Linaca’s first music festival features local musical chops

Lincoln Academy class of 1992 operatic mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich sings the aria ‘Habanera’ from Georges Bizet’s 1875 French opera ‘Carmen’ during the first Linaca Music Festival at Schooner Landing in Damariscotta Friday, August 5. role in the San Francisco Opera’s 2006 production of “Carmen” and has performed internationally with renowned opera companies including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (Photo by Evan Houk)

Lincoln Academy Newcastle alumni gathered to play an eclectic mix of music at Linaca’s inaugural Music Festival at Schooner Landing in Damariscotta on Friday August 5.

About 200 people, including alumni, family, friends and summer visitors, packed the dock at Schooner Landing for the event. Members from the Class of 1988 to the Class of 2020 enthusiastically performed in 12 different sets with a lineup of musicians that was rotated and mixed throughout the night.

The music had a little something for all tastes and ages. Each lineup played two or three songs each in genres ranging from rock and roll to modern pop-punk, classic opera, stomping Americana, mellow jazz, and even a little “Touch of Tuba.”

Midway through the event, Sam Russ, Class of 2019, performed a light instrumental tuba solo with Jojo Martin, Class of 2020, accompanying on keyboards.

“I believe it wouldn’t be Linaca without just a touch of tuba,” Russ said.

Popular local band The Gulch kicked off the event with a rendition of Steely Dan’s “Josie” and The Allman Brothers Band’s classic “Whipping Post”.

Ben Chute, Class of 2013, played electric guitar and Griffin Han-Lalime, also 2013, played bass guitar and sang lead vocals. Michael Sevon, Class of ’88, drummed and Corey Redonnett, also ’88, played bass guitar. Chuck Benton completed the group on keyboards.

“We had to break the ice a bit, play something wild,” Chute said before heading out to play another gig that night.

Opera mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich took the stage to perform with accompanist Sean Fleming, singing the aria “Habanera” from Georges Bizet’s 1875 French opera “Carmen” and the standard “Cry Me a River”. Aldrich, a graduate of the Los Angeles class of 1992, starred in San Francisco Opera’s 2006 production of “Carmen” and has sung around the world with renowned opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Audiences were intrigued from the start, but when Fleming played the staccato notes of Bizet’s famous melody, a wave of recognition swept through the audience that seemed to pierce attention to Aldrich’s performance. His articulate acting and rich vocal timbre brought a taste of the scintillating operatic stage all the way to Schooner Landing.

Haley Graves, a pop-punk artist and 2019 Los Angeles graduate now based in Seattle, Washington, set the tempo with original songs from her recently released EP, including “She Thinks My Pop Punk Is Cringey” and “Pop Punk Princess”.

Graves’ stage presence was magnetic. In 2021, it opens in front of nearly 100 artists. She spoke between songs about her goal to encourage individuality and representation for Black and LGBTQ+ artists within the music industry, and involved the audience in a lyrical encore.

Theater veteran Joe Lugosch, Class of 2008, was the emcee, keeping the event light with his whimsical humor and tongue-in-cheek introductions from the musicians between sets.

“If you have any questions, don’t ask me,” Lugosch said after the event opened.

Lugosch said 15 of the 20 musicians who performed are Lincoln Academy alumni and the other five all have strong ties to the school.

Elizabeth “Liz” Matta, band manager and head of the Visual and Performing Arts Department in Los Angeles, played saxophone on several songs.

Money was collected throughout the night and a QR code was even displayed on the flyer at people’s tables to facilitate donation directly from their mobile phone. All proceeds went to the Los Angeles Department of Performing Arts.

The “Linaca Fair” was first held in April 1941 at Lincoln Academy and featured a hobby show, a “fancy fowl show”, a science fair, a one-act play, a “grand ball and music by Lloyd Rafnell’s band.

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“I couldn’t find any information or recordings of Lloyd Rafnell’s band,” Lugosch said. “But I can only assume they sang old music in a can…and I’m just basing that on the movie ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?'”

Actress Anna Belknap, Class of 1990, addressed the crowd, telling them that she is not a musician, but can be considered part of the “Fancy Chicken” exhibit.

Belknap is perhaps best known for her role in CSI: NY as Detective Lindsay Monroe in 2005 and for starring in Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Without a Trace.

Belknap talked about his time with the Los Angeles Players in high school — driving a van across the state, performing drug and alcohol awareness skits, and answering questions in character.

“I learned more about acting in this program than in many acting programs; about truth, about empathy, about vulnerability, about being an actor,” Belknap said.

She noted how many creative graduates have come out of Los Angeles and how important arts programs in schools are for nurturing that kind of talent and original thinking.

“We need more art and more artists right now,” Belknap said.

Heather D’Ippolito, LA Director of Community Engagement and Development, and Juliet Kelsey Holmes, Class of ’92 and LA Board Member, conceived of the idea as a way to showcase the talent that is out of school and reunite the elders.

“Right now, it’s exciting to sit back and watch the reunion happen,” D’Ippolito said before the music started on Friday. “People are hanging out, hugging and reconnecting.”

Holmes also helped organize a class reunion for his class of 1992 which was held the following night at Sprague Point in Nobleboro.

While researching a name, someone suggested using Linaca after seeing a poster of the original 1941 event hanging in the school, D’Ippolito said.

Corey Redonnett, Class of 1988, helped spread the word and bring all the musicians together for the festival, Holmes said.

Holmes noted that his father, Paul Kelsey, Class of 1962, attended the event and his children did as well.

“What a way to bridge the community gap,” Holmes said.

Holmes said she hopes the festival can become an annual event and expand to include an art walk and maybe a few shows at the Lincoln Theater.

“We’ve only scratched the surface,” Holmes said of the artistry from Los Angeles.