Anyone who knew Eddie Lakata has a story about him.
For Phil Schuyler, who played guitar and sang with Lakata in a band they started in 1994, it was the times he would get behind the bar — late night after playing a show and while the rest of the band was breaking down the equipment — and play AC/DC covers on his ukelele.
People went wild for it, Schuyler said recently.
“He was probably like no one I ever met,” Schuyler continued. “He had a way about him that drew people to him — a magnetism. He always made everyone feel like they were his best friend, no matter who it was or if you only knew him for five minutes.”
In 2013, Lakata was struck and killed by a vehicle while riding a bicycle to his camp on Caroga Lake. He was 55.
Lakata’s younger brother, Johnny Lakata, liked to watch when Eddie, a multi-instrumentalist who usually played guitar, would whip out his fiddle and play “Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band.
“He could play anything,” said Johnny Lakata. “He was such a big influence on the music scene here, everyone knew him.”
In the aftermath of his death, Lakata said, “we knew we needed to do something in his honor.”
Five weeks after his death, the Eddie Music Festival was born.
“Everybody got on board. It just took off and everyone pitched in,” said Lakata. “And now it’s known as one of the best music fests in the area.”
On Saturday at the Concordia Club in Gloversville, the fifth annual Eddie Music Festival was held, featuring — for $5 — 16 bands playing non-stop on two stages from noon to midnight. Proceeds go to a scholarship set up in Eddie Lakata’s name.
At its height, and despite intermittent rain, the event was expected to draw between 2,000 to 3,000 people. Johnny Lakata said the size of the festival is a testament to how many people’s lives his brother touched.
“Probably nobody enjoyed life more than him, he made the best of everything,” said Lakata. “Everybody here right now, for me, is enjoying life. Everybody is reflecting the joy that Eddie brought to their life.”
Eddie Lakata and Schuyler played in a band called “Dream Team” and covered classics from popular favorites like AC/DC, the Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers.
“He didn’t care what he played, as long as people enjoyed it,” said Johnny Lakata.
For the past four years the festival has been held on Pine Lake Park, but was moved this year to be closer to the Johnstown/Gloversville area. Lakata said taking in the crowd “gets me pretty choked up. It’s pretty emotional to see all these people being so supportive. Everybody here is connected and connected through his music.”
Schuyler said in 30 years of being in band with Eddie, he never once saw the man angry.
“How many people do you know that you can hold a festival in their honor and it’ll still running strong five years later?” asked Schuyler.
Schuyler added that he initially expected the festival to last one or two years.
“Now people really look forward to it. It’s one of the biggest around and bands are always saying they want to play ‘the Eddie,’” he said. “We’ll keep having it as long as people keep coming, I don’t see an end in sight.”
The day features dozens of door prizes and raffle items, as well as food and, of course, beer. But for the Eddie Festival faithful, it’s all about the music and the people.
“This is real, live music,” said Lisa Coco, who has been to four Eddie festivals. “And you see people you haven’t seen in forever.”
Samantha Stewart, 21, has worked the four previous Eddie festivals, and came to the Concordia Club Saturday to show her continued support.
“There’s just more people, it’s grown in popularity,” she said.
Brad Conyne-Gillen was serving beer-battered haddock at the festival, with specially-brewed red ale from the nearby Stump City Brewery. He said he’s never been to one of the Eddie festivals, but can see it’s a tight-knit community of people that come out in support of a well-loved man and the music he played.
“It’s for a great cause, and the environment is just filled with positivity,” said Conyne-Gillen. “Great people, good food. It brings people together from all walks of life: young, old, professionals, musicians. Everybody’s here.”