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Friday, July 9, 2010

Alive She Cried!

Alive She Cried!
Stamford’s Alive @ Five Fest Hits Another High Note
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Stamford, CT – I knew it was going to be a good night when the first person I encountered onsite gave me a clown nose. She was a promoter for Big Apple Circus, which was coming to Stamford July 9th for a 16-day visit. It was the latest addition to a summer calendar that the Alive @ Five Concert Series in the city’s Columbus Park had helped kick off.

Tonight’s Alive @ Five installment, the third week of seven in the series, featured the talents of The Woulda Coulda Shouldas, Nick Howard and Rusted Root. A solid crowd was anticipated given the sunny afternoon and a momentary break in a weeklong heat wave.

Dedicated fan “Straw Hat Guy”, aka George, had taken his usual weekly place by the very front of the stage and made ready with his tambourine and drumsticks. Beside him, perhaps the most senior groupie here, was Pam Groeschner, 63, a lifelong Stamford resident. The latter was very plugged into the city’s cultural scene and remarked about last night’s Neil Sedaka concert, an upcoming Bowser gig and tonight’s series. “This is a real asset, especially for seniors. Even at $5, you can’t go wrong. What else can you get for $5? You can’t even get a pack of cigarettes!”

Last-minute sound and equipment checks were being made by a tech sporting a “Bad Stagehand, No Donut” shirt, in prep for the first band up, The Woulda Coulda Shouldas. These “three young men trying to make a buck!” as noted on their website, trekked ALL the way from nearby Rowayton for tonight’s concert opener, though they’d have you believe otherwise. “We’re from France,” announced lead singer/guitarist Topher Buckland. His band mates were Alex Swift (vocals and bass) and Phil Osgood (drums).

They jumped right into their set with T&A hopping around like frenetic rabbits and Phil pummeling the skins. The latter drove one shirtless barefoot fan to call out, “Yo, drummer! You’re a nut case!” Then, to Straw Hat Guy, “Where does he get all that energy?” The reply: “He’s a kid.” Shirtless Guy: “Yeah, not like us old guys.”

The group had won its slot through the city’s Battle of the Bands contest and was glad to be here. “Everybody ready for Rusted Root?” called out Topher. The band’s journey started in a basement back in ’05, as they were all preparing to go off to college. They knew they had a special chemistry and have been rocking together ever since.

Like their musical influences The Who, Beatles and Talking Heads, they galloped around the HEINEKEN Stage, with Topher calling out, “How’s everyone doing?” and “I hope you’re drinking out there!” He thanked the gradually growing crowd for their attendance, and “that guy!” pointing to Shirtless Guy who had clearly become a new fan.

The crowd was responding to T’s suggestions as tall green beer cans in their clutches showed. It was also clear the band had a lot of friendlies here – well-tended young mates that had come down to support the trio, called out, and waved to them.

“We’re going to play a song called ‘I Love You’, announced T. “We love you!” a fan shouted. “And we love you,” T pursued, then jokingly added, “We wrote this song especially for tonight.”

“We are The Woulda Coulda Shouldas… and you guys are awesome!” said Topher, launching into their final selection “I’ve Been On My Way.” The song required some real high-pitched vocal extension on T’s part, which he accomplished with ease. What appeared to be his dad, in khaki pants, polo and boat shoes, strolled about taking pics, a proud papa indeed.

Sponsor plugs were inserts during the pause after WCS hopped off, making way for Nick Howard. A transplant from Brighton, England, Howard settled in New York City in 2004 and began booking shows himself and performing around the Big Apple. He met Travis Harris and teamed up on a first recording called “Contradicted”, an independent ’05 release. The bluesy 6-track EP was positively received. He has since been profiled in several leading national magazines and his songs featured in shows like “The Hills”, “Army Wives” and “Scrubs”.

As Howard prepped to go on, the crowd refreshed with slices from nearby Pappas Pizza, coolatas from Dunkin’ Donuts, Buds in brown bags, more of those slender green cans and Poland Spring water. The population, as in past weeks, was mixed, with all ages and creeds represented here.

The restaurants and bars were doing brisk business as well. Tiernan’s beer court was packed, FIN enjoyed a number of outdoor diners and patrons of Bobby V’s were chowing burgers as fast as they came from the kitchen.

Howard launched into “Should Have Known Better”, a happy ditty he belted out with his Brit-speak. “Here’s a groovy little number. I think I’d like to see these lovely ladies over here do a little more dancing,” said Howard, pointing to a quad of finely scrubbed, well-appointed, leggy girls in sundresses and Hamptons-style shorts.

