You've heard the story before: Friends hang out. Friends jam. Somehow it works. Friends start a band. Their parents and neighbors are sooo happy. The band inundates city dives, makes noise, makes fans, and eventually, a name for itself through all the hoopla. Maybe it even records a CD along the way.
But vision is short sighted. Jobs won't flex. Girlfriends make demands. The band stays in town. The band stagnates and splinters. The local glass ceiling is now fully realized. It's as if leaving town were like sailing off the edge of the earth. You've heard it all before... unless you've heard of Third Estate.
Third Estate is a young (its four members range in age from 19 to 23), loud, and fast punk band from Rochester that, in its relatively short, two-year history, has forged ahead into the punk rock limelight with fierce determination. Not waiting to be discovered or signed, and realizing the potential for exhausting the local market, Third Estate became masters of their own destiny. Or Demise.
With a tight, furious attack, the quartet plays punk infused rock music with a weighty brutality and the lyrical salvation of hope. The guitars crunch and chug over the larger-than-punk drums. The vocals wail fervently. It ain't your standard dead-end desperate holler amidst squealing noise. Third Estate plays with proficiency, honesty, and sincerity. This is their music.
Third Estate started with guitarist Greg Freitag and singer-guitarist Dave Fondiller. With the addition of drummer Gary Foster and bassist Ron Ficarro the band hit the ground hard, playing for whoever would listen.
"We played wherever we could," Foster says. "The Penny Arcade, Tremors, The Bug Jar." They even played parks and venues that were way out of their scene, like the now defunct 547 bar, a country joint on State Street.
"There was this huge Confederate flag flying in the background," Ficarro says. Despite the band's displacement, the show went over famously.
"It was when we were first starting to draw and getting our shit together," Foster says. Third Estate filled the joint with young punks, peppered by the old regulars who "just stayed at the bar drinking."
The band struck gold, however, at the Fairport and Lyons teen centers where their young fans could go with little parental protest.
"They weren't at the point where they could say 'mom, drop me off at Water Street,'" Ficarro says. "Mom would be, like 'No, you're gonna get shot.'" The band estimates upwards of 80 percent of its fans are under 18.
"The record we had released, Nothing To No One, sort of grabbed that demographic," Fondiller says. "We were playing a style of music that we feel now, looking back, sounded young at the time." That's probably because they were young themselves --- still are. The kids dug it. The kids believed it. The kids went nuts.
"The teen centers are where all the punk rock kids go," Ficarro says. "And so many 14 year old girls," adds Fondiller.
"Plus the energy," says Foster. "The place gets packed and there are kids all around you. There's so much energy 'cause they're going nuts. They're like 'This is the best thing in the world.' The walls are shaking. The walls are sweating."
It was with this fever that Third Estate made the next step, breaking into bigger joints like Water Street Music Hall, where their all-ages shows drew huge crowds.
"At this point we had built it up enough at the teen center," Ficarro says. "It was time to move it over to a venue that had a bigger capacity."
Grooving on the expanding fan base while sharpening their sound, Third Estate wanted more and aimed high. Real high
"We had played the snot out of the Rochester area," Ficarro says. To increase its exposure and impress those who count, the band knew it would have to tour.
"People only want to see you working," Foster says of the industry. "They don't want to hear any bullshit."
An industry insider noticed the band and invited it to join the 2002 Vans Warped Tour --- a rolling summer concert tour for everybody who's anybody in punk. The band readily accepted, and immediately started paying some heavy dues. The band was starting at the top. Or was it the bottom?
"We had the opportunity with another band to have our own tent stage," Foster says. "We had to get our own tent and PA. We did the set up at the Warped Tour everyday and we could play." But that was it, aside from the opportunity and prestige of simply being involved.
"We were part of the tour," Freitag says. "But we weren't part of the tour. We had to earn it."
"We had to prove to them that we could do it," says Fondiller. "That we were fuckin' serious."
"We weren't in any promotions. We didn't get paid. We didn't get food or water," Foster says. "But we did get the opportunity to play. It's like, 'This is it. The pilot has had a heart attack and you have to fly the plane.'"
For nearly 10 weeks the boys of Third Estate were thrown head first into the deep end of the industry without their swimmies. They went hungry. They went thirsty. They never slept.
"You've got to understand," Ficarro says, "we had 12 hour drives to do between shows and you're playing everyday. We'd drive 12 hours between the four of us and at six in the morning, the person that got finished driving would have to go out and find the tour director, who would place us and give us our plot. Then you'd have to walk back and find the van and get into the area, which was a hassle because security would never let us in, with laminates or not."
Despite such conditions, the band was in heaven, rubbing elbows with its heroes. When offered amenities that hadn't initially been promised, like food, the band proudly declined.
"We were like 'no, we're doing this on our own,'" says Foster, who lost 40 pounds on the tour. The band's DIY approach also included some clever promotion recruitments.
"We'd go up to people waiting in line and we'd go 'Hey, you don't have a ticket? If you work for us and pass out fliers and promote, we can get you in.'"
The band played morning and afternoon sets, sold merchandise, stuck stickers everywhere, made new fans one at a time, and didn't let the downside take over.
"Sure it was expensive as fuck," says Foster. "But it's the luckiest thing that could have ever happened to us."
The hard work and abuse paid off. Having finished the first leg of this year's Warped Tour, the band is finally getting feedback.
"When you're playing every day it's weird, because you don't know how you did," Freitag says. "Then there's that time period when you come back and kids are like 'I listen to your record all the time.'"
"It's just mind blowing," says Foster.
Having made the grade, the band is now getting much deserved attention and respect. They're on a real stage, they're listed on the bill, and new fans are popping up daily.
"This year we got a sweet deal because we proved ourselves last year," Freitag says.
"We'll go into a mall to get socks or something and there'll be a huge poster for Warped Tour and our name's right in between The Used and Thrice," Foster says. "And that's such and honor."
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.
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