If you’re a local musician in the Capital Region then you’ve most likely dreamt of playing The Egg. The peculiarly shaped downtown Albany venue holds a certain level of prestige around here, as it hosts gobs of internationally acclaimed touring acts (comedians, musicians, various other performers) and therefore functions as a beacon to the entertainment world beyond the 518’s borders. Local rock radio station Exit 97.7 WEXT understands that breaking through that barrier of esteem can be difficult for local artists, which is why they’re once again hosting the 518 Songfest ’17 on Saturday, April 1 in order to showcase some of the region’s up-and-comers at The Egg. However, not only will locals Girl Blue, The Sea The Sea (pictured) and Sandy McKnight (one of Songfest’s co-founders) be bolstered by the heralded venue, they’ll also share the spotlight with the season eight winner of The Voice, Sawyer Fredericks.
The event is a collaboration between WEXT, now in its tenth year of existence, and the Columbia Arts Team, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting local artists and writers, and all of the proceeds will be split between those two organizations. However, the emphasis has always been on the music, not the money.
“It’s all just to shine light on local music,” said Andy Gregory, the other co-founder and host of WEXT’s ‘Local 518’ radio show since 2014. “We have a lot of great stuff around here. There’re lots of bright stars so it’s difficult to choose,” he said, referring to the construction of the lineup.
McKnight, a founder of Columbia Arts Team, launched the event four years ago as Indiefest and hosted it at The Linda in Albany. Gregory joined soon after in order to “drag in more local bands” and since then it’s been a healthy collaboration between CAT and the station, pooling their resources to make The Egg a viable option.
“Nobody says they don’t like playing The Egg,” Gregory said.
Most radio stations put on some sort of benefit or sponsored event at least once a year. However, it’s Songfest’s structure and commitment to the artists that sets it apart from other shows in the area.
“It’s like a live version of ‘518 Sessions,’” Gregory said, referring to a WEXT program that highlights local artists via on-air performances and interviews. In between sets, Gregory and DJ Dave Michaels will be interviewing the performers about their songwriting, what inspires them, and where they hope to take their careers as the stage is being cleared for the next act. “The insights that each have can inform other artists and audience members,” Gregory said. “It’s fun.”
“We also do it because often times we’re putting up artists that aren’t all that well-known,” WEXT vice president Chris Wienk said. “It’s good for these artists to say a few words.”
The bill also features a guest appearance from John Davidson, who began his career on Broadway, moved to TV, and ultimately ended up doing music.
“We thought it’d be an interesting twist to have him speak about the other side of fame. A look back so people can look forward,” Gregory said.
Although the event ultimately benefits WEXT, both Gregory and Wienk repeatedly emphasized their excitement to give these artists a platform and expressed gratitude toward them for agreeing to play.
“It’s humbling that they’d take a Saturday night–a night where they could typically make some money playing out–and essentially make no money,” Wienk said. “We’re really touched they’d say yes and do the show.”
He said that they were particularly fortunate to get the 17-year-old Fredericks due to his fame as one of most successful Voice winners. Nine of his singles broke into the iTunes Top 10 singles chart and he’s amassed a hefty social media following (nearly 260,000 Facebook fans).
“I really hope people come away with a different impression of him,” Wienk said, mentioning how many people might unfairly write him off for his TV inception. “He’s a young man who’s learned about songs and written powerful songs at such a young age.”
It’s all going down in Swyer Theatre at The Egg this Saturday at 7PM.