Once again I get to be the first to unveil which bands will be playing at the Meriden Daffodil Festival. This year’s fest is, as always, on the last weekend of April (Saturday the 25th from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday the 26th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) in Meriden’s Hubbard Park. General info is here.
For those who don’t get why this is a big deal, know this: over the past 17 years, the fest’s music programmer Rob DeRosa (of the Thin Man record label and the Homegrown local-bands radio program on WESU) has built the Daffodil Festival into one of the premiere places to see some of the most important Connecticut-based bands. Rob balances established acts with up-and-comers. He lured country music titan Gary Burr from Nashville back to his hometown in 1998, and gave the Wesleyan student band MGMT (now an international success) their first off-campus gig.
As one part of a greater festival, however, the music bookings are subject to the same decreased funding and subsequent budget cuts that many big events suffer these days. For years, the volunteer-run Daffodil Festival has featured around three dozen bands, on three separate stages. This year, there will be 22 bands on two stages. The Food Tent, so valuable last year when torrential rains forced the outdoor Mark Mulcahy set to move elsewhere, is gone this year. For some bands, who struggled to be heard over the hubbub of thousands of mingling epicureans at the food vending booths, this loss will be bittersweet. For those of us who planned lunch at the festival around who was playing in the Food Tent, we lose our soundtrack. Plus, you know, like a dozen less bands are playing.
Due to the downsizing, DeRosa has intimated that this will be his last year booking the festival. He was a festival volunteer for years before taking over the music booking duties. “Gary Burr is who I came in with in ’98 and who I’ll go out with in 2015,” DeRosa told me in an email.
Here are the 22 lucky bands playing the 2015 Meriden Daffodil Festival, alphabetically, with my own comments:
Connecticut Music Awards “Best Blues Band” winners in both 2013 and 2014, theirs is a funk/rock-induced bar-band form of blues.
Burr’s a Meriden native who played the festival in 1998 when he was already an established Nashville songwriter. His fame has only increased since then. The Texas-born, NYC-educated Middleman’s songs have been recorded by the likes of Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney and Sheila E. Besides the Daffodil Festival, Burr and Middleman will be at Infinity Hall in Norfolk April 25. But at the festival, the show is free, and will be accompanied by fireworks.
Young “Blues funk jam” band from Litchfield which took Best New Act honors at the CT Music Awards.
New Haven rock quartet of Jay Prince, Nick Santore, Erik Kukansis and Michael Hemenway. Eurisko released its debut album, Wild Animal, in July.
The three Nork boys of Bethany began the band in their pre-teens and, just a few years on, are now an established, award-winning act which continues to up its game and released a solid new album, Living Hold, last year. They’ve played the Daffodil Festival before, and also NOT played it—last year’s scheduled set got rained out.
The taller, frizzy-haired half of the ‘70s folk duo Aztec Two-Step, who’s now a Bridgeport resident. Aztec Two-Step is apparently still going strong, and released a 40th anniversary CD, Cause & Effect, in 2012.
Not a lot of brass bands have hit the Daffodil stages over the years. This 12-strong ensemble is made up of UConn students with a love for New Orleans jazz.
Jam/fusion act that’s been kicking since 1992 and recently released the new album Driving Around in Circles.
Founded in Durham CT in 1987, developed into a power-pop powerhouse in New Haven throughout the early ‘90s, and a very big deal in Boston for years, The Gravel Pit recently regrouped for Serpent Umbrella, the band’s first album since 2001. There’ve been a few Connecticut appearances over the years, including at the wedding of New Haven Advocate Music Notes columnist Kathleen Cei and New Haven Independent web designer Kyle Summer, but not all that many, and the Daffodil Festival is a rare big outdoor gig for a band that’s freshly back in business.
Fairfield County trad rock trio. Leader Dave Hogan has also performed with Six Pack Dutchmen, Grimm Generation, The Zambonis, Rafter Bats and solo.
The distinctive heavy alt-folk sounds of Xavier Serrano’s vocals and acoustic guitar, Shannon Kiley’s cello and vocals and Quinn Pirie’s percussion.
Rob DeRosa calls this band the “the hottest Wesleyan act since MGMT,” and I’ll just have to take his word for it, since when you Google “LADD band” you get some obscure medical term for “fibrous stalks of peritoneal tissue.” Seriously, all-caps LADD won a battle of the bands for the honor of playing the Wesleyan Spring Fling last year. The leader of all-caps LADD is some-caps Jack Ladd, who graduates this year. The band released a three-song EP, Mad in the Coatroom, in November.,
New Haven indie rock four-piece. A mesmerizing five-song EP with such disarming songs as “Hey How’s Heaven” and “Space Heater” was released last April.
Bridgeport-based No Depression quartet fronted by guitarist/vocalist John Radzin (of the West Coast pop act Magnified) and keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Brian Larney (who had a solo career before joining up with Radzin).
This open-ended vehicle to play the songs of Paul Belbusti became a reliable full-fledged band last year. Mercy Choir didn’t get to play at the festival in 2014 due to the rains, so here’s another chance. The busy Belbusti also has a novel coming out this spring.
The locally rooted singer-songwriter frequently plays and records in Nashville. He’s worked with Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman (both of whom will also be playing the Daffodil Festival this year), Ringo Starr, Kristin Chenoweth and Stealing Angels.
According to Rob DeRosa, the keyboardist for this Wallingford-based blues act “last played the bandshell in ’67 or so when his act won the battle of the bands!”
1974 audaciously revives the powerful prog and AM-rock era suggested by its band name. Naturally, they’re big crowdpleasers, and all the more impressive for not being either tacky or ironic in their quest to evoke the power of Yes, Rush and (yuck) Tull.
Jennifer Dauphinais (whom I knew as a colleague at the old New Haven Advocate) is a confident, sensitive singer/songwriter. She released a new single, “I Am With You,” in November.
New London garage rock combo with crowd-pumping songs like “Hey” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “It’s Fun” and “Punk Rock Black Chicks.” The new album is Weekend Weekend Weekend.
Genre-bending rock/soul/folk/R&B songwriter and New England Music Awards winner, whose new EP is due out a few weeks before the Daffodil Festival.
Not to be confused with Poor Old Shine (which has changed its name to Parsonsfield), Wise Old Moon is a folky barroom four-piece which formed in 2013, will be putting out its second album this year, and tours constantly.
Fast-rising talent from Berlin CT, who’s going the mainstream commercial route with slick videos and studio pop production.
That’s it—a whole stage missing, but no deadweight on the two that are left. In fact, some great acts which have become Daffodil regulars aren’t represented at all this year: The Manchurians, Frank Critelli, Mark Mulcahy, The Furors, James Velvet, anybody from The Reducers… Not even the entrenched Meriden covers bands Boxcutter, Chico & Friends, 691 and The Gonkus Brothers.
As DeRosa tells me, “I decided that I needed a fresh and exciting bunch of acts on the other stages for both days. Ninety-seven percent of the acts have NEVER played Daffodil stages before. Some tried and true old faves have taken a pass this time around.”
If Rob DeRosa’s really going, he’s going in style, letting newcomers bloom like so many daffodils.