Meriden Daffodil Festival
April 30 and May 1, Hubbard Park, 199 Notch Road, Meriden, (203) 630-4259, daffodilfest.com
There's nothing else quite like it: a weekend-long, all-local music festival, featuring the best and most popular rock musicians in Connecticut. But if you're feeling a little intimidated by the Meriden Daffodil Festival's barrage of 32 unfamiliar bands, then let us be your Jiminy Cricket. Our recommendations will help you figure out how to best organize your weekend in Meriden. (Well, unless you get drawn away by the food, or the parade, or the crafts fair, or the beauty pageant, or the carnival rides.)
Whether they're winning our annual Grand Band Slam, earning accolades from Disney, or riding YouTube videos to fame, this year's Daffodil lineup has a wide and wild range of credentials under its belt. We couldn't cram all the bands into this article, but we sure tried. We've chosen 20 of our favorite Daffodil groups, and they represent the broad range of rock styles you can see over the weekend.
The man behind all this music, Rob DeRosa, is known for being a local rock zealot. In addition to arranging the festival's monstrous lineup, he broadcasts a weekly radio show, “Homegrown,” every Thursday just after 5 on WESU 88.1 FM. He also runs his own label, Thin Man Music, and has released over 20 recordings by local acts, many of whom will perform at the festival. Still, few bands are allowed to play more than one year in a row. DeRosa says he rotates the festival's lineup to “keep things from getting stale.” If you discover tunes you like this weekend, you'll want to tune into DeRosa's show on wesufm.org. You can also preview and order Thin Man releases at independisc.com.
1.CARAVAN OF THIEVES
Style: Gypsy swing
Recommended if you like: the Decemberists, Gogol Bordello, Tim Burton, mischief
Caravan of Thieves have quickly carved out a niche for themselves by combining lighthearted humor with energetic performances and morbid, over-the-top lyrics. They're headlining Saturday's Food Tent Stage with a special pre-fireworks dinner show from 6:30 to 7:30. Singer and guitarist Fuzz laughs that their involvement may cause dinner to end up like “that scene in Beetlejuice where everybody's plate reaches out at them.” But their theatrical stage show is a spectacle fit to finish the day. The Caravan is “working on a new record to be released this summer,” according to Fuzz. The record, Funhouse, was fan-funded through Kickstarter. “We just surpassed our goal last Friday,” says Carrie, who fronts the band with Fuzz.
Style: indie folk
Recommended if you like: Coldplay, Radiohead, Beth Orton
There's a big buzz surrounding Heirlooms right now, due in no small part to their excellent debut E.P. It was named one of the state's best 2010 CDs by Hartford Courant rock critic Eric Danton. The quintet formed around songwriter Jesse Stanford, whose handful of unfinished songs developed as friends lent their talents. Heirlooms is currently in the studio recording their first full length. The band performs Sunday on the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage. You can catch them from 2:45 to 3:30. Read an interview with Heirlooms here.
3.THE IVORY BILLS
Style: actual rock music
Recommended if you like: the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Chuck Prophet
If there's one man who can rival festival music organizer Rob DeRosa for sheer local music nerdery, it's James Velvet. Not only has he been playing in local bands for decades, but he also broadcasts the “Local Band Show” on 99.1 WPLR every Sunday at 10 p.m. Velvet's power trio, the Ivory Bills, plays old-school rock 'n' roll of the sort that once made young girls wail and gnash their teeth. Their Daffodil gig will also be the release show for their new CD, In Color. In addition to Bills material, Velvet says the trio is going to throw in some tunes by one of his former bands, the Mocking Birds, who were a big presence in the New Haven scene throughout the '90s. “One of 'em we'll be doing is called ‘Dark Wind,' which is a socially conscious tune. We just decided that it's time to play it again, based on the fact that everything is a mess still in Washington and overseas.” You can catch the Ivory Bills on the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage Saturday from 1:30 to 2:15.
Recommended if you like: Devendra Banhart, Gillian Welch, bluegrass,
This trio of Yale undergrads has become an overnight success by playing both local venues and nearby colleges. While they're an all-acoustic string band (guitar and violas), the real punch lies in their excellent vocal work, which is full of elaborate harmonies. Sonically, they mix elements of the freak-folk movement with rootsy, Appalachian influences. You can catch Plume Giant on Sunday, when they play the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage from 1:30 to 2:15. Click here for more on Plume Giant.
