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Music and pageantry: Albany set to revel in annual Tulip Festival

Music and pageantry: Albany set to revel in annual Tulip Festival

'Not everywhere has festivals like Tulip Festival'
Music and pageantry: Albany set to revel in annual Tulip Festival
Troy-based The Sea The Sea is among the musical acts at Tulip Festival this weekend.
Photographer: Kiki Vassilakis

Tulip Festival has always been a smorgasbord of celebrations and performances: from the crowning of the Tulip Queen and the Royal Tulip Ball, to the street scrubbing, to the live music, to the Tulip Tours.

For Mira and Chuck Costa, it represents one of the best parts of living in the Capital Region. 

“Not everywhere has festivals like Tulip Festival. It’s a great opportunity for us to meet new fans and for them to hear what we’ve been working on,” Mira said. 

The couple makes up half of The Sea The Sea, an indie-folk band that has found a home in Troy. 

They’ll be taking over the main stage on Sunday with a fresh sound and songs from their new album, “From the Light,” which comes out on June 1. This will be the second time they’ve played the festival, though a lot has changed since then.

Neither Mira nor Chuck are originally from the Capital Region (though growing up, Chuck’s family had a home in Chatham). But after touring for years, they started to feel the need for a break. 

And for a home. 

“We traveled so much and had all these mini-homes all over the country. But we didn’t feel like we had a home base. We felt like we were just floating in the world,” Chuck said. 

After moving to the Capital Region a few years ago, that began to change.

“We started to connect with people around here and started to feel like part of the community and [figured out] that this is where we want to be,” Chuck said. 

And then there were four

When they started performing and writing songs together in 2011, critics praised them for their captivating melodies, authentic songwriting and ability to perfectly harmonize. Their songs were personal; so many of them revolved around their relationship. 

But within the last two years, they’ve brought in two Capital Region musicians: Cara May Gorman and Stephen Struss. They met Gorman when they all worked with Sean Rowe together and they met Struss through the music community. 

“It’s an amazing thing when you find other [musicians] and you feel like you’re a good fit. It feels like finding two needles in a haystack. I think when you find those things, they beg to be paid attention to,” Mira said. 

Their sound has evolved since Gorman and Struss joined. However, the enchanting harmonies and genuine songwriting are still there.

“We felt a pull towards being able to place those songs in a different sonic palate, like expand it [and] fill bigger stages with more sound, but we wanted to grow that in a really organic way,” Mira said. 

“From the Light,” was written shortly after Mira and Chuck got married, and the songs are still personal. But the sound is definitely louder than their former albums; there are more drums, vocals and synthesizer where there was once a lot of acoustics.

It’s the sort of sound that will work really well for a stage like Tulip Festival, and for their album release party at The Hollow on June 1. 
Playing again at Tulip Festival will be exciting because they’ll be performing songs from their new album and with the new four-piece setup. The show is also a reminder of why they moved here in the first place. 

“It was hard to find a home base,” Mira said. “When we got here, it seemed like there was a really interesting musical scene. There was a lot going on. There were so many bands but not so many that people [were] numb to the fact that there were so many bands,” Mira said.

“[It’s] connected to a national movement, but on a small scale,” Chuck said. “There are so many small cities in the country that are not like that. You go there and you feel isolated.”

Indeed, the festival -- which has brought in 80,000 people in years past -- has more going on this year than ever.

Tours, scrubbing and a coronation

“It’s becoming festival week,” said Ryan Murray of Albany’s Office of Cultural Affairs. “It’s not just Tulip Festival now, it’s all things Albany.” 

For the first time, Tulip Tours through Washington Park are scheduled all week ahead of the festival, at 2 and 5 p.m. Then on Friday, there will be three tours: at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The tours are given by city gardener Jessica Morgan, who will be talking about the 150 varieties and the 140,000-plus tulips in bloom across the park. 

Even though the festival is named after the tulips, they’re really only a sliver of the festival schedule. 

Traditional Dutch garb will be brought out for the street scrubbing on Friday. It’s how the festival has been kicked off since it began in 1949. The Dutch Settlers Society, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, local Scout troops and the Tulip Queen finalists will all be in the procession. 

The coronation of the Tulip Queen will be on Saturday. The five finalists -- Sawyer Cresap of Albany, Katherine Donnelly of Latham, Xavia Francis of Albany, Natalie Joseph of Guilderland and Elizabeth Stenard of Albany -- will be working on literacy campaigns for young students throughout 2018. 

Events like these have garnered attention outside the Capital Region. Over the years, they’ve noticed more and more people from out of the area and out of New York state attend the festival. Last year, the festival saw upward of 80,000 attendees according to Murray. 

One of the biggest draws to the Festival is the live music. 

Radio station 102.7 WEQX is bringing in rock band White Denim, along with Naked Giants and Front Business, a local band that played Pearlpalooza last year. Exit 97.7 brings to the stage a folk/Americana sound with the North and South Dakotas, Zan Strumfeld, and Sorrow Estate. There will also be a bit of hip-hop, with Jordan Taylor Hill’s performance, progressive string/bluegrass music from Blind Crow and Motown music from Dr. K’s Motown Revue. 

With shows running all afternoon at both the main stage and the local 518 stage, there’s a lot to listen to. 

On top of that, there will be a School of Rock tent, where attendees can hear music by young musicians from the School of Rock program. There will also be a Kidzone activity tent filled with games, crafts and activities, as well as a pop-up library hosted by the Albany Public Library. 

For more information and a detailed schedule of events visit albanyevents.org.

Here’s a glance at the schedule:

Friday, May 11

11:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. Albany City Hall
Carillon Concert with Amy Heebner

12:00 p.m. State and Lodge Streets
Street Scrubbing

12:30 p.m. Hilton Albany
Tulip Luncheon 

Saturday, May 12

11:45 a.m. Washington Park Lakehouse Stage
Tulip Queen Procession
12 p.m. Tulip Queen Coronation

The following performances are at the Washington Park Parade Grounds, Main Stage
1:30 p.m. -- Front Business
3:00 p.m. -- Naked Giants
4:30 p.m. -- White Denim

The following performances are at the Washington Park Lakehouse Stage/Local 518 stage
1:00 p.m.-- Sorrow Estate
2:15 p.m. -- Blind Crow
3:30 p.m. -- The LateShift
4:45 p.m. -- The Age

6:30 p.m. Albany Capital Center
Royal Tulip Ball

Sunday, May 13

The following performances are at the Washington Park Parade Grounds, Main Stage
1:30 p.m. - The Sea The Sea
3:00 p.m. - Taina Asili
4:30 Dr. K’s Motown Revue

The following events take place on the Washington Park Lakehouse Stage/Local 518 stage

12:00 p.m. - Annual Mother of the Year Award presentation 
1:00 p.m. - Ryan Leddick Trio 
2:15 p.m. - Jordan Taylor Hill
3:30 p.m. - Zan Strumfeld
4:45 p.m. - North and South Dakotas


CDTA will also be offering free shuttle runs every 20 to 25 minutes to Washington Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Shuttle service will be offered from the following locations:

  • Eagle Street parking lot with pick up at Eagle and Madison Ave.
  • Elk Street Parking lot with pick up at the corner of Elk and Hawk Streets
  • Albany Medical Center parking lot with pick up at Robin Street for those that need assistance or are in a wheelchair. The shuttle will drop off passengers at the Madison Ave/New Scotland entrance to the park.  
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