was a problem — we could have used a little more sun,” Jason Bonafide, public relations coordinator for Albany’s Office of Special Events, said after the festivities had mostly wrapped for the day, “and there was a good crowd. I was surprised. I was just over at the main stage for the headliner, and there was a sea of people as far as you could see, just like it is every year.”
Although an official attendance count was not immediately available, Bonafide was expecting about 50,000 people for the day — the average from past years.
“It probably wasn’t quite that many because of the weather,” he said.
A small crowd braved the brunt of the rain early on for the Tulip Queen coronation in the amphitheater in front of the Lake House at noon. The 2013 Albany Tulip Court — Meghan Cahill, Gigi Diffenback, Fendi Munoz, Alexis Osborne and Kate Bender — rolled up to the stage in closed cars during the traditional parade, and after brief speeches from each, Bender was crowned Tulip Queen.
The entire court will spend the next year working with Mayor Gerald Jennings’ literacy campaign.
Brendan Ketchum, 22, of Endicott, and Katlin Mock, 22, of Colonie, attended the coronation as friends of last year’s Tulip Queen, Emily Finnegan.
“We were looking forward to her speech, but she lost it — she ended up doing a great job anyway,” Ketchum said.
The festival drew visitors from near and far, including plenty who had never been before.
“I’ve actually lived here for four years and never came. This is a little more than I was expecting,” Roy Harding, a 21-year-old senior at the University at Albany, said. “I’m excited for Silversun Pickups, and also Royal Teeth are really good.”
Mary Ciecierski, 59, of Manhattan, was in the area visiting friends and decided to check out the festival for the first time, as well.
“[I come to Albany] pretty often; I’ve been here a couple times before,” she said. “It’s lovely to explore everything. They have beautiful gardens.”
Music sponsored by WEXT-FM kicked off at 1 p.m. on the amphitheater stage, with local favorites Tor & the Fjords, Olivia Quillio, Rick Rourke & Lost Wages and Bryan Thomas each playing 45-minute sets.
WEQX-FM once again sponsored the three national bands — Silversun Pickups, The Features and Royal Teeth — on the main stage. Although the stage attracted a consistently large crowd throughout the day, the audience hit its highest numbers at 4 p.m., when Silversun Pickups took over. The fuzzed-out quartet hit hard with plenty of new material from last year’s “Neck of the Woods,” as well as some energetic jams on older favorites like “The Royal We” and the bubbly “Little Lover’s So Polite.”
Guitarist Brian Aubert’s psychedelic playing led the way throughout the set, with his amp at times sounding like it was on the verge of collapse from the amount of distortion he ran through it.
New tracks such as set opener “Skin Graph” and current single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” reached their full potential in this setting, as Aubert and keyboardist Joe Lester wove intricate sound collages over drummer Chris Guanlao and bassist Sarah Negahdari’s pounding beats.
While the band’s atmospheric experiments on “Here We Are (Chancer)” and “Catch and Release” satisfied, it was at its best at full throttle. “Mean Spirits,” led by Negahdari’s throbbing fuzz bass, reached dizzying heights of headbanging fury, while the ever-popular “Lazy Eye” from the band’s 2006 debut “Carnavas,” which closed out the main set, gradually built up to a thundering climax.
Both openers brought different musical flavors to the stage. New Orleans’ Royal Teeth was perhaps most noteworthy for vocalist Gary Larsen’s uncanny ability to sound like a young Michael Jackson on the verge of tears — which he used to great effect on “For Keeps” and a fun cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”
The band’s rhythmic drive was its other claim to fame at this performance . Bassist Joshua Wells in particular provided some rock-solid playing to anchor the band’s moody pop.
Bluesy garage rockers The Features kicked things up a notch, offering up a kinetic, garagey stomp on such songs as “Golden Comb” and the fist-pumping “Won’t Be Long.” Singer, guitarist and bandleader Matthew Pelham shouted and played like a man possessed throughout — his best moment, and the band’s as a whole, came on the guitar solo for “This Disorder,” a simple, slightly discordant line that cycled over and over until reaching a powerful climax.
The Tulip Festival continues today in Washington Park beginning at noon, with more music and other performances on both the main and amphitheater stages. Visit www.albanyevents.org for more information.