Pin It

Secret Rochester band Coral Moons plays album release show at Bug Jar 

click to enlarge Justin Bartlett, Carly Kraft, Manuel Camacho, and Kevin O'Connell of Coral Moons play the Bug Jar on Thursday, Aug. 19. - PHOTO BY TATIANA ARIOLA
  • Justin Bartlett, Carly Kraft, Manuel Camacho, and Kevin O'Connell of Coral Moons play the Bug Jar on Thursday, Aug. 19.
The Finger Lakes region is the kind of place that sticks with you, seeps into your bones, and calls you back no matter how long you’ve been away or how far you’ve gone. Singer-guitarist Carly Kraft — whose rock band Coral Moons plays its Rochester release show for the new album “Fieldcrest” on August 19 with the band Elsewise at the Bug Jar — knows this as well as anyone.

The 26-year-old Webster native attended Rochester Institute of Technology before moving to Boston and taking a job in the corporate grocery business. It was there that she met bassist Manuel Camacho and began playing cover songs at workplace open mics. She would soon meet guitarist Justin Bartlett and began contributing to his project Hope and Things on vocals, synths, and guitars.

To hear Kraft tell it, she essentially learned to play these instruments on the fly — at first memorizing the keys on the synthesizer rather than learning the chords she was playing. But leaving it at that would undersell Kraft’s musical experience and innate ability.

Back in Rochester, Kraft had grown up playing the oboe in wind ensembles and orchestras, which helped her realize the depth of her passion for music.

“Even playing the oboe in wind ensemble would bring tears to my eyes constantly,” Kraft recalls. “The first time I saw the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, I was in fifth grade, bawling my eyes out. And so I just think that that experience led me to totally believe that music is my truth, and that I completely and fully love it.”

Kraft says playing the oboe gave her the self-assurance that she was on the right path — the musician’s path. Bartlett thinks that Kraft’s history as an oboist has an vital impact on the musicality of Coral Moons, crediting her knack for intonation with keeping the band on point.

Although Kraft was no musical beginner, it was her involvement in Hope and Things with Bartlett and Coral Moons drummer Kevin O’Connell that helped her realize she could be a songwriter, she says.

Bartlett and Camacho encouraged Kraft’s nascent talent as a writer. “They were like ‘Ok, we can start a band now because you wrote some music.,’” Kraft says. “And that’s all the criteria you need to be in a band. So we were like, ‘Let’s do it.’ And we started Coral Moons.”

Within a year and a half of the band’s inception, it had released its first single “Falling in Love” — which was streamed more than 50,000 times — as well as its debut EP “Quarter Life Crisis,. During 2019, it also played three sold-out shows at Boston's Lizard Lounge. The following year, Coral Moons was nominated for Alt/Indie Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards. The band also played Great Scott, which Bartlett refers to as his “bucket-list Boston venue,” just one week before quarantine began in the city.

It was then that Coral Moons’ evolution as a Rochester-via-Boston band began. “We left Boston during the pandemic just because we wanted a change of pace, and we felt like that was the catalyst to kind of see a different perspective,” Bartlett says.

Because of the pandemic, Kraft and Bartlett, who are a couple, decided it was time to shift from city life to a more rural setting. “COVID sparked that — like, oh my gosh, this is possible,” Kraft says. “You know, like, we could do this if we really wanted to. And I think it relates to my life growing up in Webster because I grew up on Fieldcrest, surrounded by farms. It was very much a suburb of Rochester; I don't feel like I'm in a suburb anymore. I've gone one step further, and I live in the country now.

Kraft and Bartlett bought a house in Canandaigua in November 2020. The idyllic four-bedroom, log-cabin home is even featured in the music video for “I Feel Alive,” filmed, edited, and produced by the Rochester-based company Hill + Valley Creative.

On “I Feel Alive,” a driving indie rock anthem loaded with charisma and pop accessibility, Kraft makes a telling admission: “I’ve been caught in a lie a few times now, that I’m a city girl living a city life.”

“I wrote this song right before we moved to the Finger Lakes,” Kraft says. “So I think this was just me getting out on paper, like, what I was thinking for a couple of years. I just really wanted to move to the country; we have farms all around us, and our driveway is like half a mile long.”

