The Ameriserv Flood City Music Festival Through the Eyes of a Performer
Here’s a cool piece that we wanted to share before the year’s end…
8/5/2011-8/7/2011 Johnstown, Pa
It was a beautiful August weekend in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and one of the most eclectic music line-ups of the summer made a stop in the downtown area of this historical city. This ongoing festival has brought some of the best acts to an area that has an appreciation for many varieties of music. As a veteran patron of this festival, it was an honor to perform with one of the best line-ups at this ongoing festival. Thanks to Grey Area Productions, this year’s festival saw music ranging from soul, funk, jazz, latin, rock, blues, electronic, fusion, pop, folk, bluegrass, and all the way to zydeco music.
Being a performer, I was unable to catch every act, but the dozen plus acts I caught made me happy to be a part of the new wave of bands hitting the ever-changing festival scene. I arrived early Friday evening to the festival with rain in the forecast, but this didn’t stop the crowd from filing in to catch the music. Thankfully there was only about thirty minutes of rain throughout the entire weekend of performances. This festival has more of a hometown feel, which is hard to find when housing thousands of music listeners. Within five minutes of arriving, I was greeted by festival Co-chairmen Todd Wagner and Ronald Carnevali.
On Friday, the first two performers of the evening were based out of the Pittsburgh area and covered two very different genres. The Shelf Life String Band brought that vintage feel of bluegrass along with the energy that you desire to see on the stage. From folk to reggae, Clinton Clegg and the Backstabbing Good People blended a variety of styles, which created their original sound. Vocalist Clinton Clegg switched from acoustic to electric guitars, which helped set the tone for each song. Guitarist Glenn Strother’s solos took each song to a higher level that impressed many of the listeners who were present. After their set, the crowd headed over to the main stage to catch the legendary soul singer, Bettye LaVette. The combination of the 65-year-old vocalist and her backing band made you feel this artist’s long and painful journey to the top of the music charts. The Boogie Hustlers kept the funk going on one of the secondary stages before JJ Grey and Mofro took the Stage.
JJ Grey and crew took the energy to a new level with a performance that could only be described as a show channeling a 60s soul performance, where you can’t take your eyes of stage. JJ Grey told stories and sang songs concerning his past that grabbed the attention of new and old fans. The rhythm section consisted of former Derek Trucks Band bassist Todd Smallie and drummer Anthony Cole, who created a groove that left all listeners bobbing their head. I could tell JJ’s band appreciated music because they spent most of their off time standing beside me catching the other acts. Drummer Anthony Cole stated he had to “get in tune”, and it was refreshing to see other musicians take interest in any music they had time to take a listen to. The late night set on this Friday evening was my personal highlight of the festival. The Pimps of Joytime took many of the tired festival attendees and turned us all into a single dancing unit. Their blends of catchy disco, latin, and funk sounds wowed listeners of all ages. Guitarist and lead man Brian Jay said “we thought yall’ would be tired,” and it was apparent this was far from the case.
After a long drive home and a good night’s rest, I arrived back at the Flood City Music Festival for the second performance by JJ Grey and Mofro. A much more sizeable crowd got to witness this band bring even more energy than their first set at the fest. Seeing numerous Eat A Peach t-shirts, every person in the crowd knew Gregg Allman would soon be taking the stage. During a set break, I was informed that I missed the best set of the weekend, which referred to Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Catching the band at a later date, Sister Sparrow convinced me that I definitely missed out. I was fortunate enough to catch the up and coming electronic act Sweet Earth. Coming from similar musical backgrounds and cities, it was refreshing to see a hardworking newer electronic act get their due.
Another personal highlight of the music festival was catching both of singer/songwriter/guitarist Tom Hamilton’s bands that greatly vary in genres. His new band American Babies blends fantastic folk lyrics and melodies, which can grab the attention of any type of music lover. His first band Brother’s Past took the late night slot, and took things to a new level combing their experimentation and great song writing. Catching the band almost ten years ago, it is amazing to see how this band can use the technology of the electronic scene, but still honor its roots, which is necessary to keep this genre of music thriving. Gregg Allman took the stage for a short set due to his increasing health problems. Standing only five feet from the performance of Melissa, it was hard to dismiss the influence this man has made on American music. The crowd and myself felt privileged to catch this set before the rest of his summer tour was cancelled the following day.
The day was finally here, and my group Black Coffee was very excited for our set. Worried about the rain, the sun came out at the start of the day, and it was a refreshing moment for all bands and the patrons who purchased tickets. Black Coffee started off the day, and was highlighted by funk outfit Lubriphonic’s tenor sax player Charles Prophet sitting in. Lubriphonic took the main stage afterwards, and they brought their Chicago flavor of funk and blues to the ears of a crowd of new fans. Each humble musician of this band truly embodies what it takes to be a hard working and successful musician. Bluegrass and folk band the City Dwelling Nature Seekers performed a great set showing off the many talented pickers their group has to offer. Baltimore based band, The Bridge, put on one of their last festival performances before separating after 10 years on the road. I felt honored to be in attendance, but it was also a very sad sight to see such a talented band end it’s journey because of the ‘economy.’ Before the final set of the festival, the Lubriphonic crew and myself were wowed backstage by the magical pipe strummed, plucked, and tapped by That One Guy. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears closed out the Flood City Music Festival with a tight to the point set. It was comforting to see the great success of this blues, soul, and funk act, which is rarely seen in the popular scheme of things. If you are Pa resident or within a few hours drive, I recommend this festival to anyone that has a love for music, and is looking for a laid back family experience, which has been improving every year to date.