Over the past four years, the B3nson Records-helmed Restoration Festival has earned its stripes as an annual musical institution. With hurricane Irene and the loss of their original venue, St. Joseph’s Church in Albany, behind them, Rest Fest wrote a new chapter for the event and the future of live music in Troy with this year’s move to CAC Woodside, the stunning arts residency center housed in the historic Mill Street church. The event is the first the venue has held in its nearly fully refurbished sanctuary space, benefitting from funds the event generated and allowing audiences to meander through the grounds to the adjacent smaller, but no less striking, chapel space.
It was between these two rooms that audiences oscillated throughout the day on Friday, enjoying a lineup of local acts that reached beyond the B3nson collective to include Saratoga’s the North and South Dakotas and Eastbound Jesus. While those two acts fired up the crowd with hard-strummed bluegrass and country rock, the presence of electric guitars seem to be marking a transition within some of the B3nson mainstays. Nick Matulis’ blissed-out falsetto received a bed of chiming Fenders, courtesy of Mike Hotter’s Tele and Frank Moscowitz’s Rhodes, while the event’s most sophisticated light rig thus far explored the white projection panels on the church’s ceiling. Meanwhile, Eric Krans has lent the Parlor a touch of disco with his transition to the electric guitar. A year or so ago, no one would have counted ABBA among that band’s influences, but it works so well with Jen O’Connor’s rising prominence on lead vocals.
Swapping instruments and vocal leads for nearly every song, Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned embodied the dexterity and ambition of the overall event. The band have released a new EP every month of this year and plan to continue through December, supplementing their already sizable catalog of emotive folk singalongs. Balloons fell from the rafters as Rival Galaxies closed things out for the chapel afterparty. The debut of Matt Ferguson’s new synth-rock freakout served as a nice transition to Saturday’s lunacy.
The clouds crept in and hung over Woodside Church most of Saturday but never rained out the good cheer and excitement that had been building up for Philadelphia spazz-out specialists Man Man. They were treated to a warm crowd thanks to a one-two punch of bracing distortion from Slaughterhouse Chorus and Barons in the Attic. Barons, who have played the “funstival” since its inception, tore into material from their latest release, Turn It Off, Take Out the Battery, as well as inviting former member and the festival’s MC Stephen Stanley onstage for a song. The same exuberance that sprung the crowd for the Parlor the previous night spun the crowd for Barons in a beaming mosh pit.
If Rest Fest’s kinetic energy were represented as a line graph, a steady climb could be observed from Matt Durfee and the Rattling Badlies to Saratoga garage rockers Party Boat onward until 10 PM when Man Man were caught in the pickle of sound-checking for a fidgety crowd. The anticipation proved to be a good problem to have. When lead singer Honus Honus plunked out the electric piano chords of “Top Drawer,” from 2008’s Rabbit Habits, he sparked a match on a joyful powder keg.
Honus and drummer Pow Pow faced one another at the front of the stage, and their manic Muppet mien lent their set an air of a rowdy house show. Honus raided all of the strange clothes he could find in the attic, including a ship admiral’s coat, an alien mask from Halloween past, and several sparkly wizard cloaks. For all the theatricality and absurdity, the band’s precision and attention to tone amid the melee was remarkable. The band featured material from the new record, On Oni Pond, which was produced by Saddle Creek studio wizard Mike Moogis. The lead single, a ballad called “Head On,” had the crowd pairing off into couples and singing the catchy cardiocentric hook, “Hold onto your heart/Don’t let nobody take it over.”
Everything from Honus bringing a kid in a Mortal Kombat costume on stage, throwing him in the air and catching him, down to his Wolf Blitzer-patterned muumuu reveled in absurdity and the thankful crowd rode along with them right up to the final cymbal crash and choked scream of “Young Einstein on the Beach.” It was yahoo serious.