No matter the circumstances, growing up isn’t easy. You spend the initial years of your life wishing you were bigger, then transition to being an awkward teenager, and follow that up by getting thrust into a fast-paced world that you may or may not be ready for.
And that’s if you’re lucky.
Sonny Jordan Muscato, now age 30, was not quite as lucky. At an early stage in his life he was diagnosed with autism, a condition that creates challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication. On the flip side, it can also cause unique strengths and wherewithal. But due to the social discomforts that autism can cause, people with autism have historically been left on the outside looking in, eager to find a place of comfort but often lacking the resources and community-wide support to be able to navigate the already choppy waters of adolescence. Sadly, that is exactly where Sonny Muscato found himself, and as a result, a period in his life developed that was crime, drugs, incarceration and rehab. Needless to say, Sonny’s one constant support system - his family - was devastated and yearned for a way to help Sonny cope with his frustrations and grow as a person.
Before the period of crime and strife, however, there was a time in Sonny’s life where he was very focused in an area where he showed tremendous potential … Music was Sonny’s safe place. Sonny was diagnosed with autism at a very early age, at a time where there was still very little known about the condition and how to properly treat it. By the age of two, Sonny was gravitating towards playing the drums and soon showed an aptitude for rhythm and beat.
As you can probably imagine, the lack of resources and information was very frustrating to Sonny’s family. His brother, Max, was eager to help Sonny, but how to accomplish that was another story altogether. Because music had always been a constant staple in Sonny’s life, Max and his father Marc came up with the idea for Rock Autism - a nonprofit organization focused on raising autism awareness and funding for music and art therapy programs.
On September 1, 2018 the Village Park in Ellicottville, NY will be hosting the inaugural Rock Autism Music Festival. The festival starts at 12pm. Pre-sale tickets are $15, children 12 and under are free, and VIP packages are $40. (A VIP Pass gives you private parking, entrance, full bar, selective food, and access to the band hangout section.)
“Ellicottville has always been a second home to Sonny and I,” Max stated. “We grew up on the slopes at Holiday Valley and it always felt like our own oasis. I personally had been contemplating Ellicottville since we began scouting locations. The small ski town was perfect for what we were trying to accomplish. It's already known as a destination getaway - but one thing we wish to accomplish is to have it be an even bigger music destination spot as well.”
Through an already established residency at Villaggio in Ellicottville, where Max’s high school friend Spencer Murray is the manager, Max was able to quickly start fostering relationships in the community that proved to be invaluable in the creation of the festival. Spencer is also a Village of Ellicottville Trustee and was instrumental in helping Rock Autism go from concept to reality. His efforts and dedication influenced Max and the rest of the board of directors to invite Spencer to be the fifth board member of Rock Autism, Inc.
The festival has a fun-filled and entertaining lineup. The Strictly Hip, Big Eyed Phish (a Dave Matthews Tribute Band), Tiny Music, Max Muscato Ft. Sonny Muscato, The Tins, EDALO, Deadwolf, Ponder, FEVERBOX, XOXO will be rocking the Village Park from noon until 11pm.
“We put a lot of thought into the line-up for our first year,” said Max. “With Sensu Music onboard, we're able to get virtually anyone in the world to perform, but we wanted to be strategic with our first one and not get in over our heads. When it comes to music festivals, you really have to understand the region and demographics - and of course budget. After much consideration, we decided to go the tribute band route and well known local original act to see how the first year played out.”
As an up-and-coming nonprofit, Rock Autism has already been able to put together an impressive lineup of partners. “Our team scoured Western New York for people and organizations that had a deep connection with autism and had the same vision we did,” Max stated. When it was all said and done, the list of partners include: People Inc., Hodgson & Russ Attorneys, Labatt Blue, 103.3 The Edge and Holiday Valley Resort. The Edge’s James Kurdziel will MC the event. Holiday Valley is offering discounted rates on lodging to all Rock Autism Music Festival participants. The festival will feature local vendors and interactive art and musical activities throughout the day. Rock Autism Music Festival is the first major music event to benefit music and art therapy programs at People Inc., Autism Services of Western New York & The Summit Center.
“People Inc. has developed an incredible reputation over the years,” Max stated. “Our Vice President Alea Conte had an existing relationship with the CEO of People, and after some research and a meeting, we decided that People Inc. would be one of the initial organizations we'd be involved with.”
When asked what about the Ellicottville show he is most looking forward to, Max did not hesitate on his answer. “I'm looking forward to performing Sonnyboi on stage with my brother Sonny. Performing music for people is what I love to do. If I can perform a song I wrote about my brother (Sonnyboi), while my brother plays right behind me on the kit and raise money to help others - I hit the trifecta. I've been fortunate with my music career to play in front of some big crowds, but the one thing I'm really excited for is to see my brother’s face when he first walks out on the stage; I'll definitely have our photographer on Sonny that entire time.”
Sonny definitely has a dedicated focus on the event. According to Max, Sonny has a renewed focus and enthusiasm. “I'll tell him we have a photoshoot in a few hours and he shows me 10 different shirts, does a clean shave and practices his head shots in the mirror - it's both funny and cool to see him laugh again. I can definitely say that this is having a positive impact, not only for his life but his music and creative.”
Ambitious, yet obtainable, goals have been set for Rock Autism. Max hopes to grow the festival into an annual tour that culminates in Ellicottville. If all goes according to plan, Max hopes to take Rock Autism to a place where they can create exposure to the cause of increasing awareness about autism and providing a portion of the tour’s proceeds to go towards autism awareness wherever the tour plays. In the next few years, Rock Autism hopes to be playing in Nashville and Los Angeles. But the festival always plans to culminate in Ellicottville. As far as Max is concerned, this will help both Rock Autism achieve its goals as well as help Ellicottville continue to grow its summertime offerings.
To learn more about Rock Autism and the upcoming event, go to www.rockautism.org or search the event on Facebook and Instsagram.