For many people, the Meriden Daffodil Festival is simply a great spring festival, one of the outdoor fried-dough and touring-carnival extravaganzas held in glorious springtime in a lush city park.
But for the Connecticut local music community, it’s much more than that.
This growth from the city park affair to unparalleled local band showcase is due largely to one man, Rob DeRosa, and a horde of Daffodil volunteers. DeRosa spends months every year investigating new talent, keeping in touch with established acts, and creating a balanced two-day schedule of bands loud, soft, rocky, folky, melodic, raw, tribute-oriented, and excessively original.
According to DeRosa, exactly half of the 36 bands booked this year are new to the festival. Some are brand new acts; others (such as the nationally known Poor Old Shine) are well-established, but have just never made it out to Meriden before this. The others are reliable and popular acts who’ve rocked the Daffodil on other occasions, some of them numerous times. But just because those bands are have played before doesn’t mean they’re safe selections. I don’t think you can look at a list that has The Peacock Flounders, Mold Monkies, The Sawtelles and the great Mark Mulcahy on it and call it common festival fare.
Yes, Mark Mulcahy. The Miracle Legion founder and acclaimed solo artist makes a welcome return to the Daffodil Festival after an absence of several years following tragedy and upheaval in his personal life. While away, Mulcahy’s songs became the subject of a 2009 tribute album, Ciao My Shining Star, which included interpretations of Mulcahy tunes by Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Frank Black, A.C. Newman, Chris Collingwood, Juliana Hatfield, Ben Kweller, Dumptruck and dozens of other acts.
Other clear highlights of Daffodil 2013: Hartford’s Little Ugly, New London’s wondrous Daphne Lee Martin, the educated jazz combo Sparkplug, instrumentally inventive folkies Goodnight Blue Moon, alt-rocker Hostage Calm, singer/songwriter Becky Kessler and Falcon Ridge festival showcase winners Poor Old Shine.
With rare exceptions—The Manchurians, the now-presumably-retired Reducers, or those with deep Meriden connections such as Sean & Kelley of the Omnibus Band (playing their 18th consecutive Daffodil Festival), the cover bands Chico & Friends and 691, and singer/songwriter/bandleader Frank Critelli—Rob DeRosa avoids booking any act for two years in a row. This not only assures variety, it proclaims without doubt how many worthy Connecticut acts there are out there to choose from in the first place. Cool returnees this year include Christopher Bousquet, The Furors, The Sawtelles, The Ivory Bills, The Mold Monkies and of course Mark Mulcahy.
Without further ado (and I realize that’s just been a heck of a lot of ado), here’s the 2013 line-up for the Meriden Daffodil Festival. I’m honored that Rob DeRosa has entrusted me with this information; this is a scoop, the first place you’re reading this list.
The 2013 Meriden Daffodil Festival takes place Saturday, April 27 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, April 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Meriden’s Hubbard Park. There are three separate stages for live bands: the Welcome Stage (with its own bleacher seating) near the festival entrance; the Band Shell stage near the carnival rides; and the Food Tent stage, where bands play to a captive audience of thousands of hungry people standing in line at dozens of food booths.
The dates, times and stag locations for each band will play have yet to be announced. The festival’s own website is here.
The Alternate Routes. The nationally touring acoustic/folk/rock/and beyond act that grew out of a friendship at Fairfeld University. The Alternate Routes get one of the prime “Fireworks Show” slots, playing on the Welcome Stage whilst bombs burst in air.
Breakthrough Frequencies. A modern rock act with Meriden connections.
Chico & Friends. The Meriden-based cover band which plays every year.
Christopher Bousquet. The poet who filters West Coast country rock influences through acute East Coast sensibilities.
Dan Stevens Trio. The noted blues guitarist.
Daphne Lee Martin. Winner of both the Advocate Grand Band Slam and the Connecticut Music Awards, the Raise the Rent frontwoman is more than a little bit country. Her new album is Moxie.
Ellison Jackson. Not a guy but a three-piece Americana band based in Berlin, Ct.
Food. A jazz band, presumably not the European combo of the same name. Do you have any idea how hard it is to Google “food jazz band” and find a meaningful result?
Frank Critelli. Never misses a Daffodil Festival, where he’s played with a number of different bands and also served as a host.
The Furors. The grand return of frequent Daffodil duo Derek & Tom, whose singular brand of two-man high-energy pop has endured since the mid-1970s.
