The ninth annual Music Is Art Festival took place on Saturday, in its new home in Delaware Park, following a run of several years at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. As has been the case for many years, the festival celebrated all that is weird and wonderful about our arts scene in Western New York.
This year felt a little bit different, though.
Everything felt like it was running itself, and everyone involved in the festival -- a huge team of folks work under mastermind Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls -- seemed to be way relaxed, confident that everything was going to come off without a hitch.
And it did, or at least that's how it appeared from the outside looking in.
Takac ran about the grounds throughout the day, spending time with fans and well-wishers and generally acting as a one-man publicity team for Music Is Art.
The idea behind the festival -- to celebrate the convergences between art forms and to highlight the depth of the Buffalo-area arts community -- is his, and has been embraced by the people who work with him. It also seems to have been embraced by the bands, dancers and artists who performed Saturday.
It was cold all day, and got colder as the evening approached, but Delaware Park was full. Some five stages populated the grounds around Shakespeare Hill and the Rose Garden, and throughout the day, bands came and went like clockwork, the overarching ethos being a sort of benevolent "get 'em on and get 'em off" attitude that meant all the bands shared a slice of the spotlight.
Early on, Alex Kelly brought her sensual blend of electronic music, dance-pop, and R&B to the Lincoln Parkway stage. While Kelly sang and danced and generally pulled all in attendance into the palm of her hand; break dancers manned the mats in front of the stage, free-forming to the grooves.
Toronto's the Ruby Spirit brought an indie-rock vibe, as did our own Free Henry, a veteran of past MIAs. The Americana stage brought us a killer set from Flatbed, as well as some truly delightful songs from an impromptu super group, featuring area virtuosos Jim Whitford and Cathy Carfagna. The Steam Donkeys, our area's finest alt-country ensemble, kicked up a ruckus. Later -- way past deadline -- the Irving Klaws were scheduled to bring some swanky rockabilly to the the same stage.
Some of the coolest sounds of the day were produced by the DJ stage, located on Hoyt Lake and facing Marcy Casino. Throughout the afternoon and well into the evening, folks manned the decks and pumped out everything from dub to house stylings. By nightfall, a sizable crowd had gathered in front of the dance stage, and a dance party ensued that could rival anything on Chippewa any given night. Nice!
Mostly, though, this was all about the original artists in Buffalo, folks who spend the better portion of their time attempting to craft something meaningful and lasting, often against difficult odds.
Whether it was the Cowboys of Scotland paying tribute to the late Mark Freeland, or DJ Cutler offering a smoking blend of swanky funk and R&B, MIA 2011 celebrated the crazy diversity that is the lot in life for every Western New York music scene veteran.
Part of the genius of MIA has always been the manner in which the festival crams all of the divergent stylistic leanings of the Buffalo arts scene into one marathon day of performances. Jazz? Rock? Covers? R&B? DJs and electronic music? It was all here.