The Rochester group, acolytes of the country-rock Zac Brown Band – as you may have guessed – plays the first weekend of the 125th festival, which opens May 12 in Highland Park and runs for 10 days, through May 21.
And relax, there will be kettle corn all 10 days.
This year’s Lilac Festival will also be an opportunity, said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, to “forget everything that has happened the last few years.” He was talking about COVID, of course; it led to the cancellation of the 2020 festival, with limited versions in 2021 and ’22.
The 2020 cancellation was a personal hardship for Bello, who claimed to have been attending the festival since he was three months old. And he has been at the event every year it has been held. “You can see it outside,” he said at Tuesday afternoon’s press conference at Olmstead Lodge, on the edge of the park. “The trees are starting to bloom.”
Indeed, the park, created in 1888, is showing signs of life among its estimated 1,800 lilac bushes of about 500 varieties. But while the blossoms always seem to show up, there are other issues this year.
“Getting out-of-town bands to have the routing to be able to come to Rochester,” said Festival Producer Jeff Springut. “It’s typically a problem in May – I should say a challenge – because they’re not really on tour in May.” COVID, and the number of events all across the country that are struggling to get back on their feet after the last few years, has added to the uncertainty and travel costs acts must bear.
Because of that tougher tour landscape, events such as the Lilac Festival have fewer entertainment options to choose from. Supply and demand dictates the rising costs for booking shows
“It’s very competitive out there,” Springut said.
But, as usual, he’s found a few.
“Probably the most fun band is The Founders, with the original members of Roomful of Blues,” Springut said. “Actually, six of the members. They’re an old Red Creek favorite, and I started booking them, I can’t believe how long ago, in the mid- to late-70s.”
Red Creek was Springut’s longtime Henrietta music club.
Opening night at the Lilac Festival will be headlined by the Maryland-based funk and groove band Pigeons Playing Pong Pong. The Chicago rock band Sneezy, a fusion of rock, hip-hop and soul, plays at 5:30 p.m., and Personal Blend opens at 4 p.m.
The Rochester funk and soul outfit Shine plays 4:30 p.m. May 13, followed by the Zac Brown Tribute Band at 6 p.m. The day opens at 3 p.m. with MoChester.
The rest of the festival’s music, with a lot of Grateful Dead groove and assorted tribute acts:
The Seven Wonders, a Fleetwood Mac tribute band, 6 p.m. May 14. Preceded by The Iguanas, an excellent New Orleans roots-rocking outfit at 4 p.m. BB Dang plays at 2:30 p.m. and Sofrito at 1 p.m.
Mikaela Davis, Rochester’s harp-driven singer-songwriter, plays 7 p.m. May 15, after another Rochester band, the psychedelic alt-country band Public Water Supply at 5:15, and Big Blue House at 4 p.m.
The Sam Grisman Project Presents the Music of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, 7 p.m. May 16. (Sam is the son of the late David Grisman.) Buffalo’s Organ Fairchild is at 5 p.m., Diggler’s Bridge at 4 p.m.
Blue Sky Brothers, headlining at 7 p.m. May 17, are an Allman Brothers Band made up of well-known musicians from the Rochester scene. Syracuse’s reggae-groove outfit plays at 5:30 p.m., Inside Out at 4 p.m.
Almost Queen, a Queen tribute, is 7 p.m. May 18. Stunt Double is 5:30 p.m., Mothership 4 p.m.
The Record Company, a Grammy-nominated Los Angeles blues-rock outfit, headlines 7 p.m. May 19. They will be joined that day at 5 p.m. by The Founders, and Rochester’s Steve Grills and the Roadmasters at 3:45 p.m.
Big Eyed Phish, a Dave Matthews tribute band from Rochester, has the stage at 7 p.m. May 20. Also playing that day is the New Orleans music of Shamaar Allen at 5 p.m., Hello City at 3:30 p.m. and The Medicinals at 2 p.m.
Into the Now brings its Rochester groove perspective 7 p.m. May 21. Workingman’s Dead, the Buffalo Grateful Dead tribute, plays 5 p.m. that day, with Judah at 4 p.m., Vintage Pistol at 4 p.m. and Head to the Roots at 1 p.m.
The Lilac Parade starts at 10:30 a.m. May 13 on South Avenue, winding its way to Highland Avenue, past the lilac gardens, and on to Goodman Street.
Also scattered throughout the festival schedule are beer and wine tastings, the Health and Wellness Expo, arts and crafts shows, food vendors, and the annual 5K and 10K runs on May 21.
Senior arts writer Jeff Spevak can be reached at [email protected]