Tidbits: It’s Festival Season!
The music industry wastes no time every year kicking off festival season just as soon as most of the country begins emerging from the cold dark depth of winter. For me, it starts in March with SXSW in Austin, TX and wraps up in late October with CMJ in New York City. Every month in between, music writers and fans alike are barraged with lineups and raving post-show reviews about all these crazy, zany performances at festivals we didn’t even have a glimmer of hope at attending due to hefty ticket prices and travel expenses. The industry hoopla and money pit aspect is enough to leave a sour taste of disdain in the mouth of most live music lovers all summer long, so maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for your “rock blocks” if you’re indeed tired of sucking on the sour “big industry, big festival” Blow Pop.
I’ve hit a few festivals already this season, namely SXSW, Baltimore Popfest, and MACRoCK, so let’s do a quick rundown of these three.
People who have never been to SXSW have just about as many fantasies about the event as little kids do about the North Pole. Don’t get me wrong — SXSW can indeed provide one with some amazing magical opportunities, but don’t think that you don’t have to work for them, regardless of whether you pay the big bucks for official badges ($625+), wristbands ($189+), and showcases, or whether you try to go free as bird (which, in fact, is entirely possible). And SXSW’s number one dirty little secret: Everyone is at least a little bit sick with cold germs from the airplane or allergies from the dusty outdoors. It seems the majority would disagree, but I felt this year’s SXSW was better than 2013. The spectacle of big names on stage mash-ups was downplayed this year (or maybe I got better at blocking those headlines out) and there were more opportunities to see mid level up and coming names at free or pay at the door ($5) showcases. My biggest regret was missing Baltimore’s own Future Islands’ 1 a.m. show at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Again, logistics can be a serious adversary. I did have some great moments seeing Ty Segall with his band, the English bands Eagulls and Temples, and an almost entirely punky-garage rock showcase on Sunday (the last day) featuring some great bands like Pontiak from Virginia and Austin, Tex., locals Think No Think and The Hex Dispensers. Check out my SXSW 2014 photo highlights at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.656509054412961.1073741849.162961300434408&type=3
The second annual, Baltimore Popfest was unquestionably more amazing this year with bigger names, a bigger crowd, and a bigger venue! For a mere $15 (+ fees), fans got the run of the Ottobar and 7 bands including The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It’s only a one-evening festival, but it packs a lot of live music, which makes it a fun and easy fest. Baltimore Popfest is also a great opportunity to hear hand-selected new regional and local bands you may not have seen before, but will totally dig if you like noise and dream pop.
MACRoCK equals mo’ rock for your money! Skip all the SXSW big ticket, badged showcases, massive venue lines, and airplane flights. Just take the two-hour highway cruise down to Harrisonburg, Va., next year and get connected with independent music for 26 bucks. The independent not-for-profit organization MACRoCK aims to carry out the mission of showcasing truly independent local level musical acts from across the country and keeping fans informed about artists and happenings within the independent music scene every first weekend in April since 1996. The festival has a rich history including the bragging rights of featuring Superchunk, Dismemberment Plan, and Elliot Smith during its inaugural year. In quaint little Harrisionburg, MACRoCK takes over 5 local restaurants by day, venues by night and a loosely kept secret selection of fraternities and art houses after hours. Showcases covered metal blends including the currently buzzing Iron Reagan from Richmond, Va; a rainbow of punk genres from pop to post-hardcore/post-punk featuring Ex-Hex, Ex Cult, and Diarrhea Planet this year; and “listening” rock genres like experimental and folksy singer/ songwriter storytellers such as Water Liars and Woodsman. This year also featured a successful and well-attended panel session on Music Journalism that ended up being a fun and low key way to meet other young start up professionals. Speaking of which: Check out our best of MACRoCK 2014 Photo’s at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.665646840165849.1073741852.162961300434408&type=3. Don’t think MACRoCK is all roses and sunshine, however, and have some respect. It is a legitimate music festival, and it is getting more and more popular every year, so expect at-capacity venues and make sure you are where you want to be well in advance of the bands you want to see. Overall, the price point and logistics are entirely manageable to make it possible to see a massive amount of truly forward-thinking independent music, even if you have a little too much fun the night before and have to hoof it from venue to venue.
So, that’s our thoughts on festival season so far this year. Local fests The Shindig and Hot August Blues have exceptional lineups this year. Coachella is also in the middle of their two-weekend event out in the desert of California right now and the close-up artist shots from the first weekend with the ant sized sea of audience members stretching infinitely to the horizon is enough to give me the live music willies. This year’s consensus from the festival’s 20-somethings seems to say that rock and roll is dead (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and The Replacements played to dead crowds) and synth pop and hip-hop (Lorde, Kid Cudi, and OutKast killed it) are their choice rhythms for being young, dumb, and brand name targeted.