Northern Current returns Sunday
SARANAC LAKE — The Northern Current music festival is coming back to Riverside Park on Sunday, this time with six bands all fronted by women at the mics.
TEKE::TEKE, The Big Takeover, Ghost Funk Orchestra, Rose & The Bros, The Outcrops and Crackin’ Foxy are playing a free show where the audience will be encouraged to dance, bop, vibe, groove and go all out to a variety of genres.
“We try to bring out some levels of diversity, mostly culturally. Bringing in different languages, different styles of music,” Eric Munley, one of the festival organizers who booked the bands, said. “But live music can also be a men’s club in a lot of situations.”
He said a friend of his called out a music festival a number of years ago for not having a single female-fronted band in its lineup. So, in booking for Northern Current this year, organizers thought they should try to create a fully-female-fronted lineup, and it worked.
“When I draft the lineup I start off with a ‘dream board’ in a sense, and I feel like this lineup is just filled with that dream board,” Munley said.
It’s been four years since the Hobofest music festival ended after organizers Peter Seward and Todd Smith retired from their positions.
Munley said Northern Current was created to keep the spirit of Hobofest alive. At this point, he feels the spiritual successor has gotten its legs and has a healthy funding stream from local businesses and organizations that allows them to keep the event free.
“Removing the need to make a profit from the ‘adventure’ is an amazing thing,” he said.
Munley watched a set TEKE::TEKE performed for Seattle, Washington-based radio station KEPX online, and he was hooked.
“Within a song I was like, ‘This is going to be a perfect band for Northern Current,'” Munley said.
He said TEKE::TEKE’s sound will “blow people’s minds.”
The Montreal-based Japanese psych-rock group weaves frenetic surf rock leads with dissonant tones, blaring horns with pulsing drums, and ambient moments with powerful vocals.
“This is the result of having seven people in one band,” Guitarist Serge Nakauchi Pelletier said.
Nakauchi Pelletier plays precise, clean riffs and rhythm guitarist Hidetaka Yoneyama is really into experimental sounds, Nakauchi Pelletier said — playing his guitar with pliers or electric shavers to create whooshing, harsh noise.
“He is the chaos provider,” Nakauchi Pelletier said.
The group started an all-instrumental Takeshi Terauchi tribute band in 2017. Nakauchi Pelletier said he started playing Terauchi’s music — a mix of surf, psych and garage rock from the 1960s played with traditional Japanese melodies and instruments — as a challenge.
“The way (Takeshi Terauchi) plays the guitar … it’s almost like he’s playing Japanese string instruments. It’s really percussive,” Nakauchi Pelletier said.
Initially, this was supposed to be a one-off show. Still, Nakauchi Pelletier practiced a lot, and developed tendonitis in his right arm in the process. Terauchi was known for his aggressive playing on the tremolo bar (also known as a vibrato or whammy bar).
Playing Terauchi’s music with a modern, heavier style got the band excited.
“We thought we were onto something,” Nakauchi Pelletier said.
They wanted to write more in that vein.
Maya Kuroki was in the audience at that first TEKE::TEKE concert, came in as a lead vocalist for their second show and has fronted the band ever since. They all knew each other well. Montreal has a small Japanese community, Nakauchi Pelletier said, and they had all met at potlucks and gatherings before.
Kuroki is also a visual artist and performer with a theater background. Her vocals drip with tension and emotion in a way Nakauchi Pelletier calls “cinematic.”
“The way she writes the lyrics to the songs, it’s almost like she becomes a different character for each song,” Nakauchi Pelletier said.
Northern Current will be TEKE::TEKE’s first show in New York. They take the stage from 6:35 p.m. to 7:50 p.m.
Ghost Funk Orchestra
Though Ghost Funk Orchestra is an enormous 10-piece band now, it started as a solo recording project for Seth Applebaum, writing and composing music in his basement. He brought in more musicians to play the densely layered songs, and now, he said, “it’s like a traveling family band.”
They create a “big sound” and Applebaum said the three women at the mics bring a lot of energy.
“They’re always getting in the crowd’s face,” Applebaum said.
Applebaum said there’s nothing wrong with playing in a 4/4 rhythm, but he tends to write in the weirder side of rhythm.
“It’s fun to me to try to make something that feels danceable that might be in a really awkward time signature,” Applebaum said.
Their song “Seven Eight” is written in that time signature, a driving, bouncing and disorienting meter.
“Folks in the U.S. don’t have any real cultural connection to that time signature,” Applebaum said.
He enjoys challenging audiences and seeing their reactions. You don’t have to be a music theory expert to enjoy it. Anyone can tell something strange is happening, he said.
Applebaum said he doesn’t set out to write in an odd time signature. He hums to himself without thinking about the time and writes around that. And the band is ready to follow.
“They’re up for the challenge and capable of pulling it off gracefully,” he said. “It takes a special kind to really own it when you’re playing in those weird times that are hurky-jerky.”
Live shows are different than their recordings, featuring additional instruments and original parts.
Munley said he’s been trying to pin down Ghost Funk Orchestra for a long time.
“I fell head over heels for them when listening to their 2020 album ‘An Ode To Escapism,'” Northern Current co-organizer Kiki Sarko wrote in an email.
Ghost Funk Orchestra performs from 4:40 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.
The Big Takeover
The Big Takeover are best known in Saranac Lake for their wild Winter Carnival shows at the Waterhole.
“Saranac Lake knows how to party,” guitarist Guthrie Lord said. “We’re excited.”
Jamaican-born singer and songwriter NeeNee Rushie leads with explosive energy.
Rushie met bassist Rob Kissner and the band’s original drummer Sam Tritto at SUNY New Paltz and they bonded over a shared love of the rocksteady, ska and reggae records from Rushie’s home country.
