Well, the Last Daze are the hardest days… Sterling Stage closed the 2017 festival season with the Last Daze of Summer, August 31 – September 3rd. Headlined with 2 nights and 4 sets of Sterling mainstays, and their longest running alumni, Max Creek. For a special treat, Max Creek made their last set of the weekend a themed set consisting of classic working man songs to honor the Labor Day weekend. Songs like “Working in the Coal Mine”, “Big Boss Man”, and a great “Monkey and the Engineer”. Max Creek setlists can be found at the end of this article.
Friday night was headlined by Midwest jam band heavyweights, The Werks. This band jams hard. I understand why they have their own annual festival in Ohio (The Werkout). Their set included a monstrous version of “Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys”. It was their Sterling debut, and these guys don’t make it out to these woods very often. A tip of the hat goes to Sterling organizers for pulling them in.
It was a picture perfect weekend of performances. The super fun Fakaui got things cooking Thursday night. Boogie Low graced the main stage with a ripper of a daytime set Friday afternoon. It was their last Sterling performance with singer / guitarist Louden Smith, as he is moving on to other projects. But don’t worry, Boogie Low will return rearranged and redefined! One of the high points of Saturday afternoon was a set from CNY superstars Root Shock. That’s the kind of Last Daze lineup Sterling delivered – a successful headlining act taking an afternoon day set. So good!
As is with every festival, I always walk away with some new discovery to be excited about. My greatest discovery, and a band I liked A LOT is Chiggin’. They are a funk drenched pile of fun from Syracuse, fronted by Max Puglisi. Their horn section allows them to dive into some really fun covers. Their set included the funk staple “Staying Alive,” a funkified version of Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice,” and even a stellar cover of funk kingpins Lettuce! So great to hear that wailing through the festival grounds. Nobody ever covers Lettuce. I was extremely excited to have found these guys . . . and then extremely disappointed to learn of Max’s plans to relocate to NYC. Personally, I think this could all be a ploy and really they have been summoned to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory to resume their duties as the house band at Club Oompa. You know how everything is secret in Wonkaland. Yep, Chiggin is THAT kind of fun! On a lighter note, Max vows to return to the area one day soon with Chiggin’ and unleash the EP they’ve been working on. I hope he comes through on that. If you EVER see Chiggin’ on a lineup, you want to be there! We wish Max and Chiggin’ nothing but the absolute best! My second great find was Connecticut jam band, Creamery Station. They played an upbeat day set that got progressively boogier. They got people moving with songs like “Shape I’m In” and Allman Brothers’ “Dreams.” Another band to keep in mind when seeking off season fun!
Aside from Max Creek headlining Saturday and Sunday, a good number of bands played multiple sets throughout the weekend. This is good planning from a fan’s standpoint because often times, the best bands will leave you wishing for one more song. Sterling Stage one ups that wish and leaves you chomping at the bit for that whole other set that comes later. At Last Daze of Summer, your cup runneth over! Personal Blend added their personal touch to Friday with a pair of sets. The English Project injected their positivity twice into Saturday. Chris English conveys a simple happiness, merely by the genuine smile that accompanies everything he does. His good vibes are incredibly infectious! It’s great to see people react to this. Dam Dog blazed some Sunday blues in the Sinatra Lounge. Some real fine blues! Their guitarist is a slide guitar maniac. He stepped into the crowd and grabbed random objects from the hands of fans to substitute for a slide. He is one bluesy mofo!
2017 saw the return of Old Deer Ensemble. They are a feel good rock ‘n roll jam band that also played a couple times at Last Daze. I like these guys. For those who don’t know, Sterling Stage organizer, Eric McElveen plays bass and sings in this band. I was overly impressed by the talent of the musicians, as well as the dynamic range of Eric’s voice. Bottom line, dudes can jam, guy can sing. What’s so impressive about that? It’s the festival organizer’s band. One might expect them not to be all that good. I mean, they are a perceived shoe in on the lineup, right? Kind of like when the wrestling promoter puts himself in the main event or crowns himself champion, because he can and he might never otherwise find himself in that position. Therefore, I was overly impressed because of how well dudes can jam and guy can sing. And that’s not a lame attempt to pet the organizer’s ego. I did that a long time ago. You should check out Old Deer Ensemble in the off season. Lately they have been leaving the confines of Oswego county and playing around both Syracuse and Rochester. Worth your time and listen!
It was a bluegrass late night theme for Last Daze. Friday late night was an incredibly satisfying set from Chris James and Mama G. I am always tooting my horn about this band in particular and clearly they are one of my favorites. There is so much to like about this band. They are mesmerizing when you really tune into what they are doing. They’ve evolved into an incredible group of musicians and possess far more talent than they will ever give themselves credit for. Those are the best bands! For Last Daze late night, they performed a version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” that was miles away from the familiar song we know. They debuted this song back at Ameribeat. I’m glad it stayed, because it was eons from some typical run of the mill, “Hey, let’s do a Pink Floyd tune and put a bluegrass spin on it!” While I listened, all I could imagine was that this amazing bluegrass journey was the original version that Roger Waters may have happened upon by chance, being played in some old western saloon, which inspired HIM to put a spacey rock spin on IT, and the rest is history. Yes, it was THAT good. But it didn’t stop there. CJMG then threw in a cover of the classic, “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” that was so good that clearly they also inspired The Pretenders in their day. I could 100% believe that Mama G inspired Chrissie Hynde to be a powerful woman artist. What? It makes perfect sense to me.
Blind Owl Band pulled triple duty at Last Daze. They prepped the crowd, Saturday, for Max Creek and then melted their faces and filled the air with kicked up crowd dirt, with a late night Sinatra Lounge set that was merely practice for Sunday. Blind Owl returned to the Sinatra to steal what was left of faces with a late night festival closer that ran to the wee hours.
Aside from a shit ton of rain, the 2017 season saw some changes. Some evolution and improvements. The lineups keep getting better and better, almost falling into a thematic format that works phenomenally, with expertly curated lineups and daily schedules. Groovin’ Lumens have upped their game dramatically with some additions and improvements to their light show. This year, they added video screens on the stage that would display flashes of the artwork being sold in the Artist’s Village and other various Sterling familiarities, along with the typical fractals and psychedelia one would expect. It really personalized the experience. Good stuff! The biggest and most obvious improvement was unveiled at Last Daze. Off of the Wonderland area of the festival grounds, you will now find the professionally designed Sterling Stage Disc Golf Course! Nine holes opened this year, nine more to be added in 2018.
Sterling Stage – forever tweaking the machine. Always for LOVE, never for GREED! Stay tuned for 2018. Dates are announced. Mark your calendars. See you at Folkfest!
Max Creek Setlists
Set 1: Louisiana Sun > Evening Sun, Silver Jack, Thoughts, Baby, Please Don’t Go, Sweet Wanomi > Peaceful Warrior > Trippin’
Set 2: Ophelia, If You Ask Me > Jam > I Want You To Know, Season of the Witch > Jam > Heartbeat, Slow Down
Encore: Lawyers, Guns & Money > I Know You Rider
Set 1: Introduction, Summer Sun > Sadie, Dream, Cocaine Lady > Can’t Stand The Rain, Rainbow > Truck Drivin’ Blues
Set 2: Just A Rose > Willin’, Blood Red Roses > Down in the Jungle, Big Boss Man, Dump The Bosses Off Your Back, Working In A Coal Mine, It Must Be Nice > John Henry > Primal Scream Therapy > Just A Rose
Encore: The Monkey & The Engineer, Cruel World > Tangled Up In Blue
Photography by Jerrie DiFabio @ Jerrie Lynn Photography