Very few can say that they have heard musical water gurgling, a slowed down, more musical version of Grease Lightning, and an aerial dance on the side of a skyscraper, let alone all in the course of a few days. But if you made your way to the Rochester Fringe Festival, you know what I’m talking about. This was the first year Rochester hosted the Fringe Fest, a multi-day celebration of the arts that has become popular all over the world and man, the three years of planning seriously paid off.
Though not a whole heck of a lot was happening on this first day of the festival, I made sure to stop by a handful of shows, and I guess I stepped off on the right foot. Heading straight towards Project Bandaloop– an insanely mind-blowing experience. I’m usually not one for dance, but when it’s performed on the side of a bloody skyscraper, there is nothing cooler! Performing pieces from their show Bound(less), featuring original music from the classical-funk electro-fusion cellist Dana Leong (whose tracks are phenomenal; reminiscent of a Bollywood film soundtrack with more groove,) both are definite show-stoppers. Run, don’t walk, if you see either of them performing anywhere.
Afterwards, I ventured over to the Geva Theater Center Nextstage, greeted by the incredibly welcoming, but slightly confused, workers at the theater who sent me in a little shuffle between house entrance to box office. But, it was the first night, and things can get hectic, so I understand.
The Event, a non-musical, introspective, one-man comedy about the bizarre world of theater and performance, is no stranger to the Fringe Fest circuit, the performance handled by Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe Best Actor Winner, David Calvitto.
Next, my sides were split by the raunchy musical with “French overtones”- The Bicycle Men. With a cast of Second City Chicago (You know- the school/theater troupe that nearly every really successful comedian hails from), the show really knocked my socks off. Although musically simplistic (piano and voice,) it proved to be hilarious, finding its home somewhere between vaudeville catastrophe and satirical comedy.
As the sun disappeared, I indulged in the weirdness of Rochester local Seth Faergolzia and the 23 Psaegz (pronounced say-jezz) at Bernunzio Uptown Music, a small store for all of your string instrument needs. Bernunzio’s was packed with the 23 Psaegz! Band members, a rag-tag group of hat-capped sousaphone players, cymbal monkeys, or just whistlers, were pushed into a section of the store, definitely outnumbering the audience by an intimidating amount.
The freak-folk group is definitely unique, and currently working on a rock opera themed around the ideas of consciousness, built upon dreams (or whatever.) I’m sure I won’t understand it, much like the rest of their music, but if anyone finds that the Psaegz are coming to town and wants to join in on the fun, just contact them!
Saturday, September 22nd
Rushing into Writers and Books, a quaint little non-profit bookstore with a penchant for education outreach and performance, I arrived just in time to catch Americana group from Rochester, The Silver Threads. Despite my prickly, metal-lovin’ exterior, I’m a diehard folkie, and these two truly warmed my heart with their beautifully candid lyrics and raw talent. When someone picks up a mandolin and plays a song that they have never seen before, you can’t help but be impressed.
And across the street lay a true hidden gem of Rochester- the Memorial Art Gallery. I know you’re thinking, “What the heck do art and music have to do with one another?” Tell you what: Inside the MAG, amongst an immaculate collection world class art and some of the nicest museum faculty I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, sits a gorgeous Baroque organ. On permanent loan from the Eastman School of Music, the organ stands forebodingly high, with beautiful ornamental design. Having the pleasure to hear it, one begins to have a true understanding of music. It serves as not only a work of art or architecture, but as a piece of musical history. Free organ concerts are held every Sunday at 1pm and 3pm, and I highly encourage everyone to experience it. The M.A.G. is not only beautiful to the eyes, but the ears and mind.
Next, I made my journey up to the central hub of Fringe, Gibbs Street, which was lined with a Mainstage hosting and rotating cast of preview acts for all of the performances at the festival. Everything from drag, to acoustic sets, to presidential musicals. I squeezed my way into Java’s to catch Dear Dexter for some acoustic action, which turned out to be a guitar-playing dude in the corner of one of the most packed coffeehouses I’ve ever stepped foot into. Dear Dexter proved to be a great act, although I wish he did fewer covers; DD’s originals were heartfelt and, when paired their very recognizable, course voice, totally rock.
I grabbed a bite to eat and I found myself sitting in one of the most comfortable cushioned pews I’ve ever had to pleasure to sit on at The Space, a small affordable space for musicians and performers alike. Chris Wilson, graced with the falsetto of an angel, is perfect for your James Taylor and Michael Buble play list, although I am not totally sure about his revamped covers of “Stray Cat Strut” and “Grease Lightning.” Hmmm.
Overall, Rochester Fringe Festival, a first for both the city and I, was an absolute riot of sensory overload! There are tons of exciting acts that will delight, entertain, and provoke Fringe-goers, and I cannot wait for next year’s!