By Kellen M. Quigley
After a successful first event last year, there was no doubt in the minds of Max Muscato and the rest of the Rock Autism board members to bring the organization’s music festival back for 2019.
The second annual Rock Autism Music Festival, which will feature six bands on Saturday at the Village Park on Fillmore Drive in Ellicottville, is the passion project of Muscato and Rock Autism, a not-for-profit organization that began in 2017.
For the second year, Muscato said they decided to go with a different tactic, having the day be a little shorter with fewer acts, but featuring a world-wide known headliner.
“We were fortunate enough to land Citizen Cope, who is coincidentally one of my all-time favorite artists,” Muscato said. “When he said yes, I was ecstatic. I freaked out.”
The other bands set to play include Max Muscato featuring his brother Sonny Muscato, The Strictly Hip, Handsome Jack, Edalo & The Space, who are ready to rock for one epic cause.
Proceeds benefit Rock Autism music workshops for youth on the spectrum and fine arts programs at People Inc, Autism Services of Western New York, The Summit Center and The Autism Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital.
Muscato said with a bigger headliner, he’s hoping to see the overall production of the festival go up by providing more tents, port-o-johns and security.
“Hopefully it doesn’t rain or pour, so we don’t have to have an emergency plan B so we don’t have to stage somewhere not on grass,” he said.
After the planning and coordination that Muscato and the rest of the Rock Autism board members have done over the past several months, the one thing Muscato said he is looking forward to most is seeing his brother, who has autism, play drums again.
“My favorite part of last year was when we played a cover of Led Zepplin’s ‘Moby Dick,’” Muscato explained. “My dad is my drummer, but so is my brother. When the drum solo started, myself and my bass player backed away and the light just poured down on my brother and my dad.”
Muscato said his dad and Sonny battled back and forth before Sonny was given the opportunity to really show off what he could do. When the song ended, “everyone erupted and freaked out. It was the best,” Muscato said.
“My dad and I always wanted to do a music festival down the road, but the reason we chose this whole autism movement is
because of my brother,” he said. “For a long time, he just wasn’t getting the help he needed.”
After Sonny turned 18 and didn’t have the opportunities he wanted, Muscato said his brother became a drug addict and eventually landed in prison. He was hanging out with the wrong crowd and was shot by a corrections officer while in jail and almost died, Muscato said.
“To this day, Sonny still has the bullet in his right glute,” he said. “It’s a reminder to him of how real it can get.”
An acceptance call into a music therapy program never came, a program that the family hoped could help Sonny manage his mental health, Muscato said. However, this festival is one outlet for Sonny to show off his creativity and help those with autism.
“We took off. We were doing show after show, fundraisers and then our music festival last year,” he said. “We were able to raise enough money and got our program rolling. It’s great.”
For the second straight year, Muscato said he’s received overwhelming support from the Ellicottville community.
“Every single person in Ellicottville supports what we’re doing. There are so many sponsors,” he added. “The general comradery of everybody is amazing. I’m so happy we moved (the festival) out there.”
In addition to the music, Muscato said there will be between 30 and 40 vendors on-site throughout the day, with many local companies and organizations coming in with their Rock Autism themed food, beverages and more. There will be several Rock Autism tables with merchandise for sale to help support the cause.
Muscato said he’s hoping for 1,200 to 1,500 people to come down throughout the day so they can raise a good amount of money and give to Rock Autism’s partners.
“We’re here to let the parents know that there is hope when their kids get older,” he said.
The music lineup includes:
4:30 to 5:15 p.m., Edalo & The Space
5:15 to 6:30 p.m., Handsome Jack
6:30 to 7:30 p.m., The Strictly Hip
8:00 to 9:15 p.m., Max Muscato
9:45 to 11 p.m., Citizen Cope
The event also features and opening opener to the event, Muscato said, which is the group that won Rock Autism’s battle of the bands contest a few months ago.
Gates open for the family-friendly event at 4 p.m. and music continues until 11.
Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at the gate day-of. Children under 12 are admitted free. Tickets are also available online by visiting RockAutism.org, where additional information is also available on the Rock Autism organization and its mission.