East Rock West Rock: New Haven’s MEGA Music Festival?

You might not have noticed, but the eve of New England’s biggest musical festival is upon us. In its second year, the East Rock West Rock music week is seeking to attract artists of all sizes and genres and to celebrate New Haven’s rich musical history, diverse musical venues and wide variety of homegrown talent. Beginning tonight and spanning the course of a week, over 175 musical acts of every variety will descend upon equally eclectic New Haven music venues with a hefty dose of live music to satiate even the most fervent concertgoer.

“How did I not know about this,” you (the fervent concert-goer) may ask? That is a good question. But, given the lack of a strong marketing and advertising program for the festival — save for the occasional flier above a Black Bear urinal — there’s no need to doubt your knowledge of MEGA music festivals.

You may also ask, “Well, now how am I supposed to sift through all these acts and venues on such short notice and figure out which shows to attend?” An equally good question, but luckily we at WEEKEND are here to save the day once again. The following is a brief guide to mastering the East Rock West Rock Music Festival — the biggest/most poorly advertised music festival in New England.

No festival is complete without massive crowd-pleasing headliners. Unfortunately Prince was unavailable and Yankee Stadium was booked by those deadbeats Jay-Z and Eminem (and Kanye and Drake and Chris Martin and Beyoncé). But we have Toad’s Place and East Rock West Rock did manage to bill three headliners with a little something for everyone.

For the nostalgic type, who was able to convince his/her mother to tune to the local rock station over Celine Dion’s latest soundtrack blockbuster, there are the late-’90s genre-bending rockers CAKE. With quirky but unforgettable hits like “Going the Distance” and “Never There,” they’ll be sure to get your head bobbing and your mouth singing to their once-forgotten lyrics.

For those of you more inclined to blow trees than plant them, you can join narcotics enthusiast and wonder boy Wiz Khalifa, the best thing out of Pittsburgh since Girl Talk, on his “Waken Baken” tour. Straight off his MTV “Hottest Breakthrough MC of 2010” Award, Wiz arrives in New Haven amongst whispers that he is the dawning of the next great hip hop artist.

And for everyone else, there’s the Indie Rock, Baroque Pop, Art Rock, etceteras, Broken Social Scene. Whatever they are, they’re back with a ten-member lineup and as tight as ever — because this is a “Forgiveness Rock Record” (Arts & Crafts Records, 2010). With Broken Social Scene’s vocally pleasant, moderately dancy and texturally complex sound, you should have quite a few toes to tap. If you don’t like ’90s rock and you don’t like rap, Broken Social Scene is the East Rock West Rock headliner for you. Plus they’re Canadian — how could they possibly offend you?

The incredible thing about an upstart festival with 175 acts is that, somewhere between the headliners and the local high school band, there emerges an artist demographic that is completely unique and compelling. Amongst the riffraff and major label darlings are the artists on the cusp of making it big — those that just might have what it takes. Someday you might claim, “Ya, I saw them before they were big … In a bar in New Haven, Connecticut.”

The Elm City’s own progressive hip hop artist, Ceschi, is one of these artists — a truly local gem. What sets Cechsi apart from everyone else, however, is his collaboration with producer DJ Scientist, who brings a retro psychedelic rock, and even folk, influence that has rarely been espoused in hip hop. Ceschi plays at Anna Liffey’s on Thursday, Sept. 23 at 9:30 p.m.

The second artist to watch at East Rock West Rock comes to us all the way from Portland, Oregon. It might be a little presumptuous to say they’ll amount to anything quite as big as Talking Heads or The Band, but it is clear the sound of The Quick and Easy Boys meets somewhere in the middle. Blitzen Trapper seems a more apt, albeit less funky, comparison for this trio. Regardless, they’re suitable for a boisterous bar, which is exactly where they’ll be. The band plays Café Nine on Friday, Sept. 24 at 9:00 p.m.

Arguably the most scintillating act to grace us with their presence during ERWR//2010 is the psych-folk jam band Woods. Veterans of the modern Brooklyn music scene, Woods has been putting out stunning lo-fi folk rock records for five years without really breaking out onto the main stage. But Woods is ahead of (or behind?) the times as their live act is where they show their true colors. With a performance worthy of a ’60s Acid Test freak out, Woods has a propensity for meticulously messy jam sessions to bookend the band’s recorded persona. Although today’s record industry might not accept the freaky side of Woods’ split personality, I sure do and so can you, at Toad’s Lilly’s Pad — tonight, Sept. 17 at 10:00.

One of the most regrettable things about East Rock West Rock is their failure to involve the Yale community. Of all the musical acts on campus, only one made the bill. Among them, Plume Giant — the barefoot, bohemian folk trio made up of Nolan Green, Oliver Hill and Eliza Bagg — is sure to fill your soul with honey rich harmonies and remarkably intricate instrumentals for a trio. Don’t miss your chance to support Yale’s own folk rockers in their rise to the top as they perform in support of their upcoming self-titled EP, due out Oct. 15. Plume Giant is playing at Koffee on Audobon, Monday, Sept. 20.

Whether East Rock West Rock is a real music festival or just a website highlighting the various musical acts of this week, come out to explore the city and its fantastic venues. Drop a tab and pitch a tent on Old Campus and you might convince yourself that you’re at Bonnaroo.

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