Percussionist Brady Wilkins blames the ‘80s.
It was sometime toward the latter part of that decade when Long Island began to see its strong local music scene fade away.
Eventually, Nassau and Suffolk counties were overtaken by cover bands.
Somehow, this all happened in what had been a music-rich area in the preceding decades, a place that helped introduce the world to acts like Mountain, Blue Oyster Cult and Twisted Sister, among others.
“I had actually moved away from Long Island in pursuit of a more creative music scene,” said Wilkins, 39, a Blue Point native and member of the local band Soundswell. “I moved out to Seattle.”
But the pendulum has started to swing back toward creative, original music here on Long Island, and Patchogue is playing a huge role in the resurgence, according to Wilkins and other local musicians.
“It seems like Patchogue is an epicenter for it,” Wilkins said. “It’s pretty interesting.”
With a revitalized Patchogue Village came the hugely popular Great South Bay Music Festival, they explain. The festival has allowed dozens of Long Island-based acts to showcase their talent in front of huge crowds, mostly of local people. Those people become fans. And with more fans, comes more gigs, and a stronger music industry overall.
The jam band Soundswell, founded in 2012, first performed at the Great South Bay Music Festival two years ago. Event organizer Jim Faith and his staff then began to notice the musicians were adept at drawing crowds wherever they played.
“We did pretty well filling the tents the last few years and they decided to bump up us, I suppose.” said Wilkins.
This year, Soundswell will be playing on the biggest stage at the four-day festival, which runs from Thursday, July 16, through Sunday, July 19 at Shorefront Park.
“We’re on the main stage on Saturday, opening up for Chris Robinson” Wilkins said. “We are beside ourselves.”
Aside from getting to perform, Soundswell got hooked up last year with 30 free hours of studio time with Dream Recording Studios by winning an online promotional contest through the festival. That allowed the Long Island surfing scene-inspired group to cut an album that the members will be distributing at the 2015 festival.
“That’s what really helped us too,” Wilkins said.
Local musician Kyle Fitzpatrick, the lead singer of local band Funkin’ A, gives much credit to the up-and-coming Long Island music scene to Faith, who organized the first Great South Bay Music Festival nine years ago.
“He doesn’t put on any cover bands; it’s all original,” Fitzpatrick said. “And people get exposed.”
Funkin’ A, which plays often in Patchogue, had one of its big moments together while playing a Great South Bay Music Festival, he said.
“All of a sudden, I look up and there’s nothing but people in front of us,” he said, explaining how an experience like that can instill a lot of confidence in a band.
Faith, also a founder of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in Port Jefferson, said he avoids cover bands but will put on the occasional tribute band. Of the 64 acts this year, there’s one tribute.
Something you’ll never find at Great South Bay, he said, are top 40-style cover bands often found playing at many bars and clubs on Long Island.
“This is a serious music festival,” he said. “With headliners and, primarily, original emerging artists. They’re intentionally given a stage together so their music can be heard.”
Wilkins said the music festival alone has been the fulfillment of a dream for him.
He recalled visiting Shorefront Park, now the site of the festival, after he and his wife returned to Long Island from Seattle in 1999.
The two were saying how the expansive bayside park would be perfect for a music festival. They even contacted the village, only to be told the park and its bandshell were too dilapidated to play host to such an event.
“Eventually someone ran with it,” Wilkins said.
“Everything needs structure,” he continued. “And Patchogue had become revitalized. That happened with the help of places like Blue Point Brewery and Brickhouse, and the Deli Pub, which has always supported local music. Now we have a place like 89 North,” which opened in 2012.
“Evolution put Patchogue on the map, and all of a sudden there was a place for Jim Faith to land, and to fulfill a need.”
Of the 64 acts that will take the stages later this month in Patchogue, Faith said about half are headliners like 311, The Might Mighty Bosstone’s and Jefferson Starship.
About a third of the acts are from Long Island.
They’re the same local acts that will be sticking around when the festival’s over.
The Patchogue-area musicians that are performing at the festival appear below. Click on the name for more information, as well as the musicians’ scheduled performance times at Great South Bay.
Photo 1: Soundswell performs at 89 North Music Venue on June 26. (Credit: Stella Rae Wilkins)