Preface: I don’t review concerts. I write sports. I’m more concerned with stats and standings than lyrics and albums, but when a free ticket comes my way to see a band like State Radio perform, I don’t pass up. I may write sports, but I’m no idiot. So on Friday evening, I made the trip down to The Haunt, a small bar in downtown Ithaca, to cover my first musical performance.
Don’t let the name or morbid facade scare you; The Haunt is a charming venue and surprisingly good place to view a rock show. With an elevated stage at the back of the bar and an elevated serving section along the opposite wall, there isn’t really a bad view in the house. There is still plenty of room for dancing — or head bobbing for a show like State Radio, rather — but if standing in the back and sipping a beer is your thing, you could do so comfortably, as well. Having only been to The Haunt for sorority crush parties in the past, I was surprised by how drastically dissimilar the bar could appear when serving a far different purpose. In replace of blackout sorority girls and frat brothers was a mixed crowd of students and townies both young and old, a majority of whom were decked out in flannel, as is customary for the largely New England-based following of the Boston-area band. The end effect was a relaxing atmosphere that was appropriate for a State Radio show.
The bar offers a diverse selection of beer in bottles and on tap, so I made Rolling Rock my beer of choice and proceeded to rack up a pretty hefty tab. Side note: the mixed drinks, although somewhat pricey, are generously portioned with alcohol; excellent for getting in the mood for a concert but devastating in between the opening and headlining acts, when drunk munchies start to settle in and the aroma of The Haunt’s fried chicken fingers fill the room. Fortunately, I resisted the temptation.
Preceding the night’s headliner was the Parkington Sisters, an all-female quartet of four sisters from Massachusetts. The sisters incorporated various strings and percussion into an eclectic set that featured a folksy take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and an eerie rendition of Radiohead’s already-eerie “There There.” The haunting yet unique sound of the Parkington Sisters derived memories of the deceptively seductive sirens from the Coen Brothers’ film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and helped set the tone for State Radio’s diverse mix of folk, reggae, punk and alternative jams.
It was no surprise that an all-female band opened for State Radio, which is a vocal participant in women’s rights activism amongst various other political movements. In fact, Friday’s show was primarily intended to raise funds for the “Bringing Change to Women” campaign, a movement to help support women in impoverished nations. The campaign was established by Calling All Crows, a non-profit organization co-founded by State Radio lead guitarist and vocalist, Chad Stokes, which uses hands-on volunteerism, humanitarian aid and issue advocacy to inspire social change throughout the world. State Radio’s involvement with the organization has helped to raise thousands of dollars in support of the less fortunate. In addition to their women’s rights initiative, the band also participated in a public service project in downtown Ithaca in the hours before the show. In recognition of their efforts, a large banner littered with images of black crows hung behind the stage and provided a suitable backdrop for the politically motivated performance.
Yet while the premise of the show may have been to serve the greater good, the concert itself was a musical treat for the select few that were able to attend.
Led by Stokes, of Dispatch fame, the three-member band, featuring Chuck Fay on the bass and Mike Najarian on the drums, performed a 13-song set highlighted by music from each of their four recorded studio albums.
After playing several of their own original works, the band got the audience involved with a funky interpretation of the Wu Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” that had the crowd singing “dollar dollar bill y’all” amongst other, better known and slightly more profane Wu Tang lyrics.
The concert reached a climactic point in the second half of the set when the band performed their hit, “Camilo,” during which Najarian unleashed a powerful drum solo. The increasingly rowdy crowd belted out the lyrics with Stokes and he matched their enthusiasm with several emphatic jumps on stage. In an age when Ke$ha and Britney rule the radio waves, it is refreshing to hear a band whose music holds true meaning. State Radio is not shy about its political intentions, and the band’s songs are representative of their continued activism.
At the set’s completion, the crowd immediately began calling for an encore, of which the band didn’t hesitate long to provide. The four-song encore began with Stokes performing “Keepsake” alone on stage. After a minute or two performing solo, Stokes was joined by Fay and Najarian. The next two songs involved a seamless transition between the band’s own Gunship Politico and the Cranberries’ equally politically-inspired 90’s hit, “Zombie.” The band then wrapped things up with a resounding version of “State Inspector.”
After the concert’s completion, Stokes made his way onto the floor where he posed for pictures and signed autographs for fans. I was able to briefly speak with him about his experience in Ithaca, of which he only had good things to say. I followed up by asking why he chose to perform at The Haunt, pointing out that the band could have easily sold out one of Ithaca’s more traditional performing venues such as the State Theater in the Commons.
“Maybe next time,” Stokes said with a laugh. Here’s to hoping he stays true to those words.
Original Author: Dan Froats