Uncle Sam’s Birthday Bash – Around Town, with Amy Modesti
Written by Amy Modesti on September 18, 2019
Happy Birthday to Troy’s own patriotic hero, Samuel Wilson, also known throughout the world as “Uncle Sam”. Wilson was born on September 13, 1766 and passed away on July 31, 1854. Residents can visit his burial site at Oakwood Cemetery in Troy or check out a pavilion on top of Prospect Park with information about “Uncle Sam” and his journey to New York from New Hampshire.
“Uncle Sam” was a meat packer and a member of the Continental Army. When serving in the army, he was responsible for guarding and caring for cattle, mending fences, and took care of the packaging of the meat after the cattle was slaughtered. In 1789, “Uncle Sam” and his brother, Ebenezer, relocated to Troy on foot. While living in Troy, the brothers became entrepreneurs, creating their own business in brick making and established their meat slaughterhouse. “Uncle Sam” became a road commissioner for the City of Troy and a meat inspector for the Union Army during the War of 1812. The barrels that were sent to Union soldiers full of meat had his initials, “U.S.”, which became coined as “Uncle Sam” by the army soldiers.
In celebration of Uncle Sam’s birthday, members of the Rensselaer County Office of Tourism and the Uncle Sam Committee joined forces to plan and host the annual Uncle Sam Birthday Bash held at Knickerbocker Park Sunday, September 8, 2019 in Troy, NY. This was the second time in nine years that the birthday bash was held at Knickerbocker Park. This year’s event featured live music from “The Tradition”, “Uncle Sax” (Luke McNamee), “Derek Elvis” and “Donny Elvis” (two Elvis impersonators), “Legend”, and Moriah Formica.
“The Tradition”, featuring guitarists and vocalists, Ralph Renna and Zach Leffler, opened the event and performed an acoustic set of originals and covers. The duo placed their own unique spin on classic rock hits as “Rainbow in the Dark” (Dio), “Simple Man” that was dedicated to the vets who served for our country, “Otherside” (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and “Sympathy for the Devil” which included a guest appearance from “Uncle Sax” who joined in with the guitarists for the song and the afternoon festivities.
The winners of the “Citizen of the Year” were announced shortly after “The Tradition” ended their set. This year’s winners received a certificate of achievement in the city from members of the Chamber and the Uncle Sam committee. The award nominees include community advocate of the year, Vicki Buchanan, humanitarian of the year, Jerry Buchanan, youth citizen of the year, “Little Elvis” Derek DeFreest, and citizens of the year, Ed Doin, Bob Demeo, and Anthony DeRusso-Demeo.
“Uncle Sax” came on stage once the award nominees received their awards to perform a short set of patriotic songs and a tribute to New York’s own jazz artist, Frank Sinatra, in his rendition of “New York, New York”, much to the crowd’s delight.
Elvis impersonators, “Little Elvis” and “Donny Elvis”, shook their hips and gave out scarves, hulas, and teddy bears to Elvis fanatics, both young and old, while singing on stage to pre-recorded Elvis tracks. Although the “King of Rock and Roll” has passed on, his legacy continues to live on through these local impersonators. This was the first time at an Uncle Sam birthday bash that “Donny Elvis” had a young impersonator with him, “Young Elvis” (Derek DeFreest) who wowed the audience with his charm and his prowess to singing Presley’s songs with pride. From impersonating playing the acoustic guitar to handing young fans scarves, Young Elvis had a strong voice and did well in carrying on those classic tunes as “Hurt”, “All Shook Up”, to “C.C. Rider”. “Donny Elvis” followed his young impersonator and carried on the yearly tradition of performing at the show and wooing his fans with his cover of “That’s All Right”, handed out small stuffed teddy bears to fans in his cover of “Teddy Bear”, and even handed out hula necklaces in his rendition of “Rock-A-Hula Baby” from the film, “Blue Hawaii”. Both entertainers put on an entertaining set for their fans.
“Legend” certainly rocked the house and delivered their rock show in full rock fashion with their explosive covers of their favorite rock anthems. “Legend” features members, Joe Schepis (lead vocals/tambourine), Edward Bornt (guitar/vocals), C.J. Benenati (bass/vocals), Reggie Kafouris (piano/acoustic guitar/vocals), and Dave Kirkpatrick (drums/vocals), is one of Capital Region’s top cover acts and they certainly know how to rock out. Their set, featuring music from Styx (“Come Sail Away”), Foreigner (“Cold As Ice”), Rainbow (“Stone Cold”), REO Speedwagon (“Take It on the Run”), and their extended set of Journey hits (“Separate Ways”, “Stone In Love”) was a hit with their audience and their fans that were out dancing and recording their set on their phones.
In between sets, magician, Dewayne Hill, performed a set of magic tricks with the assistance from his fans that were both on and off stage. One of his tricks included ripping up a piece of newsprint into pieces and revealing a word that a participant chose beforehand in front of a captivated audience. Hill included audience members of all ages to join him on stage for each routine he performed until the bands were ready for their show.
Rock lives on in the Capital Region and concluding the Uncle Sam Birthday Bash was none other than Moriah Formica. Formica and her band, featuring Nick Stamas (guitar/backing vocals), Dan Flowers (bass), Tony Tirino (drums), and a guest appearance from her brother, Gabriel Formica (vocals), rounded up her band who put on a stellar show! This was a make-up performance for “The Voice” contestant who had her previous show at Power’s Park cancelled due to thunderstorms.
Formica is a vocal powerhouse and has such prowess on the way how she plays her guitar in both covers and her original songs. Staying true to herself and her rock roots, Formica isn’t afraid to rock out and stands alone as a great frontwoman who has opened for her idols, including Lizzy Hale from Halestorm, and Joan Jett and the Heartbreakers.
Opening with Evanescence’s “Bring Me Back to Life”, mixing it up with her originals, “Save Me”, “Bring It On” from her EP, “Broken Soul”, “I Will”, “Slave”, and her powerful covers of “Dangerous Woman” (Ariana Grande), “Crazy On You” (Heart, a song that garnered her start on ‘The Voice’ as a contender), and “Immigrant Song” (Led Zeppelin), one can see how strong of a musician Formica truly is. She can either rock and belt out the chorus of “Dangerous Woman” in her unique style and ferocity or perform soft and sweet as she sang a beautiful duet of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s version of “Shallow” from the film, “A Star Is Born”, with brother, Gabriel, while the band took a mini break, on just an acoustic guitar. Formica is the real deal and a star in the local “rock and roll” scene. She is in fact, the Capital Region’s true winner of “The Voice”, and with her band backing her up on each song, she will continue to soar higher and higher into great success.
The 2019 Uncle Sam Birthday Bash was a success. It was held on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Knickerbocker Park and the event helped bring music and community together to celebrate Troy’s ultimate American hero, Samuel “Uncle Sam” Wilson. Happy Birthday to the one and only “Uncle Sam”!! Great job to all involved who helped organize and put together this birthday bash for our local, nationally-known hero.