Hops and Harvest

Bluegrass and craft beverages on the Empire State Plaza? Count me – and about a thousand others – in. The stretch of spectacular weather that Albany has been enjoying continued Wednesday evening as the sun set and stars rose over the stages and tents at the Madison Avenue end of the plaza for the Hops and Harvest festival.

The crowd seemed sparse, though the ducks were plentiful in and around the reflecting pool, as we walked toward the music. Attractions on the east side of the plaza included a putting green promoting free tours of the state Capitol and Plaza art collection offered by the state Office of General Services (OGS).

Like a one-hole mini golf course, the goal was to sink a putt under a tiny replica of the General Sheridan statue in front of a picture of the Capitol.

Vendors included Nothing Bundt Cakes – a Wolf Road franchise offering little bundtlets; Cornell Cooperative Extension; Quantum 1219 Blooms – a small family-owned grower on Albany-Shaker Roa; and Needi Snacks – created in Loudonville and boasting Indian flavors and spices.

We continued past several Cornhole games and a pie-eating contest to catch most of Sierra Hull’s set on the main stage. The 20-something mandolin-picker performed at the Grand Ole Opry with her hero and mentor, Alison Krauss, at the tender age of 11. Her band included a guitar, stand-up bass and saxophone and received a warm response from the crowd.

Between bands, we visited the food and beverage tents. The “Given to Fry” Pearl Jam-inspired food truck dished out specialty french fries and loaded nachos. The poutine was delicious. Roy’s Caribbean Restaurant kept a steady stream of customers in meat pies, curry goat and mac and cheese.

Beverage tickets were $6 each, and taps included craft beer from across New York, including Brooklyn Brewery, Ithaca, Ommegang, Saranac and local favorites Brown’s Brewery and Druthers. A limited selection of Heron Hill wines, Bad Seed Hard Cider from Highland, NY, Arnold Palmer Spiked and the ubiquitous White Claw rounded out the choices.

The Kitchen Dwellers’ set drew a large and enthusiastic audience and nearly defied description. Imagine an “Anodyne”-era Uncle Tupelo LP played at 45 rpm – but in a really good way. Here’s the blurbage from their website.

Montana-bred bluegrass outfit Kitchen Dwellers are captivating fans across the country with their high-energy live performances and unique approach to traditional music that fans have dubbed Galaxy Grass.

The wind picked up and the air felt decidedly autumnal by the time headliners The Dawg Trio took the stage at 8 p.m. Led by mandolin virtuoso David Grisman, with his son Sam Grisman on stand-up bass and Danny Barnes on banjo, they began their set with a number of songs from their just-released CD “David Grisman’s Dawg Trio Plays Tunes and Sings Songs.”

Delivering a mix of bluegrass, folk and gypsy jazz, the trio put a perfect finish on a chill – and chilly – evening on the Plaza.

PRO TIP: When I checked in at the event on Facebook last night, several neighbors mentioned that they had not heard about Hops & Harvest. I reached out to Heather Groll, deputy commissioner for communications at OGS, and she suggested that people follow @PlazaEvents on Twitter or @EmpireStatePlaza on Facebook. Buried on the Plaza Facebook page is a link to opt in to an email list, but I can’t confirm that it’s still active.

Opt in to our email list to stay up to date on Empire State Plaza Events – http://eepurl.com/dv4ijv

Colleen M. Ryan has always been a storyteller. An innovative communications professional with experience in government, nonprofit and business sectors, she recently launched CMR Communications.

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