Sterling Stage kicked their 23rd season off proper, May 25-28, with Folkfest 2017. It was magic start to finish, giving credence to the common sentiment that there is NOTHING like a Sterling Stage weekend. Once you are on the dirt road, you are family and everyone is treated as such. Yes, it rained a bit. No way did that stop people from coming. It’s a magical place. Plain and simple.
Thursday night featured Tim Herron by tradition, and was headlined by Root Shock. They played 2 long sets in the Sinatra Lounge. They were on point and ready to get the party started. In a Sterling Stage first, at one point they had the whole crowd join in a conga line, weaving throughout the Sinatra Lounge. So much fun and amazing to see!
Friday began with a set from Johnny Richards that included a great cover of “Into the Mystic”. Chris James and Mama G played a perfectly fun day set, along with friends Taylor Ricks on bass and Bruce the Moose on washboard and various percussive trinkets.They shared a new song titled “Last To Know.” Great new song with fun lyrics. We’re glad to see the creative juices are flowing in their camp and hope to hear more new stuff from them! The day also saw great sets from The English Project, Our Friends Band, and Folkfaces, among many others.
Friday night in the headlining slot, Sterling Stage welcomed Hayley Jane and the Primates to their debut performance at the Kampitheater. Hayley Jane is a performance artist and she attacks it like art. She puts on a hell of a show and has the perfect band of talent to back her up with equally enthralling music. The Primates jam so good! Their show included an intimate slowed down version of “The Right,” which jam segued into “You Put the Lime in the Coconut,” which then segued into an amazing “New Speedway Boogie” that ended in an all out jam. They invited Drake Descant of Primate Fiasco to join them on accordion for “Madam Humphrey” and ended with “Hey Mister” off of their last album, Gasoline, before disappearing into the rainy night. A perfect late night selection, Black Rock Zydeco kept The Sinatra Lounge in high gear to close out the day.
Saturday saw some sun, and a great day of music including a reunion of Old Deer Ensemble as well as many Sterling favorites. House on a Spring, Steel Guapo, and The Gaslight Tinkers all played wonderful day sets. Cornmeal headlined Saturday night with 2 sets for their Sterling return. They encored with “Midnight Rider” as a tribute to the day’s news of Greg Allman’s passing. Annual favorites Primate Fiasco played a day set that included their new CD, Massachusetts Winter in its entirety. The leftover mud kept their annual parade around the grounds stifled to an infield jam, but their late night set was over the top! It was high energy and heavy on the improv. During late night, Primate Fiasco gave one of the longest and most exploratory versions of “Wrist Band Tan Line” I’ve ever heard. Dirty Blanket closed the night out in the Sinatra Lounge with a fun late night set. They got everyone’s heels kicking with covers like “Sittin’ On Top of the World” by the Grateful Dead, as well as Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” You don’t realize how fun that song can be until you hear it at the Sinatra Lounge in the middle of the night.
Sunday’s schedule was perfectly curated to resemble a refreshing Sunday with your closest family. Sterling Stage organizers really know how to strike up a vibe. The day began and ended in the most perfect of ways. It started with a Sunday church set from Buddhish that featured some elegant trombone and sounded just like a refreshing Sunday morning. The Small Kings busted out a cover of “Roses Are Free” that was done with a smooth reggae style. I appreciated Jackson Cavalier’s set. He plays with a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughn flavor that’s so good and bluesy! Sunday afternoon featured an enjoyable set of classics by Grateful Dead tribute legends, Dark Hollow. It really is a perfect Sunday daydream listening to “New Minglewood Blues” or “Samson and Delilah” at Sterling. Upstate Rubdown brought their unique style with a pair of sets. First, a day set before Folkfest headliner Ryan Montbleau Band took the stage and a second, more intimate, late night set to close the festival. I could watch Upstate Rubdown for days.
Another annual favorite, Ryan Montbleau Band headlined Folkfest with two solid sets. In what appears to be a common occurrence and treat for his Sterling Stage performances, percussion and vibraphone guru, Mike Dillon, flew up from New Orleans to join RMB. He adds so much to the songs. The first set focussed heavily on songs from Ryan’s most recent release, I Was Just Leaving. They also played favorites like “Songbird,” “Quickie,” and a nice “Draw the Line,” as well as a jammed out “Grain of Sand.” They even threw in a fun cover of the Timbuk 3 classic, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.”
As I said previously, Upstate Rubdown was scheduled to close Folkfest 2017 with an intimate late night set in the Sinatra Lounge. And that they did. They were on fire! But this is Sterling. And this is Ryan Montbleau. And as spontaneity should have it, after Upstate Rubdown closed the festival and left the stage, you could hear the sweet notes and words of “Stretch” greeting the Memorial Day morning as Ryan took the stage for an unscheduled, impromptu, acoustic solo set in the Sinatra Lounge to bring Folkest 2017 to a close. This time for real. Now THAT is one perfect Sterling family Sunday!
What a way to begin the 2017 season. I could go on and on about all the things that made it great, but I have 2 more festivals this season to do that. You can never put your finger on the recipe that makes that place the magical sanctuary that it is. There’s just too many ingredients, but man – Disney ain’t got nothing on Stage!
Next up, a funkified Ameribeat Festival of Arts, July 13-16, featuring Kung Fu, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Sophistafunk, and many others. It’s a thick, sick lineup. See you there!
Photography by: Jerrie DiFabio