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7th Music Is Art Festival offers unparalleled sonic stimulation

"If there's anything you haven't tried, today's the day to try it," Robby Takac exclaimed Saturday afternoon on the front steps of the Albright-Knox -- referring, of course, to art forms. The statement encapsulates the appeal of the Music Is Art Festival, a yearly smorgasbord of locally produced creativity that practically forces people to open their minds.

Saturday marked the seventh edition of the festival, and it was a testament to the success of Takac's not-for-profit brainchild. The Goo Goo Dolls bassist founded Music Is Art in 2004 with the goal of stressing the importance of music in our community, building awareness in local schools and shining a spotlight on deserving local musicians, leaving no genre unturned.

Music Is Art has not only done that, it's also given us the most sonically stimulating local event of the year -- if you've ever used the Buffalo music scene as the butt of a joke, this year's festival would make you lower your head in shame. We're talking 12 straight hours of live performances, bouncing across three stages, organized by people who don't give a rat's patoot about pleasing demographics.

And our pool of local talent was more than large enough to fill every second. Son of the Sun delivered a set of shimmering melodies that did justice to its name. The opening song, "How Can It Be," is so rich, dramatic and true, it could be a Roy Orbison ballad.

Family FUNKtion & the Sitar Jams immediately followed, a trio of brothers (sitar player, drummer and bassist) that mixes raga, funk and jazz to create some uniquely intoxicating grooves. This Medeski, Martin & Shankar style simultaneously spans continents and moves rears; the group's entertaining genre mash-ups are a microcosm of the festival itself.

Things just got more eclectic from here -- at one point, the hip-hop duo Crooked Letta was on the main stage, singing and spitting rhymes about poverty's stranglehold on the lower class, while a children's Irish dance troupe waited in the wings.

The precocious singer/songwriter Erin Sydney Welsh shared her brand of Tracy Chapman-ish folk, which featured some impressive lyrical twists for a 13-year-old. She was followed by Soul Bodega, whose utterly infectious, Spanish-language hip-hop jams were the highlight of the day for me. The trio's energy was palpable, their joy plain on their faces, and their verses generous portions of syncopated bliss.

Local legend Dave Schulz gave a midday performance, backed by his crack L.A. backing band. The former Goo Goo Dolls keyboardist and leader of Buffalo funk stalwarts C.O. Jones shared material from his debut album, "Connect," braving some technical difficulties and busting out a handful of big, soulful pop songs that aren't so far removed from his most famous affiliation.

If Music Is Art was purely a live music experience, it would be impressive enough. But on top of all the beats, chords and harmonies, practically anything else that could be called art was represented.

A walk from one end of the event to the other could have included glimpses of the following -- metal sculptors, groups of hula hoopers, painters, photographers, Darth Vader, ballroom dancers, film screenings, a marching band, live DJs, Clifford the Big Red Dog, potters, a Rock Band video game setup, graffiti artists, a food court and beer garden.

Lord Vader was there as a part of The North Ridge, a Star Wars re-enactment group that performed at different points throughout the day.


Concert Review

Music Is Art Festival

An all-day festival featuring music, dance and other entertainment, Saturday outside Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

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