Johnstown's Flood City Music Festival has eclectic lineup
August 20, 2009 4:00 AM
Singer Ruthie Foster will play at the Ameriserv Flood City Music Festival.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Johnstown Folk Festival was nice while it lasted, but according to its director, it was time for a change.
"The name made sense at one time," says Shelley Johansson, of the presenting Johnstown Area Heritage Association.
That was just after the National Folk Festival, 50 years in, set up shop there for three years from 1990 to '92.
"When they left," she says, "we picked up the reins and continued with the music fest, so 'folk fest' made sense. Folk can mean a lot of things, but most people think acoustic. There are at least as many electric guitars as folk here."
So, enter the Ameriserv Flood City Music Festival, which, of course, references Johnstown history and leaves the door open to various kinds of music that aren't even remotely folk.
Not that the Flood City Music Festival is going to any extremes -- no metal or electropop on the bill -- but it goes far beyond Pete Seeger songs.
Donation: $5 Friday; $10 Saturday and Sunday; under 16 free with adult; weekend pass ranging from $20 to $90.
Directions from Pittsburgh: Take Route 22 East. Take the Armagh exit onto Route 56 East (which becomes Broad Street) and follow this approximately eight miles into Johnstown. Drive through the Cambria City neighborhood into town. You will pass under a railway bridge, at which point the festival park will appear on your left. After you pass Point Stadium, turn left into the city to find one of the city-owned parking garages. Signage will direct you.
6:30-8 p.m.: Bill Kirchen & The Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Stage
Noon-1 p.m.: Whiskey River Panhandlers
1:30-2:30 p.m.: Kristi Rose & Fats Kaplin
3-4 p.m.: Joy Ike
4:30-5:30 p.m.: Bob Banerjee & Friends
6-7:30 p.m.: Scott Blasey
The headliner is the Derek Trucks Band, led by the guitar prodigy who joined the Allman Brothers as a teenager and still regularly tours with the legendary Southern rock band. The DTB recently released "Already Free," a sixth studio album of swampy, funky blues-rock with Trucks playing lots of dirty slide.
" 'Already Free' is the most song-oriented record we've ever done and has more vocals then we've had before," Trucks told the PG. "We really feel like this album is a serious step forward for the band and our sound and what we can do together. The fact that we did it ourselves means a lot. I got to produce the album from home without any time constraints which allowed the vibe in the room to constantly flow."
The second biggest headliner is Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, a "neoclassic rock 'n' roll band" from Vermont -- whatever that means -- led a 24-year-old beauty who draws comparisons to Janis Joplin and was recently called by Rolling Stone "the lone, legitimate female sex symbol on the jam band circuit." Keep an ear or two out for the band's cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."
The other headliners are Donna the Buffalo, New York veterans who fuse zydeco, rock, folk, reggae and country, and soulful young folk artist Ruthie Foster. Seven Nations brings Celtic bagpipe rock, and Bill Kirchen, former Commander Cody guitarist, has Western swing and rockabilly at his fingertips.
Pittsburgh is well-represented with Clarks frontman Scott Blasey, flatpicker Ernie Hawkins, singer-songwriter extraordinaire Bill Deasy, chamber-pop group Ben Hardt Acoustic, trad folk band The NewLanders, former Houserocker Bill Toms, neo-soul artist Joy Ike and country-pop phenom Maddie Georgi, among others.
Johnstown offers what is probably the festival's most boisterous rock band, Endless Mike and the Beagle Club, plus Celtic act Tree, singer-songwriter Gerry Stanek, Americana band the Whiskey River Panhandlers and 17-piece big band Jazz in Your Face.
Beyond that, Johansson says she knows of a couple coming all the way from Australia to see Kane Welch Kaplin, an acoustic alt-country "supergroup" consisting of Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane and Fats Kaplin.
Johansson says the lineup has gotten stronger by trimming the stages from four to three, so as to not compete against itself as much, and also asking for a small donation of $5 on Friday and $10 on Saturday and Sunday.
"Derek Trucks by himself was $40 in Pittsburgh recently," she says, "and a lot of the artists can command close to that."
Johansson, a native of Nashville, has been booking the festival while also juggling the Heritage Association, which operates the Johnstown Flood Museum, the Wagner-Ritter House & Garden and the Frank & Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center.
"We're a museum organization primarily and then we have this festival," she says. "We want to inspire people to learn more about Johnstown, because it is a fascinating place."