“Not just Bob Marley and the pop stuff,” Lord said. “We’re old-school. NeeNee likes music from the ’60s and ’70s. … I think we’ll look back on that era … as one of the most prolific periods for music.”
Lord said audiences can expect one thing from The Big Takeover — “to dance.”
“We love to make people dance. They can expect to see NeeNee give the performance of a lifetime every time she hits the stage. She’s the most consistent and amazing member of the band. We just love making her look good.”
Show your dance moves, they want to see them.
On stage, Lord said, “I’m having the time of my life. I get to dance to the rhythms, too. I think I might dance a little too much sometimes.”
The band’s been together for 15 years and been playing the Waterhole for a decade. In that time, Lord said, the original members have played over 1,000 shows.
The Big Takeover will close out the night with a high-energy set starting at 8:20 p.m.
Rose & The Bros
Rose & The Bros is a six-piece ensemble hailing from Ithaca, but their sound is rooted in Louisiana.
Munley said he’s been trying to book them since year one of the festival.
Newton played a square dance in Saranac Lake 15 years ago but hasn’t been back since. But members of her band are familiar with the area. Bass player Angelo Peters had played here with Big Mean Sound Machine before.
“He spoke highly of it and thought it would be a really fun thing to do,” Newton said.
Paul Martin writes their songs, including love songs for Newton, whom he’s married to. Newton said it is great playing with her husband, and all of the band members love each other a lot.
She and Martin started the band with Steve Selin on fiddle, forming their sound out of a shared love of dancing to Cajun and Zydeco music. Then, they found “the best rhythm section around” and added country and reggae influences, too.
In writing songs, Newton said their goal is always to be genuine.
“We always want to be as genuine to the music as possible. Being from up north, we have a love for music from Louisiana,” she said. “Obviously, we’re not from there, so we kind of wanted to make it our own.”
With Sally Freund on the rubboard and triangle, and Newton on the accordion, their sound is unique.
“I actually come from a long line of accordion players,” Newton said.
She said she’s excited to play for an audience again after a long time away from the stage because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The music itself is made to get people to dance and feel good. It’s not a very dark genre,” Newton said. “They can expect to want to dance and feel good afterward about the world.”
Rose & The Bros’ set starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 4 p.m.
The Outcrops have been playing all over the Adirondacks for years. When they formed in 2016 and 2017, their first shows on the road were up here, at 20 Main in AuSable Forks. Mingo Lodge of the band Big Boss Sausage brought them from their shared home in the woods of northern New Jersey to the woods of northern New York.
“It’s like our second home up there,” Cassidy Rain said.
Rain started playing with her partner Bryan Schroeder at open mics and in a garage band style. Schroeder’s uncle had a classic rock band and made them a proposition.
“They said, ‘You’re going to open for us.’ We were like, ‘Uhhh, I don’t know if we’re ready,'” Rain said.
But they jumped in and played a half-hour set every week for months after that.
“Since then we’ve kind of had the bug for playing out,” she said.
It wasn’t until months after they started playing that they actually figured out a name. Rain said it was a natural transition for them jumping into the touring lifestyle.
She and Schroeder had a baby last year, and bring her on the road with them as they travel.
Rain said each band member brings influences from music old and new.
Schroeder said Jerry Garcia is the reason he picked up the guitar.
The Outcrops are scheduled to perform starting at 1:30 p.m.
Sunday’s festival will mark local band Crackin’ Foxy’s 12th birthday. Mark Hofschneider said the band was formed for their first gig at Hobofest 2010. In the years since, he said the band and festival have both evolved.
The ukulele-driven ensemble, playing jumpy jazz, swing, Hawaiian and French music came from Hofschneider’s love of the acts he listened to when he lived in New York City.
“It’s fun, it’s upbeat. It just makes you feel good listening to it,” Hofschneider said.
After he moved up here, he wanted to play that style, but no bands were doing that sort of music.
“I became a little obsessive about it, like many things I do,” he said.
He assembled friends and musicians he played with, immersed them in the “la pompe manouche” style and hit the Hobofest stage years ago. The lineup of the band has changed. Himself and Sarah Curtis are the only originals members left, but in the band’s return after a hiatus, they have three-part-harmonies again.
“We have three singers, which is amazing because we haven’t had that since the first iteration, and we have three really solid singers,” Hofschneider said. “You can always find three singers, but are they going to have that blending? Are they going to compliment each other?”
He said the three singers — Sarah and Jenny Curtis and Redia Spata — play off each other well.
Crackin’ Foxy kick off the festival at noon.
Munley co-owns the Waterhole Music Lounge, so he books the bands. Booking for the festival is different than booking for Party on the Patio, he said. He tries to find new acts and new sounds, especially since he said Northern Current can bring in bands the Waterhole couldn’t afford to get, to introduce them to the area.
“I don’t think there’s a single band in the country that has Saranac Lake on their career goals list,” Munley said. “But once a band comes here and experiences the crowd, they have no trouble coming back.”
The trick is getting them here that first time and starting connections.
As a music promoter, he is trying to build a music scene in the small area of Saranac Lake by pulling from a wider region. He said he feels lucky to be part of building that scene.
Years ago, he was trying to find where his path would lead. He was coming up in the music industry touring with the Paul Smith’s-based Blind Owl Band, but wanted to make his home in Saranac Lake. The path to both of those goals is very narrow, he said.
So when he had the opportunity to buy the Waterhole in 2018, he found a route.
“Northern Current is a daylong community music festival that succeeded Hobofest when its organizers retired,” according to a press release from organizers. “The event is free, family friendly, rain or shine. Local food vendors and activities for kiddos will be available.”