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Memories of a free festival: Looking back on FredFest

When I was a student at Fredonia State College in the late 1980s, the annual on-campus music festival FredFest was a significant event. Fredonia is, after all, a renowned music school, and around the academic concentrations evolved a more secular music scene. If you were a musician at Fredonia, you might have gone to music classes during the day, but at night, you were in a band, playing at bars in the village, turning one of the practice rooms in the music building into an after-hours band rehearsal space, or maybe even performing at the campus center “rathskellar,” the Sundowner. FredFest took place in the midst of all of this musical activity, and it felt like a legitimate extension of the life we were living at Fredonia. Bohemian. Fun.

Things change, however. FredFest gradually shifted shape, due to various factors – adjustments in the legal drinking age and budget concerns among them. Students have reacted to these changes, mainly by shifting their spring flings off campus. Other students opted to take matters into their own hands, and introduce a new festival, an offshoot of the still-alive FredFest, one that attempts to reconnect with the festival’s initial modus operandi.

On Friday and Saturday, the first FREDstock – organized by current Fredonia students – will find dozens of bands performing at the Willow Creek Winery, a short ride from the college campus. (The smaller original festival will take place on campus Saturday.)

It’s the end of an era, then. And quite possibly, the beginning of a new one.

“FredFest was founded by some ambitious students, as an on-campus event meant to celebrate the coming of spring, the end of the semester, and the commencement of seniors,” said David Neimanis, one of the new event’s founders, and bassist/vocalist with Buffalo’s Intrepid Travelers, who will be performing at FREDstock.

“Within the past decade or so, FredFest has totally changed. Essentially, the school puts on a dry event now, with a mediocre – normally washed-up – headlining act, not drawing much interest from students,” he continued. “So instead, students have huge off-campus parties for the weekend and don’t even end up checking out the event. Not saying that big backyard keggers aren’t fun and all, but the Village of Fredonia has been dealing with a great deal of damages, and this has created a barrier between students and the community. This is where we come in.”

In 1987, when I arrived, Fredonia felt like a music mecca. OK, Berklee or Juilliard it wasn’t. But then, as a self-taught musician for whom a music career was not something supported as a feasible career path by my family while growing up – and as a graduate of Catholic schools completely devoid of music programs – I felt like I’d finally found the place I belonged. These were my people. Freaks, but intellectual ones. People who felt about music the way that I did. There was a tangible sense of community at Fredonia, one that seems to have endured.

Neimanis and his team of fellow co-founders are essentially hoping to reclaim the initial idea behind FredFest and present it in a manner that applies to the lives Fredonia students are living some 25 years after I graduated. It has been designed to reflect both the broader WNY music scene, and the burgeoning live music circuit in Fredonia.

“This is a way to relocate a great mass of people from the town and celebrate something more than a keg stand,” Neimanis said.”

Free shuttle buses will make the 10-minute drive from Fredonia to Willow Creek Winery. There are 16 Fredonia-based bands, or bands that have Fredonia alumni in their roster. (See for the full list.) Alcohol will be served at the event, security to supervise, and a great amount of talent in terms of local musicians and artists.

“This whole thing is really aimed at helping out the Fredonia music scene, and the SUNY Fredonia Music Industry department,” Neimanis said. “It’s pretty amazing – this semester, we had a class taught by moe.’s manager, Jon Topper, on booking and touring. And the co-founder of Woodstock, Artie Kornfeld, came in to speak and offered a lot of great insight for our event. Things have really fallen into place.”

Yes. So Fredonia is a music mecca once again.


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