Buffalo News – Music is Art 2016

With more than 100 musical acts of all sounds and sizes, it would be understandable if most identified Buffalo’s 14th annual Music is Art Festival as an oversized Battle of the Bands.

But as was exhibited Saturday across Delaware Park, the vibrant event is not simply about music. It’s about hosting artistic expression in all forms, and then celebrating its necessity in our lives and community.

From local guitarists to talented muralists to poets, DJs and dance troupes, the sprawling affair showcased the type of kaleidoscopic elements that have always made Buffalo an unpredictable place – as well as one with talent, color and culture to spare.

Here were some of the highlights (before lightning and torrential rain intervened at 7 p.m.):


Buffalo’s finest

Festival originator Robby Takac knows what it’s like to be part of an internationally renowned Buffalo-born band. Two acts that could approach these heights – First Ward and the Tins – manned two of MIA’s 15 stages for afternoon sets. The former (with Son of the Sun’s Zak Ward) previewed guitar-geared songs off its forthcoming fall EP before lunch; and the latter made the most of its scant stage time by delivering a pulsating set, highlighted by the bounce of “Taking Liberties.” And speaking of the short sets …

Entertaining samplers

For those looking to sample as many bands as possible in a 12-hour period, festival organizers had you covered off Albright-Knox’s rear staircase. Acts were given 15 minutes each, allowing rising local bands like Senwick – whose debut album “Mountain Climbing” drops later this fall – to offer bite-sized sound clips to those lacking the attention for an entire set list.

Paint by number

Throughout the day, artists toiled on canvases either behind performing acts or under Rose Garden-side canopies. One of those individuals was 26-year-old painter/musician Nick Sardynski, working on a Buffalo-centric piece he only paints at MIA. He started in 2014, but because of last year’s rain-swept affair, he couldn’t continue it until this year. The Colden native plans to have the acrylic-based work finished before his art show at Buffalo’s Hi-Temp Fabrication on Nov. 11.

Teach your children

Plenty of the day’s entertainment wasn’t for the whole family (see next entry), but MIA’s Kids Village was a bastion for youth intent on artistic immersion. Painting stations, “American Idol”-inspired live performances and the Instrument Zoo – which both introduced children to new sounds and highlighted Music is Art’s work in providing instruments for music education – provided a festival unto itself.

Clowning around

There were some elements of this year’s MIA that provided pause-and-notice moments. The festival’s Silent Disco – which allowed attendees to wear headphones and dance to DJ-transmitted tracks – was one. The Reverend Arlo Price was another. A self-proclaimed demented clown of the Savage Buffalo Carnival, his act was highlighted by pounding six nails and running a drill bit into his nose; and inviting concertgoers to whip darts at a balloon stapled to his back for a trick he called “The Human Dart Board.” Reminder: Art is not always conventional.

Poetry, pop favorites

Plenty of artistic endeavors throughout Western New York don’t draw the crowds they deserve. At MIA, poets, aspiring vocalists and dance troupes could present their work to larger audiences. Intermixed between both tender and bombastic poetry stanzas were students of Orchard Park’s Bello Voice Studios – singing the work of Adele and Kelly Clarkson – and the performers of Niagara County Community College’s Tanzen Dance Company, who delivered a series of rousing numbers.

Original Article

All WNY Radio

In May of 2016, singer/songwriter/guitarist Zak Ward (of Son of the Sun) was offered a gig at 12 Gates Brewery. Deciding not to go it alone, he asked Buffalo music scene veteran Josh Mullin (of The Last Conservative) to accompany him on bass and recent transplant Dave Harris to join him on guitar. Shortly thereafter, drummer Peter Metzler joined too, and First Ward was born.

Their debut EP, “Live at Raven,” is a strong introduction to one of the best bands in Western New York. Released while First Ward works on an upcoming album for 2017, Live at Raven is more than just a placeholder; it contains some of the best local music put out in 2016.

The songs have the warm, fuzzy inspiration of early ’90s alternative rock. Ward’s howling vocals call to mind a powerful combination of Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Tom Petty, while the guitars push the songs ahead with beautiful, chorus-filled splendor. Often when listening to an album, I find myself picking out places where perhaps something should be different, but everything on First Wards’ debut, from part to instrumentation, sounds perfect where it is. The two guitarists interact with intricate parts that slide together seamlessly in a way reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie. The bass thumps at just the right frequencies, with a small amount of warm fuzz giving it character and making the bass lines feel extra smooth. The drums are sturdy, uncomplicated and hold the whole thing together. Overall, the music has a great groove, with solid interplay between the drums and bass.

The first track, “I Am A Winner,” is a strong start to the EP. It clocks in at only a minute and a half but feels so complete you barely notice how short it is. “Simple Things” is a blues song at heart, with a dirge-like guitar and a smooth, sliding bass line. The chorus picks up with beautiful guitar parts that help highlight the thoughtful lyrics (“Used up and broken like words from my past/You make me feel like I did when I was 14/Simple rhymes and simple chords help me to say/All that I wanted but I didn’t know how to throw in your face.”)

