Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Big Hell Yeah to Rob DeRosa!

Grabbed this article for a bunch of reasons. Read on:

The Main Stem By Christopher Arnott & Brian LaRue from The Hartford Advocate.

A burden is lifted, and the Meriden Daffodil Festival grows despite a dip in donations

When some festivals are forced to downsize due to economic downturns or rising behind-the-scenes expenses, the loss is painfully obvious. This year’s Meriden Daffodil Festival, despite less money from the city and a serious decrease in donations from now-beleaguered local businesses, seems stronger than ever. The food tent and artisans’ craft fair are both packed, the carnival attractions will be the same, and the number of musical acts has increased, from 31 last year to a robust 34. The pre-fest fireworks have been cut but the main fireworks display Saturday night, “visible for 25 miles,” is assured.

What the festival doesn’t have this year is a onetime chart-topping act from the baby boomer generation playing their long-ago hits and prancing around like they were still major stars. Even if a proactive desire to decrease the Daffodil Festival’s budget hadn’t forced the issue, the fest’s musical coordinator, Rob DeRosa, doesn’t appear to miss the all-too-frequent headaches associated with what he calls “people who once had hits.” DeRosa says he was “extremely disappointed” in last year’s star attraction, Eric Burdon, whose allegedly petulant and abusive behavior wasn’t confined to backstage — the erstwhile vocalist for The Animals and War kept a field full of fans waiting for more than an hour for no good reason.

Burdon appears to be an extreme exception — DeRosa has many anecdotes about generous and down-to-earth celebrities who’ve done the Daffodil. But with such wall-to-wall quality original music, a nationally known headliner always seemed an unnecessary bonus. And this is an era in which people don’t always feel right about unnecessary bonuses. Cutting that one act is saving the festival around $23,000.

In any case, hobnobbing with has-been ’60s stars means little to DeRosa. The music he lives and breathes is locally produced. Besides using the festival to showcase dozens of Connecticut-based acts every year, he also has a weekly locals-only radio show, “Homegrown,” on WESU-FM and runs his own label. Thin Man Music has released cherished recordings by Frank Critelli, The Manchurians (whom DeRosa also manages) and The Furors (who were also feted on Thin Man with a 2-CD tribute) and The Sawtelles, and is now working on getting the estimable Tom Hearn’s Big Fat Combo to finally release a CD.

Downplay the locals at your peril, DeRosa insists. A few years ago, he gave a scruffy band from Wesleyan their first paid off-campus gig. That band, MGMT, was soon getting press in national magazines, signed with Columbia Records, and released Oracular Spectacular, which Britain’s NME decreed Album of the Year for 2008.

Among this year’s Daffodil bookings are two other Wesleyan bands already going places — Bottle Up & Go and Bear Hands. There’s also the Bridgeport-rooted pop band The Alternate Routes, who’ve released two albums on the legendary Vanguard label. Style-wise, sounds veer from the gentle acoustic guitar of Glenn Roth to the authoritative punk pop of New London’s long-lived The Reducers to the straight-ahead rock of Article 19 to a 14-piece salsa band (Jesus Pagan y su Orquesta) to folk, zydeco and even Meriden’s Maloney High School Jazz Band. In a single band, Swing 39, you can find musicians who range in age from their 30s to their 80s. Straddledaddy features a turntablist fronting a party band, and won “Best Rock Band” in the Hartford Advocate’s 2008 Grand Band Slam.

As ever, DeRosa’s put the jaunty, background-music bands in the Food Tent (busier than ever this year, he says, because the nonprofit groups that run the booths need to fund-raise more than ever), the quirkier and more intimate acts on the Welcome Stage (this year that means a lot of duos) and the showiest acts in the Band Shell.

“If I had another stage I could easily fill it,” DeRosa says. His enthusiastic support of local bands — which includes the realistic pay scale, better than most of these acts are ever likely to get in clubs — has been vindicated. This year, Connecticut bands are carrying the Daffodil, and the future is flowery.


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