The Clifton Heights Music Festival was exactly what it was slated to be, a two-day celebration of music and community. With 50 bands this is only a glimpse into the festival like atmosphere that was created over the weekend.
The first night exposed several scheduling conflicts for me, so I decided to go it alone and be free to roam from venue to venue whenever I wanted. Scratching my planned route and never catching a whole set gave me an opportunity to see a lot of what night one had to offer.
The cool air and fall breeze had me feeling relaxed, so I headed to Rohs Street Café, the mostly acoustic venue, to start out the night. Wade Johnson & The Navigators were playing an acoustic rock set, and the growing crowd was mostly sitting on the floor soaking in the music. With a percussionist using only a snare, bongo and cymbal, but no drumsticks, it was an intriguing and soothing set. The cozy ambiance in the café matched. After drinking a latte to boost my energy, I headed to Christy’s, but the jolt that came from the change of atmosphere would have served the same purpose. The Hip-Hop set had the crowd surrounding the group and bobbing and swaying in unison. A different world from Rohs. This high energy was flowing through the night – on trips from venue to venue the packs of people were buzzing and boisterous.
At Baba’s, The Marmalade Brigade had a few people swing dancing, but the crowd seemed disengaged from the music, which was rare for this weekend. However inattentive the crowd, this talented folk troupe attracted a couple members of the hip-hop crew, Crack Sauce – a moment that encapsulated the festival’s musical diversity so well.
The Prohibitionists were the headliners at Rohs, and they didn’t disappoint. The crowd was smaller, but more energetic from the first visit. The heavy drum and bass driven set had feet tapping and heads bobbing around the room. The only venue without a liquor license, this band was aptly named, but they deserved a bigger crowd.
Checking back in at Baba’s for a band I wanted to see only for their name, The Guild of Calamitous Intent had recaptured the attention of the previously distracted crowd with their charismatic front man and intricate instrumentation. They showed me they deserved attention for more than their name. Now in the mood for more headbanging, I checked out Banderas. The punk/metal mix proved to be the hardest and loudest set so far soon had the singer bleeding from his forehead and the keyboardist standing atop his instrument slamming on a cowbell. When someone asked what happened to his head, the bloodied singer responded with, “Rock ‘n’ Roll happened to my head.” This statement resounded throughout the weekend, reminding me that music was all that mattered.
Babas hosted the largest crowd so far for the No No Knots. A packed house before they even started, their name obviously preceded them. The soaring vocals were a good companion for the fast-paced rhythm section that drives the music. Space-rock guitar riffs, samples, and saxophones all flow in and out of this bands performance, and give listeners something truly unique.
The last two acts I saw, Buckra and The Ohms, both got their respective crowds dancing. Buckra, who teamed up with DJ Optik for a riveting mash-up, did it with their brand of soul-flavored rock, while Optik spun records to give the crowd some familiar funk tunes, which were perfectly timed to mesh with Buckra’s set. With earlier scheduling issues The Ohms were barely able to squeeze in their rock-edged reggae set, but the crowd was willing to finish up dancing and leave immediately after they finished. With music right up to the end, it was a great way to end the first night and stay excited for the next.
On night two I got an earlier start, but ended up being a little more static, mainly due to the biting wind. This weather didn’t stop crowds from packing into the warm venues, though. People bundled up for the first time this year and were determined to hear great, local music.
Baba’s was again amassing a large crowd both in and out and had, probably, the largest pull through the weekend. Before the first show I saw, the crowd was buzzing with stories from the first night and information about the upcoming band. Shadowraptr was all over the musical map. Changing quickly from precisely constructed rock to a slow jam band style, they soon had the previously rowdy crowd subdued with their unique musical style.
Next, I nestled in at Rohs Street Café for my longest stay at any venue during the festival for two great performances. The Ridges got off to a late start, but the completely seated crowd didn't seem to mind. One of the most eclectic sets I saw consisted of two cellos, three voices and percussion consisted of sleigh bells, snares and xylophones. Without previous knowledge or hype surrounding this group, it was an unexpected surprise. It seemed the entire crowd came up to tell a member of the Ridges how good their set was. Between bands I stepped outside just in time to catch a group of guys beatboxing and freestyling. People seemed inspired to create their own music. The Happy Maladies were up next, and once they got on stage, the crowd at Rohs was on their feet for the first time I'd seen. The crowd erupted in applause and cheers immediately after the violins final pluck. Even if their experimental folk didn't strike a listener's fancy, they stayed because they were intrigued.
After a laid back evening I needed a little vigor, so I made my last stop Christy’s for The Pinstripes. Despite the cold weather, the swelling crowd packed under the roof to hear the band’s soulful ska tunes. The band fed off the energy and played a flawless set, which was a perfect reflection of the festival.
The fusion of music and culture shared five venues for two nights and it all went off without any major problems. The vibe was energetic yet relaxed. Everyone was there to enjoy the local music. All I can say is something I kept hearing whenever I was near Rome Ntukogu, the festival’s creator – “When is the next one?”