Three words – Holy Fucking Shit! Usually someone posts a set list after a monumental show, to serve as a signpost to that one time when things were a notch above the usual. The same notion applies to the 2017 Ameribeat Festival of Arts, which took place July 13-16th at Sterling Stage. Well, sort of. Rather than a killer set list, it was the daily schedule of bands that really did it. It was expertly curated. Every band was perfectly placed. I saw Sterling organizer, Eric McElveen, called a sorcerer and I don’t think that’s very far off. Hats off to you, Sir, for that thing you did. It was monumental for most involved.
My Day One discovery was Fakai. These guys were super fun. I have no idea how to pronounce their name and I’m not sure what language it is, but I’m pretty sure it translates to English as “fucking groovy!” Pearly Baker’s Best played a pair of Thursday headlining sets that included some deep cuts from the Grateful Dead catalog. At one point they seemed to go member by member, as they played “Never Trust A Woman”, “If I Had the World to Give”, “Black Throated Wind”, and then “Unbroken Chain.” I must say, Folkfest in May included Dark Hollow and Ameribeat, Pearly Baker’s. I REALLY like this notion and I hope Sterling continues to have a Grateful Dead tribute act on each festival! It just feels right. Friday started with the busy up and comers, Baked Potatoes. Space Carnival had a standout day set. These guys have been busy writing. Their set consisted of a bunch of new songs scattered in between classics from their debut album. The new songs are great and these guys from Ithaca are some of my favorites right now. Can’t wait for a next album! Area favorites Funknut and Subsoil rounded out the day. Kung Fu’s Friday night sets focused around their recent album Joyride. After a series of newer songs, they looked backward to songs like “Gung Ho,” “Do the Right Thing,” “S’All Good,” and “ Hollywood Kisses.” They even shared a brand new song titled “Cookie Monster” that they had never played live before that very day at Sterling before closing their second set with the progressive “Samurai.” So good! Annie In the Water lead the late night and closed the day in the Sinatra Lounge with originals, plus a stellar cover of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.”
And then there was Saturday – the behemoth of fun, start to finish. The biggest challenge of this day was spending time at your campsite, because the schedule was one “must see” after another for the entire day. Early afternoon held witness to a Barroom Boogie, which consisted of a Barroom Philosophers set sandwiched in between a pair of Boogie Low sets. The infield was pretty full for Barroom Philosophers and people were really enjoying the originals that comprised their set. This is a band of great songwriters that is achieving a lot of area success! Boogie Low played a mellow first set in the Sinatra Lounge and kicked it up a notch for the second. They absolutely blew the peaks off the pines with an outrageous version of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.” I’m still in awe over percussionist Brandon Au’s output for this song. Simply fucking WOW! The day also saw great sets from the Buddhahood and Personal Blend, including an infield jam from the Buddhahood, preparing for headliners Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. I enjoyed the horn sections of the weekend in both the Medicinals and the Buddhahood.
Sophistafunk enjoyed a great day set on the main stage Saturday, but it was the shit they pulled in the Sinatra Lounge Saturday late night that left jaws dropped and minds disturbed. I don’t even know how to try to describe the magnitude of what went down that night with words. Sophistafunk are hometown heroes that spend their usual Sterling days headlining the main stage. At this point in their career, putting them in the Sinatra Lounge in a late night position is like getting a mob of claustrophobic ADHD sufferers all hopped up on cocaine and then locking them inside a stand up shower stall to watch them bounce off the walls. Only at Sterling! The Sinatra Lounge grew legs and came alive like a creature out of one of Glenn Prior’s paintings. It was beyond anything I’ve ever seen back there before. My notes say things like “Tommy-Fucking-Weeks in the Sinatra-Fucking-Lounge!” or “Jack Brown is extra smooth tonight!” But really they all hold a common theme of “Holy Fucking Shit Batman!” The vibe was so thick that night, it will serve as a benchmark for the ages. Going forward, I can see that performance taking on folklore status, even being used as a badge of honor to indicate just how far around the Sterling block you’ve been. “Hey, were you there, that year, at Sophistafunk Ameribeat late night?” “That was good, but was it Sophistafunk Ameribeat late night good?” “OMG, I remember when Tommy Weeks stepped off the stage and jammed in the crowd right next to me at Sophistafunk Ameribeat late night!” We have ourselves a new measuring stick. Mark my words!
Sunday was a fun day, in every aspect, that culminated into a HUGE disappointment, but then concluded with complete satisfaction! The daytime saw another reunion of Old Deer Ensemble, with a great set of originals and covers. Chris Eves held things down in the Sinatra Lounge with a couple of really fine day sets. This is a band of great musicians. We all know Chris Eves can make a guitar sing, but his band is equally on point as well! His originals are great, but man this guy can pick the right mix of covers. During his first set I heard classics like “Shakedown Street,” “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” and “Bathtub Gin.” His second set had tribute covers like David Bowie’s “Fame” and “Kiss” by Prince. The thing about Chris Eves that really gets my goat in a mentally explosive way, is when they pull out the “Super Mario Brothers Theme.” For anyone who grew up on the original Nintendo like I did, experiencing this live will strike an internal chord that you hold near and dear in your heart. Sunday funday and we are only half way through the day…
Now, it was time for a performance I’d been looking most forward to. One of my favorite bands is New Daze and they had a pair of sets in the Sinatra Lounge. I can’t say enough about how much I am impressed by this band. They are better and better EVERY time I see them. They have their tension and release game down to a perfect science and they are so stinking tight. Both sets were complete fire. They blazed through songs like “Sunroof Cop” and the improv heavy odyssey of “Disasterpiece.” I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – The New Daze are the TOTAL package. Max Flansburg’s guitar work will take you by the hand on a musical journey. Bass player Jamie Knittel will draw your attention with the energy he injects into a performance. Watch his facial expressions. The guy literally has music gasms right in front of you. Like a Vegas peepshow that should make you feel dirty but it’s OK because you’re having them too. They were particularly great Sunday night and jamming HARD. Real HARD. Near the end of their second set they announced that they will be taking a hiatus “for at least a year” while Jamie Knittel heads to Texas to advance some personal endeavors. Wait, what? Unfortunately, that was letting us down easy. I was milling around afterward and overheard a band member tell another fan it was an “indefinite hiatus.” Wait, wait, excuse me WHAT? And you waited till the end of your performance to mention this? I was savoring every last moment of both of their sets that night. I wish I knew at the time that that was what they were – last moments. I felt like I got jipped out of enjoying break up sex. It’s OK New Daze. You know I still love you. That explains why it felt so damn good that night. Our hat’s off to you gentleman! Thank you so much for letting us love you as we did. Best wishes to you Jamie! We CANNOT WAIT for a reunion.
