Black River Brew & Music Fest Taps Watertown

PHOTO BY JASON BONE Rusted Root

By: Nicole Caldwell

The first rule for building community is to act like one.

                That’s the name of the game for Patrick Robbins, Jason Price, and Mike Ricca, who have teamed up to put together the second annual Black River Brew & Music Fest at Maggie’s on the River from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 8, in Watertown. The event taps into the extensive north country music scene, invites participation from breweries throughout New York state, and draws on the generosity of more than a dozen sponsors and partnerships with everyone from hotels to shuttle buses.

                In other words, this festival is drawn forth out of and gives directly to the bubbling and growing network of north country communities. And that’s something we can—and should—all get behind.

                Robbins, owner of Black River Cattle Company and a teacher at Carthage Central School District, along with Maggie’s on the River managers Price and Ricca, sought a way to combine their event-planning experience with local brewmasters and musicians throughout the region. The result was last year’s Black River Block Party; expanded this year to include more breweries, more food trucks and more bands.

                The event also covers transportation, with shuttles picking up festivalgoers at the JB Wise Parking Lot and on Fort Drum between 11 a.m. and 1 a.m.

                Oh—and then there’s the added detail of national headliner Rusted Root joining in on the fun.

The brains

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
Black River Music Festival organizers Jason Price, left, Mike Ricca, center, and Patrick Robbins, right, stand behind Maggie’s on the River.

Between Robbins, Price and Ricca, there’s around a half-century of experience in logistics, party and event planning, hospitality and service. Whether that was comprised of hosting parties back in high school, putting on “Shamupalooza” in Sackets Harbor in 2010, studying at prestigious culinary institutions or working for resorts, this trio has been around the proverbial block to know what it takes to put on an event of these proportions.

                Robbins met Price through some local events they had both worked on. The two joined forces with fellow Maggie’s manager Mike Ricca, and from there the Black River Brew & Music Fest was born. “From my time living in Atlanta, combined with Mike and Jason’s travels around the country,” Robbins says, “we had experienced neighborhood, community, or city brew and music fests in other areas. We thought, why not here?”

                Coordinating between 11 bands, almost two dozen sponsors, four food trucks, and 14 brewers and distilleries is no small task.

                “We discussed how there was a certain synergy between local, New York state-produced food, craft beer and, for that matter, music,” Robbins says. “We wanted to provide a platform to merge those and allow the community to come together to experience and enjoy those entities under one umbrella in the backyard of the Black River.”

NNY band spotlight: Brittany Cean and Beaver Nickel

Brittany Cean and Beaver Nickel are based in the north country and perform year-round in bars, restaurants and at private parties. The group’s set list spans six decades of hits and feel-good tunes, in addition to original compositions. Beaver Nickel is comprised of Brittany Cean on vocals and guitar, Kelsey Fraser on vocals and violin, Scott Graveline on bass, Alex Soluri on percussion and sound, and Kyle Hoose on drums. Zachary Cean and Kenny Booth provide alternate percussion.

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
Beaver Nickel is Brittany Cean, left, Kelsey Fraser, left center, Alex Soluri, right center, and Scott Graveline, right.

           Band members’ influences run the gamut; from Celtic music and Ani DiFranco to Nirvana and Soluri’s father.

                “I started playing music at the age of five or six,” Kelsey Fraser tells NNY Living. “I decided that I wanted to play the fiddle. So I went home and asked Santa, of course.” Soluri picked up an instrument when he was eight, while Graveline was a late bloomer; picking up a bass in his 20s “just for fun.”

                “I started playing in my preteen years,” Cean says. “I wanted an easy way to accompany myself singing, and keys just weren’t for me. Mom had a guitar hanging around that I learned the basics on.”

                Beaver Nickel lives for live shows. “Playing live gives me a sort of confidence that I don’t have when I am not playing or singing,” Fraser says. “Kind of like an alter ego.”

                Cean echoes Fraser’s sentiment, saying, “It [music] gives me an opportunity to be outgoing in a way I’ll never achieve in regular life. I’m not great with public speaking, so the pressure and discomfort is good for me. It’s also a pretty big and beloved part of the time Scott and I get to spend together in our relationship. We might be sick to death of each other some days, but the show must go on—even if there’s feedback.”

                Learn more about Brittany Cean and Beaver Nickel at www.beavernickel.com

NNY band spotlight: Waydown Wailers

Bringing “Outlaw Americana” to the north country with original roots rock, blues rock, and jam with a hearty dose of country are the Waydown Wailers: brothers Christian “Moe” and Dave Parker on guitars, business manager Michael “Scruffy” Scriminger on percussion and drums, and Connor Pelkey on bass and backing vocals. Music is in every band member’s blood: each was drawn to an instrument in childhood.

