Music is their ‘agenda’: Inspired by loss of friend, musicians come together

Wagner’s Agenda performs during the 2013 KeithFest at Coyote Moon Vineyards, Clayton. The music festival is a benefit concert for Keith E. Brabant, a Clayton resident and lifelong musician who died at the age of 33 in April 2010 and a friend of the members of Wagner’s Agenda. Now in its fourth year, KeithFest raises money for the Keith Brabant Music Scholarship for students who live in Jefferson County. Courtesy Melody Brabant

Wagner’s Agenda performs during the 2013 KeithFest at Coyote Moon Vineyards, Clayton. The music festival is a benefit concert for Keith E. Brabant, a Clayton resident and lifelong musician who died at the age of 33 in April 2010 and a friend of the members of Wagner’s Agenda. Now in its fourth year, KeithFest raises money for the Keith Brabant Music Scholarship for students who live in Jefferson County. Courtesy Melody Brabant

In the past three years, rock band Wagner’s Agenda has made a rapid rise to fame in the north country, now a mainstay at such popular venues as O’Brien’s Restaurant, the John Hoover Inn and Time Warp, and a frequent face at benefit concerts, known for their energetic and lively performances.

The band formed after a benefit concert for friend Keith E. Brabant, a Clayton resident and lifelong musician, shortly after his death at the age of 33 in April 2010. Wagner’s Agenda still performs at the summer benefit, now called KeithFest and in its fourth year, which raises money for the Keith Brabant Music Scholarship for students who live in Jefferson County.

Wagner’s Agenda was originally composed of Ian Wagner, who left shortly after its inception and now plays acoustic guitar locally under the name Ian Wagner Unplugged, Robert Perkins, still the band’s guitar player and violinist, Tom Contino, Justin Reynolds and Gino Cappuccetti—all members of the jazz fusion band Queen August, through which Mr. Cappuccetti and Mr. Perkins have been playing together for about six years.

Current member and percussionist Mark Getman joined the band in late 2010, and last month bass guitarist Andrew Willis replaced longtime singer Anthony Ubriaco and Josh Allen, who had replaced Justin Reynolds, bringing the band’s current lineup to Mr. Getman, Mr. Cappuccetti, Mr. Willis and Mr. Perkins.

Mr. Wagner, originally of Fairbanks, Alaska is a veteran and said he played throughout his military career but wasn’t known in the area upon his return until serendipitously getting together with Wagner’s Agenda following the Keith Brabant benefit. He attributes much of his solo success to his association with the band, though he said the two acts draw different crowds and frequent different venues now, “each doing our own thing.”

“Wagner’s Agenda has really become quite big,” he said. “A lot of my success has to do with them. I wouldn’t be as well known in the community especially being an outsider if my name hadn’t been attached to that band all along.”

Mr. Cappuccetti, the band’s keyboardist, who also serves as the band’s booking agent, said Wagner’s Agenda is unique in that it provides opportunities for the entire music community to get involved, which fans like to see.

“You can get up and play with us—no other bands really do that,” he said. “You want to do a harp solo and you know how to jam, then get up and play. I think that’s why we have a good following.”

He also attributes the band’s fairly rapid rise to success with the fact that Wagner’s Agenda “started playing from the bottom,” in backyards and at the Depauville Hotel—still their “hub,” where the band got its start during Thursday night jam sessions and frequently still plays. Both Mr. Cappuccetti and Mr. Getman were classmates at LaFargeville High School, where they both say they discovered their love of music, with Mr. Cappuccetti originally playing tuba, trombone and baritone in the district’s music program.

“We didn’t turn down anything,” Mr. Getman said. “We played multiple benefits. As soon as we got into places—O’Brien’s started having us—we just played a lot.”

Wagner’s Agenda plays a broad variety of music — the 60s through the 90s primarily, but also up to today — and typically plays two to three gigs per week, and as many as four to five. The band also plays numerous benefits both large and small in the area, including one held for the Newtown Memorial Fund last winter, one this summer for Watertown resident Todd Gilpin, who passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm in May, and an upcoming one on Jan. 18 for deceased Sackets Harbor firefighter Garrett Loomis.

The band members all agree that their popularity is due in part to their antics and energy that make all shows, including benefits, which Mr. Cappuccetti notes the north country “rocks,” fun.

“That’s the name of the game for us as far as music goes—just get out there and have fun, have a big variety of music to play,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and showoff.” Mr. Cappuccetti in particular is known for wild, sometimes clothes-less, antics on stage.

“A lot of people of all ages see us and feel part of us,” he said.

And Wagner’s Agenda has made a name for itself in the north country. This summer the band was invited to jam at O’Briens with two founding members and brothers of the band Blue Oyster Cult, Joe and Albert Bouchard, who returned to their native Clayton to play at the Clayton Opera House. With the addition of Mr. Willis, the band also hopes to soon expand its performance reach into Central New York and the Southern Tier, Mr. Cappuccetti said.

“You’re going to see a little bit of a different side of Wagner’s Agenda,” Mr. Perkins said of the addition of Mr. Willis, a Watertown native who has been playing in various bands for 19 years. “But I think it’s going to be all positive…people see it as a breath of fresh air.”

Leah Buletti is a staff writer for NNY Magazines. Contact her at 661-2381 or lbuletti@wdt.net.