“Lost,” a song about getting lost together, sounds like a Tom Petty B-side with modern flair. The haunting vocals and interwoven guitars take center stage, with keyboards adding a swirling feeling. You really feel every word of Ward’s lyrics. Lines like “We’ll take a drive where satellites can’t reach us/’Cuz when you don’t know the way/That’s when you find the bits of life that make it all right” feel like they’re coming right from his soul.

“You’re Not Alone,” the final track, is the star of the EP. It’s a straightforward song with a little flair of country, a la Rilo Kiley. The track (and EP) ends with a fantastic guitar solo.

First Ward’s debut shows them exactly as they are: a group of experienced local musicians who’ve got the chops and creativity to create something beautiful and unique. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for us in the future.


In 2009 I remember walking into the Brickyard Pub in Lewiston, NY and hearing a cover of the Tragically Hip’s “Ahead By A Century.” It was the first time I had heard of the Tragically Hip and it was the first time I heard singer/songwriter Zak Ward play. I ran up to him mid song and was like, “what is this?!” Ever since then, any time I would see Zak play out he would make sure that song made its way into the set. My first impression of Zak was, this guy has an amazing sound, and has he since become one of my all time favorite musicians.

When Son of the Sun broke up in 2013, a band Zak fronted since 2008, he continued playing out––mostly cover songs at bar gigs––but he didn’t have an outlet for his original work. So this past January he kicked off 2016 with a solo performance as First Ward on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series contest. Auditioning a hauntingly beautiful video, just his acoustic guitar and his clean melodic rock voice, Ward debuted “Clapper’s Bell,” an original song that will be featured in the band’s album primed to roll out later this year.

Like Ward, bassist Josh Mullin and drummer Steve Tripi have been running around the Buffalo music scene for well over a decade. When Ward was asked to play a show at Nietzsche’s in early May, First Ward went from solo act to band and Zak immediately thought of Mullin and Tripi

Mullin moved to Buffalo to play with Last Conservative in 2005. He also does graphics and web design, which he started out of necessity in junior high when the band he was in needed album work. Steve Tripi, who Ward deems as one of the best drummers in Buffalo, was drawing hundreds with his band in his high school days to spots like the Showplace Theater in Buffalo. Tripi still plays in Sixties Future, an all-American rock band out of Buffalo. Guitarist Dave Harris, moved to Buffalo a year ago and spent the year observing the music scene and scoping out where he might fit, playing primarily underground punk rock type shows. He came into the First Ward mix by way of Josh Mullin. Mullin met Dave a year ago when Harris first moved to the city, and when he got the text from Zak he thought of Harris as a fourth member.

Sitting outside a downtown coffee shop with the four band members last week, they described the band coming together as a really organic process. They aren’t shy about what life in the music industry can be like beyond the time spent under the lights. The band opened up about the guilt that often comes with being a musician; the pressure to justify why you want to put music above everything else; especially since it’s something that often doesn’t produce enough resources to get by. But they all contend that the music never stops because they just can’t bring themselves to not play, playing music is in their bones.1

I did a little Q&A with the band and thought I’d offer it to our Artvoice readers.

How did the band come together?

Zak – Well it sort of just fell together. I got asked to play a show in May and I was like “well I want a base and drums for the show” so I sent a text to Josh and Steve and they were both into it. We started rehearsing and it sounded good and we were thinking about maybe expanding our sound a little bit. (to Josh) You can explain how Dave Harris came into your life––but Josh said “I know this dude named Dave.”

Josh- Haha, he was just tooling around on this guitar that I had––just like a couch guitar and I was like “wow, dude you’re really good at guitar.” And he was like “yeah man, I’ve played in bands at home and stuff.” And I was like “dude, we’ve got to get you in a band.”

Dave- Yeah yeah, and then he promised me––he was like we’ve got to get you in a Buffalo band soon. And I was like alright. I mean this was a fucking year ago man, I had just moved here.

Who are your influences/ what is your sound?

Dave- I think it’s like a catchy songwriter thing from Zak’s imagination and blood and guts and whatever the fuck he has going on.

Josh- this is rock and roll, there’s really no style you can put on it. It’s not punk it’s not folk.

Zak- Yeah, I mean, I guess rock and roll, with a melody. I try to write songs that I like but it’s definitely rock and roll, but with a focus on songwriting, you know?

Steve- Our influences span across so many different things it’s like tough to compare. One genre to another or one sound to another.

Zak- Melodically detailed rock.

Where do you draw from musically?

Dave- I probably draw rhythm first and foremost from my father growing up. Like he would do a lot of rock and roll but he would also do surfer music and jazz. He played drums and he still does, he’s just a rock and roller and he’s a bohemian, so that’s first. Then I took a loving to melody when I first hear Led Zeppelin when I was hanging out in my room just a long haired 13-year old kid. I felt like that was a pretty crazy moment. I have melody in me but I also have rhythm so if you watch my right hand I do a lot of rhythmic stuff because I love rhythm through my father.