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY LIVING Waydown Wailer sound check at the Edwards Opera House.

             The Waydown Wailers draw on musical influences like Clarence White, John Lennon, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and Rush.

                “This band is different because we are familiar but unlike anything out there,” Christian Parker says. “Waydown Wailers has a sound that is fresh but old, sounds a little southern country; blues, funk and the kitten sink. It is a band that all of us have input on giving us the outlaw jam sound that is original,” Scriminger adds. The Waydown Wailers recently released their sophomore album, Empty Promises, on the heels of their breakout compilation, State of the Union.

                The band’s beginnings are steeped in family ties. “My brother David and I had been writing songs and he and Mike were wanting to start an original band,” Christian tells NNY Living. “We started getting together and jamming, and we decided to commit to a new band, as we started to develop our sound. Our influences are broad, but we have been able to weave our own unique approach to our songs,” he said.

                Actually, it’s a little tricky to pin Waydown Wailers down, categorically speaking. “We haven’t quite figured out our genre yet, says Dave Parker. “We think we are a rock/blues/sometime swampy/Americana type of groove with a slight country sound at times, and then we might break into a jam session that will take a turn to the unexpected. But most of all, the sound we are trying to create is what separates us from the norm. Whatever that is.”

                Pelkey says the secret to the band’s success is in its lack of insistence to be tied to any specific style. “After we get the form down [for songs], we just play in the styles we think best fit the song.”

                Learn more at www.waydownwailers.com.

Regional act spotlight: Savannah Harmon

Savannah Harmon is an 18-year-old sensation out of Syracuse who taught herself guitar. The first song she could play was “Drops of Jupiter,” only because that was the first song to show up on YouTube when she searched “easy guitar songs to learn.”

SAVANNAH HARMON

                Since then, she’s been awfully busy.

               She won the 2015 Texaco Country Showdown, catapulting her onto the stage with Trevor Silva, Kelly Pickler, Love and Theft, Joel Crouse, Stevie Monce and Billy Lord. For a woman still so young, Harmon’s roots are held firmly to the foundations of country. And for her, that all relates back to Johnny Cash.

                “I read every single biography of the man, and I admire almost every aspect of his musical career,” Harmon says. “He wrote songs on napkins with his first wife driving around town in his car, he had incredible charisma that charmed everybody and his persistence to make his music heard is a constant inspiration to me. He is a legend, and I look up to him every single day.”

                Harmon says singing has always been part of her—but only in the last year has its importance to her come into such sharp focus.

                “A couple nights ago I was sitting around a campfire with my band at 4:00 AM when my fiddle player Greg picked up a bluegrass instrument I’d never heard of and started playing a beautiful, old Irish-sounding tune,” Harmon says. “In that moment, it didn’t matter if you were a drummer, a singer, or anything musically inclined; when he started playing, it captured your attention and made your heart listen, and in my head I said, “Damn. When I’m on my deathbed, I want this music playing. I want to go out feeling alive.” Music brings together all sorts of people of all different races, generations, and walks of life because it has a common thread that has us all strung together by the heartstrings.”

                Harmon may have been launched into the spotlight as a professional musician, but she’s also still a fan of the fellow musicians she’ll be performing before and after on the Brew Fest stage.

                “This might sound cliché, but I remember being four when Ice Age came out and singing with my dad to Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root in my living room in our first house. I can’t WAIT to see them perform… They were my CHILDHOOD,” she said. “I also love watching pros do their thing, because it helps the learning rookies like myself get ideas and tips for our own shows. Also, I adore Watertown and all the people involved with this event. I’m extremely honored to get to perform at festivals, and this will be a great staple in the shows that we have coming up.”

                Check out Harmon’s music at www.savannahharmon.com/

National act spotlight: Harrison B.

                Harrison B. is a nationally touring act from Seattle, Wash., who can’t wait to get back to Watertown for his second appearance at the Black River Brew & Music Fest.

   “My experience with Watertown and this fest: people up here they genuinely enjoy music and live music and they want to go see it. There is still a sense of raw or awe, and you can get on stage and feel they are there with you. I think you’re going to find a big group of people ready to have a good time.”

HARRISON B.

             When asked for his age, he had this to say: “I’m old enough to have lived everything I’m singing about and young enough to do something about it.”

