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Cortland's Seedstock offers eclectic weekend of music

Jul 31, 2019

This weekend, Seedstock will once again take place just outside of Cortland at the former site of Reed’s Seeds (hence its name). Basically "a humungous house party," as co-founder Chris Merkley described the festival a few years ago, Seedstock XI kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday and runs through Sunday afternoon, with a mix of local, regional and national bands performing on two stages.

  

Maddy Walsh and the Blind Spots perform at last year's Seedstock. They'll return to perform at the festival on Friday night.
Credit Jim Catalano

Among the 20 bands are local favorites Maddy Walsh and the Blind Spots (8:30 p.m. Friday), Root Shock (6 p.m. Saturday), the Unknown Woodsmen (8 p.m. Saturday), and host band Digger Jones (9:30 p.m. Saturday). The latter two bands will again join forces as The Unknown Jones to pay tribute to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Eat a Peach” album at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. 

The Local Farmers Union will kick off Seedstock at 5 p.m. Friday, and Dan Forsyth and Joe Kollar of Driftwood will play a Sunday afternoon set at 2:30 p.m. to close out the festival.

Joe Kollar and Dan Forsyth of Driftwood, shown performing at Seedstock in 2015, will close out this year's festival on Sunday afternoon.
Credit Jim Catalano

National acts include Stephen Lewis and his Big Band of Fun (7 p.m. Saturday), Balkun Brothers (4:30 p.m. Saturday), and Microcave (12:30 a.m. Friday), and Ithaca-based DJs ha-MEEN, Proper Philth and Gourd will be spinning vinyl at the Silent Disco late Saturday night in the adjacent Meraki Forest.

Single day and weekend passes range from $15-$50 (more for camping), and can be purchased on the festival's website at www.SeedstockFest.com, as well as at the gate.

Seedstock co-founders Tyler Coakley and Chris Merkley answered a few questions via email about this year’s event:

Q: Any new challenges as you approach the 11th festival?

TYLER:  Putting on an event like this always has its challenges. But we have such a great crew of people to help us. Ranging from a volunteer coordinator, chef, ground crews, merchandise/marketing team and an amazing volunteer crew during the festival. So all of the challenges we face are made somewhat easier with this team!

Q: Anything new or different for this year?

TYLER: I don't think we have reinvented the wheel this year. As they say, if it ain't broke don't fix it. We have 11 new acts this year that have not graced the Seedstock stages. So we are looking forward to that.

CHRIS: We also have the Truxton Charter School and the Lime Hollow Forest School teaming up to host a children's activity tent throughout the weekend. There are a number of new artists and vendors being featured this year along with some updates to the sculpture installations in the Meraki Forest.

Q: Are you still doing that live movie soundtrack performance that was mentioned a few months ago?

CHRIS: We had a few schedule changes along the way and the live movie soundtrack was one of them. We're talking about revisiting the idea down the road but it didn't make the cut this year.

The Balkun Brothers will make their Seedstock debut at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Q: Can you talk about the national acts on this year’s bill?

CHRIS: Stephen Lewis and the Big Band of Fun are in the midst of one of their biggest tours yet. They're fresh off a European run and a string of shows in the Northeast, including two sets at Mountain Jam. They're an upbeat, high-energy group with a mix of sounds that makes me think Zach Deputy, Simon and Garfunkel and moe. all got thrown into a band together. Balkun Brothers are another group we're looking forward to introducing to Seedstock fans. They also performed at Mountain Jam earlier this year and bring a Black Keys kind of vibe with hard-driving melodic blues and rock.  

Chris Merkley performs with Digger Jones at Seedstock X in 2018
Credit Jim Catalano

Q: The Unknown Jones set has become the centerpiece of Saturday night—how did that originally come about? 

CHRIS: Digger Jones and the Unknown Woodsmen teamed up on a local show a few years back when we played a Dead tribute and things basically snowballed from there. We all immediately realized how much potential there was for the sound we could create together and have been coming up with different themed shows for Seedstock as the Unknown Jones since. 

Q: How do you pick the theme for each year? 

CHRIS: We brought the Unknown Jones Plays Dead back for Seedstock IX and last year decided to pay tribute to Seedstock X by picking ten number one billboard songs from different decades. This year we floated the idea of doing a Woodstock tribute to celebrate its 50th anniversary but ultimately got swayed by the temptation to do an Allman Brothers set. Most of the members in each band have been strongly influenced by their music and with two drummers, multiple guitar players and singers, and a hammond organ in the mix, it was hard to resist. Digger Jones will do a tribute to Woodstock as part of our set and then we'll follow it up with The Unknown Jones Eats a Peach, with most song selections coming from the Allman's “Fillmore East” album and “Eat a Peach.” 

Q: Talk about “Eat a Peach.” And how much time do you put into rehearsing?

CHRIS: We've been putting a little more time into rehearsals this year because of certain intricacies to the Allman Brothers music that we wanted to get right. A lot of that has been guitar work outside of the full band rehearsals, to coordinate some of their signature guitar harmonies, and I've also been diving in on Duane Allman's guitar work trying to catch up on my lead slide playing. All in all I think the two bands have been getting together weekly for the past two months outside of our other separate rehearsals. 

The Unknown Woodsmen perform at Seedstock X. They'll be back at the festival on Saturday night.
Credit Jim Catalano

Q: Any idea of where the attendees come from?

TYLER:  We see a wide array of people from all over the state, including NYC. We also have friends plan their vacations from out west to come home during the festival weekend.

CHRIS: There are a lot of people coming in from Ithaca, Syracuse, and Binghamton, as well as a large core group of Cortland fans who come out. More and more we hear about people traveling from further out like Rochester, the Finger Lakes, Albany and even other states to attend. Most of those attendees either grew up in the area and plan their visits back around the festival or they have friends in the area who told them about the party. 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about putting on Seedstock?

CHRIS: The excitement and energy of all our friends and fans coming together for a weekend of music is hard to top. There's an initial burst of excitement Friday night for the bands and then the energy builds up throughout the day Saturday until it peaks under the lights on the front lawn Saturday night. Sunday is also a personal favorite because of the come down and the total exhaustion of settling into the lawn listening to acoustic music for the afternoon. I guess Seedstock is my favorite thing about putting on Seedstock.

A panoramic view of the front lawn and main stage at Seedstock in 2016.
Credit Jim Catalano