Hudson Music Fest draws thousands of… music tourists?

HUDSON—“They’re playing some good music down there,” a woman said over the sound of vendor Rick Carpentier’s fried onions and hot dogs, which sizzled on a flat top grill.

The fourth annual Hudson Music Fest arrived Friday, August 8 and ended Sunday, August 10. A record 300 acts from five countries and 26 states applied, and about 90 were selected. “From the beginning the festival has had an open application for any musician/act to apply,” wrote festival organizer Chad Weckler in an e-mail.

Bands and individual performers played under five white tents set up every few blocks along Warren Street, as well as at various venues, bars and restaurants. The crowds moving slowly through the August heat could hear a distorted electric guitar solo, reggae, salsa, or an acoustic rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” all within a few blocks of each other.

The event’s organizers are Mr. Weckler—a California native who arrived in Columbia County in 2006 by way of New York City—and Rob Johanson. Mr. Weckler first organized the 15th Annual ArtsWalk in 2009 for the Columbia County Council on the Arts before submitting a proposal for the Hudson Music Fest to Artspire, a program run by the New York Foundation for the Arts.

“We had the energy [but] no money… Elena Mosley of Operation Unite, and host of the Hudson Black Arts & Cultural Festival… suggested we piggy-back on her event, which falls on the second weekend in August,” said Mr. Weckler. “By the second year I began to apply for grants to help fund the festival as individual contributions alone were not fulfilling the need to cover our expenses… The first three years we had six outdoor stages, this year we had five. The decision to reduce the number of stages was the lack of funding we obtained this year.”

A new development for this year’s festival was an app for iPhones and Androids, which listed artists, schedules and information about Hudson and Columbia County for visitors.

Many local business owners were pleased with the increased foot traffic, although a few complained about the influx of people and loud music. A press release available on the event’s website predicted that 15,000 people would attend the festival over the course of the weekend.

Mr. Carpentier said that business had been good for his hot dog stand. When asked how this year’s festival compared to previous festivals, he said that Saturday was one of the busiest festival days he had ever seen. Mr. Carpentier suggested that the festival might be improved by having shuttle busses run from Front Street to 7th Street Park.

“I’ve never seen a Friday night so busy,” said Jill Kuhn, who owns the three-week-old store Watson’s Cabinet with her fiancée Clive Tucker. She also said that she thought it would be helpful if the festival provided maps for attendees.

Daniel Brodowski, who works at the Record Shoppe, said that the festival was good for business. Jay Neuschatz of TK Home and Garden agreed that there was “increased street traffic,” but said that it had been a pretty normal weekend for his store.

“People walking around. Music. Who could hate it?” said Mark Josefsberg, who was selling his own collection of vintage clothing from a rack on the sidewalk outside the disused church on Warren Street. “I’ve sold half of my clothes today.” Mr. Josefsberg did add that the festival could use more advertising. He said that he had only learned about the festival about two weeks ago and had posted about it on Facebook to try to attract friends from New York City and Long Island to the event. He said he’ll be opening a store called Peculiar at 540 Warren Street on August 15.

Hudson resident Kiehl—“You don’t need to know my last name,” he said—stood outside his apartment building on Warren Street. He said the city and all its eateries had been “packed.” His sister came for the event from New York City, he said, “She had to come up on Thursday because every other train was booked. There are the regular tourists from New York, but [this weekend] you see plates from all over. Way fancier cars. You see some Bentleys, some Rolls Royces.”

One local business owner, who asked not to be identified for fear of alienating people in town, said, “I hate saying this, but it’s becoming very noisy.” A customer in the same store who said he was a regular weekend visitor complained about the increased traffic on Warren Street.

The Hudson Music Fest has a two-year partnership with an identically named Canadian festival, which takes place in Hudson, Quebec. A kind of exchange program has developed—American group Holly and Evan played the Canadian festival, while Montreal-based band the Frisky Kids played the Columbia County festival.

“We’re here to play some rock and roll songs for you,” said Calum Glew, guitarist of the Frisky Kids. The band, which consists of bassist Matisse Gill and drummer Alex Paul in addition to Mr. Glew, played two shows over the weekend.

The band wore matching grey button-down shirts, and Mr. Glew and Mr. Gill both wore black jeans. Mr. Paul might have worn the same black jeans but for a broken left leg, which was stretched out to the side of his drum kit in a brace. Mr. Glew and Mr. Gill had their guitar straps short, their instruments high on their chests. The effect was one of nostalgia for a musical era that began and ended many years before any of the members of the young band were born—although when all of recorded musical history is available on the Internet, the idea that taste is defined by the musical era of one’s youth might be outdated.

All three members of the band sing. The occasional stage banter mostly consisted of discussions about what song to play next. As Mr. Paul said after a half-hearted attempt to tell the audience how he broke his leg, “I’m a musician not a story-teller.”

The audience drifted closer to the stage as the set went on, partly drawn by the energetic bursts of garage rock and partly drawn by the small rectangle of shade in front of the tent. Most of the audience sat on the grass, although one young woman in a purple dress swayed in place to the music. The smell of fried dough from a truck next to the stage mingled with the smell of cigarette smoke from the audience.

“We usually play clubs in Montreal,” said Mr. Glew after their Saturday set. “Playing outside is a little different, but it’s great.”

According to Mr. Weckler, plans are in the works for a fifth Hudson Music Fest, which will take place the second weekend of August 2015.

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