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Rochester Fringe Festival, Day 3: The Great Chernesky and Matt Griffo reviews

Music and humor from two groups with regional roots

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I kicked off day three of my Fringe experience with Auburn native The Great Chernesky at Java's.

There was a certain woodsy panache to his whole shtick, and I'd hate to call the music he plays -- no, actually; he gives birth to it -- as country, as the term calls to mind current music that doesn't sound anything like Chernesky.

When I call his music country, I mean the guitar strumming, foot stomping, harmonic blowing, rambling country. I mean it in the good old rough-and-tough, homegrown (he is from Auburn, after all), down-in-the-dirt rebel folk, meets Americana, meets country country. The show was just Chernesky and his acoustic guitar, and his guitar player on electric, providing just the right amount of electric twang and solos that fleshed out the sound.

There was a dash of mirth in the song writing as well. To wit, one number had him assuring the audience he hadn't banged any of our daughters yet.

Sticking with the "great" theme, one of the set hands announced most of the songs, as well as took the brunt of Chernesky's jokes for grabbing the wrong harmonica or announcing the wrong song. It came off a little forced, and didn't seem necessary when the music was already strong enough to stand on its own. But at least Chernesky brought his Davy Crockett hat. And my own hat goes off to him.

Next up was Chicago-based musical comedian Matt Griffo at Geva Nextstage. As a general rule, I'm not a fan of musical comedy. It usually comes off awkward or falls flat, requiring a performer to be good at not only writing and playing music, but also at writing jokes. It also strips away a lot of trust and authenticity about music itself. But when it works (look at Tenacious D or Bo Burnham as prime examples), it works very well.

Griffo had no problem with any of those skill sets, and he presented a solid night showcasing his piano prowess, his ukulele strumming, and his ability to make both of them funny. There were some low points in his set: His repeated changing of character to take musical requests showed off some of his ad-libbing skills, but wasn't that funny, especially when he relied on it several times.

When he was on fire, though, he was on fire. His "gay enough for you" song, which involved audience participation, was hysterical, and when Griffo was attacking musical tropes like the forlorn-love rock song, or the basic simple country song, he was dead on and amazingly funny. Even his ending bit, repeatedly asking the audience to leave while dimming the lights more and more each time, set a strong bar for those in-tune musical belly laughs.

On Saturday I'll be sticking with comedy for headliner Patton Oswalt at Kodak Hall, and checking out "Gilgamesh" and "GCI Zombie Apocalypse" at Geva on the theater side of things. What have you been enjoying so far about the festival? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

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