            Harrison B. draws inspiration from Bill Withers, Citizen Cope, Del Amitri, Doc Watson and Gary Clark, Jr., in addition to the world around him. “I was 10 or 11 when I found my first guitar in my friend’s neighbor’s basement and dug it and picked it up. I didn’t take lessons—I just picked around by ear and it just kind of bloomed. After that, I felt a draw—I needed to do it.”

                “There is something in sound that speaks to people in a way that things that are more structured do not,” he continues. “It’s one of the last areas of human communication that deals with raw emotion. And that type of interaction between the people playing and the people listening—it’s just a type of release you don’t find in other places. And it’s such a part of human nature where we can still let loose and let free.”

                “The Harrison B LP” and “Down At Brown’s” are available for download at major online retailers. His latest Single “ME” is available exclusively at Bandcamp. Learn more at www.harrisonbmusic.com

The headliners: Rusted Root

                An unassuming group of musician friends got together in the early ‘90s in Pittsburgh to put together an independently released album that exploded on the jam fan scene. It was a cult obsession the Northeast couldn’t get enough of (present company included). Soon after that independent album came out, the band got hooked up with Mercury Records and came out with what would become a platinum-selling album, When I Woke.

                That was more than 25 years ago, but Rusted Root is still as active as ever. The band boasts a portfolio of eight albums, thousands of performances and a sustained popularity that transcends generations and musical tastes.

PHOTO BY JASON BONE

              For Michael Glabicki, Rusted Root’s frontman, the secret to a band staying together so long is rooted in honesty and openness to change.

                “Just being honest with one another and always sort of trying to break boundaries with the music that you’re doing and with yourself is really the secret,” he says. “And then I think like being able to not so much live in the past, but sort of show up each day and feel like this is a new job. Our connection with the fans inspires our shows and I think the connection is always different. And surprising. And beautiful.”

                The band’s current members—Glabicki on vocals, guitar, harmonica and mandolin, Patric Norman on bass, vocals and percussion, Liz Berlin on percussion and vocals, Zil Fessler on drums and percussion, and Dirk Miller on guitar and vocals—are equally at home in a studio or on tour, and just as happy revisiting classics as they are rolling out new songs.

                “Studio time and touring go together,” Glabicki says. “In studio, I’m visualizing the performance. On the road, I’m picking up little gems here and there on stage. I think you constantly redo the old stuff and keep that fresh. That process can actually feed into your music. Each night, we’ll go up and play “Send Me on My Way,” “Laugh as the Sun” or “Ecstasy” and in the process, you do all this weird stuff that you thought wasn’t possible. It just sort of happens through that crowd energy and being comfortable on stage. You pick up these little things; like wow, we did this for 10 seconds one night and it sounded really cool. You take that musical landscape and say, I’m going to write a song in that.”

                Glabicki fell in love with music early, remembering fondly sitting under his dining room table as a little kid, listening to Cat Stevens records over and over. “I definitely explored the world of music in my consciousness, in probably a very profound way,” he says. “Maybe I’m trying to get back to those feelings now.”

                So what’s it like for Glabicki to play at events like the Black River Brew & Music Fest, where fellow acts are also fans of his?

                “Sometimes it can be a little overhyped, like hard to handle some of the energy,” he admits. “Some of the time I’m trying to be normal, and other times out of this world. On stage you don’t necessarily want to be normal. I really like to explore on stage and that can be through my personality, or the music, or the rhythms or tones. You want to be in this sort of outer—you don’t want to be in the world at that point. Or at least I don’t. But then right before the show, I like to be in the world. And right after the show. So there’s this big learning process for people approaching me and they’re not sure if I’m in the out of the box world or in the box, so it’s kind of jarring sometimes.”

A growing tradition

                “We had zero sponsors last year,” Robbins says, “and now look. Around 600 people came last year. But now, word’s gotten out. It was all about bringing the community together to do this, with an impetus on the smaller, local acts and coming out to support them.”

                The Black River Brew & Music Fest is also tapping into the technology available for events, from live-streaming the musical performances, updating social media accounts throughout the day, and the event being listed on Untappd so people can comment on their experiences and tastings throughout the day.

                “All of us love to have fun and want to provide an outlet for Watertown and the surrounding area to experience the great music and craft beer being produced locally and around New York state,” Robbins says.

                 “I hate it when people act like this is no man’s land,” says Mike Ricca of the north country. “There’s a reason this is the ideal summer location. So why can’t this be the start of that all over again?”

                For more information on the Black River Brew & Music Fest, to order tickets, or for the shuttle schedule, visit www.makeitmaggies.com/whats-happening/