For the past year, Ellen Pieroni has been handling booking for Nietzsche’s, a cornerstone of the Buffalo music scene for more than 30 years. Only 22, Pieroni has been a fixture on the new jazz scene for a while now, leading her own Ellen Pieroni Quartet, playing sax with Folkfaces, and guesting with ensembles that run the gamut from folk to funk, rock to jazz.
Last spring, Pieroni assembled and presented the first multiple-day Jazz-Fest at Nietzsche’s, during which several generations of Buffalo jazz musicians performed on two stages in the venerable Allentown nightclub. It was an event that felt an awful lot like a celebration of the form’s continued relevance in a city that has been producing top-tier jazz musicians for decades.
Starting Nov. 9, Pieroni will apply the same concept to the maiden voyage of the Nietzsche’s Folk-Fest, which will find some 48 folk-based artists of both the regional and national variety performing across a five-day span. Pieroni, who grew up in up in Cheektowaga and is pursuing her master's degree in music education at SUNY Buffalo State, took some time to chat.
Question: What did you learn from doing the Jazz-Fest, and how are you applying what you learned to the Folk-Fest?
Answer: The No. 1 thing I learned is that I couldn't do it alone, so for Folk-Fest, I have a team of well-known faces in the Allentown area helping me out with the festival: Adam Bronstein, Donny Frauenhofer, Tyler Westcott, and my mentor, Curt Rotterdam, who is the former Nietzsche's promoter.
I also dressed up the submission process a bit with an actual application, which paid off when I received 59 submissions for Folk-Fest. I'm much more organized going into Folk-Fest than I was going into Jazz-Fest, and it definitely helps knowing what I'm getting into this time around.
Q: Buffalo has always been fertile ground for folk music, and in many ways, Nietzsche's has been ground zero for folk for decades now. Why do you think that is?
A: I think Nietzsche's has an atmosphere that is very welcoming to original music. It's not often that I hear a band submission, and think ‘There's no way that will work at Nietzsche's." Nietzsche's is a music venue where originality and eccentricity never needs to be sacrificed, which is why I think folk music works so well here.
I also think Josh Gage's singer-songwriter showcase and open mic (which is Buffalo's longest-running) plays an important role in the folk scene at Nietzsche's. Although I'm only 22 and didn't see the great folk music happening at Nietzsche's in the past, I know there's plenty happening here right now.
Q: How would you describe folk music, these days? It seems like pretty broad criteria.
A: I don't think anyone is qualified to define what folk music is. It's about the same as trying to explain what jazz or jam music is. Genres aren't black and white. Besides, I'm just the saxophonist Folkfaces adopted.
However, the folk music I tried to incorporate in the festival runs from bluegrass and string bands like the Observers and Shelf Life String Band, to the anti-folk music of Seth Faergolzia and the 23 Psaegz, to the singer-songwriter music of Allentown locales Kathryn Koch, Bobby Angel, and Sam Marabella, the chamber-folk music of Tiny Rhymes, the gypsy jazz of the DiTrani Brothers, and the more traditional folk and Americana groups like Rear View Ramblers. And the list goes on.
Q: I see that Jeff Goldstein is on the roster. Nietzsche's regulars know him as a character that's part of the crowd, but he is also a pretty brilliant musician. Have you heard Jeff play?
A: I have never heard Jeff play myself, but I've heard from some Nietzsche's regulars just how talented he is. I believe them, too, especially after the many conversations we've had about the harmonic series, Esperanza Spalding, music theory, local music history, even Hindemith.
I've taken countless book and music recommendations from Jeff, and it's clear he knows his stuff. He is also truly a great person to know. I'm so excited to see him perform.
Q: You've been booking Nietzsche's for a year now. You've broadened the scope of what gets booked there, while also hanging on to what worked to define the culture of the club in the past. What have you learned during this first year?
A: I've definitely learned a lot in the past year and I continue to learn each day. This job is always throwing me twists and turns, ups and downs. Most importantly, I've learned that the music scene here in Buffalo is alive and well, with new talented bands popping up left and right.
I'm learning how to find a balance between the longstanding traditions that are so special to Nietzsche's, while trying new things and taking some risks, like with the Monday jazz happy hour series I started in the summer. I've learned some serious perseverance, and not to give up when things aren't an astounding success the first time around.
Lastly, I've learned – well, more like confirmed - that I love Nietzsche's and this is so much more than a job for me. I seriously care about the success of the bar, and I'm hoping that the risks I'm taking, like Folk-Fest, will keep the bar alive, bring in some new faces - fans and bands alike -and contribute to Nietzsche's reputation as being one of the best live music venues in Buffalo.
What: Nietzsche’s Folk-Fest
Who: 48 bands, including the Observers, Folkfaces, Tiny Rhymes, the Steam Donkeys, Tyler Westcott, Rear View Ramblers.
Where: Nietzsche’s, 248 Allen St.
When: Nov. 9 – 13
11/9/16 6pm-1am $5
6pm: Tyler Westcott (front)
7pm: Cooper/Kane/Bacha (back)
7:30pm: Birdie Cree (front)
8pm: Nickel City String Band (back)
8:30pm: Sam Marabella and his Band (front)
9pm: Rusty Buckets (back)
9:30pm The Brothers Blue (front)
10:00pm: The Raven and the Wren (back)
10:30pm: Junkyard Slow Drag (front)
11pm: Folkfaces (back)
12am: Green Schwinn (front)
12:30am: PizzaDoughnuts (back)
THURSDAY: Singer-Songwriter Showcase
11/10/16 8pm-1am $5
8pm: GRIFFIN! (back)
8:40pm: Pat Yeomans (back)
9pm: Ritey O’Reilly (front)
9:20pm: A Will...AND AWAY! (back)
9:40pm: Joe Bellanti (front)
10pm: Davey O. (back)
10:20pm: Whirlin’ Jack Dervy (front)
10:40pm: Bobby Angel (back)
11pm: David Ebersole (front)
11:20pm: Jungle Steve (back)
11:40pm: Paul Sottnik (front)
12am: Jack Topht (back)
12:20am: DëWalt ßtihl (front)
12:40am: Jeff Goldstein (back)
11/11/16 10pm-2am $10
Happy Hour: The Neville Francis Band
10pm: Shelf Life String Band (front)
10:30pm: Rear View Ramblers (back)
11:30pm: The Observers (front)
12:30am: DiTrani Brothers (back)
1:30am: TCBand (front)
11/12/16 8:30pm-2:00am $10
8:30pm: The Steam Donkeys (back)
9:30pm: Catskill Mountain Boys (front)
10pm: Rob Falgiano Duo (back)
10:30pm: Tough Old Bird (front)
11:30pm: Seth Faergolzia’s 23 Psaegz (back)
12:30am: 20,000 Strongmen (front)
1:00am: PA Line (back)
11/13/16 2pm-6pm $5
2pm: Michael Faltyn (back)
2:30pm: Porcelain Train (front)
3pm: The Heenan Brothers (back)
3:30pm: Kathryn Koch (front)
4:00pm: Sam Sugarman (back)
4:30pm: Andy Fisher (front)
5pm: Tiny Rhymes (back)
6pm: Ann Philippone