Rain doesn't deter fans at NY State Blues Festival opening

The downtown Syracuse music event featured nearly 20 acts from around the world this past weekend.

Even as the rain started to fall Friday, blues fans continued to dance, drink and sing along to their favorite acts at the New York State Blues Festival.

Now entering its 21st year, the three-day festival featured nearly 20 different acts from across the nation and globe in downtown Syracuse's Clinton Square.

Songwriter and guitarist Anders Osborne, a Swedish native who now calls New Orleans home, and award-winning Canadian act MonkeyJunk led Friday's bill.

Fans from across Central New York and the nation came to support their favorite acts and to hear some new ones, proving the Blues Festival to be an important tradition to music fans.

“It's a good scene,” said Tom Haywood, a Syracuse resident who has been attending the festival since 1994. “I like the whole vibe.”

Haywood's friend, Kristin Hogan, said she appreciated the musical offerings in the city, and both were looking forward to Sunday's performers, Low Rider Band and Carolyn Wonderland.

“There is a really active music scene in Syracuse,” Hogan said.

First-time volunteer Mike Davidson was proud to be part of an event that helps introduce new fans to the blues while fulfilling the desires of older fans already familiar with the genre.

“[The Blues Festival] is a grassroots thing to promote the blues and local musicians,” Davidson said.

That connection with fans likely benefited acts such MonkeyJunk, which festival president Todd Fitzsimmons described as having “the best blues in Canada.” The Ottawa trio recently won Best Blues Album at the Junos, Canada's version of the Grammys, for its swampy rhythm and blues style of funk.

“This is a band that we could get to see on a regular basis,” Fitzsimmons said.

Aside from live music, the festival featured beer and food vendors, souvenirs and local staple Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Also introduced this year was an after-festival pub crawl at the Westcott Theatre and Redfields at the Crowne Plaza.

Among the creative aspects to the festival were Dane Tilghman’s paintings. The artist's favorite blues artists –- B.B. King, Buddy Lee and John Lee Hooker –- often provide inspiration for his musical paintings.

“At this festival, I’m specializing in blues,” said Tilghman, who paints everything from landscapes to portraits of athletes and cultural icons.

His collection at the festival included renderings of famous blues and jazz stars that paved the way for contemporary jazz performers.

As the festival's opening night wound down, equipment and artwork were covered quickly to avoid the rain's soaking, but many fans decided to stay. Chairs and newspapers became improvised umbrellas, and some fans sought safety beneath vendor tents.

Still others simply chose to get drenched so as not to miss the performances by the likes of Osborne and MonkeyJunk.

New York State Blues Festival - 2012

Steve Marriner of Canadian act MonkeyJunk performs Friday at the New York State Blues Festival (Photo by Josh Austin).


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