When Syracuse, NY native Aaron Stein moved to Long Island 10 years ago, he trekked to shows in the city alone. He soon started seeing some of the same people and created an Internet community of like-minded music folks, NYC-Freaks, who could meet up at shows together. At first, there were five or 10 members, but the gathering grew to more than 100 by the end of 2000—the beginning of the Freaks Ball. This Saturday marks the tenth anniversary of the annual event at Sullivan Hall.
The Freaks Ball was simple: cool people gathering to see shows together. In the first two years, the group planned music parties at various venues, featuring local, up and coming bands every three to four months and even booked a little-known (at the time) funk rocker Robert Randolph for $200. Party co-founder Stein had a baby in 2001, and the shows, which were a deep expense, made more sense as an annual gig. By 2003, the “party” grew, filling Bowery Ballroom, something Stein said he never expected. “We thought it would be cool to just have a party the first year,” said Stein. “Since then , it’s gotten a little smaller, but we’ve been able to pull in more national acts and balance that with more bands on the upswing. I’ve learned that once a year is enough, because I’m really an amateur concert promoter.”
Throughout the years, the Freaks Ball has introduced audiences to artists like Randolph as well as performers like Dean Ween, American Babies and Sullivan Hall regulars Marco Benevenuto and Friends joining the annual lineups. This year, Stein and other Freaks co-founder JR Hevron wanted to go really big or really small for the 10-year anniversary. The end result: Freaks Ball X is somewhere in the middle.
Grammy Award-winning New Orleans bluesman Anders Osborne will headline this year’s shindig along with The Black Hollies, whom Stein says “blew him away” when he saw them live last summer and Freaks Ball veteran rocker Scott Metzger, who will be performing for all Freaks for the eighth time. “It’s beyond my original intent of not wanting to go to concerts by myself,” said Stein, who still resides in Long Island and tends to go to shows stag once again since everyone has gotten older and their tastes have diverged. Still, the annual Freaks Balls will live on in New York City.
In fact, Stein adn crew are already thinking about next year’s Ball, a more low-key event with smaller bands performing—the original purpose of the Freaks Ball. “ Now that we’ve hit this decade plateau and we’re finding a lot of up and coming bands, we want to get back towards that a little more,” said Stein. “I want people to leave with the feeling that it’s going to take another 12 months for them to have a better time at a show. That’s what the Freaks Ball is all about—really good music but also seeing it with really good people. That combination is really important. I want them to think man, why can’t we do this every month.”