Bloody Brilliant

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Bloody Brilliant

Posted on: May 2nd, 2014 by tommyj

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It could be any bar in Albany on a Saturday night. The crowd is young. The air is close, smelling of sweat and beer. The sound of shouted conversation fills the air, while a telephone rings its shrill counterpoint from behind the bar, and over it all, the pulsating sound of music.

It could be any bar in Albany, but on this particular Saturday night, it’s one of only 10: Red Square; the Barrel Saloon; Stout; McGeary’s; Blue 82; Justin’s; Franklin’s Tower; Fuze Box; Lark Tavern. Or the Hollow Bar + Kitchen, where Jocelyn Arndt is finishing a blistering set before an enthusiastic crowd. Arndt’s soulful alto keens passionately against the pounding drums, liquid bass, and grinding guitar of her band. Her management has cannily proffered drink tickets to attract people to Arndt’s set; a (probably expensive) gambit that appears to have paid off. The room is full, the music is loud, and the feeling is good. This is what the Move Festival is all about: good music, good times, and community.

In the three years since its inception, the Move Festival has grown into a massive three-day event. One hundred bands are playing all over Albany’s downtown area tonight. Ten venues are playing host to a multitude of revelers.

Organized by area promoters Michael Corts and Bernard Walters, the Move Festival has all the markings of becoming an annual event that will promote Northeastern musicians for the foreseeable future. According to Corts, the whole thing was Walters’ brainchild.

“Bernie burst, unannounced, into my office and said to me, ‘I want to organize a music festival . . . in Albany,’” Corts says with a self-deprecating chuckle. “Frankly, I didn’t think it was a workable concept. You know, because it’s Albany.”

But work it did, and it’s been working so well that this year saw a 40-percent increase in artist submissions, as well as an increase in interest from sponsors. The result is the expansion of the original single daylong event into an entire weekend of music, drawing talent from all over the Northeastern United States and beyond.

The festival also played host to a trade show and conference that allowed up-and-coming artists an opportunity to rub shoulders and receive advice from a number of industry insiders, including Universal executive and former Modern English guitarist Ted Mason, author Peter Aaron, Metroland writer Paul Rapp and founder Peter Iselin, and others including David Bourgeois, Bob Tulipan, Allie Crystal, Josh Harris, Karla McDonald, and legendary A&R man and keynote speaker, Dave Novik.

On Friday night, the festival held its kickoff party at Red Square, which featured performances by area artists Carl Daniels, Stellar Young, and Brooklyn’s own Black Taxi. Daniels got things going with a passionate acoustic set that often found him crouched over his guitar, singing an affecting mix of originals, many off of his new EP on presale that night, and covers, such as an excellent reading of “Fulsom Prison Blues.” Soon after, Stellar Young got the audience on the floor with an electrifying set. The adoring crowd sang along with every song and grooved to Stellar’s unique brand of danceable indie pop.

Black Taxi—featuring a quirky line-up of guitar, drums, bass, and a lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who alternates between keys, percussion, and trumpet—bashed their way through an intense set that nearly blew the doors off of the club. One striking young woman in the front row, gyrating and shimmying inches away from the sweating front man, perfectly embodied the synergistic relationship between band and audience.

With the festival well under way, the artists gathered at the Albany Hilton on Saturday afternoon. Inside the conference room, vendor tables marked the perimeter of a space dominated by several round tables. A raised podium facing several rows of chairs anticipated the upcoming keynote speech. At 2 PM, veteran A&R rep Dave Novik gave the keynote address. Amid reminiscences of legendary musicians he has encountered (including Madness, the Indigo Girls, Alice in Chains, Melody Gardot, among many others), Novik offered this pearl of wisdom to the aspiring assembly: “Be bloody brilliant.” This is meant as both inspiration–be the best you can be–and as a warning: If you want to impress, you’d better stand out.

It is a timely message. Among the words that one could use to describe the world of music today are “unfocused” and “overcrowded.” The age of consensus, when most Americans received their daily dose of pop culture from three television networks and a handful of local radio stations, is long since passed. Even the era of MTV as a cultural force is over. Today, we get our music from a dizzying array of outlets: iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube, not to mention movies and TV commercials . . . and that’s just the legal channels. If you want it badly enough, you probably know a dozen places to procure your favorite music without paying a cent.

In the meantime, digital production and distribution have stripped the traditional music industry of all its purpose except for promotion, although that is still worth plenty. Since literally anyone with a voice and a dream can produce a song and make it available to a potential global audience that Caruso could only dream about, the musical marketplace is a cacophony of voices trying to be heard. This overcrowded market makes it virtually impossible for the unsigned artist to get noticed, not matter how talented.

That’s why the interactive roundtables at the Move Fest are so important. Radio promoter Steve Theo was on hand to tell the artists about the importance of building a fan base and keeping track of it.

“An e-mail list is worth more than cash to a new artist,” Theo said.

Copyright attorney and Metroland columnist Paul Rapp was there to tell the kids the importance of putting in the hours of hard work in order to grow an audience.

“I think that sleeping on floors is still important,” he said. “Every show you play gets that many more people to know about you.”

Rapp also discussed nontraditional gigs, like “house concerts,” a growing trend in which the artist plays a private show for a host and their invited guests.

“You get paid, you get room and board, a home-cooked meal, and a hot shower!” Rapp said. “It’s hard to beat that!”

Universal executive and former Modern English guitarist Ted Mason has a different perspective. He believes that the onus is on the artist to improve him or herself.

