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TeamTrox at the NYS Blues-Fest

The 2021 New York Blues Festival was a bit of an epiphany for us. We’re music lovers but also, life-long horse trainers therefore while our playlists are filled with an eclectic mix of music, our lists of real-life experiences at music concerts is much shorter. Mind you, we have been to concerts, usually carefully chosen artists we KNEW we just had to see at least once in person. Here’s what we learned about a music festival—at a music festival you’re going to discover all kinds of amazing artists that you didn’t know.

The 2021 New York State Blues Festival provided exactly that experience. Billed as one of largest “no admission” blues events in the Northeast, it’s organized each year by a board of directors, currently led by Leslie Garcea and the festival’s music director Eric McElveen.

We were able to go up for 2 of the 3 days of great performances, held this year at the ProAct Main Stage Chevy Court at the NY State Fairgrounds. We arrived on opening day JUST in time for the start of the Gabe Stillman Band. Gabe Stillman Band, a three piece ensemble lead by (of course) Gabe Stillman absolutely lived up to their favorite hashtag #hardstompinblues! If you head to their Facebook or website you’ll see lots of options for catching them live in NY and PA this summer! As a matter of fact, a lot lucky folks at in Ithaca had a real treat as #gsbontheroad was in the house at The Dock on Friday night!

New York State Blues Fest Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Robert Randolph & The Family Band

The energy didn’t have any chance to settle as Robert Randolph and the Family Band finished up the first day of this three day event and while their incredible musicianship is a give (Randolph is known for bringing the term “sacred steel” to an entirely new demographic) what really resonated was the “joyful noise” that is the actual DNA of Robert Randolph’s music.

We were back on Saturday in time to catch all the sets which started at 2pm and ran nonstop until 9. When I say non-stop it’s because even while the stage was being set for the next session, other great local musicians like Ryan Holweger, Mark Nanni, and Colin Aberdeen & Max Eyle kept the music coming.

Miller and The Other Sinners at the New York State Blues Festival by professional photographer Michael Troxler
Miller and The Other Sinners

Saturday’s line-up exploded with three of Central New York’s best known blues bands—the Diana Jacobs Blues Band, Miller and The Other Sinners and The Ripcords leading the way for three great groups from the south—Ghost Town Blues Band, Carolyn Wonderland and Larkin Poe. How can we begin to accurately convey the experience? Not coming from a music background at all, the only word I come up with is “unbridled energy” and that just didn’t seem like enough detail so I cheated and checked out each groups website to see what language they used to describe themselves.

From Auburn, The Diana Jacobs Band; “Diana Jacobs will hit you with a powerful punch of funk…and soothe you with a sweet soul groove”. Miller And the Other Sinners? “A blend of of gut bucket delta grit, Memphis soul, gospel spirit and funky rhythm and blues and The Ripcords “rip through Roots, Rock-a-Billy, Country, Blues and Swing”. Definitely could not have said it any better.

Ghost Town Blues Band Suavo Jones at the New York Blues Fest by professional photographer Michael Troxler
Ghost Town Blues Band Suavo Jones

The first of the “out of towners” for the evening—the Ghost Town Blues Band—self-described as “not your grandpa’s blues band”—had Mike hustling to get in position by the stage when he spotted trombonist Suavo Jones during the set up. Most folks that know Mike don’t know that before he opted for a career in graphic design and photography, he was all-in for a career in music— playing trombone. That’s one reason Mike got so many great photos of Suavo during their set. The other reason is that the entire band has an infectious energy which definitely provides fuel for Suavo’s moves with that trombone. Later, Mike was able to chat with Suavo and learned that they have something else in common—Suavo is also a graphic designer. Music or art…creative is creative!

Carolyn Wonderland at the New York Blues Festival by professional photographer Michael Troxler
Carolyn Wonderland

Many in the audience might have been wondering what the next artist—Texan Carolyn Wonderland was all about. Forty-five minutes later there was no doubt in anyone’s mind! This quote by Margaret Mosher sums it up nicely—“A musical force equipped with the soulful vocals of Janis and the guitar slinging skills of Stevie Ray, Carolyn Wonderland reaches into the depths of the Texas blues tradition with the wit of a poet. She hits the stage with unmatched presence, a true legend in her time.” Having been there to see her in person all I have to say is—truth. Factor in that she was joined on stage by Shelley King and—just wow!

Larkin Poe at the New York State Blues Fest by professional photographer Michael Troxler
Larkiin Poe

After all those acts, it takes something special to wrap up an event and no one walked away disappointed with Rebecca and Megan of Larkin Poe. This team was the bait that lured us to the Blues Festival in the first place. Someone whose music we were already familiar with and were eager to see in person. The most meaningful comments are from peers and David Miller (Miller and the Other Sinners) nailed it with six words—"Larkin Poe tore it up big time”! If your ears were translating that Larkin Poe vibe and coming up on the “rock” side of Blues Rock, you’re right on the money. Larkin Poe style themselves as a rock n roll band “creating their own brand of Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll: gritty, soulful and flavored by their southern heritage”, but their roots are in Blue grass. Most of the accolades tacked to their “About” page on the Larkin Poe website jive with the one right at the top of the list, from American Songwriter—“This isn’t your basic Stevie Ray Vaughan-styled blistering blues rock. It’s far more primal, malicious and unsettling.”

The take away from our visit to the New York State Blues-Fest? Oh, did I mention it’s a FREE ADMISSION event? It’s a no brainer! Make a drive and make a discovery!

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