Style: indie pop
Recommended if you like: Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows, pop that doesn't talk to you like you're an idiot
These fellas are pretty irresistible: a combination of talent on their instruments, charm on stage, and excellent songwriting. Columbia Fields' keys and vocal harmonies lend some extra depth to the pop rock formula. They're consistent winners in our Grand Band Slam — last year they took Best Indie. And recently Columbia Fields has been collaborating with members of local jam supergroup Rane. You can catch them on the Bandshell Stage Saturday from 4:30 to 5:15. Read an interview with Columbia Fields here.
6.ERAN TROY DANNER
Style: blues rock
Recommended if you like: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter
Eran Troy Danner has been playing for a while, but his recent win at the highly competitive CT Blues Society's 2010 Challenge has propelled him to a new level. He plays hard-hitting blues and his voice ranges from a low rumble to a sweet croon. You can see Danner and crew on the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage — they play Saturday from 2:45 to 3:30.
7.THE FRANK CRITELLI BAND
Style: coffeehouse singer/songwriter
Recommended if you like: the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash
Meriden's hometown troubadour Frank Critelli is nigh-omnipresent. He's been gigging and recording for years, both as a solo acoustic performer and with his rock band. His songs are heartfelt, silly, and, above all, accessible. He's also the host of Songs from the Sofa, a long-running open mic in Hamden. He brings his full band to this year's Daffodil Fest, where he'll play the Bandshell Stage on Saturday from 2 to 2:45.
8.ECHO & DRAKE
Style: indie rock
Recommended if you like: Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Keane, early Radiohead
Echo & Drake made a big splash last summer when they swept our Grand Band Slam awards. The quartet took Best Band, Best New Band, Best Rock, Best Singer/Songwriter, and Best Instrumentalist. Since then, they've been working on their first full-length album. Recording “started in Telefunken Studios in South Windsor,” according to frontman and songwriter Jon Ericson, “and soon we're going off to Montreal to finish it. It should be out in September or October.” He laughs — apparently recording took much longer than anyone in the band anticipated. “We've had a million release dates.” The Daffodil Fest is Echo & Drake's first major outdoor gig. “Everybody's really excited about it — it's a big deal for us,” says Ericson. “Anytime you get invited to play a well-established event, it makes you feel really good about what you're doing.” See Echo & Drake Saturday on the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage, 6:30-7:15.
Style: jangly '50s pop
Recommended if you like: They Might Be Giants
The title of their 1980 vinyl record pretty much sums it up: Electric Guitar and Drums. And the date of that record should put the lie to any White Stripes comparisons. New Haven duo Derek Holcomb and Tom Dans have been together for decades, playing old-timey rock too stripped-down to be called minimalist. You can catch the Furors on the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage, Saturday, from 12:15 to 1.
Style: Chicago R&B
Recommended if you like: the MC5, Bo Diddley, the Pretenders, Warren Zevon
They'll get your rear moving with a little bit of an edge, too. The Manchurians were named “Best Band” in Connecticut Magazine's 2010 Best Of issue. Their hard-edged R&B is rooted in Roger C. Reale's throaty vocals, while Bob Orsi (who also fronts the D. Smith Blues Band) attacks with his harmonica. See the Manchurians on Saturday, when they play the Bandshell Stage from 3:15 to 4:00.
Style: jam band
Recommended if you like: Phish, Weather Report, the Meters
The initial splash of press focused on their age — the McLovins were still in high school back in 2008, when their video cover of Phish's “You Enjoy Myself” went viral. But the precocious trio's selection of material and their staying power on the local scene prove they're no kiddie band. Rained out of last year's Daffodil appearance, the McLovins are back this time to headline the Sunday Bandshell Stage lineup from 3:30 to 4:45.
12.THE MICHAEL CLEARY BAND
Style: good old rock
Recommended if you like: J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi
The MCB is some straight-up rock, influenced by the classics but with a contemporary sound and feel. In our 2009 Band Slam, they were voted Best Jam Band; before that, they've taken home Best Rock and Best Blues. The truth is that the sextet dabbles in a little of each genre, putting on a show that covers a vast amount of ground. You can see the MCB on Sunday when they play the Bandshell Stage from 1 to 1:45.
Recommended if you like: the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Jam, the Kinks
New London's Reducers formed in 1978, so when we say they're punk, we don't mean Blink 182 or Green Day. Hell, these guys even pre-date Bad Religion. Their sound is firmly rooted in the East Coast and British punk traditions, fast and aggressive but not as pissed off or abrasive as their West Coast contemporaries. Actually, a lot of their songs and themes are pretty upbeat. If you want to catch a whiff of local punk-rock royalty, see the Reducers on the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage, Saturday, from 5:15 to 6.
14.RIVER CITY SLIM & THE ZYDECO HOGS
Style: I can't believe you're asking me this
Recommended if you like: Do we have to explain everything to you?
