I thought I would review Sterling Stage’s Ameribeat Festival of Arts in the standard play by play format. This happened, that was cool, these people really stood out. When reviewing my notes, I used the same descriptive adjectives often. I found a theme, a common denominator. I kept describing things as “refreshing”, “renewed”, or “a breath of fresh air.” Everything about Ameribeat resembled those words – the people, the grounds, the music, the whole atmosphere! Like a breath of fresh air, everywhere you looked.
The format has changed this year but not the price! Giving you a full Sunday schedule, 2016 includes an extra major headliner and late night. That equates to better bang for your buck. When does that ever happen these days? Only at Sterling Stage.
The people were happy and super community oriented. There was a shade tent set up in the main stage area where they were keeping all the kids of the crowd occupied with crafts while the adults enjoyed the music. My kids told me it was the best Sterling they’ve ever been to. Sterling Stage also has new camping areas this year. They cleared a ton of brush and laid loads of dirt and sand. The ground was great to camp on and I didn’t have a problem with mosquitoes the whole weekend. The family vibe is running at a high this year.
Let’s talk about the music. It was refreshing all weekend long, in a billion different ways. The headliners performed at the top of their games. The Heavy Pets brought their “A Game” on Sunday. They played 2 sets that were simply amazing. The first set closed with their version of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” Appropriate to the Independence Day celebration at hand, the second set featured a jammingly monstrous version of “Thank You Music” that left minds blown to smithereens! Saturday headliners, Sophistafunk, brought Tommy Weeks from the Funky Dawgs Brass Band with them this year. Tommy has been sitting in for months and plays a mean saxophone that adds a whole new element to Sophistafunk’s sound. Flux Capacitor headlined Friday night and just killed it. They have a ton of momentum, still fresh from their first Bonnaroo performance, and totally melted faces off with their version of “Viola Lee Blues.” I hope to see these guys back sometime.
This was my first time seeing Freekbass, and they brought the funk to Sterling in every way! They even did a Bowie tribute with a funky “Fame.” The whole crowd, kids and all, got down wearing big fat smiles! They were a breath of fresh air for me personally because they remind me of the Les Claypool I loved (circa Of Whales and Woe) before he got lost in the psychedelia.
A renewed Primate Fiasco showed up with a new jazz schooled drummer, Will Sigel, and played a main stage set that included FIVE NEW SONGS! It’s been a couple years since their last album. The new songs are great. One song in particular, entitled “Birds Are Bad Swimmers,” is catchy as hell and impressed a lot of ears. One of Sterling Stage’s favorite traditions – The Primate Fiasco led the annual second line parade around the festival grounds, which culminated in an all out jam in the Sinatra Lounge that included fans, fellow musicians, and just about anybody that could find something to use as an instrument. It was so much fun for all!
The bands were great on all levels. The bands that were giving their first Sterling Stage performance knocked it out of the park! Bands like Freekbass or Flux Capacitor. Two bands that absolutely blew me away with their Sterling debuts were the Animal Reporters from NYC and Funknut from Rochester. I cannot wait to see more of these bands and I urge you to seek them out as well. Funknut is around the area frequently. Another band that was new to me and impressed the WOW out of me was Haewa from Rochester. Man, these guys can play! Be sure to seek them out as well.
Late night sets kept the Sinatra Lounge full of happy campers each night. Upstate Rubdown earned a bunch of new fans at their Sterling debut Friday late night. Saturday late night saw the return of The Kitchen Dwellers, who gave a performance that was just as powerful as last year. Sunday late night featured a campfire jam with Sophistafunk’s Eman and friends as he presented Exodus – a tribute to Bob Marley.
On the other end of the spectrum – remember when the very first bands of the day weren’t the most important ones to see and it didn’t really matter so much if you slept in? Gone are those days. Each day of music began with a great band that played great music that you felt you shouldn’t miss. The lineups are stacked these days – more new bands, more national acts, and of course the usual suspects of Sterling Stage alumni that add a familiar element. The Barroom Philosophers had no problem getting a crowd fired up in the Sinatra Lounge with some midday fun. The Mike Bogan Band played an appropriate “Blue Sky” on a cloudless afternoon, a heartfelt “Not Fade Away,” and they hippie-fied The Ramones classic “I Wanna Be Sedated” by changing the chorus to “I Wanna See Ya Naked!” Subsoil played 2 sets Friday night. Set 2 was centered around Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and was completely off the hook! The Ameribeat Orchestra, comprised of Sterling family and alumni, played a jamgrass version of “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd that was so very good. In my opinion, every time Jessica Brown from Root Shock opens her mouth, whatever comes out sounds like a breath of fresh air packed with power and emotion!
I could go on and on about the performers that you see often at Sterling Stage. I hear some people complain that it’s the same old bands playing the same old stuff . . . News flash – these same old artists spend a lot of time writing, practicing, and honing their craft. That means most of these bands are evolving and getting better and better. Take Chris James and Mama G for example. They have played Sterling Stage more times than I can count. As of late, they’ve added a bunch of new songs and a CD, as well as Holly and Heidi Jane, the Spittin’ Sirens to the mix. Holly plays the spoons and other percussion trinkets and Heidi Jane Siren plays the coolest homemade bass drum guitar I’ve ever seen. (It’s the only bass drum guitar I’ve ever seen.) The Tim Herron Corporation play every festival Thursday and are anything but stagnant.
There was something fresh, new, and positive in every way about Ameribeat. The Vibe – many people have commented on how laid back and trouble free everyone was. Ultimately there was a smaller crowd than usual, and it seems that guy Riff and his pal Raff didn’t show up this year and it was nice. I’m not saying Sterling Stage is full of bad eggs or riff raff. I’m acknowledging that every event has some asshole somewhere that feels the need to let everyone know how well they can play the role. Luckily, said asshole must have had other plans because Ameribeat had ZERO evidence of trouble. I guess when you strip away a layer of grime the bare bones naturally shine a little brighter and the root of it all – that is genuine soul driven music and a quality vibe – resonates and becomes infectious.
You have one last chance in the 2016 Sterling Stage season to come take part in this breath of fresh air. Don’t miss The Last Daze of Summer – Labor Day weekend, September 1-4, 2016 – featuring Max Creek, Ryan Montbleau, and many more TBA . Get your tickets now!
Author: George DiFabio
Photography: Jerrie DiFabio