Though Hunter Mountain is still reverberating from the sonic assault from some of the top names in the music world, the Catskill Mountains are bracing for a smaller storm as the grassroots Morse Rocks Music and Arts Festival readies itself to bring the best of the Catskills to the Smokin’ Pony BBQ in Saugerties.
Morse Rocks is produced by the Grant D. Morse School newspaper, Just Print It, to provide students with an authentic experience to inspire, and hopefully develop talents not ordinarily accessible in the traditional classroom. It is not a recital or battle of the bands, but an opportunity to display a set of skills in an environment designed to provide critical feedback.
Difficult as it may be to compare the two events, the festival atmosphere is exactly the objective of the event. Saugerties High School student, Katie Hoffstatter is
Morse Rocks welcomes Katie Hoffstatter!
Bow and his band performing at his festival, Tweed River Music Festival.
an aspiring singer songwriter is looking forward to the festival. “Morse Rocks provides an opportunity for young artists like me to show what we can do. It creates a sense of community among all of the artists and reminds some of the more seasoned artists where they came from,” she explained. Hoffstatter is performing with 8 other student musicians and groups along with 18 additional acts of local and national fame. Another dozen students will be displaying their visual art talent in an exhibit which is part of the June 19 and 20 festival.
Hoffstatter believes it is important for artists to share their work with their peers. “I love when an artist in one genre collaborates with another artist from another genre. It makes music less stagnant. In sharing information and ideas, artists also stay humble. If an artist is open to other artist’s ideas that means the artist appreciates other’s work. In doing so, it allows the artist to broaden his/her own work.”
The festival environment provides significant value to established professionals, as well. Vermont based musician, producer and songwriter Bow Thayer is making his way down to the Morse Rocks Festival to share musical ideas and make new friends. He thinks a festival such as Morse Rocks “allows artists to shine and meet other artists.” Thayer, who has recorded multiple albums including a forthcoming release “Sundowser”, has local ties with the area. Justin Guip, who earned 2 Grammy Awards for his work with the late Levon Helm, has produced Thayer’s last three albums. In 2008, Thayer and Helm collaborated on an album called “Spend It All.”
Thayer produces his own festival, “Tweed River Music Festival”, which runs from July 31 – August 2 in Waitsfield, Vermont. He believes artists use festivals to explore different directions outside of their experiences. “A bad idea from one artist can turn into a great idea by another,” he said.
David Kolker, leader of the Dave Kolker Band, artist in residence at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village, NYC is looking forward to the exchange of ideas, as well.
Dave just beginning to warm up.
“A festival like Morse Rocks gives artists a platform to showcase their talents. But, it also gives artists a chance to see what other acts are doing and if they are open to it, this will allow them to grow into areas they might not have had they not had the exposure,” he said. “Collaboration between artists is so important and provides a means to help each other break through and grow. You can be listening to a band’s set and be inspired by anything from the way they dress to the musical dynamics between the performers. You never know what’s going to knock you out, so you have to pay attention to everything!”
Kolker and Thayer are joined by another national act, Waylon Speed. Waylon Speed recently opened for the Outlaws and spent late 2014 supporting Lynryd Skynyrd. Together, these three groups have felt it important to travel to Saugerties to be part of the lineup. They understand the difficulties of getting started and keeping a band together.
Advice to new performers will be available through the sage wisdom and experience of the headliners. “Earlier on, I think our biggest challenges always came back to my own insecurities of not feeling comfortable owning up to who I was as a musician and as a performer,” said Kolker. “As I developed I learned to believe in myself more and understand that I had something valuable to offer and it was most valuable if I was practiced, authentic and transparent. All of that led me to make sure that I was always telling the truth in my music in a way that was simple and to the point. I found that when I did that, I connected best with an audience and I enjoyed it most. I’ve also learned to take what you do seriously, but not take yourself too seriously. It’s a tough balance to strike, but when you do things get lighter and easier to carry.”
The road to becoming an overnight success is still on Thayer’s navigation system as he is an acclaimed and highly respected musician, but the cash register still echoes hollow. He looks back at the realities of making a living from his art. “I pretty much remember having the same challenges now. I could write a book on how hard it is to keep a band together, not everyone has the same level of dedication and commitment, people come and go regularly. Money is tight, the traveling is long,” he recalls. “In my mind you are only as good as your last gig and sometimes a good gig can be few and far between. But then again there is always something that keeps you going.”
Hoffstatter has a steadily growing following of people of all ages finds the challenges of being taken seriously to be her biggest obstacle. “People often don’t take me seriously because I am 16 years old. It seems that the gigs I tend to get are nonpaying gigs. It’s fine for now because I am getting experience and exposure, but I do hope to make some money doing what I love,” she explained.
For fans, the festival is about music, plain and simple. For Bow, David and Katie, that is a bond they share with the audience. Bow Thayer is bringing his new band consisting of Alex Abraham on bass, Jeff Berlin on Drums and JD Tolstoi on keyboards. Bow plays guitar, banjo and a specially made custom instrument named and created by the Eastwood/Airline Guitar company, the Bojotar. “I have some new young bucks in my band. You can expect a culmination of all those different styles coming together. There are elements of old time string band, some heavy rock, some psychedelic jams and some stuff that we call progressive mountain music.”
David Kolker Band at the Bitter End
A guitar genius in his own right, Kolker promises great music from his band, as well. Paul LeFebvre plays pedal steel guitar, Andrea Monorchio joins Dave on guitars and vocals. Brett Bass plays bass guitar and Nikolaus Schuhbeck rounds out the group on drums and vocals. “I’m looking forward to playing for a new audience and I hope to get them interested in what we’re doing as a band. We’ve just finished a record and are in the process of having it manufactured now and while we won’t have this album ready for sale at the festival, we’ll be playing songs off of the record during our set and I’m looking forward to seeing new folks react to that. I am also hoping to meet other musicians and learn more about what others are up to,” he said.
Katie promises to leave an impression with audience, as well. Though she will be playing a couple songs with classmate Matt Vigna, most of her performance will be solo. “I am a solo artist with the singer/songwriter acoustic vibe. I bring youth and melody to my performances.”
If all goes as hoped, Morse Rocks will be the catalyst for a new awakening of undiscovered ability which will manifest itself as another aural delight thundering off the Catskill Mountains.
Tickets, artist information and performance schedules are available online at www.justprintit.net. All proceeds are going toward expenses and any profits will be given the Dennis Jones Performing Arts Amphitheater project. Dennis Jones is a retired Instrumental Music teacher from Grant Morse and Mt. Marion schools. The Amphitheater is intended to allow more student opportunities to share their talents in visual and performance art.
The Smokin’ Pony BBQ located at 963 Kings Highway is host to this event.