“If you’re gonna sound like fuckin’ Coldplay, you’d better be fuckin’ Coldplay!” he said between sips of gin and tonic. “What a young musician has to do today is learn the history of the music. Listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Listen to James Brown. Listen to the fuckin’ Beatles. Put all that together with your own shit, and give me somethin’ new!”

Mason also believes that musicians need to pool their efforts to get the attention of major labels.

“We’ve got a moment here. If a musician from the Hudson Valley comes to Universal and says, ‘I got somethin’ they’re gonna say, ‘What? Apples?’ But if you put together an indie label with ten bands, they’re gonna take notice.”

In other words, “be bloody brilliant.”

With 10 venues going full-tilt from 3 PM Saturday afternoon to midnight or later, that afforded plenty of opportunities for upstate and Northeastern musicians to be bloody brilliant.

The Move Festival’s last hurrah was the Women of Move showcase at McGeary’s under the tent. It was a chilly spring evening and, sadly, the momentum that had carried the festival through the previous two days appeared to be spent; the crowds never materialized. Organizers Corts and Walters paced around the entrance to the tent, answering the questions of the curious few who poked in their heads to see what was going on.

This meant that the audience under the tent rarely exceeded 15 as the light faded and the temperatures dropped. While night fell on North Pearl Street, a handful of determined and talented women did their utmost to keep the energy level high and deliver extraordinary performances, and it that, at least, they succeeded.

The evening was kicked off by Bridgette Guerrette, a young woman with an expressive voice who weaves enchantment with her gentle acoustic guitar. She opened with a heartrending cover of “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease, turning the high energy romp into a lovely expression of yearning. Her set mixed some beautiful originals with two apt covers: one was Beyonce’s “Halo,” which perfectly matched the glow Guerette generated as she sang and played. The other was Charlotte O’Connor’s “Hangover,” which sadly fit the mood of the evening. This indeed was the hangover after a two-day bender.

Margo Macero lit up the evening with her million-watt smile. She stood on the stage, shaggy blonde bangs covering her brow, wearing her variation on the Annie Hall look: A bomber jacket over a lilac shirt which is adorned with a necktie. She and Benjamin Zoleski, both extremely gifted guitarists, delivered a high-energy set. Macero is a powerhouse vocalist whose voice resembles both Michelle Shocked and Joss Stone, but with a sound that totally her own. Her originals, including “It Is What It Is,” are superb. The three covers the duo delivered were definitely the highlights, however. Benjamin took over for a spirited version of 4 Non-Blonde’s “What’s Up,” and was introduced by Macero as “one of the women of Move.”

“She’s been making that joke all night,” Zoleski groaned.

They attempted to close with a fantastic version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” only to learn that they still had a few minutes left in their set. Undaunted (“Somebody has to keep the entertainment going,” Macero commented) they broke into a version of “Rolling in the Deep” that had the audience cheering for more.

After blowing the roof of the Hollow the previous evening with her full band, Jocelyn Arndt and her brother, Chris, presented a stripped-down evening made up largely of ballads. Like the other ladies, Arndt offered several arresting covers along with her originals. She was joined on stage by guitarist Chelsea Cavanaugh for a version of Jewell’s “These Foolish Games,” with gorgeous harmony vocals from Myron James. Alone again, Arndt did a slow-burning version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” inspired by a viral video seen only a few days before.

Finally, Albany’s own Erin Harkes closed the festival, her expressive voice and gentle guitar wafting through the dark chill of the evening. The Move Festival had been a smashing success, and the performances on the last evening were top-notch, but the low attendance cast a pall over what should be a joyous celebration. Nevertheless, Corts beamed as he sang along with Harkes. In the end, isn’t the music really what it’s all about?

In addition to the fine artists mentioned above, there were several standout performances throughout Saturday. With so many vanues and artists it would be impossible for one person to see and hear everything. The following is a short list of highlights that we heard.

Myron James played to a packed house at Blue 82. His clear voice was accompanied by acoustic guitar, as well as lovely harmony vocals and fiddle from his female partner. They performed well, but the venue was ill-suited to performance and the duo often were drowned out by an inattentive audience. Still, they did their best to keep the crowd engaged, performing a lovely version of “Let Her Go.”

Goodbye Motel: A much anticipated set that promised “a unique 4-D experience” proved to be less than advertised. The crowd wore 3D specs that allowed them to gawk at images projected on a scrim that hung between the audience and the band. Perhaps this works well in a better suited room, but the sightlines at the Hollow made the show’s visual element somewhat underwhelming. Happily, the trippy music kept the attention when the lightshow failed to do so.

The Unknown Woodsmen played peppy, uptempo jam band music, extremely well-executed. They had the dubious distinction of being one of the first bands to play on Saturday, at the Barrel Saloon, and did so with verve.

The Rochester-based quintet Roots Collider blew the roof off of Fuze Box with an extraordinary set that combined funk, hip-hop, and hard rock. Their lightshow was dazzling and the music was overwhelming at times.

Matt Colligan is an introspective singer-song writer from Jersey and a heck of a nice guy. He played a lovely set to a smaller house than did Myron James at Blue 82. Less crowd noise helped Colligan’s voice and guitar carry better. Opened with a creative medley of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” and his own “Edge of Nowhere.”

Sirsy: Everyone’s favorite duo-with-a-chick-drummer-that-isn’t-fronted-by-Jack-White provided one of the festival’s finest sets: An uptempo, high-energy set that shook the tent at McGeary’s. Margo Macero was spotted shaking her shaggy blonde locks to the beat. True house-rocking music.

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