I Am Festival is like the CMJ of New London, CT. Held across five venues, the festival focuses on local acts with national acts peppered in. This year’s national headliners included Cymbals Eat Guitars and the only New England appearance for Death but more impressive were the local talent from Connecticut’s burgeoning music scene.
Playing in local record store, the Telegraph, the first act I caught was a Violent Mae. The guitar/drum duo features the sultry voice of Becky Kessler. Like Fiona Apple holding a guitar as big as her body, Kessler proved to be in enigmatic force on stage, commanding the audience’s attention. Her intricate guitar playing and mesmerizing voice was only enhanced by Floyd Kellogg dynamic drumming. Going from a whisper to a roar, Kellogg both drummed and provided backing vocals. Of all the acts seen on the day, Violent Mae has the most potential to be the breakout artist from Connecticut.
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Following Violent Mae performance was festival co-organizer and owner of the Telegraph, Daphne Lee Martin. Although Martin claims that standing up and singing in front of people is her least favorite part of being a musician, she handled it with class. Decked out in a little black dress and high heels with her red bra peeking out a bit, Martin oozed sexuality on stage as she performed what has been called “devilishly delightful” and “a little dirty, a little dangerous.” The mixture of downtempo, jazz and folk showed off her impeccable song writing and her bands musicianship with extended bass, horn, and guitar solos being taken frequently. It is no wonder Martin has already been featured in such national festivals as South by Southwest and CMJ.
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The hinge point between national acts and local acts was represented by Mark Mulcahy. The Connecticut-based singer-songwriter had been a national staple in the 90s with his band Polaris and Miracle Legion. His set was comprised with songs from both his Miracle Legion days and his solo albums, including this year’s Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You. The highlight of the night was a performance of “Butterfly” which Mulcahy claims to have never performed live before but was persuaded to by his cousin and festival organizer, Rich Martin.
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After Mulcahy, came the New York based band Cymbals Eat Guitars. In a flurry of guitar and wall-of-synthesizers is vocalist Joseph D’Agostino whose voice sounds a lot like 13 Songs-era Ian MacKaye. The highlight of the band may have been the rhythm section, bassist Matthew Whipple and drummer Matthew Miller drove the songs with a mixture of indie dance and punk intensity. The combination kept the crowd moving as rain began to fall in Southeastern Connecticut.
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The night on the main stage wrapped up with Death. Hailed as the first black punk band and maybe even the first punk band period, Death started out their set proving their chops. The Chuck Berry-esque guitars, the soaring almost classic metal vocals, and driving drums captivated the crowd. Unfortunately as the set war on so did the crowd’s patience. Punk fervor was replaced with power ballads that made one member of the crowd exclaim “this sounds like fucking Creed.” While for the historical context the bands set was a important, it was far from the best set of the festival.
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For the festival as a whole marks an important part of Connecticut’s music scene. It allows local artists exposure to large audiences by pairing them with national and international acts. Maybe surprising to some but the local acts often outperformed their national counterparts on this day. It can only make one excited for next year’s festival.