Prowling the area (and ever-present at these shows) was Julia Wyka, 21, and Remi Stein, 19, representing NBC/Universal and promoting shows “Maury”, “Jerry Springer” and “Steve Wilkos”. They were offering free fans, drink cozies and pins that claimed “I Love Maury”. They were also signing people up for free tickets. Their orange t-shirts were distinctive on the Fest grounds.

In town from Darien, Tara Claps, her partner Pete Lehman and Lehman’s son Louis, 3, who was sporting protective headphones, were enjoying the show and had dressed to support Rusted Root. “Rusted Root’s from Pittsburgh where I grew up. I’ve seen them play a few times,” said Claps. “We came down to support the hometown,” added Lehman.

Howard excused his bandmates -- Ryan Vaughn, Oscar Bautista and Nicholas D’Amato – to solo on “Fallin’ For You”, on acoustic guitar. “Everyone loves love don’t they?” he commented with regard to the song. A large fan positioned to the left of the stage kept the performer cool, needed as the sun fell further in the sky and lit up the stage and park.

Starting to gather at the clubs lining the Park, notably 84 Park Lounge, was the late night crowd with a different taste in music – the hip hop/samba set. The area outside the venue looked like Little Miami. Kujaku Japanese Bistro was also attracting an eclectic set of folks, those that had come to fine dine and sip imported beers. Meanwhile, at the “cattle gates” set-up at the main Festival entrance, people continued to steadily stream in, forking over their entry fee to the orange-shirted STAFF.

Howard closed out his set with his trademark “Contradicted”, plowing the way for Rusted Root to plant itself on stage. As a fan had mentioned earlier, RR hailed from PA, formed in 1988. Its current members include lead vocalist/guitarist Michael Glabicki, percussionist/backing vocalist Liz Berlin, bassist/percussionist Patrick Norman, drummer/percussionist Jason Miller, guitarist Colter Harper, percussionist Preach Freedom and guitarist Dirk Miller. An alt rock/bluegrass “jam band”, the Root made its record debut in 1992, on an indie label. Its 1994 major-label follow-up, “When I Wake”, hit the Top 40. Like Nick Howard, their songs have found their way into entertainment properties, like the movies “Twister” and “Home for the Holidays”. Its most commercially popular song is “Send Me On My Way”, which hit #72 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It found its way onto the soundtrack of “Ice Age”.

Before the headliners mounted the stage, the emcees hurled t-shirt bombs, hats and other paraphernalia at the eager and now voluminous crowd, which stretched out its hands and literally clawed their fellow man for the glory of scored merchandise.

From Islip, New York, Tara Fricano, 34, commented, “I’m a Roothead… and I raised a Roothead,” pointing to her son Devin, 15, who was standing with his girlfriend. “I got turned on to the group in my young hippie days. I had their songs playing on my wedding day even!” Her dedication made the 2 ½-hour ride to attend all worthwhile in her opinion. Fricano fanned herself with an NBC fan, adding, “This is a neat town. I’ve never been here before.”

The words barely left her lips when the Root was announced and literally exploded into action. The crowd came alive as a cornucopia of cowbells, drums, guitar plucks and smooth harmonies spilled out over the crowd. People grooved and cheered with approval.

Glabicki, Berlin, and the drummer’s backbeats were driving this train out of the station. When Berlin donned a washboard, the chugging engine became a speeding express through downtown Stamford, making no stops. If you weren’t on board for the ride, you’d be debris on the track!

Producing a piccolo, Berlin became a veritable Pied Piper, leading the gathered mice in song. If that wasn’t enough, she pulled out an exotic-looking cymbal and shook that moneymaker for all it was worth, adding to the tribal vibe.

“Root! Root! Root!” Fricano cried as the audience clapped. Collectively, Berlin beat a bongo and Glabicki crooned the Elvis anthem “Suspicious Minds”. The steel barrier was starting to unbuckle, a fan monkeyed himself up a tree and screams of delight intensified as the Root oozed “Back to the Earth.”

The audience, through drink, heat or sheer passion, had become thoroughly unhinged and close to boiling over. Glabicki pulled puppet strings and eased them down off the ledge where they’d teetered on chaos.

Now Berlin, with her sweet smiling blue eyes, contrasting with her black tee and metal accessories, lured the masses into a corral and beat a percussive path into fan fancies. The crowd was swelling and moving as one.

Changing gears yet again, Glabicki announced, “This goes out to all the little ones,” as the band laid down the much-anticipated “Send Me On My Way”, which he termed “the Ice Age song.” For this number, dreadlocked Preach Freedom came to the front to smack the bongos. And while they sparked the tune, a fan sparked a doob, making the sensory experience complete.

You could say this was the “high”-light of a fine summer evening that witnessed tasty tunes, great vibes and happy smiley faces.