The Skunk City Collective headlined Sunday night of Ameribeat 2017. Their first set was a Bob Marley tribute set. The second, a Skunk City Funk set. If you are unaware – Skunk City Collective is a collection of musicians, a supergroup if you will, fronted by Emanual Washington of Sophistafunk, and featuring the likes of Chris Eves, as well as Jay Lock, Mike Spadaro, and Deyquan Bowens. Vocalist Jessica Brown from Root Shock was also part of the Skunk City Collective. I’ve gotta give it to Eman. He is entertaining as hell. He will keep your attention and get your booty to move! He is equally talented stepping from behind the drum kit to front a band as he is behind it for Sophistafunk. You can let him take over your booty every Sunday night, as Funk ‘n Waffles downtown Syracuse hosts Skunkday Funkday, every Sunday for FREE!
What a lineup and what a weekend! How the hell do you circle around and bring all that to a proper close? You have Chris James and Mama G close it out with a Sunday Sinatra late night! They were the perfect mellow for this occasion and the optimum choice to bring the Ameribeat wagon into the barn until next year. (Eric showing off his sorcery again, really) In the past, I’ve referred to them as the mascots, the King and Queen, even Ma and Pa of Sterling Stage. This time I will call them “the perfect blend.” I’ve heard Chris James and Mama G as a duo, with spoons, with a parachute cord bass, and some sirens… For Ameribeat, they brought Taylor Ricks on the electric long-fiddle. I really like what Taylor brings to the table. His electric long-fiddle cuts deep and carries far (I ran back to camp to hit the cooler. That deep bass resonates through the trees!) I decided that CJMG have added a secret weapon to their arsenal. A superhero, if you will, that hides under the guise of a crunchy dude with a washboard covered in trinkets but let me assure you, this is not your average bear. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris James and Mama G present to you – Bruce “The Moose” Fritzen, Washboardianist Extraordinaire! This fuckin’ guy had me totally mesmerized. He has a plethora of metal do-dad’s to choose from, each with it’s own distinctive tone. Every ding, clink, or clank was so very deliberate and precisely placed. The sound in the Sinatra Lounge was on point to hear every last one of them. I found myself blown away at the genius of what Bruce was doing. How does one discern that the perfect thing needed for this part right here is a left ring finger ting, followed by a right pinky bell, over to a left index finger clank, back to the pinky. Blew me away. In my opinion, they have found the perfect blend and their sound is complete. However, the grapevine tells me they are looking to perhaps add a banjo to the mix… Another thing that blew me away is how much the additions of Taylor and Bruce make both Chris James and Mama G step up their game. The creative juices are flowing. Mama G has a certain sass that she brings to a performance that sets her apart from everyone else. Her sass is at an all time high right now and no one can touch her. She is a sass artist. There were points where Chris James was just shredding on the acoustic guitar, more so than what he did on their debut album, Swamp Grass Tonic. They have come miles and miles from that point in their sound. I think that’s my way of nudging them to record some new tasty nuggets that reflect their evolution. They have some new originals and covers too. For this late night performance, they debuted an epic, bluegrass infused version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” I didn’t have a stopwatch running, but we’ll say that this bluegrass journey was way more than 5 minutes. Such a satisfying way to close out Ameribeat!
Well now how do you top a weekend like that? I’m glad you asked, because we are only a couple weeks away from Sterling Stage’s Last Daze of Summer, the FINAL festival of the 2017 season, featuring 2 nights of Max Creek, the Werks, Blind Owl Band, and many others (Pssst – Chris James and Mama G have a late night set on Friday. Come see what all this raving is about).
Get your tickets NOW at sterlingstage.com. Presale tickets still available at ONLY $70 for 4 days including free camping!
Author: George DiFabio
Photography: Jerrie DiFabio
Oh yeah, here’s that
set list dream schedule – Ameribeat 2017
Thursday – Randy McMillen > Fakaui > Pearly Baker’s Best
Friday – Baked Potatoes >Johnny Richards > Space Carnival > Missing Keys > Funknut > Subsoil > Kung Fu > Subsoil > Kung Fu > Annie In the Water
Saturday – Jack & the Jukebox > Boogie Low > Barroom Philosophers > Boogie Low > The Buddhahood > Personal Blend > Sophistafunk > Personal Blend > Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad > The Buddhahood > Giant Panda > Sophistafunk
Sunday – Wheelwright > Paul LeClair > Old Deer Ensemble > Chris Eves > Natty Meds > Chris Eves > The Medicinals > The New Daze > Skunk City Collective > The New Daze > Skunk City Collective > Chris James & Mama G