Aerobic array of music opens Sailfest Friday night

One could approximate a Mark Allen-style workout just by seeking a representational sampling of live music as Sailfest got under way Friday.

For maximum burn, pinball back and forth between Hygienic Art Park and the Custom House Stage. It's a lot of walking, but your ears will thank you for it.

The showcase set of the evening was by supergroup The Baseball Project. Comprising members of R.E.M., the Young Fresh Fellows, Robyn Hitchcock and Dream Syndicate, they perform original songs exclusively about their collective love of baseball.

They went on at 9:15 p.m., actually ahead of schedule, and kicked into "The Death of Big Ed Delahanty," about a famous Philadelphia Phillie slugger who died going over Niagara Falls. Next up was an a cappella rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," since they're singing it at Fenway Park today.

In a bittersweet gesture, The Baseball Project had invited the Reducers' Peter Detmold to sit in on a tune about his beloved San Francisco Giants. Local fans know that Detmold had not appeared on stage since the Reducers' bassist, Steve Kaika, was diagnosed with cancer last fall. Kaika passed away in June, and that the Baseballers - fans of the Reducers - would get Detmold before a rock crowd again was a great gesture.

The whole afternoon into evening was filled with fine music, and the entertainment officially started at 4 p.m. on the Custom House Stage with Hartford's Frank Viele and The Manhattan Project. The post-work festival-goers were just starting to hit downtown New London, but a nice crowd seemed to appreciate the rock band's sound - an infectious blend of Dave Matthews with an almost second-line approach to rhythm.

The Hoolios remained seamlessly intuitive, and the diverse musicians as one painted songwriter Jim Carpenter's narrative material in lavish aural tones, conjuring everything from bordertown sorrow to impossibly lovely Cajun laments. It's like Robert Earl Keen put love letters from Eudora Welty to music.

The Sue Menhart Band delivered an hour's worth of tavern-tested blues rock. The set-closing "Tied to the Whipping Post" was a gutsy demonstration that contrasted wonderfully with Menhart's poppier solo performance Thursday on The Day's "Live Lunch Break" show.

Going down simultaneously were the sets at the Hygienic. Brad Bensko and his band led off, churning out effortless power pop that innocently recalled Buddy Holly, Dwight Twilley and Mark Farner from the "Bad Time" period - sonic antecedents from long before any of these guys were born.

Fatal Film - one of the area's premiere acts but an outfit that had dropped out of sight - was back with a happy vengeance. Matt Potter's tunes and the band's glass-shards-and-balloons approach to dynamics are the rock equivalent of Adrian Belew forcibly taking over Guided by Voices with a bazooka.

New Haven's Sidewalk Dave brought his trio and followed Fatal Film with a set of hooky structures that sounded like a songwriting debate between Evan Dando and Jeff Tweedy.

The Paul Brockett Roadshow also charmed the crowd on what was becoming a very humid night. Mixing Austin roadhouse country with Appalachian hillbilly yodels and an stage presence that taps hilariously into post-modern "Hee-Haw," the PBR capably set the stage for The Baseball Project.

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