The city of Rochester is known for its festivals. We celebrate the rich culture of our community from early spring through late fall with food, wine and music festivals. But never before has Rochester welcomed a festival that was solely focused on the up-and-coming artists and the performance venues that make up the city. The festival was a wonderful way to showcase the new and old talents that make up Rochester. It brought new energy and life to Gibbs Street for the weekend, and there was something for every possible audience member to enjoy.
This year, Rochester welcomed its inaugural Fringe Festival, held from Sept. 20 to Sept. 23, to the East End. The festival featured some big name acts such as the stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt, The Harlem Gospel Choir and Bandaloop, a modern dance troop that performs while hanging from skyscrapers. The heart and soul of the festival, though, was the smaller, up-and-coming acts that were featured throughout the weekend in venues all over the East End. These were the performances that gave the festival it’s life, talented unknowns who charmed the audience and were impossible to ignore.
The concept of a Fringe Festival is not unique to Rochester. The tradition dates back to 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland. On certain weekends, eight theater troupes would arrive uninvited on the “fringes” of the city and give performances for the public in local venues they had booked themselves. The town of Edinburgh now annually hosts the largest Fringe Festival in the world with over 2,600 acts spanning 25 days.
Since then, Fringe Festivals have been held in over 200 cities around the world including London, Toronto and New York. Fringe Festivals, regardless of location, are usually focused on up-and-coming artists in the area.
They also give local venues the opportunity to feature modern plays and musical acts that usually last less than an hour. The venues themselves are responsible for picking the acts they want to host and for selling tickets for the shows; most of the publicity for the shows is taken care of by the festival, which, according to it’s website, is funded by local sponsors, grants and show registration fees.
To perform in the festival, artists had to send their application to the approved venues last spring. The applications included long, detailed descriptions of the shows, the people involved and all of the technical needs of the show.
Plays performed this weekend included old favorites revived with new music as well as brand new, modern ones written within the last year. Musical acts consisted of many rock bands with folk influences, cabarets, a funk band, a few gospel choirs and a cappella groups from both the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and UR — almost all of which were engaging and fun to watch. There were also modern art exhibits at Rochester Contemporary Art Center, the Little Café, the Miller Center at the Eastman School of Music, and the Gallery “r” at RIT. Performance venues ranged from tiny, local cafes to Kodak Hall at Eastman.Free music was played throughout the weekend at a huge main stage set up on Gibbs Street. Street performers were also encouraged by the festival’s board of directors; acts on Gibbs Street ranged from banjo players to harpists and singers, all with fair amounts of talent.
Overall, the festival was a great success. The weather was cloudy, rainy and chilly for much of the weekend, but this didn’t seem to deter crowds from flocking to the festival.
Both Friday and Saturday night, Gibbs Street was booming with lively and entertaining music. People lounged in Javas Café and at small tables set up in the middle of the street; many even got up to show off their dance moves in front of the stage. The smell of wood-fired ovens and fried food was in the air as people walked from vendor to vendor, sampling beer and wine, frozen custard and other city favorites.
Both the music on Gibbs Street and other performances ran late into the evenings, sometimes not ending until after midnight. but no one seemed to be complaining about the fun continuing on.
Some shows reported smaller audience sizes, but featured shows such as the Bandaloop performance on Thursday, Sept. 20 reported crowds of over 2,000 people. This is encouraging news for the board of directors, who have already started making plans for next year.
This is a festival that appears poised to expand and improve in coming years, until it’s another fascinating hallmark of Rochester life.
Sanguinetti is a member of the class of 2014.