The crowd cheered as Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls welcomed everyone to Magic Mayhem, the eighth annual Music is Art Festival held at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery on Saturday. He took time to acknowledge the anniversary of 9/1 1 with a moment of reflection to the music of a wooden flute.
Then Takac commented that 9/1 1 was a result of people just not understanding each other, but, "We're working on that here today." Through performing arts, 40 bands and 50 artists had the chance to express themselves as per Takac's vision.
Takac introduced the first act, Moving Miracles, a group of young women with special needs. The inspirational group of girls in costumes complete with roses behind their ears danced to "La Bamba," twirling and waving their skirts together. Terrie George's Dance Theatrics followed on the same natural stage of the Albright Knox building, the perfect backdrop to showcase Buffalo's talent.
Up next was Soulmen, the 2010 Music is Art Battle of the Bands winner.
"We formed because I was watching an episode of 'Drake and Josh' and they sang 'Soul Man', and I loved it," said lead singer Ian Boswell, a senior at Kenmore East High School.
The band opened with an original song composed by bassist Alec Safy and sax player Elliot Scozzaro.
" 'Me Oh My' was inspired, as so many good ones are, by a girl. I said it would be fun to dance with her ... and that's the song," Boswell said, referring to the lyrics. And dance they did.
Mark Sledziewski, lead dancer and back-up vocalist, and Boswell danced through their set with the old feeling of the '70s in their fancy clothes. And the fitting second selection was their version of "Soul Man."
Boswell and Sledziewski dress up like the Blues Brothers with a modern touch. "We switched from coats to vests and the rest of the band is always in black because that draws attention to the music, but people go to see performances, so we give them that too," said Boswell.
Kenmore East band director Phil Aguglia encouraged Soulmen to compete in the Battle of the Bands last March that earned them their spot at the festival. He watched Soulmen and Lumberjack Parliament, a funk/jazz/progressive instrumental trio also from Kenmore East, Saturday.
"It's great to see my students on stage here," Aguglia said.
After an exotic belly dance performance, The Lake Effect took the stage. Takac introduced the group as "daredevils" for being an all-male a cappella group, three being local music teachers. Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" had a strong laid-back beat that the crowd already knew and loved. Their second high-impulse song was an original called "Matter of Time."
Even though TLE was limited to two songs like most of the other bands, founder and business manager Rob Veiders thought the gig was worth it.
"The rapid-fire concept is great because the crowd can see a ton of different types of music, dance and art at the same time," he said. "We've been trying to get in here for two years and we finally landed this, and could add to the whole experience."
One of Music is Art's programs is Music in Action, which mentors teen musicians and teaches them how to deal with the music business. Auburn Sky, from Lewiston-Porter High School, represented the traditional garage band sound as they covered Fall Out Boy's "Sugar, We're Going Down."
The artists painting next to the stage moved their brushes in time with Auburn Sky's guitar picking, a sign of harmony between music and art.
There were some bands at the festival that are more well-known in Buffalo. The Innocent Bystanders gathered a large audience, as did Free Henry!. Free Henry! played two of its newest songs from their upcoming album. With influences from jazz, funk and reggae, the unique sound of Free Henry! had people hula-hooping, dancing and singing along to "Ocean Growth" and "Wise Up."
Amid the African drumming, pole dancing and mingling magicians, people could shop at the craft show or buy works from local artists. Food vendors were open, including Lake Effect ice cream, founded by a pair of Lockport teachers two years ago. Their original local flavors such as Crystal Beach Loganberry added to the emphasis on Buffalo's talent.
One talented individual who performed had a special story behind her music. Thirteen-year-old Dallas Page is now cancer free, but during her struggle with bone cancer she made a wish with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to record a CD with a famous artist. With the help of Tim O'Shei of the Live! Starring... You! program, Dallas recorded four songs with appearances by Jordan Francis from "Camp Rock" and local talent Juliet Shatkin, whose music is featured in the movie "The Clique."
Dallas wrote the lyrics to the first song on her CD, "Right Now." In "Face the Music," she attributes cancer to helping her focus on what really matters in life. She sang out her words, "I'm strong enough to fight. I know that I'll get by, but I've been too busy dancing to the song to listen to the words. That's when you came along, to help me face the music."
The BloodThirsty Vegans also had a message in their music. This ska/funk/hip-hop band opened with a lighthearted introduction, a tune called "Rockadocious Jamminibitty," which is featured on its CD released earlier this year. The band's second tune, "Who's to Blame?", was inspired by the Gulf oil spill but turned into a lesson on sustainability and being a responsible global citizen.
As night closed in, projection tents were set up to showcase local filmmakers. Rappers took side stages and DJs kept the night hopping. After some bossa nova songs and Rooftops, a band that would have been great to mosh to if there were not people sitting everywhere, the Mixtape played a solid pop-punk set.
The Mixtape's lead vocalist, Josh Szary, leaned out as far over the stage as possible to sing directly to the audience below. Full of energy, the boys' shadows danced on the art gallery's walls. The spotlights on the five guys with an average age of 18, yet already having opened for bands like the Plain White T's, gave the performance a more intimate feeling than those in the day's sunlight.
At this time, the crowd was ready for Rudy Coby, the biggest magic act of the night. Some may know him as Marilyn Manson's show designer for the past seven years, but he also has his own shows, including an appearance at last year's MiA festival.
"Robby was so happy with it, that he proposed that we make the whole festival this year based around magic and call it Magic Mayhem, so I came back with my full show, along with other local magicians and escape artists," Coby said.
It started with a magic set that was a Christmas gift from his parents when he was 9, and now, "I try to make like animated comic books live on stage," Coby said. "It's more about comedy and creating characters than it is magic."
After an illusion where Coby walked on and danced with four legs to the "Peter Gunn" theme song, he taught kids some magic tricks they could do at home. A crowd favorite involved "stabbing" Takac's head under a bedsheet with a screwdriver, until kids found out they should always have a juicy cabbage on top of their victim's head.
Coby's finale was a crazy illusion much like a cartoon. First Coby acted mean to his Puppet Boy and put the little puppet in a cage. Then the cage exploded and out popped an 8-foot homicidal clown marionette that cuts his strings and chops Coby's head off ... until the audience discovers Coby actually is in the clown suit. (If you missed it, it's on YouTube.) It was a spectacular finale that exemplified the festival's theme.
Laura Rumschik is a freshman at D'Youville College.