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The Batavia Ramble Music & Arts Fest

Batavia's music and arts festival returns

Find your way through back alleys to Jackson Square in Batavia on July 2, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped onto a movie set for a film about grassroots Americana. A gentle breeze flaps sunlit red, white, and blue flags; people of all ages dance in front of a portable stage, and musicians play tirelessly into the night. Life-size murals depicting a bygone era grace the surrounding brick walls. A two-story deck overlooking the square is filled with people drinking beer and catching up with each other since the last Ramble—it’s one of the Center Street Smokehouse’s busiest days of the year. You’ve found the heart of western New York.

If you already have a relationship with the Batavia area, the Ramble evokes a palpable sense of belonging—especially for musicians. It doesn’t matter that you currently live out of town or even out of state. Batavia has touched you in some way, and now, through the Ramble, it draws you back in.

In Genesee County, all roads lead to Batavia. When one makes inquiries about the Ramble, all roads lead to Bill McDonald, who plays with the local band the Ghost Riders. In 2006, McDonald and his “posse” of like-minded local performers envisioned a homecoming for musicians who were then scattered across the United States. They knew the idea had legs, naming the event Ramble #1.

Last year marked the Ramble’s tenth anniversary. With an eye to retire from managing the event, McDonald invited thirty-one-year-old Paul Draper III of Batavia to join the posse. Draper credits a strong tradition and the fact that the same musicians come back year after year for an easy transition.

One stage couldn’t contain the growing interest in performing at the Ramble forever. It grew from thirty musicians performing in its first year to 200 in 2015 and has spilled over to three stages and more than forty acts performing in many genres of electric and acoustic music.

“Every year we get something else,” Draper says, “rock and roll, country, blues, folk, jazz, bluegrass—it’s really a melting pot. You can go to one stage and see a country band doing standard country songs, and on the main stage in Jackson Square you’re going to see someone like the Trolls, who play heavy rock, and just down the street you’ll hear Michael DiSanto doing some amazing stuff acoustically.”

The festival takes place annually on the Saturday closest to Independence Day. Jackson Square is behind Main Street between Center and Jackson Streets. Two stages are located along Center Street. All ages will find something of interest, including sidewalk chalk activity for youngsters on Center Street. And the Ramble is free to attend!

In addition to the unusual variety of music available at one festival, what sets the Ramble apart from other music festivals, according to Draper, is that “it’s not for profit . . . it’s all out of the love for the music,” he says. “As far as the musicians are concerned, it’s all a big musical love fest.” 


Phyllis Mangefrida is a native Batavian and a copy editor at the University of Rochester. She lives in Rochester’s Park Avenue neighborhood with her husband, two sons, and a three-legged cat.

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