“I think that was always something that I wanted to do at some point in my life,” she says. “And I always say that ‘I Feel Alive’ is like my liberation song because I finally was like, ‘You know what? This is what I want. And I should go do what makes me feel alive. And at that moment, that was us moving to a cabin in the woods.”

Bartlett says the affordability of buying a house in the Rochester area — along with prospect of having a retreat where the rest of the band can come for a week to practice, record new music, and prepare for touring — helped to seal the deal. “It's always been a dream of mine to purchase a house and turn it into a studio, or turn it into a creative space for musicians,” the 28-year-old guitarist says.

While it may seem like a logistical nightmare for two of Coral Moons’ members to live in upstate New York while the rhythm section lives in Boston, Bartlett says that sort of situation has become more common. “The big touring bands, they don't live in the same city,” he explains. “They live all across the country, if not the world. And then when they go on tour, they meet up for two weeks, three weeks before hitting the road, and then they get their arrangements down. And, you know, that's a very normal music career for people who are touring, and that's what we want to do.”

Although Coral Moons is technically a quartet, the group is more of a quintet on its debut full-length album “Fieldcrest,” thanks to the contributions of its producer Sam Kassirer — whose impressive CV includes producing, mixing and playing keyboards on records by prominent national artists such as Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter, and Dustbowl Revival.

“He is the fifth member,” Bartlett says of Kassirer. “He’s like the George Martin of Coral Moons.”

”Sam just does a really great job of creating a space where he lets us experiment, but also hands us little tidbits to really push us in a certain direction,” says Kraft. “And the record would be completely different if it wasn't for Sam. And I think at the end of the day, a lot of his choices made the record more emotional and intimate.”

With Kraft at the helm as singer and primary songwriter, the album “Fieldcrest” combines the emotional gravitas of Phoebe Bridgers, except sunnier, and a raw exuberance and stylistic versatility similar to Rochester soul fusion band Grace Serene and the Super Clean.

"They're all very different, but they all relate to the same thing,” Kraft says of the “Fieldcrest” songs, “which is just like, moving on from something that doesn't really serve you any anymore.”

“And I think that's really what this whole record is about, being in the moment and just enjoying every moment for what it is.”

Heading into its Thursday show at Bug Jar, Coral Moons is coming off of its biggest gig yet: a set at Levitate Music & Arts Festival in Massachusetts, which also featured performances from Billy Strings and Grace Potter.

“We’re gonna put on a heck of a show, because we love that spot and we wanna celebrate with all of our people in Rochester,” Bartlett says.

The members of Coral Moons aren’t just eager to return to the Bug Jar — where the band played its only other Rochester show in 2019 — but to get to know the Rochester music scene. Kraft and Bartlett are especially excited about innovative, DIY rock bands such as The Demos, Saint Free, and The Dirty Pennies, that are emerging in the city.

“I think now that things are reopening again, you know, we can go to the Bug Jar during the week and make new friends and listen to new, great local bands,” Kraft says, “which to me, that's what makes us feel part of a community.”

Coral Moons plays its "Fieldcrest" album release show with Elsewise on Thursday, Aug. 19, at 8:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. doors), at Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Avenue. $8. Ages 18 and over. Proof of vaccination required (card, Excelsior Pass, or photo of card). Visit or TicketWeb for tickets.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at
click image best_of_story_banner.png
RTOS February Theatre Organ Concert @ Auditorium Theatre

RTOS February Theatre Organ Concert @ Auditorium Theatre

The Rochester Theater Organ Society presents “From Coast to Coast” on Sunday,...
Faculty Artist Series:: Collaborative Piano Faculty @ Kilbourn Hall

Faculty Artist Series:: Collaborative Piano Faculty @ Kilbourn Hall

This will be a recital with Irina Lupines, Chiao-Wen Cheng, Priscilla Yuen,...
Faculty Artist Series:: Collaborative Piano Faculty @ Kilbourn Hall

Faculty Artist Series:: Collaborative Piano Faculty @ Kilbourn Hall

This will be a recital with Irina Lupines, Chiao-Wen Cheng, Priscilla Yuen,...

View all of today's events »

Website powered by Foundation     |     © 2023 CITY News