Sometimes people get a chance to put up or shut up. Through the work of a capricious universe — call it fate, a higher power, or whatever — the folks behind this year’s Restoration Festival got that chance, and put up like you’ve probably never seen it putted upped before.
RestFest (or as it is alternately called, Restoration Funstival, Restoration Funkstival, Wristoration Fistival, etc.) is an annual two-day concert begun in 2010 to help fund the rehabilitation of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood. completed in 1856, “[t]he walls of this Gothic Revival building are bluestone, and the trim was orginially buff stone from the Caen quarries of France. [. . .] The steeple, designed by Albany architects M.L. and H.G. Emery, was added around 1910. The interior is embellished with a hammerbeam roof structure with angels’ heads and a polychrome ceiling” (Albany Architecture. Edited by Diana S. Waite. Mount Ida Press, via the RestFest website). You can see some great views of the interior architecture from Sebastien’s coverage of Heavy, an arts fundraiser last year. It’s easy to see why this is a monument worth saving.
Held on August 27th & 28th, the music included many local acts plus some notable nationals; I was interested in catching Titus Andronicus on Saturday and Hawk & and a Hacksaw on Sunday. You can review the full schedule but Sunday didn’t quite turn out as planned.
Arriving late on saturday, I missed all of the early performers but made it for most of Titus Andronicus’ set. They’ve been on my radar for a couple years now and were awesome to see live, even if the space didn’t necessarily cater to their sound. The play from whence the name comes from has been described as “an extraordinary fusion of the savage and the sublime”, which aptly describes the music. They have a great brash “wall of sound” punk thing going on and brought some awesome energy to the stage, which is always appreciated in a live show.
Deer Tick was mostly unknown to me but did an amazing job of capping off the night with their own take on alt-country and some really good covers. Launching into Bastards of Young put a huge grin on my face. Theirs is not a genre I instinctively head toward, but maybe that’s because the live experience is way more satisfying than a recording.
Day two was when fate stepped in. You may remember something else noteworthy that happened on August 27th & 28th — tropical storm (née hurricane) Irene swept through, bringing record flood levels for upstate New York. While Albany was spared some of the worst, water inundating the cathedral and threats of power outages caused frantic scrambling to let the show go on. But go on it did, and I have to give serious props the staff and volunteers who made it happen, especially the B3nson collective behind the show’s organization. Less dedicated people would have literally called it a wash, especially with the meager trickle of concertgoers in attendance when I showed up around 3pm. Didn’t stay that way though, turns out you can’t stop dedicated fans either.
Let’s break for a second because I know you’re wondering why some of these photos are black and white and some are in color. Or let’s just pretend you are. The answer is that I don’t always see what’s staring me in the face. The camera/lens/software combination I used was simply not up to the task of photos in a very dark, very big space, and I pushed a little too hard ending up with lots and lots of noise. I went to some great lengths to clear it up as much as possible to deliver a few to All Over Albany, with limited success. Returning to the photos later, I realized that in black and white I like the noise, so I went through the not much simpler conversion. Do I wish these were cleaner and that I took more advantage of the sweet colored LED panels on stage? Sure, but not every photo needs to be glossy-magazine-ad slick, it’s a good lesson to remember that technical perfection doesn’t make a photo good.
The storm did more than deluge the building, it led to a major shuffling of Sunday’s lineup with the news that Hawk & and a Hacksaw and The Music Tapes couldn’t fly in. The organizers made the day “pay what you will”, and the rest of the acts stepped up in a big way. Slender Shoulders and Swamp Baby did a great job warming things up, but a big surprise, and one of the best performances of the weekend, came from We are Jeneric. They brought some big sound and the dam broke, pulling the audience to their feet in dancing, shouting, cheering defiance of the weather.
But I was truly waiting for Matthew Carefully’s Undone Ensemble. I’d heard rumblings of this project months before but had no idea how completely awesome it would be on stage. Matthew brought together over a dozen singers and instrumentalists in a group that breaks with his traditional style. “No Looping. No electronic instruments.” The opening timpanis gave me a Radiohead In Rainbows shudder, and the full force of the entire group elevating Matthew’s vocals was something to behold. I hope he’s lied to us and that this will happen again.
There was more than just the music though. Of course a limited bar was on hand, and Ommegang and live music go together for me like money and problems. The merch table had t-shirts, CDs, stickers, art, and free candy, and did very well, contrary to some early reports I’d heard. A copy of Fletcher and the Hendersons was available to read and listen to (and it’s a really good idea), a robot wandered the crowd dispensing custom stickers, some participatory art was continually being added to, and solo acts played in an alcove in between sets on the stage.
It was one of the best local shows in my memory, and now that we know nothing can stop it I can’t wait to see what happens next year.
As usual there’s a slideshow with a few more photos, and plenty of other reports to read: Nippertown, Metroland, Keep Albany Boring, Kevin Marshall, and probably more I didn’t catch. Special thanks to the RestFest sponsors, all of the bands, and especially the show staff and volunteers who really made it happen.