Sep 10

Wickerfest: the underappreciated folk festival

Saturday, May 7, Hurley’s held the second annual Wickerfest featuring seven folksy acts from our own Potsdam and abroad. Otherwise known as “Folkapalooza,” the event was a six-hour homage to an unadorned appreciation of music, where only plucking strings and pleasant company are required to enjoy.

The first act of the evening was Austin Petrashune, Potsdam student and SES member. His set was self-described as “a mix of musical performance, un-funny comedy and karaoke.” Petrashune did not stress the “mix” portion of that definition nearly enough, but for all the wildcard song choices and banter between tunes, Petrashune was a fine opening to Wickerfest.

Petrashune began with the merry instrumental “Barsalino” and went on to rousing covers of “Kung Fu Fighting,” “Earth Angel” (with an odd break of “Love the Way you Lie”) and Cee Lo Green’s hits, “Crazy” and “F*ck you.” “My method for choosing songs to cover is as inconsistent as my repertoire,” said Petrashune. “One of my main concerns is whether or not I can even pull off a song.” The highlight of the set was during “F*ck you.” A choir of ladies from the back rows of Hurley’s accompanied Petrashune, following the lyrics perfectly until the oft-repeated ethnic slur of the tune that resulted in a considerable dip in their volume.

Among the covers, Petrashune sprinkled in some original work. The mellow and sincere tunes contrasted with the dry humor of the rest of the set, though his personal material was as varied as his covers. “I’ve written everything from full-band prog-metal to bluegrass banjo tunes, so music is kind of a perpetual identity crisis for me,” said Petrashune. “The singer-songwriter thing is just what works right now; it’s very direct communication. And I don’t have to carry a bunch of heavy things around.”

The second act of the evening was Peter House, a SUNY Potsdam graduate who has stuck around this year to play his music. In the few times I’ve seen House’s set, I was impressed at how intense it was, especially coming from a one-man show. His Wickerfest appearance, however, was mellowed out in comparison, a tone House said he’s been feeling since graduation.

House played a mix of originals and eclectic country and folk tunes. The set was a little rocky with House breaking a string and awkwardly shifting to banjo, but once he got going he nearly made us forget the wait. Some of House’s tunes came straight from his upcoming album, a solo work produced on a 4-track Tascam cassette recorder. “I love the warm tape hiss sound the same way many people love vinyl; plus tapes are way cheaper for a guy like me to produce,” said House. One tune about an abandoned Pennsylvanian coal-mining town was particularly stirring, and hopefully just a preview of the rest of the album.

Solo-act Susanna Rose was up third. Her original tunes were somber lullabies that seemed to entrance the Hurley’s audience. Rose tackled heavy subject matter like growing up and moving away with delicate, simple prose that rose on her haunting and resonant voice. Rose would often hang and stretch high pitches in the darker parts of her songs, making the individual tunes run together but granting an overall sense and feel of her work.

Unfortunately, these three acts were the only ones I had time to catch. Later groups Shane Loverro, Paul Tryon, the Greenbeans and Geoffrey and the Flying Chaucers surely followed the steady theme of talent from the earlier acts.

In my time at Wickerfest I could not help but notice the extremely small crowd. At times it seemed the audience was wholly comprised of the other acts and even they were mingling in and out of Hurley’s. “The crowd size was pretty disappointing,” said Petrashune. The acts were hardly to blame as Potsdam was packed with events during the show. “I’d say crowd size was very much unrepresentative of the folk-acoustic interest in Potsdam,” said Petrashune. “Everyone and their cat has an acoustic guitar up here.”

Hopefully the sparse crowd this semester won’t stop Wickerfest from returning next year. Peter House was responsible for the booking, but may not be around to offer his services next spring. House says they are considering an outdoor show or a headlining act to have Wickerfest really stick out of the crowd. The future is bright for this young festival, and the hearty folk crowd will gladly suffer broken strings, cramped cars and long food-deprived trips to ensure it sticks around.