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Go to Daffodil Fest web site Meriden
Daffodil Festival

April 27-29, 2001
Hubbard Park 
Meriden, CT
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2001 Meriden Daffodil Festival 
Music Review

by G.Gone

It’s been a while since I’ve attended a festival where the music was the showcase. This past weekend I attended such a festival, and while the music did not start out as the central theme, the music coordinator did such an amazing job that one could not overlook the fact that the music had indeed become the festival.

The Meriden Daffodil Festival, held in Meriden, CT has a rich 23-year history and all the “County Fair” trapping to go along with it; A 135 unit parade, Arts & Crafts, Carnival rides, a 5K road race, the Little Miss Daffodil contest, a food tent (with over 100 kinds of food!), clowns, magicians, ice carvers, pony rides, fireworks, and over 599,999 Daffodils in bloom over the gorgeous, lush landscape of historic Hubbard Park. But it was the music that drew me to it this year; the 1st time I’ve ever attended this Festival, an annual event that began when I was a teenager.

Rob DeRosa gets kudos and the highest of praise for his efforts as music coordinator. Through his vision of support for local musicians, who in turn, help to support the Festival, Rob was able to expand this years production to 26 bands on 3 stages over 3 days. If the Daffodil Festival had an identity problem before, it doesn’t have to worry anymore, Rob DeRosa has given the Meriden Daffodil Festival the credibility to bring people back for more. I think in time, local CT music fans and artists alike will come to view the Meriden Daffodil Festival as the “Official” beginning to the summer music scene in CT, and both will make the effort to attend.

As for me, I was able to make 2/3 of this year’s Fest (prior commitments forced me to miss Sundays line up) and while that limited the amount of bands I saw, it still gave me enough time to drink in my share of musical bliss. An overview:

Friday night was a special show to promote alcohol and drug free events for youths. Hosted by the Meriden police chapter of DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) it opened with the band Swyft from Winston-Salem, NC bringing their clean-cut image (all members sport crew cuts and white t-shirts) and Hardcore sounds to the youths who had gathered early. From my vantage point the muddled mix effected my appreciation of the band; who was laying down some solid grooves of bombast sound. Their lead singer used his voice in ways that would torture my vocal chords, carrying the songs with melodic flair he would then break into the much-fashionable death metal scream that would rip ones throat to pieces. While celebrating such causes as women’s rights (an anti-rape song) and alternate ways, other than violence, of dealing with teen angst, Swyft had the ever-growing crowd moshing even though we could’ve used a much cleaner sound.

Following Swyft was New Haven’s Mollycoddle. For those who looked up and snickered “What’s this, a chick band?” well, little did they know that Heather Orser (bass) & Ralna Ramse (Guitar) are not a chick band. These Rock Goddesses pummeled the crowd with a sonic assault of ROCK that had even the most skeptic of teenage boys head banging. Splitting their set between songs off their CD Lucky and newer material, they had me in awe of their ability to command the stage with just the pounding lead of Heather’s bass, and the furious shredding of Ralna’s guitar. Highlighting this fully charged set was the debut of a new song; “Walter’s Pants” which receives 5 stars from this listener.

Ironic moment #1: In-between sets, after Mollycoddle and before Gargantua Soul the sound man was pumping some NRBQ over the system while the stage was being set up. NRBQ was the following (Saturday) nights headliner. I’m not sure if it was a tape or CD, but the song “Wacky Tobaccy” came on. It took a minute or so before it was realized and yanked (remember this was an anti-drug & alcohol event). I believe most of the youth there were too young to be familiar with the song (a NRBQ staple from the 70s) and it literally flew over their heads. As I overheard the soundman trying to explain that he’s so accustom to the song that the meaning had been lost on him, and that he didn’t even realize it, I had to smile.

Gargantua Soul took the stage to a packed crowd of teens (and parents) who totally ate up the amazing sound coming from the New Haven Crew. Kris Keyes in full body paint was in prime vocal form as he carried the music and the message over the top of the body surfing and moshing crowd. Combining most of The First The Last The Tribe CD with several new songs, GSoul delivered a tight musical set that demonstrated Hardcore/Rapcore and Heavy Metal should not be the only tags placed on them. This set was some of the best Hard Rock I’ve heard in ages, eliminating the grating edge of Hardcore that can work against it, and using Marc Amendola and Jason Bozzi’s guitars to produce purer musical sounds then those associated with Heavy Metal GSoul ROCKED with abandon. Feeling the rhythm and feeding off the vibe, both crowd and band came together as one, a Tribe as the band is fond of calling their legion of fans. A Tribe that listened as Kris Keyes, the Shaman of Gargantua Soul, sent out the message of unconditional love, of the fight against evil, of corporate driven negative politics and commercial television (the unreleased “Calling My America” – A real anthem of youth with such a positive message that I wouldn’t be surprised if Corporate Rock-n-Radio would be afraid to play it), of one’s belief in ones self, and ones duty of love and respect not only to ourselves, but to our fellow man. Yes, the GSoul was alive and kicking…

Ironic moment #2: Keyes descended into the pit & gathered the tribe in a circle, as he told how he has been clean for 15 years, I couldn’t help but to notice the smell of pot in the air. The rebellion of youth is alive, and that can be a good thing, if that rebellion is directed in the right way.

