Sterling Stage Kampitheater closed the 2016 season Labor Day weekend with the Last Daze of Summer which ran from September 1-4. The weather was picture perfect for each day. Attendance was up, the field was full of happy smiling dancers, the warm family vibe at Last Daze was electric. As has been said about many things in this scene, I must say – There is NOTHING like a Sterling Stage weekend. It will leave a lasting impression upon you and once you’ve been, you will always look to the time that you can return. A weekend at Sterling embodies so many high points, so many experiences, so much fun, where do I even begin? How do I cover it all without boring you till your drool hardens? Not possible, but I can cover a few points before forcing you to nod off. Let me separate things to make a little sense of it all. Realistically, Sterling Stage festivals consist of three parts – daytime, night time, and late night. Trying to catch all the magic that occurs in a Sterling weekend, or even in a 24 hour Sterling day, can easily become like a Tough Mudder personal challenge of endurance.
I think I’ll work out of order because it seems to fit. Late night takes on a whole universe of itself at Sterling. After the headliners rage the main stage, everyone shuffles into the pines, to the grove of the Sinatra Lounge. Things are more personal back there, music happens until the wee hours of morning, and magical moments come easy. Gent Treadly closed the Last Daze of Summer with a crazy late night set that ran well into Labor Day morning. Ryan Montbleau played an intimate solo acoustic set on Saturday that had all the elements of a close and personal show. There were old songs, new songs, mid-show calisthenics (Ryan was feeling powerful and decided to do some pushups). There was even the crazed female fan that had to get escorted off the stage by security (I think she was impressed by the feat of strength). Dirty Blanket had an exercise in subliminal mind control during their set. They were playing extra late Friday night, and at some point of improv I remember hearing them work in the MacDonalds jingle, “2 all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions . . .” and then segued into the “Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar” jingle. Needless to say and totally beyond my control, I was forced back to camp and started cooking burgers on the campfire. Best damn burger I ever had, hands down!
Late night at Last Daze is where you can find all sorts of treasures if you poke around. If this were baseball, it would be the MVP, but this is Sterling so I’ll declare the “Crown Jewels of Last Daze” to be Chris James and Mama G. They were the King and Queen of the afterhours and were omnipresent all weekend long during the late night.
Chris James and Mama G played a late night Friday set in the Sinatra Lounge with the Spittin’ Sirens. This group is soooo entertaining, especially when they add the Sirens. They are a sum of all the parts and each part fits just right. The songs are traditional folk and bluegrass, Mama G’s voice fits the sound like a glove. Heidi Jane plays a one of a kind bass drum guitar with a single string, and Holly, with her spoons and trinkets, provides just the perfect amount of percussion to fill out the rhythm. On any given night they are great. At a Sterling late night, they are steamy! Their motto is, “Playing Songs That’ll Make Your Momma Wet,” and I have to say, I don’t think there was a dry seat in the house! Their set was full of fun songs. They played their own twist of Billy Idol’s “White Weddding” and even snuck in the old time “Cat Song” by request. Dressing the part for late night, the girls were scantily clad. Mama G took on the persona of a lady of the night and she had maximum fun with it. She came with friends, and at one point had the stage filled with costumed ladies for a girl power version of “These Boots Were Made For Walkin’.” Chris James wore a hat that resembled a pirate, he was surrounded by a stage of ladies, and I was stuck wondering if that made him the luckiest guy around or unluckiest?
Saturday late night, Mama G brought her mandolin and joined Ryan Montbleau during his solo set for “My Best Guess.” (Mama G was NOT the crazed fan that needed security intervention!) It was a great collaboration and Ryan went on to finish his set in the Sinatra Lounge at a couple past 2am. We took a night walk around the grounds and did some weirdo watching. We returned to our camp, woke the campfire back up, got some drinks, and started to settle. At about 3:30am we hear some faint music off in the over there. Then we hear some singing. Can’t quite make it out but it sounds familiar. Whatever . . . it’s 3:30 in the morning.
Then the song in the distance builds and peaks and gets just loud enough for us to recognize. It’s the sound of too much fun and we can’t ignore, so we follow the sound back to the Sinatra Lounge and wouldn’t you know – yep, you bet your momma’s sweet wet ass, there’s Chris James and Mama G leading a sing along around the campfire. Pick a song, grab an instrument, any body’s choice. And wouldn’t you know, sitting directly across the campfire from them was Ryan Montbleau. He stuck around after his set and joined the circle. When someone handed the guitar to him, he played “My Girl” and then a while later “Rocky Raccoon.” This went on until I don’t know when. I left the circle at about 5am and it was still going! Title earned – Chris James and Mama G – King and Queen of the night time world! Mama G is like a mistress of the night . . . definitely kicks Elvira’s ass . . . but in a Laura Ingles kind of way . . . oops, drifted a moment. My bad.
