10 Favorite Musical Experiences of 2012
Story and photographs by Stanley Johnson
1. Phantogram @ PearlPalooza, Albany. Before it started raining real hard. Hard to believe this was the same band I saw playing to a few fans and friends at the Final Stretch Festival in the streets of Saratoga Springs just a couple years before. This band had several hundred people dancing in Pearl Street during the title song of their latest album.
2. Old Songs Festival @ Altamont Fairgrounds, Altamont. All day and most of the night long. An amazingly broad spectrum of music, broadly defined as folk and none of it requiring the use of earplugs to protect my hearing. Highlights were the Andrew & Noah Band, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Comas, Nuala Kennedy, Dennis Stroughmatt, Eleanor Ellis, Sharon Katz, Patrick Ball, Groovemama, Hugh Pool, Archie Fisher and too many more to mention.3. Friehofer Saratoga Jazz Festival @ the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. Two days chock full of an amazing spectrum of music, broadly defined as jazz, and frequently very danceable, particularly Maceo Parker, Mario Abney, Pedrito Martinez and Esperanza Spalding. Other great sets included Chris Botti, Diana Krall, Hailey Niswinger, Brian Mitchell, Catherine Russell, Jeremy Pelt and the Trio of OZ.
4. The Allman Brothers Band / Santana @ the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. Two very hot performances and a unique jam session with Warren Haynes & Derek Trucks sitting in with Carlos. (One of only a handful of joint appearances, each one featuring different songs.)
5. Diego Garcia @ Central Park Music Haven, Schenectady. I first thought, “It’s starting to rain, I should go.” But then I stopped thinking about leaving because it was too good. The sing-a-long banished the rain from my mind completely.
6. Rusted Root @ Pinhead Susan’s Pinhead Fest, Schenectady. Another wet show, but too much fun and dancing all the way from Conehead Buddha through sets by Talia Denis and Lucy Stone, who joined Rusted Root rocking in downtown Schenectady with a rousing “Ecstasy.”
7. Mountain Jam @ Hunter Mountain, Hunter. Four of my favorite shows were wet, but it only rained briefly during Pedrito Martinez’s set and the rest of the day was non-stop fun from Simone Felice, Zee Avi, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Trombone Shorty, Michael Franti and Steve Winwood.
8. Warren Haynes Band @ The Egg, Albany. A dynamic first set followed by a soulful second set. The band previewed the Jimi Hendrix song “Spanish Castle Magic” on this night before playing an entire set of Hendrix on Halloween in Chicago.
9. The Singer Songwriter Fest @ Riverlink Park, Amsterdam. I can’t think of a better thing to do than sit beside the Mohawk River as a hot summer afternoon fades into a cool summer night and watch some of the best in Nippertown entertainment including Holly & Evan, Olivia Quillio, Evan Gavry and Ben KN. The concerts that are blessed with good weather are the ones that I live for.10. Dickey Betts Band @ Alive at Five at Riverfront Park, Albany, followed by Roger Waters’ “The Wall” @ the Times Union Center, Albany. Without a doubt, the most amazing musical day of the year for me. Betts’ blistering guitar work on a hot afternoon on the side of the Hudson River followed by the jaw-dropping multi-media stage production of “The Wall” inside the TUC. Just thinking about it makes me comfortably numb. Honorable Mention: Mary Leigh & the Fauves @ LarkFest, Albany. The best set of the LarkFest, although there were other good ones, including headliner World Party, the City Never Sleeps, Erin Harkes, Jukebox the Ghost and Jed Davis.
Close Call: The Tedeschi Trucks Band @ the Palace Theatre, Albany. Edged out by the even hotter set they played at Mountain Jam. But the soulful stew at the Palace featured Susan with a heart-breaking take on John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”Best reunion: JB’s Scott’s Reunion @ Michael’s Banquet House, Latham: Best set for me was Fear of Strangers, although the jam with Jim Furlong and Blotto was smokin’. Also impressive were Alison Jacobs & Matt Mirable, the Last Conspirators, the Lazers, Charlie Smith, Penny Knight Band and the tribute to Ernie Williams.
More bacon, please: The Bacon Fest in Hudson’s Henry Hudson Waterfront Park on 9/2/12 was in the running for the Top 10 because of the excellent lineup, including Ramblin Jug Stompers, Eastbound Jesus, Lucky Jukebox Brigade, Red-Haired Strangers, Sgt. Dunbar & the Hobo Banned and Unexplained Bacon, as well as the beautiful hot weather on the side of the Hudson River (notice a trend?), but if only they hadn’t run out of bacon before I could have one more deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hot dog smothered in a pineapple ginger sauce. Next year then…