It was another mild moment of irony which had a place in this amazing evening of ROCK, punctuated by the positive messages of the Meriden police Dept.’s DARE division and Gargantua Soul; who should be given the chance to deliver their beliefs to every person in not only America, but the World. It was obvious that here is a band on a mission, and they are carrying it in a medium that should reach the greatest number of impressionable youths, it’s a shame that most adults and those Corporate executives who control 90% of the airwaves (both TV & Radio – and if we don’t watch out, to some extent the Internet) can’t see past the Hardcore/Rapcore/Heavy Metal labels and really listen to the band, a band that is trying to create more than just great music, a band that is trying to create a better world.

As Kris emerged from the pit, being body surfed by the Tribe back to his rightful place at centered stage GSoul launched into their most powerful anthem against evil, “Drive”. Listen to it. Let it make you a better person, and then you can help to make a better world.

Walking out of the park under a blanket of stars it felt good to be alive, I couldn’t wait for what the next day’s events had in store.

12:00 Noon Saturday found me (now in accompany of my family) once again in front of the Bandshell stage sitting on the grass of beautiful Hubbard Park. On stage, the first act of the day, New Haven’s legendary band The Mocking Birds. Playing a tight set of Roots Rock-n-Roll the Mox mixed in the 3 songs from their latest EP, Ten Thousand Nights with older original material and a healthy slice of songs from Lead man James Velvet’s solo CD Bones ‘n Clones. What a way to begin a gorgeous day! About the only thing disappointing about this solid set of infectious, melodic, jamming Rock-n-Roll was the sparse crowd of early arrivals that were able to enjoy.

It was now 1:00PM and time to hit the food tent. The longest line was found at the fried dough booth and was well worth the wait, not to mention the vast array of other assorted delicacies. Sitting down we ate and relaxed as The Gonkus Brothers entertained the crowd from the Food Tent stage. Afterwards a leisurely stroll through the many Arts & Crafts booths caused us to loose track of time…

By the time we managed to sit in the bleachers in front of the Welcome Stage, Renowned CT native Mark Mulcahy was half way through his set. No matter, from his original cover of Tommy James & The Shondell’s Crimson & Clover, to his signature “4 Feet Away” (the theme song from Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete – forgive me if I have the wrong title) and his improvising based on various passers-by (one being the parking lady who gave him a hard time), along with a wealth of material from his various CDs, we again were treated to an amazing talent of home grown music.

The kids needed to get on some rides and this worked great (or so I thought) the Carnival rides were set up on the massive lawn outstretching from the Bandshell stage. I could watch them ride and listen to The Manchurians at the same time. Wrong. After 40 minutes in the Ferris Wheel line & another 10 at the Tilt-A-Whirl, and another 10 at the Swings the – what seemed like wonderful – sounds of The Manchurians were lost in the shrieks and freaks of adolescences having the time of their lives without a care for who was on stage. As we finally made our way back over to the stage, the set was over.

Graham Parker was due on next so we found a close spot, set up on the lawn and relaxed until he took the stage. Playing solo, he did 18 songs mixing acoustic and electric guitar, not to mention harmonica for accompaniment – Except for “Cupid” which was done a cappella. Using a mix of old, new, very old (a 26 year old demo he forgot about and had just relearned), very new (he debuted 2 brand new songs), and covers (The Dead, Dylan, Peter Green), he peppered the set with friendly and personal banter that fit the mood of the day perfectly. His voice was in fine shape and sounded just as full and lush as always, giving both old and new songs that distinct Graham Parker air. I decided against waiting in line afterwards as he signed autographs, in favor of another trip to the food tent for another taste of CT before NRBQ took the stage.

Fully fed we once again trekked across the Hubbard Park grounds back to the Bandshell stage, but this time, unlike the Mocking Birds set and to some extent the Graham Parker set, the great lawn was a sea of people. Carving out a small niche to lay our blanket, we settled for just hearing the raucous groovin’ sounds emitted forth by a band that has been a CT staple for over 30 years now. It brought me back to the first time I had seen NRBQ, it was in 1977 at Toads Place in New Haven. And, while I was quite shocked by the amount of gray hair I could see on stage (forcing to admit my age as well), laying on the grass, closing my eyes and listening to the pure sounds rolling over me, I was back at Toads Place all over again and I realized that it didn’t matter how much time had changed the members of the band because time had not changed the music. As I danced with my daughters to “Get Rhythm, RC Cola and A Moon Pie, I Want You Bad” and a host of other NRBQ classics I was as carefree and happy as I was 30 years ago, and I felt just as good to be alive as I did the night before.

Later, standing on one of the hills watching one of the most beautiful fireworks display light the night sky, NRBQ finished up their encore, and my family and I Oo’ed and Ah’ed as we basked in the glow. A glow that not only lit up the night sky, but lit up our souls as well. As we walked to the car, I silently regretted not being able to return on Sunday, to once again allow the joy of music to overtake my soul.

Next year.

My apologies to all the Artists I did not get a chance to see/hear, or mention. And once again, many Thanks to Rob DeRosa for his amazing job in coordinating the music, Hats off to you Rob!

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