Local musicians amid a tour (Ben Morey and Katie Preston) and prepping for one (Mikaela Davis) find Rochester a great incubator for their musical passions

The Rochester original music scene may be fairly large — but, to some, it's also surprisingly close-knit and supportive, free from cutthroat competitiveness.

For singer, songwriter and harpist Mikaela Davis, returning to Rochester after living in Brooklyn, making new friends and plugging into the community fueled her own creativity.

"I started finding my voice when I moved back to Rochester," said Davis.

For Ben Morey and Katie Preston — whose many projects include a partnership as an Americana duo — Rochester's scene appears to be especially tight-knit, compared to what they see in other areas on the road and musical communities they've tapped into. They experienced it on a large scale when making "Mt. Doom," an album by Ben Morey and the Eyes — a collective project featuring more than two dozen local musicians (including Davis).

"I got 30 different musicians to play on it — some of them I hadn't really formed a friendship with them at that point," Morey said. "I was really surprised and humbled that everybody that I asked to do it did — nobody asked for anything in return; they just wanted to be a part of this community project."

Morey and Preston are currently two-weeks into a month-long that's taken them across the country — they're currently in Oregon and heading south to play several California dates, then gig their way eastward to finish up in Troy, N.Y., on Aug. 7. It's the first big tour for them as the musical duo, though they've been in multiple projects together for several years.

Meanwhile, Davis is preparing to kick off a new tour next week featuring music from her new album "Delivery," a tour that will take her and her band through Europe and the U.S. — but that will start off with shows in the communities she's called home, with a July 26 gig in Brooklyn and an Aug. 11 show at Rochester's Abilene Bar & Lounge.

For both acts, Rochester serves as an incubator for musical creativity — and a great place to come home to.

"All my friends are here, my band is here — we travel enough, it's nice to have someplace to call home. So we'll be here for a little while," Davis said.

"I think we're just really, really lucky to have what we have, and I don't think either of us wants to leave that," Morey said.

A global 'Delivery'

Davis is no stranger to the road, having toured with Bon Iver, The Staves, The Punch Brothers, Sara Watkins, and, just recently, Lake Street Dive. (She has in fact recorded with Watkins.)

But it'd been a few years since her debut EP, and she wanted to have new music, reflective of where she's at now, to tour behind.

Enter "Delivery," released earlier this month on Rounder Records, and produced by John Congleton, whose other projects include recordings by St. Vincent and Future Islands. The 10 tracks seem at one listen to convey a journey from a place of confusion and frustration through facing some hard truths to ending at a hard-fought place of peace and contentment.

That's one intrepretation, anyway. But really? "A lot of it was just about me having to write a record," Davis said. "I had one ready when Rounder picked me up; they wanted me to write more and re-record." Some of the initial frustration and confusion is heard in the initial tracks, and "a lot of the rest is about writing songs" — though it taps into universal feelings of confusion, fear, acceptance, longing and wonder. It ends with "Pure Divine Love" about universal love — "and hoping that the world is going to find some peace soon."

Davis started playing harp at age 8 in elementary school at Penfield — where the music program had harps in elementary, middle and high school levels. "I was enamored by it — it was the coolest thing ever!" She took lessons from Grace Wong, longtime principal harpist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, all the way up through college — the Crane School of Music at SUNY Postdam. Even while immersed in the classical curricula for harp, she was also interested in integrating the harp in a pop-rock context; her original plan when starting college was to "be a harp professor at a college and gig on the side." But as she found herself doing more gigging and touring, she realized she was more interested in playing her own music than the classical repertoire.

Acknowledging that some will invariably see the harp in a pop context as a novelty, Davis noted, "When it comes down to it, I'm a songwriter, and that just happens to be the instrument that I play. If I played guitar, I'd be writing the same kind of songs." (She is, in fact, learning guitar, she said.)

She returned to Rochester after a somewhat disillusioning stint in Brooklyn and connected with friends in the scene — including her childhood friend (and current drummer) Alex Coté and Daniel Armbruster of Joywave, another Rochester act that's made a big splash outside the Flower City. (Armbruster was going to release an EP of Davis' music — which ended up being the impetus for Rounder to pick her up. "I told my manager, 'I've been waiting to put out music for two to three years,' and Rounder said 'no, no, no, we'll sign you!'") And then there were Morey and Preston, who invited her to take part in "Mt. Doom" — Davis did harmony vocals with Preston and singer-songwriter Cammy Enaharo — which has evolved into a group project of their own, The Vinaigrettes.

