Mountain Jam’s move to Bethel Woods after 14 years at Hunter Mountain, as we reported last week, shows that festivals can be as transitory as they are fun. They change locations or styles or vanish altogether.
I never got to Mountain Jam, or any of the (often competing) Woodstocks; and I’ve never hit the folk and bluegrass fests that pop up on the summer calendar. But I have pilgrimaged to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; Solid Sound; the Vermont Jazz Festival (where I rode the chairlift, as fans did at Mountain Jam at Hunter); Bonnaroo; the Green River Festival; Lollapalooza; and others, including fests in Winter Park, Colorado and Holyoke, Massachusetts, whose names escape me. Oh, yeah — and Monterey.
Monterey Pop was an all-star, magical one-shot, though its jazz festival continues. The brilliant jam-intensive Gathering of the Vibes moved on from Indian Lookout Country Club in Mariaville. So has the wonderfully noisy, late-night EDM blast Camp Bisco, while the rootsy/folkie Clearwater Festival has hopscotched around the lower Hudson Valley.
Of many SPAC fests including W.O.M.A.D., H.O.R.D.E., Outlaw Music Festival, an Americana fest and a New Orleans-style party that may have been the most fun of all of them, only its Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival and touring packages branded as festivals are still rocking there. SPAC feels like a festival when Phish or the Dave Matthews Band play, but “festivals” that are actually touring packages passing through naturally seem more transitory than those permanently located somewhere.
Festivals aren’t an endangered species. And I hope they endure, as I enjoy them for the music and the extras.
At the Green River Festival north of Northampton, you can go up in a hot-air balloon while valet service protects your bicycle. If there’s music at the Glens Falls Balloon Fest, I’ve forgotten it; and I don’t remember any at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. But I digress.
As subdudes keyboardist John Magnie rightly said, chefs serve their best recipes at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, which offers the finest food of any fest I’ve attended. When I got a po’boy with sausage and crawfish, I returned to the stall, asking where the crawfish was. It was IN the sausage, and OMG!
At Gathering of the Vibes, I watched guerilla painter Frenchie (his New Orleans gallery is across Oak Street from the Maple Leaf and Jacques Ymo’s) follow his roadies into the crowd, set up his easel and oils, complete a dynamic performance portrait of the Meters while they played, hold it over his head and auction it off to a fan.
Now, that’s entertainment.
In that same fine fest (now moved on, as mentioned), I saw the Roots for the first, stunning, time; was soaked by warm rain in a laughing crowd; and got closer to the Allman Brothers than at any time since an original-lineup (Duane and Berry were still alive) show at a festival in Montreal. My first introduction to world music in its rich variety came at W.O.M.A.D. at SPAC, and I first saw the subdudes at a New Orleans-style fest there that made me a lifelong fan and whetted my appetite for Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Also playing: the Iguanas, the Radiators, the James Rivers Experience, some feathered Mardi Gras Indians and bands I don’t recall. Rivers’ crew featured the instruments you’d expect, plus bagpipes. In Metroland, Al Quaglieri demanded, “Who put the acid in my crawfish etouffe?” In a roots music fest there, Scott McCaughey saluted my NRBQ hat: “That’s the ONLY band!” I can’t recall what fest that was, or which band he played with there.
Obviously, I can’t claim to recall all the fests I’ve hit over decades of writing for The Gazette. But I know very well that fine feeling, that excited buzz, that I get when I flow with a crowd through a festival gate, happy at the prospect of whatever is about to engulf us in sound, in food and drink, in friendship — and maybe even hot air balloons.
PROCTORS X 2
Tonight, Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra play Salsa Dance Night at Proctors’ GE Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). Friday, Banda Magda plays the same space in Music Haven’s Passport Series.
Salsa Dance Night benefits Puerto Rico hurricane relief efforts through the Hispanic Coalition NY, Inc., while Banda Magda celebrates 30 years of Music Haven shows. Like festivals, both serve food and extras.
