On the equinox, the border between summer and autumn, just outside Buffalo, NY at the border between the US and Canada, emerged a brand new festival showcasing music, arts, and crafts bordering in and around roots and Americana. The Borderland Festival was, by all measures, a huge success in its inaugural year, establishing itself as a viable extension to the Western New York festival season and an event worthy of a summer’s long anticipation.
The festival was gorgeously situated at Knox Farm State Park. Parking was on polo grounds, craft vendors were set up inside horse stables (a few of which actually housed horses), and craftsmen were scattered about, demonstrating their expertise in sheep shearing, cigar rolling, beer brewing, horseshoeing and more. Tasty local food and beverages were available via tent and truck, and a consciousness for the environment was on display with many people drinking from available reusable metal cups and volunteers assisting in proper disposal of all garbage, recyclables and compostables.
Though with non-stop quality music filling the air, there really was time for little else. Two main stages, the Grasslands Stage and the Split Rail Stage, sat mere yards apart and featured alternating sets for a continuum of music across the entire day. A short walk past the horse stables sat the Homespun stage where local talent held court, filling time as viable alternatives to the main acts. Buffalo roots bands like Folkfaces, The Observers and 10 Cent Howl kept the party rambling with down home jams and singalongs. All of the stages were within a few minutes walk and fans could easily catch some of everything with little sacrifice.
And O, the music! Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds gave a little preview of their forthcoming album, busting out the upbeat and catchy “Ghost” and showcasing singer Arleigh Kincheloe’s incredible vocal range on the soulful “Gold.” Montreal’s Barr Brothers made a rare appearance in the area, opening with “Come in the Water” and closing with “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” in a set chock full of their warm and eclectic folk rock. With harps, pedal steels and 12-string guitars, it was a rich tapestry built of many strings, and even one thread which Brad Barr pulled through his guitar for a spacey sonic vibration that reverberated across the farm.
Veteran indie-rockers Dr. Dog are no strangers to Western New York and they were treated like old friends by the crowd which was dancing and singing along from note one. Decked out in matching festival sweatshirts, they treated the audience to an energetic career-spanning set, featuring classics like “The Breeze” and “That Old Black Hole” while also working in a solid chunk of their 2018 release Critical Equation. The slinky groove of “Listening In” turned heavy and dark while “Go Out Fighting” built an deep energy that reached a My Morning Jacket-style intensity level.
The Sam Bush Band showcased their unique take on traditional music, delving into Bush’s newgrass roots on the instrumental “Greenbriar” and getting funky on a fine cover of Alan Toussaint’s “Sneakin Sally Through the Alley.” There was still room for some classic bluegrass stomps with “Howling at the Moon” and “Big Rabbit” and even some social action with “Stop the Violence.” Another Canadian crossing the border for the Borderland Festival, Sam Roberts thanked the area fans for being his first American audience to take him in. Roberts and his band, with stylish guitar-heavy grooving rock, delighted the audience with fan favorites like “Brother Down” and “Mind Flood.”
The clouds persisted for most of what was a perfectly brisk first day of fall. But just as the sun was setting, the clouds parted enough for a beautiful sky filled with reds, oranges, yellows and purples to flow over the festival. It was against this backdrop that New Orleans octet The Revivalists took the stage for the final set of the evening. The crowd kept plenty in the tank and were ready to rage along as the band brought an infectious energy to the stage. Blasting horns, tight rhythms, shredding guitars and a soaring pedal steel formed a crunchy American rock sound that jammed and grooved its way through the darkening night. Autumn was officially here, but for one small corner of the world, a few thousand people were still holding on tight to the spirit of summer.