"That was really good for me — it made me feel I was important in the Rochester music scene," Davis said.

On the road

Preston and Morey have known each other for 10 years, since their respective bands at the time played the same venue. "We got into a conversation about the Beach Boys, and we found out that they were our favorite band," Morey said. We decided that we wanted to cover (landmark Beach Boys album) 'Pet Sounds.'"

Since then, they've been in many projects together — Ben Morey and the Eyes (they co-produced "Mt. Doom"), projects with Davis, cover bands for Fleetwood Mac and, yes, the Beach Boys. Morey — as does Davis — plays on Preston's upcoming solo EP "Soap Opera," which includes the recently released, and timeless-sounding, single "The Art of Falling Apart." And they've collaborated on songs together for a long time — but performing in their current context is new for them. Their first show as a duo was just a couple months ago, opening for The Hi-Risers at the Arbor Loft.

As they go along on this tour — in which they've played bars, coffeehouses, folk clubs, DIY clubs, wherever they can — they're finding themselves beginning to mesh more and more musically.

"We're both songwriters — we teach each other our songs and we sort of back each other up," Preston said. But more and more, vocally, "a lot of times we're subtly interweaving — it's really evolving."

Morey, a Canandaigua native who grew up in Rushville, is a veteran of a seemingly endless series of bands — locals may remember The Instruments Band, New Socks, Howlo and any number of other acts. Aside from his partnership with Preston, his current projects include the band Dumb Angel (with some old Instruments bandmates Blake Cooper and Justin Pulver), Ben Morey and the Eyes and the Vinaigrettes. Preston is in the Eyes and the Vinaigrettes, is in another Americana duo with her dad Dave Preston, and plays jazz as Katie and the Press Tones. She's also the lead of the punk band Pleistocene, which she says is being restructured and renamed.

It's as eclectic a mix as their musical influences and interests: Their driving music on the tour has ranged from Carole King to Curtis Mayfield, Miles Davis to Pavement, Morey noted.

"I never want to get stagnant in the type of music I play," Preston said.

Rochester provides a fertile environment for that kind of diversity and experimentation, Morey suggested: "Nobody seems to really be doing the same thing. ... Everyone seems to have distinct personalities with the music that they're making."

Which is yet another reason they plan to stay rooted in and around the Flower City:

"We've spent enough time in Rochester that we've been able to form really close relationships within the musical community," Morey said. "That's something you have to cultivate over a long time."

Tunes on the Tracks

Guitar genius Loren Barrigar was playing at the Grand Ole Opry when he was all of 6 years old, playing Chet Atkins' "Yakity Axe." He would go on to study with Atkins' brother Jimmy, tour with a family band, and settle down in central New York as an in-demand studio musician who has performed and recorded with the likes of Tommy Emmanuel, Muriel Anderson and Lloyd Maines, as well as launching a musical partnership with fellow fingerstyle picker Mark Mazengardb.

Barrigar will travel to Clifton Springs on Wednesday, July 25, for the Tunes by the Tracks concert series, 7-9 p.m. in Clifton Springs Library, 4 Railroad Ave. — postponed from the previous installment so he could play at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society convention in Nashville. As always, there will be a "Mystery Pickers" open mic along with Barrigar's set. And as always, admission is free, though donations are taken to defray costs.

And the kitchen sink

Zydeco. Reggae. Bluegrass. Celtic. Hip-hop. Malian Songhai. Cuban Son. Country. Rock 'n roll. Maybe even the kitchen sink, if the kitchen sink had a band.

All those styles and many more can be heard over the next four days, July 19-22, just a run up Route 96 at the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance at the Trumansburg fairgrounds. Some 75 acts will perform on four stages — the bigger names include Toots and The Maytals, Patty Griffin, The Wood Brothers, Valerie June and the host band Donna the Buffalo, but the festival is a fine way to check out acts, and genres, one hasn't heard, There's a similarly diverse batch of food vendors and artisans set up at the fest.

Single-day tickets at the gate are $57 Thursday, $60 Friday, $65 Saturday and $45 Sunday (reduced prices if you get them in advance). Four-day general admission is $150 at the gate, $125 advance.

Check the whole schedule, and full festival info, at www.grassrootsfest.org.