LIVE: Caffe Lena @ SPAC — Day 2, 07/25/2021


SARATOGA SPRINGS — Day two of the Caffe Lena at SPAC festival featured the RTs, the Kruger Brothers, and the Kiran Ahluwalia Trio on the green at the Charles R. Wood Stage.

After an exciting day one with The Sea the Sea stealing much of the show with poetic lyrics and smooth harmonies, it wasn’t clear if nature would cooperate for day two. It had rained through the night, but just as Lena’s Sarah Craig promised, the raindrops stopped before noon and the sun even peeked out behind clouds.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

The Rad Trads, who now go by the RTs, took the stage first with an eclectic collection of songs for their set. From original music using trumpet, horn, and percussion (produced even on the side of the stage at one point), the RTs tight sound woke up anyone who might be stuck a bit dreaming of yesterday’s performance.

Like the supergroups from the 1970s, the RTs band members rotated through musicians in lead vocals. With tremendous showmanship on each instrument, the musicians’ ability to change style while dancing and singing along was mind blowing.

The Brooklyn band previously played trad jazz ala New Orleans style but shifted today to original music showcasing their versatility matched their high energy. Joyful, humorous, and tremendously talented, the five piece group sounds a little bit like rock ‘n roll while also highlighting their roots sound. Even their playing of the popular Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” sounded somehow original with the band’s upbeat sound.

In short, the RTs bring the fun.

The dancing crowd hooted and whistled approval as the band moved through their set. With two albums out in the last two years, this band appears to be ready to take center stage as it moved into a new sound that is uniquely its own.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

After the RT’s set, the well loved and widely awaited Kruger Brothers took the stage. As the heat index was rising, the Kruger Brother’s cool banjo and guitar sound transported the field of fans to a southern park. The bluegrass folk group from North Carolina consists of Jen Kruger on banjo and vocals, Uwe Kruger on guitar and lead vocals, and Joel Landsberg on bass. With a lush, full sound, their introductory picking piece highlighted how easily music can move one from emotion to emotion without uttering a single lyric.

Highlights of the Kruger Brothers’ performance included a cover of John Prine’s “Paradise,” followed swiftly by Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” They demonstrated flexibility and range that reflects mastery, but also enjoyed some exchanges with the crowd. With encouragement from the band, fans sang along to the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”

Jen Kruger’s pickin’ was simultaneously dizzying and fun. When he laughed and stated, “There were a lot of notes in there. Some might not have belonged as much as others” his humility was showing; the audience was too enamored with his technique and the trio’s full sound to care about such trifles.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

In a shift at the close of the two day festival, the Kiran Ahluwalia Trio performed Indian folk music. Singer Kiran Ahluwalia sang folk songs about love, desire, and passion with insight and winding pitches that elevated the event. Temperatures were sweltering as Ahluwalia sang and danced folk music from Eastern culture, sharing stories and having those listening clap along.

While this set felt somewhat out of place on day two of the music, Kiran Ahluwalia’s presence at the event signals an important recognition that roots and folk music also have strong connections to world music. And while the sound was very different from the other acts, the crowd responded with similar dancing and applause, open to learning how folk sounds in different cultures.

Caffe Lena and SPAC collaborated closely to bring these musicians to the people in the park free of charge, and the park was filled with people of all ages (and their dogs) who responded with high praise and joyful voices. This annual event is admirable in its scope and mission; bringing folk to the park for free at the height of the summer season is a welcome delight for those who caught one or both days. Caffe Lena at SPAC is the summer place to be for Saratoga.

Photo gallery by Jim Gilbert

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