Salsa Dance Night tonight starts with a 30-minute dance lesson led by Niskayuna’s Dance Fire Studio & Fitness. Apostrophe Café serves Puerto Rican food and a cash bar offers drinks. 6:30 p.m. $40 for admission, food and dance lesson. 518-346-6204www.proctors.org
On Friday, Banda Magda exemplifies the world-beat variety Music Haven presents in Schenectady’s Central Park every summer and at Proctors “between the summers.” Magda Giannikou leads the ensemble with voice and accordion, writing and arranging music spanning the globe and spiced, in this show, by members of Brooklyn band Snarky Puppy. She sings in six languages and her band blends beats and melodies from everywhere.
In other words, keep your dancing shoes handy after Alex Torres’ salsa blast tonight and slip them back on Friday for this international, globe-spinning dinner-and-dancing reprise. Reel Seafood Company caters a multi-course winter Greek buffet in the GE Theatre Atrium, 6 to 7:30 — $30 per diner. $25 for the 7:30 p.m. show only, with after-show reception.
TWO EGGS, OVER EASY
Railroad Earth jams tonight at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany), energizing bluegrass with jazzy zip and good-time rock. After only 10 gigs, they played the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and they haven’t looked back: Todd Shaeffer, guitar and main writer; Tim Carbone, violin; Carey Harmon, drums; Andrew Altman, bass; John Skehan, almost everything else. Solo pianist Holly Bowling opens. Playing jam-band songs with classical verve, she dazzled fans at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady and Cohoes Music Hall, just as Railroad Earth main writer and leader Todd Shaeffer led his former band From Good Homes in many area club shows since the heyday of QE2. 7 p.m. $29.50 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
Sunday at The Egg, Nashville bluegrass stars Noam Pikelny (banjo, the Punch Brothers) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and Lyle Lovett’s band) step out from their main gigs into a virtuoso duo. Another rootsy acoustic duo opens. Ithaca banjoist Richie Stearns has played in many bands and runs the Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. He met Woodstock violinist Rosie Newton at Dance Flurry in Saratoga Springs. 7 p.m. $34
JOEY JAZZ AT THE HALL
Scary-good when he debuted at Music Haven at age 12, jazz pianist Joey Alexander has since surpassed the “prodigy” label with tremendous artistic growth. Alexander returns Friday to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St.). In shows here and on four albums celebrating music of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and other giants, Alexander scrambles over the keys in a confident, clear-voiced exploration of jazz roots, while introducing well-made originals. 7:30 p.m. $44.50, $39.50, $34.50. 518-273-0038 www.troymusichall.org
Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble detonated that playfully crowd-shaking thing I love and call the Trumpet Ambush on a warm Tuesday night at the Van Dyck recently. Pray’s own “Meetin’ & Greetin’” started at a quiet simmer in a low-key way as talk in the room revved back up. Then: bam BAM! — a deafening two-beat blast from the five trumpets that made people jump in their chairs, drop forks and drinks, and generally pay attention where it was due.
Among old faves “Jigsaw” (Allen Ferber), “Come Sunday” (Duke Ellington), “Sam’s Tune” (Pray’s tribute to Sam Rivers) and “Blues for P.G.” (likewise, to Paul Gonsalves of Duke’s band), they played a few new arrangements including “Sister Sadie” (Horace Silver), “Wolf Song” (a Pray original) and “Goin’ Home.” (Sonny Phillips). Pray told me he finished one arrangement that afternoon between classes at the high school near my house where he teaches, but the band sight-read it pretty well without rehearsal.
This big band is a monthly treat, first Tuesdays at the Van Dyck.
In the big-band department, the Phil Allen Concert Jazz Band now plays every third Thursday at Renaissance Restaurant and Banquet Hall (820 Eastern Ave., Schenectady); moving all 13 pieces from their prior gig at the Troy Kitchen. Music 7 p.m.; happy hour at 5. Free admission, with two-drink minimum or food order. They call this “Speakeasy Tuesday,” not to be confused with the Speakeasy 518 under the Albany Beer Hall in Albany. 518-344-6384