Larkfest is billed as the largest single-day street festival in New York, and you know, I just might buy that. The official turnout this year was 70,000, down slightly from last year, but that’s not a bad thing. The Lark Street BID lined up a full roster of local bands this time, probably in response to the absolutely insane crowd that turned up at the Lark & Washington stage to see Moby in 2009. If that was the plan, it worked; even though attendance was close to the same, the crowds were nowhere near as thick.
Sebastien covered most of the details so I’ll try to keep this short and let you enjoy the photos. I showed up early in the morning and was spent by about 2:00pm, but here’s what I caught:
Charlie Watts Riot. These guys were absolutely solid, came to rock, and did it well. They were crowdpleasers and really looked like they were enjoying themselves as much as the audience was. Their banner had a logo of a guitarist in mid-leap, and while we were taking photos Seb and I looked at each other thinking, well I don’t think we’ll see that. Surprise! Yeah, they jump around. A lot. Tons of energy, it was great to watch them.
The Ill Funk Ensemble. True to their name, they had a funk/soul set that was pretty ill. The crowd loved these guys, especially the kids. The singer is gifted, no way could I ever belt it out like that, and the bass player has a great voice used in a few talkovers. This isn’t my usual style of music but they entertained me, good job.
Tom McWatters and the Philo Beddo Band. I have to admit I didn’t stick around for these guys much, but that was just because by the time they started playing, the event really started to get into full swing. They seemed to have a good indie rock mix, and I dig the sunglasses.
Rich Ortiz. This guy was a pleasant surprise; even if he didn’t rock I’d give him huge credit for being on the main stage as a one-man act. But he does rock, so he gets extra props; the dude sings, plays guitar, and to top it off runs a drum machine with his feet (actually that’s not right, see the comments). He really seemed to pour everything he had into it and I can’t speak for everyone else but I felt it.
Sirsy. One of the best-known and most divisive acts in the area. Most people who’ve heard of Sirsy aren’t neutral; you either love them or you don’t. While Rich Libutti with his adorable little goatee there on guitar is no slouch, Melanie Krahmer is really the centerpiece of this two-person act, singing and drumming standing up. They had a formidable legion of fans crowding the stage by the time they got started, and definitely made every one of them happy.
There was plenty else to see, it’s hard to really give a sense of the event in a couple dozen photos. It’s about more than the music; several blocks in the heart of Albany are closed to traffic and vendors set up tents, performers entertain (or is that vice-versa?), families gather, young adults get plastered… it’s all a great time. Most of all, it’s a celebration of our weird little city, an acknowledgment that hey, we’re more than just the seat of the state government, we do have some culture here. What those who drive in from the suburbs don’t understand is that these yearly festivals — Tulip Fest, Art on Lark, Larkfest — are only different than the norm in scale. All of that live music, the art, the food and drink, the colorful characters, that’s all here on every other day of the year too. And we can walk to it, we live with it, we have it at our doorstep. That’s not to say there aren’t any tradeoffs, but I can live with drowning out the noise with a fan at night if I can have all of this at my fingertips.
About the photos. For this event I took along only the Canon 100mm f/2 and 50mm f/1.8 for the DSLR. This kept my bag super light; the 100mm weighs only a pound, and the 50mm weighs less than my wallet (possibly because I bought the 100mm). Most of the shots you see are with the 100mm, even without being able to zoom the range was perfect for getting close to the stage for tight shots (though having the 21MP of the 5DMkII to crop closer would be nice) but still not so long that I couldn’t stand back and get more in the frame, and it’s great for isolating scenes especially when there’s not a lot of time to carefully compose a shot:
Plus, the 100mm f/2 is amazingly sharp (you can click through any photo to flickr and view larger sizes) and renders color and contrast really well (though I have complaints about chromatic aberration; it’s no L lens, but then it doesn’t carry an L pricetag). I brought along a point & shoot for quick wide shots just in case, but I ended up not using it too much. What really killed me here were the tents set up over the stages. In one way, they helped by diffusing the harsh midday sunlight and eliminating nasty reflections off of metal mics, guitar strings, etc. But they also shaded the performers, making the dynamic range between them and any clear sky you might get in the frame so wide that it’s impossible to cleanly expose both. Ideally, I’d have some fill flash for this. I tried adding exposure compensation, spot metering, manually setting exposure; in the end, I threw away a lot of photos, and had to heavily process most of the ones you see.
I can’t complain much, though; that was only an issue because we had absolutely gorgeous weather. Only a few clouds in the sky, not a drop of rain. I left the house in jeans and a 3/4 sleeve shirt because it had been chilly the night before, and was sweating that mistake by 11:00. We must be doing something right down here, because whoever’s controlling the weather has given us several years in a row of beautiful days for our send of summer bash.
I highly recommend checking out the slideshow on this one, I did some custom arranging for your viewing pleasure. All Over Albany has a great roundup of the day with a few extra photosets and Nippertown also has a few wrapups. Were you there? Share your own story, too. See you next year!
– Larkfest 2009