By Rich Place
After the planning and coordination that Max Muscato and the rest of the Rock Autism board members have done over the past several months, there’s one thing Muscato said he is looking forward to most: seeing his brother play drums.
His brother, Sonny, who has autism, will join Max on stage during the Rock Autism Music Festival, which will feature 10 bands on Saturday at the Village Park on Fillmore Drive in Ellicottville.
“The one thing I am really excited for is to see my brother’s face,” said Muscato. “If there are 1,000 people in the crowd and they are up against the stage, I’m really pumped to see his face when he walks out and how surprised he is going to be.”
The bands, most of which are based in Buffalo, will perform all day at the festival, the first major event for Rock Autism, a not-for-profit organization that began last autumn. Proceeds from the event will support the music and arts programs at People Inc., The Summit Center and Autism Services of Western New York.
The expansion of such programs for individuals with autism is important, Muscato said, because often as such individuals grow there are fewer groups looking out for their well-being.
“There is a serious talent with a lot of these individuals,” he said. “What happens to them is they don’t have the organizations backing them and nobody really helps out — that’s what happened to my brother.”
According to the Rock Autism website, which includes a lengthy biography on Max’s brother, Sonny became a drug addict and eventually landed in prison after Max bought a rental property for him with the idea that he could become independent. An acceptance call into a music therapy program never came, a program that the family hoped could help Sonny manage his mental health, according to the website.
“It’s so broad and there’s a huge range of it — people don’t know how to act around them,” Muscato said about individuals with autism. “I want people to see my brother perform.
“My brother is a great drummer but over the last couple of years he hasn’t been able to play as much because he’s been in jail or he’s gone through rehab and all that,” he continued. “But it’s like riding a bike for him. I just want people to see there is a serious talent with a lot of these individuals.”
Muscato, a Buffalo resident and musician, hosted an album release party last July at Buffalo Iron Works and raised money for autism-related organizations. It was a success, he said, and the idea came to host a much larger festival.
Blending a fundraiser for autism awareness and music essentially encapsulates the Muscato’s family, he said.
“We’re all musicians and we all love to perform, so we figured if we can streamline good things to happen not only in my career but my brother’s life and other people’s lives, why not bring all these things together into a music festival,” Muscato said.
As a result, Rock Autism was formed along with its board of directors. Although much of the organization is Buffalo-based — including many of its corporate supporters — when Spencer Murray of Villaggio restaurant in Ellicottville joined the board the idea of hosting the festival in the Southern Tier began. Now there’s a handful of Ellicottville businesses listed as supporting entities as well.
“The entire community has been so supportive of us,” Muscato said.
Muscato and the rest of the Rock Autism board has big things planned for this year’s event — including plenty of kid-friendly activities during the day — but he also admitted this inaugural event is a “learning experience” for hopefully a bigger festival in the future.
“I told the entire board within 48 hours of the festival we all need to get together again and talk about what went wrong and what went well and then expand on that for the next event,” he said. “But we are hoping for 1,000 to 2,000 people to come down throughout the day so we can raise a good amount of money and give to our partners.”
The music lineup includes:
• Noon to 12:30 p.m., XOXO;
• 12:45 to 1:15 p.m. FEVERBOX;
• 1:30 to 2:10 p.m., Ponder;
• 2:30 to 3:10 p.m., Deadwolf;
• 3:20 to 4 p.m., EDALO;
• 4:20 to 5:05 p.m., The Tins;
• 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Tiny Stones, a Stone Temple Pilots tribute band;
• 7 to 8:10 p.m., Big Eyed Fish, a Dave Matthews Band tribute band;
• 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., Max Muscato featuring Sonny Muscato; and
• 9:50 to 11 p.m., The Strictly Hip, a Tragically Hip tribute band.
The event will be kid-friendly and include face painting and other children’s activities. Gates open at noon and music continues until 11 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate. Children under 12 are admitted free and VIP tickets are also available.
Tickets are sold at the Tops Markets location on Washington Street in Ellicottville in addition to several Tops Markets in Buffalo. They are also available online by visiting RockAutism.org, where additional information is also available on the Rock Autism organization and its mission.