Zak- I mean I play music for a living so I’m playing music all the time and I’m always listening to how to play music. That all comes together hopefully when I’m trying to write something. As the main songwriter of the band I’m always trying to challenge myself or come up with something interesting or just something that I flat out like. I definitely come from a family of artists, my parents were actors, well my dad was a director and my mom was an actress. I grew up in Niagara Falls. So that’s a nice comment to Niagara Falls, when I just say I went to Niagara Falls high school and people are like whatttttt.

Steve- You made it out alive.

Josh- He only has like two bullet wounds (joking).

Steve – I def. grew up playing in that scene (punk), I actually started playing drums in like jazz ensemble in school. So like 10, 11, 12 years old I was like really into jazz. I didn’t know how to play rock and roll on the drum set––like I didn’t understand it. So when I was like first starting to play with electric guitar players they were always saying hit the drums harder, hit the drums harder. I couldn’t understand it. So when I got really into rock and roll, for me it’s all about good song writing.

A lot has changed in Buffalo over the last decade and you guys have been running around that scene through all of it so let’s talk about that piece-

Zak- I think that is kind of the story of our band––that we have all been playing around Buffalo for at least 10-15 years, all of us in different bands and have done some tours and really put our dues in. And this came out of that.

Steve- I mean Zak and I have been playing in shows together since we were like 16. So we had kind of rolled in that, I don’t want to use the word emo that’s not the right word for it, but punk rock scene in the early 2000, so yeah early 2000 punk scene in Buffalo.

Josh- I moved here when I was 21, so whenever that would be.

Zak- 78’?


Steve- I mean we’ve all kind of already banged each other.

Zak- Well there is a lot of musical talent in this town and it’s hard to keep a band together you know.

Dave- Unless you’re us though.

Steve- I would say to the “scene” finger quotes or what have you, the show that we just played at Nietzsche’s in early May there was a lot of competition that night. There was a big show at Waiting Room there was a really big show at Town Ballroom there was another show at a basement house venue in town, all of which were very well attended and I look up on stage as I was setting up and Nietzsche’s was packed, packed. And considering the competition level, I was extremely impressed by how many people still come out to support. So as troublesome as things have been to some degree I think the last couple of years more people have been coming to shows than I can remember since the days when I was like 16 years old. There was a lull for a long time

Josh- There really was.

Steve – But it’s coming back.

Zak- Yeah live music is coming back a bit.

When do you plan to drop your album?

Zak- we are hoping to have a record out by the end of the year – that’s the goal yep.

Josh- I always like being in a band that I am proud to be in. That’s always kind of a thing. I feel like I have a pretty good track records of bands that I’ve been in and I’d like to keep that going. So like this last year has been the first that I had a semi substantial lull in playing shows. And so I was really excited when I got the text from Zak, especially hearing that Steve was involved. That was a very cool message to get.

Zak- I mean I think if you can take away anything it’s that we hope for the best but we are not expecting anything – the hope is that we can make a good record and play a few good shows.

And like have fun ?

Zak- I mean we are going to have fun either way, the hope is that we get a good record done and we’re going to have fun we are going to play shows but something we are actively working towards is to get a record out just for our own sakes you know just to have something that (you feel good about).

Summer where can we see you?

Zak/Josh – The 12 Gates Brewery Grand Opening show on June 4th.

Dave- Going to be a swank party in Williamsville. I’ve never really been out there.

Josh- No it’s not going to be swanky at all it’s a huge beer tent.

Zak- If we’re going to play a show it’s going to be a big event. We are not going to be playing every weekend. We are going to be playing every couple of months.

Are you happy to be out of Buffalo ?

Josh- Oh my gosh I love Buffalo, especially right now it’s experiencing, it’s something really cool to be a part of.

Zak- Yeah we got a front seat at the renaissance of Buffalo definitely.

Josh- It’s making it easy to be in Buffalo right now.

Any last words boys?

Dave- I think you got our premise right––like new band gotta check us out.

Steve- Don’t make us totally jaded jerks.

Original Article

Album review by Bob Silvestri – Best of WNY

First Ward is the latest project from Buffalo based artist Zak Ward and Live at Raven is a five song EP teaser as the band (Zak Ward-guitar/vocals, Dave Harris-guitar, Josh Mullin-bass and Steve Tripi-drums) finishes recording their full length album. Ward and Mullin’s previous bands include Son of The Son and Last Conservative respectively. The title refers to the studio where the EP was recorded with Mike Zeis, John Richter and Sean Szymanski on production duty. Jay Zubricky and Allen Farmelo added their mixing and mastering skills at GCR Audio and The Snow Farm. The disc also gave the band a chance to go out and road test the material before a live audience in between studio sessions. The five songs are an invigorating mix of alternative rock, pop and bits of jazz and folk. Musicianship and attention to details in songwriting, arrangements and production is abundant here. Stand out tracks include “Clapper’s Bell”, “Lost” and “You’re Not Alone”. For more information about First Ward and their new EP Live at Raven visit www.firstwardmusic.com or www.facebook.com/firstwardmusic

Original Article