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A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: Mikaela Davis Making Rochester Music Scene Proud

I am sick of Rochester, N.Y., being associated with shitty things. There is that subsection of the population that ironically espouses the greatness of Garbage Plates. But let’s be serious, because most times they are soggy (not counting the awesome plates at Dog Town) and you regret them the next day. (When you bring up soggy and regrets, both of those words perfectly encapsulate Rochester, but I love it anyways.) Rochester is also known for gray weather, Wegmans, dying industrial giants and Genesee Beer (and I will always argue that Genny Light is the best light lager in America). This is a great city. As an advocate for this underappreciated gem of a city, I am here to alert you to the awesomeness of Mikaela Davis.

The 21-year-old Davis is a Penfield native and a senior at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music. She is a classically trained harpist. In an interview with DigBoston last week, Davis compared herself to everyone’s favorite former Disney child star. She said, “I feel like I’m leading some sort of double life, like I’m Hannah Montana or something.” Davis balances the classical and the indie. As the interview points out, she is deciding between two paths right now — the rigid, structured world of classical performance and the van-dwelling, less glamorous one of indie rock. She performs traditional orchestral harp arrangements, but also releases kickass indie, folk-influenced music. Outside of excellent local bands like Kopps and Joywave, Davis is releasing some of the best music to come out of Rochester in a long while. And by doing so, she is reiterating that Rochester can be a great cultural hub. We have the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film (along with the wonderful Dryden Theatre), the Little Theatre, the Bug Jar, the Eastman School of Music, a number of great institutions of higher learning, and a slew of other great institutions, festivals and venues for the arts.

Davis first started gaining attention with a series of harp-led covers posted to YouTube, including wonderful renditions of Sufjan Stevens’ “Casimir Pulaski Day” and the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” She released her 13-song debut album in 2012, and it demonstrated her potential as an artist. The album showcases her songwriting ability, artistic talent and unique vision. I was especially drawn into album by the standout track “River.” On the track, Davis’ harp-playing is brought to the forefront as the song effortlessly shifts between calm, soothing plucking and a more frenetic picking. It shows the versatility of the instrument, demonstrating how it can serve as the backbone for indie-leaning goodness.

I have seen Davis live on four or five occasions at a number of different venues (from the outside stages at High Falls and the Lilac Festival to the intimate setting of the Bug Jar). The most recent show was the most impressive. It was the release show for her six-song Fortune Teller EP, and the show (outside of the Drake/Miguel concert last month) was one of the best I have seen in a long time. Davis has grown as an artist. She has a steady, stable lineup with guitarist Cian McCarthy and drummer Alex Cote. She seems to be more comfortable on stage and her musical vocabulary is growing. The new EP (which I contributed to the making of during her fundraising campaign) is relatively short at 21 minutes. The new songs, recorded locally by Brian Moore at Red Booth Studios, are lush and dreamy. I wanted more. I am excited to see what the future holds for Davis. She is another wonderful flower (see what I did there?!) in the Rochester garden.*

*Editor's note: Rochester, the hometown to several members of the Popculturology team, has the nickname the "Flower City."
A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: Mikaela Davis Making Rochester Music Scene Proud Reviewed by Will Cleveland on 1/09/2014 Rating: 5

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