September 3, 2009

Fall's Biggest Jam Fest: The Positive Jam

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Some of you may remember my column last Friday when I waxed eloquent about the myriad of musical big-wigs who are en route to our humble town. You may also recall that included in that extra-ordinary line-up were two bands known respectively as The Hold Steady and Deer Tick, and that I gave a shout out to man-of-the-hour Dan Smalls, founder of Dan Smalls Presents, Inc. Well, this weekend, Dan Small Presents … the Positive Jam. Drawing a blank? Please, allow me to explain.
This Saturday, Ithaca Beer Co. will put on its third annual Brew Fest in Stewart Park, complete with live music, over 40 craft beers to taste and Wegman’s catering (specifically attuned to each beer you sample, of course). The event is 21-and-over, however, so don’t even try freshman, or you may join a good friend on the “crappy fake ID” display in Collegetown Wine and Spirits.
BUT, good news frosh, fellow almost-21-year-old seniors! This year, Ithaca Beer Co.’s Dan Mitchell has teamed up with music guru Dan Smalls to add a second day to the festival. So, on Day Two, also known as Sunday, Stewart Park will be open to all ages and there will be some more-than-rockin’ tuneage for your listening pleasure. The idea behind these two events is to revitalize Stewart Park, and as Dan Smalls enthusiastically explained, “show that Stewart Park is a viable venue.” Smalls explained that he and Mitchell had talked about doing something like this for a long time, and that after the sold-out Hold Steady show at Castaways this summer, everything just sort of fell into place. So what’s a little creative ingenuity between Dans? Oh yeah, an awesome festival!
The Hold Steady, an indie classic rock band (is that a genre?), is not only the Jam’s headliner, but also something of a driving force behind its inception. Smalls, who brought the Hold Steady to Ithaca this summer, felt like the college students had been a bit “shortchanged” by the missed opportunity to see the energetic quintet perform live. In a town where bringing the students together with the local talent (which Smalls described as “connecting the dots”) has mega-kryptonic potential, Smalls feels that venues and events that appeal to both groups might be more than even Clark Kent can handle.
The name, Positive Jam, actually comes from a Hold Steady song title, as well as a shared attitude of positivity. The Hold Steady, Smalls says, is a band that’s all about connecting with the audience. The name has meaning for the band, but can appeal to our flower-power culture as well. Birkenstocks forever! The Hold Steady will play at 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, and I highly suggest that you be there. The music is classic rock with a little indie folk thrown in, in the form of harmonica, accordion and a penchant for storyline lyrics. The Brooklyn-based quintet got their start in 2004, and have since released four rockin’ albums, the most recent of which, Stay Positive, encourages listeners, fans, Ithacans, Cornellians to … stay positive. The band occasionally toes the line between classic and Christian rock, faith being a big part of their lyrics, but their music is for everyone, as their upbeat sing-with-me-won’t-you choruses attest to. If you are familiar with “Sequestered in Memphis,” you know what I mean — the song was definitely not my favorite off the album, but the more I listened to it the more I realized that a song which makes you unable to resist singing the word “subpoenaed” is just pretty much f-ing awesome.
Festival “doors” open at noon, and the music goes all day, baby. The opening band will be local Ithaca College boys Caution Children, another indie rock group, who put on one hell of a rousing live show. Performances will continue throughout the day, with The Rural Alberta Advantage at 1:30, Deer Tick at 2:45 and The Felice Brothers at 4:00. The Rural Alberta Advantage is an Arcade-Fire-esque trio that quite literally hails from rural Alberta — a fun fact that comes out in the band’s lyrics. Features an awe-inspiring drummer, and male-female vocal duets that I have never been able to resist. The Felice Brothers are, no not brothers, but actually a five-piece folk rock band that just wants to get lost in the music and the majesty of small-town New York. Hey! I think we can fit that bill!
Deer Tick is folk-grunge with a highly distinctive vocal lead. The group formed in Providence, Rhode Island in 2007 from singer John McCauley’s solo act. They have released two albums in that time: War Elephant in 2007 and, this summer, Born on Flag Day. The album fit into the somewhat unusual category of country-boy lyricist stuck in classic/indie rocker’s body — you can imagine Keith Urban singing the words, but you can’t quite imagine it like Deer Tick does it. The sound is mournful in a searching-for-something-better kind of way that makes you want to raise your beer and commiserate. Guitar solos and the occasional vocal harmony show off Deer Tick at their best, and the refrains meld the country to the indie to the rock flawlessly. Think rocking drums, alternative indie guitar, melancholy vocals. And, we promise, they won’t give you Lyme disease.
Okey dokey, Cornellians. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to gather all your acquaintances from the Cornell bubble and trek it on down to Stewart Park for some absolutely fantastic music. It is recommended that you plan a reconnoitering trip for Saturday afternoon at the same venue (… there may be beer). Seriously, though, guys: The Dans have a mission, and they want you to be a part of it. As Dan Smalls put it: “The whole experience is humbling. This has never been about me, despite what the company name is. It’s about having a great music scene in the town that I live in.” And really, with five such supercalifragilistic acts on the bill, how can you resist? So, go go go — Drink locally, jam positively!