The daytime vibe was also thick with family value. By tradition, Tim Herron Corporation played the first and last day. These guys are so underrated. This local band is just as good as any national act that has graced the same stage and that isn’t a lame attempt to stroke their egos. That’s just what’s up. You had to consider how hard you hit it late night, because each day began with a great band. At Sterling, the music doesn’t progressively get better throughout the day. It starts strong and stays there straight on through to the wee hours of the next morning. Friday began with Johnny Richards and the Soundguys who played a kicking hippie-fied version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” that segued into “Pony” by Ginuwine. 2 songs you would never expect to hear at Sterling Stage and they were done so smoothly! Saturday began with an amazing band of young talent that are on their way up to big things. I can’t say enough about Space Carnival from Ithaca. They are groovy and catchy as hell! Their debut album, Drawn In By the Sun, has garnered them attention and support from Relix Magazine and scored them some serious opening bills. In the past year, I’ve seen them open for Cabinet and also Twiddle. You can go see them open for The Werks on September 29th at The Westcott Theater in Syracuse. For their debut Sterling performance, they drew a good number of people from the woods and didn’t hold anything back, being first up for the day. Just in case Sterling Stage organizers are reading this and need 2 more cents – I bet they would be a perfect band to close a night next year with a late night Sinatra Lounge Space Carnival! Sunday began with a 1 man band church service, if you will, with Jackson Cavalier. It was mellow and ever so fitting. Saturday ran exceptionally late.
Each day was lined with exceptional bands. I really like New Daze. They are extra funky and upbeat and I highly suggest you catch them out and about town. They play often. Jack and the Jukebox also impressed me a lot. They just released their debut album, The Mirage, on itunes and Spotify. Their Last Daze performance featured some great piano and keys work from Timothy B. Parker. That’s a talented player. I remember them from Sterling’s Ameribeat Festival. This time, their set was a little later in the day and their crowd was bigger. Each and every daytime band played really well. Formula 5, from Albany, has been gaining popularity and played a great sun-drenched Saturday set. House On a Spring rocked their Sunday set. Sterling favorites, Subsoil, absolutely SLAYED a 4pm Saturday set. They jam packed the main stage field with the most bodies I think I’ve ever seen during the daytime and everyone was bumping and grooving. Subsoil is so much fun and they hail from Rochester. Go find them! You can always bank on hearing some good cover songs throughout the weekend as well. Boogie Low’s set included “Fire On the Mountain.” Jam Factor offered up “China Cat Sunflower”, “Peace Frog”, and “Run Like An Antelope.”
Max Creek was the headliner on Saturday and Sunday and they melted face, playing songs from a catalog that goes back 40+ years. They were one of the first big names to ever play Sterling Stage back in the 90’s and they’ve been a staple ever since. Ryan Montbleau played his 11th year in a row. On Friday, he headlined 2 sets with a band. On Saturday, he played an intimate late night solo set in the Sinatra Lounge. Friday’s version of the Ryan Montbleau Band carried a bit of nostalgia from yesteryear, as Ryan rolled in with original drummer James Cohen and percussionist Yahuba who haven’t been a part of RMB since 2013. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see them and even more so to hear that old familiar groove, right in the pocket, and it felt like returning home after a long absence. Man I hope the original RMB is slowly reforming. He always brings top musicians with him every time, but my opinion tells me there’s nothing like the original. Ryan’s performance Friday night included both old and new songs (Ryan Montbleau ALWAYS has a new song). “75 and Sunny” featured a lengthy psychedelic jam section. They reworked “Never Gonna Be” and gave it a Caribbean vibe. It’s like they took the song on a Caribbean cruise and it came out with a whole new feel.
The Last Daze of Summer closed the 2016 Sterling Stage Kampitheater festival season with days and nights filled with music and fun amongst family and friends. Heavy on the FAMILY. Always leaving you looking forward to Folkfest next year! Now, into hibernation people. See you in the warm music houses!
Author: George DiFabio
Photography: Jerrie DiFabio