The Hogs are a Daffodil Fest institution. “I don't think we've played every single one,” says frontman River City Slim, “but damn close.” And there's good reason. Even if there were anyone else like them in the region (there isn't), it would be hard to match the Hogs' prowess or energy on stage. The band loves making new fans at the festival. “We're not the kind of band that can go into any old club,” explains Slim. Local venues don't know how to handle or promote zydeco, and the large size of the band makes working with smaller venues difficult. But summertime means festivals, and the Hogs are all over 'em. They'll be playing several free outdoor events, including gigs at Hartford's Elizabeth Park, Willimantic's 3rd Thursday Festival, and Okemo's Friday-night free concert series. And of course, you can catch them on Saturday in the Food Tent, where they'll be rocking from 3:30 to 4:30.
15.THE CHURCH STREET REVUE
Recommended if you like: bluegrass. What, you expected something else?
Because of his connection with Wesleyan, Rob DeRosa has an insider's view of the Middletown university's latest musical developments. (He still pats himself on the back for giving MGMT their first gig.) This year's Wesleyan-related act is the Church Street Revue, a no-frills bluegrass quintet. The band uses mandolin, banjo, guitar, violin and stand-up bass to play everything from toe tappers to laments and back again. You can catch the Church Street Revue Saturday on the Food Tent Stage from 2 to 3.
Recommended if you like: Paramore, Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber
Teen sensations Kicking Daisies just brought home a massive accolade — they won Disney's Next Big Thing competition, earning them airtime on Disney Radio and a bunch of high-profile gigs. The quartet has worked hard to polish every aspect of their performance, from their energetic stage show to their catchy tunes. And unlike most toothless teen bands, Kicking Daisies' music actually has a little bite to it. You can see them perform on the Bandshell Stage Saturday from 5:45 to 6:30.
Recommended if you like: Ryan Adams, Big Al Anderson, Neil Young, Nashville
This winter was a quiet one for the Shinolas. Illness and accidents conspired to keep them away from their Monday night residency at Tapas in Hartford. But the 2009 Band Slam Best Country winners are making their comeback in front of one of their biggest crowds ever. It's well-earned exposure, since the band comprises world-class musicians playing rootsy covers on a variety of instruments. You can catch the Shinolas on Sunday, when they play the Food Tent Stage from 2:30 to 3:30.
Style: psychedelic space rock
Recommended if you like: Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, lasers
"We're trying to explore that marriage between soul music and the psychedelic, post-Beat generation,” says Stepkids guitarist/vocalist Jeff Gitelman. And the trio's exploration is visual as well as sonic: they dress all in white, and use an elaborate laser show to turn the entire performance into a transcendent trip. The group just got back from a successful stint at SXSW. “We played some great shows, but it was just really overwhelming. Just too many people and too many bands for my liking,” says Gitelman. And unlike the horde of indie bands jockeying to break out, the Stepkids don't believe you have to disavow Connecticut as part of the path to success. “Dave [Longstreth] from Dirty Projectors — you will never hear him claim [a Connecticut connection].” The Stepkids are happy to play to a hometown crowd. Their first single, “Shadows on Behalf,” just came out on boutique label Stones Throw, and features psychedelic vinyl packaging. Their full-length drops in September. You can see the Stepkids on Saturday from 7:45 to 8:45, when their set on the Welcome Stage will mesh with the festival's evening fireworks.
19.THE STRATFORD SURVIVORS
Style: punk/power pop
Recommended if you like: the Stooges, the Clash
Many of Connecticut's early punk bands — and there were a ton of them — are reforming and coming out of the woodwork for a second go. And here's the crazy thing: the quality of these bands is insane. The Stratford Survivors play music that's a little too driving to safely be called pop, but isn't self-destructive or political in the way that that the punk label suggests. They play the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage on Saturday from 4 to 4:45, which is right before the Reducers' set — making for a solid one-two punch of Connecticut punk heritage.
Style: nerve rock
Recommended if you like: R.E.M., Sonic Youth, 10,000 Maniacs, Pixies
They'll burn a hole in your brain, these two. Husband-and-wife team Peter and Julie Riccio put a twist on the typical guitar-and-drums duo. Peter plays strange guitars and ukuleles through strange amps; one or both often look like toys. And Julie plays a stand-up drumkit with no kick — the whole thing fits into a suitcase. They make angular indie pop full of incisive observations about relationships. They're weird, but so was your first sip of coffee. Check them out on the Jeff Crooms Welcome Stage, where they play Sunday from 12:15 to 1.
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