Goodnight Blue Moon. The Daffodil debut of the tremendously popular and emotionally moving Americana band. The “Fireworks Show” attraction in the festival’s food tent.
The Gonkus Brothers. Covers, Irish songs, Mersey beat and more from these Meriden favorites.
The Guru. The return of the young neo-psychedelicians.
Hannah Fair. Daffodil debut of the blonde “Lonesome for You” singer/songwriter.
Hostage Calm. First Daffodil gig for the nationally touring rock/hard pop act that’s been around for five years or so now and have been comfortably compared to The Smiths and Quicksand.
The Ivory Bills. Most Daffodil fests feature some manifestation of local band statesman James Velvet, who fronts several pop or acoustic acts and is the longtime co-host of the Local Bands show on WPLR.
Kelley & Sean. Low-key covers by members of the Omnibus band; their 18th Daffodil appearance.
Becky Kessler. This Advocate Grand Band Slam winning singer/songwriter has a rich electric sound influenced by everyone from Jeff Buckley to Nina Simone.
Last Licks. The classic rock combo’s Daffodil Festival debut is also the Bandshell “Fireworks Show” on Saturday night. Last Licks is known for exceptional ‘70s covers: a Queen medley, Elton John’s Funeral for a Friend, Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band,” etc.
Little Ugly. Best Rock Band winners in the Advocate Grand Band Slam, Little Ugly is literate, eclectic and features a violin as well as guitars and stuff.
The Manchurians. Blues-rock exemplars led by Roger C. Reale.
Mark Mulcahy. The long-awaited return of the beloved Connecticut bandleader (Miracle Legion!), singer/songwriter, poet and spiritual magnet of the old New Haven music scene.
The Mold Monkies. Nick Appleby and Russell Shaddox’s loud swirly pop band. Since the last time the Mold Monkies played the Daffodil Festival, Thad Brown has left the band and Gerry Giaimo is now the lead guitarist. (Wade Rice drums.)
1974. Daffodil debut for the longform-conceptual-song-cycle bunch awarded Best New Band in the Advocate’s Grand Slam poll
Orquesta Afinke. And now for something completely different. The first Daffodil gig for this eight-piece salsa band, well known on the Latino club circuit hereabouts.
Paper Hill Casket Company. Daffodil debut. The PHCC album Undertow came out just a few months ago. The band describes itself as “Gothic Americana,” and blends bluegrass, rock riffs and ethereal clashing cymbals.
The Peacock Flounders. I’ve really got to stop referring to these guys as “a local band supergroup,” since I believe this post-punk pop/rock concoction (now a decade old) has lasted longer than nearly all the other bands these guys have been in. Ron Sutfin, Jeff Wiederschall, Kerry Miller and Sal Paradise have all been part of the scene since the late 1970s.
Poor Old Shine. Daffodil debut for the highly regarded Americana/roots band from Storrs which recently earned top honors at the Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist Showcase.
The Radiation. First Daffodil show for WNPR and CPTV broadcaster Ray Hardman and his psychedelic garage/punk outfit. The repertoire ranges from the Yardbird’s “Shape of Things to Come” to The Sonics’ “Have Love Will Travel.”
Rani D’Arbo & Daisy Mayhem. Middletown’s D’Arbo brings her blissful fiddle folk (featuring Scott Kessel’s 95% recycled percussion set-up, plus Anand Nayak on guitars and bassist/banjoist/ukeist Andrew Kinsey) to the Daffodil fest for the first time.
River City Slim & The Zydeco Hogs. Hartford’s jammy blues hogs are back again, washboard at the ready.
Rob Messore. If you’re a parent or a child, you know that acclaimed classical and acoustic guitarist has another side of him: a children’s entertainer. As such, he opens for SteveSongs.
The Sawtelles. The area’s prevailing “nerve rock” husband-wife duo are marvelous mavericks of the music scene. With Peter’s alternately tuned guitars and Julie’s sparse, stand-up drum kit, they provide simplicity and edge.
691. Meriden-friendly cover band, specializing in Motown hits.
Sparkplug. This Wesleyan-based jazz/funk quartet pays tribute to the late guitarist Melvin Sparks (with whom Sparkplug organist Beau Sasser and drummer Bill Carbone played regularly for years; percussionist Jamemurrell Stanley and saxophonist David Davis sat in frequently with the Sparks combo), but has also devised their own sound and style.
SteveSongs. The Connecticut-based, nationally known (and televised, even—on PBS!) children’s entertainer plays a special family show at 1 p.m. Sunday at the festival.