The Great South Bay Music Festival Knows How to Rock

Music festivals have been known to mark a generation. They capture a moment. Whether they be nostalgic or modern, the experience of a music festival is one that can bring people together and live in their memory for years to come. We all know about them…Woodstock, Bonnaroo and Burning Man, to name some of the big ones. Oh, and we can’t forget about Coachella (whether you love or hate it, it’s a pop culture staple).

Maybe some of you dream of going to these festivals, but the destination is too far, or the tickets are too expensive. Or maybe, like me, as fun and fabulous as those weekends full of music and dancing seem, they’re just too crowded. The good news is that we here on the South Shore don’t have to look far to find a music festival that offers all the vibes of these bigger festivals, without being too crowded or expensive. I’m of course talking about the Great South Bay Music Festival!

The 14th Great South Bay Music Festival happened a couple of weekends ago, July 7 – July 10, at Shorefront Park in Patchogue. It was four days filled with music, vendors, food, drinks and sunshine.

My first venture into the festivities was on Saturday, July 9. Once I passed through the bag check and metal detector, I was swept into the retro, hippie-like vibe that I’m constantly seeking.

After a quick stop at the Patchogue-Medford Public Library tent, where there was free sunscreen and a phone charging station, I spotted these giant purple hands that seemed to be playing an invisible piano along with the funky music drifting through the air. As I got closer, I saw that these hands were surrounding an elevated, multi-platform stage holding five musicians. This was easily the best stage design I saw all weekend. Those musicians were the members of Squonk from Pittsburgh, PA.

There were no lyrics sung, at least not in the portion of the show that I caught. It was just a bass, guitar and keyboard, with bagpipes and some drums. Squonk beautifully blended the sounds of these instruments to create what I described as a psychedelic sound with a hint of something else that made it unique but that I couldn’t identify.

When I had the chance to talk to Squonk members Jackie Dempsey and Steve O’Hearn, they told me that their sound is labelled progressive rock. Whatever it’s called, I was a big fan! Evidently, I wasn’t the only one; Squonk had four shows throughout the weekend.

I was so captivated by the purple color-scheme and, of course, the giant hands, so I couldn’t wait to learn the ‘why.’

It turns out the Squonk’s latest album, which is available on most streaming platforms or via their website, is called “Hand to Hand.” The reason for the interactive props has to do with empowerment. O’Hearn talked about the significance of hands in any kind of artistic work; our hands give us the “capacity to make things happen.”

As for the purple, their rationale was simple, yet profound. “Every other color seems to have a negative connotation racially or religiously,” O’Hearn said. Squonk supports the empowerment, and therefore inclusion, of all people, and every detail of their art works to further that goal.

After Sqounk’s show, I meandered through the row of vendors. I couldn’t help but imagine I was at Woodstock with the all the tie-dye and crocheted clothing. While I still stand by the statement that this festival had something for everyone to enjoy, it was cool to see that the vendors all catered to a similar style. Luckily for me, it’s my style.

I treated myself to a colorful, ombré, hand-crocheted top. What made this purchase from a small business even better was learning the story that the two owners, an older couple, met 11 years prior in this very park at the Great South Bay Music Festival!

I then made my way towards the main stage and the food and drink vendors, passing the kids zone on my way, where there were crafting stations.

If not for the music and vendors, I would still recommend that people attend this festival for the food alone. There were so many options…you’d probably need tickets for multiple days if you want to try it all.

I was searching for my usual fresh lemonade and was overjoyed when I saw a stand called Lemonade Smash. The comic book lettering is what first drew me in, but then I realized that the premise is to order a lemonade and chose another ingredient to “smash” into it. I opted for lavender, and it was delicious.

After my pause for refreshments, I was at the main stage where rows and rows of lawn chairs filled the park. Taz was about to perform, and he was the one I was most excited about based on the set list that was previously released. Taz, a stage name for Brandon Niederauer, is a 19-year-old who was rocking on his electric guitar. He played some Jimi Hendrix and other rock covers, and his deep, smooth voice took me by surprise at first. There is a lot of talent in him, and he sure knew how to get the crowd into it. Tons of people were up and dancing during his set. It was a feel-good experience that showcased that unique feeling of freedom and joy that music can conjure in us, no matter the genre.  

Video by Matthew McCabe

As I was heading out of the venue after Taz’s performance, I caught a few minutes of Escaper as they started their set on the Clamshell Stage. The guitar player looked like he walked right out of the late-70s/80s. They were having a great time and their vintage sound attracted people in tie-dye shirts who started dancing around and rocking out with the band.

I briefly returned to the GSB Music Festival on Sunday night for the band who seemed to be the main headliner—The Tedeschi Trucks Band. And if the crowd is any indication, they certainly were the popular name. As I said before, I’m not big on crowds, but what I was able to catch of the band was enjoyable. It was rock music, and I found some of the songs reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, which is one of the highest compliments that I can offer.

In all, I was pleased with my first Great South Bay Music Festival Experience! I’m looking forward to attending again and can’t wait to start prepping my best wannabe 70s-girl outfit for next summer!