11 September 2006

South Park Music Festival

I know, I know. The late summer days of music festivals are long gone by now. The smell of winter is around the corner. And what with immediate blog postings and weekly gossip dishes, the idea of reporting on an event that happened two months ago might seem distant and irrelevant. But I don’t think so. There was some really great music at the third South Park Music Festival this September 2006 and a lot of interesting and substantial talk about music and things going on in the music scene. I say good music and talk about it doesn’t grow stale. So here we go.

Music festivals are fun, but are overwhelming. And there’s other elements of them I could live without. I was at an after-party near Fairplay, Colorado late, late…late on Friday night of the festival weekend. I had already been to two nights of rock shows and a day of panel discussions on things like “What’s Next: The Current and Future State of Independent Music” and “Podcasting: The Hottest Thing in Radio?” I had spent a few hours walking around in a drizzly cold rain, and I was nodding towards exhausted. Wondering how I was going to make it through another full day and night of music without at least a few hours sleep I went downstairs to check if ay of those party goers had gotten off the couch I had claimed. They hadn’t. I didn’t feel like kicking everyone out, but I was getting damn close. At the bottom of the stairs I saw a few members of some fine Denver bands, sipping their beers and shaking their heads. They looked almost as tired as me. They were talking about how nobody comes to these things for the music, you know, it’s more the sex and the drugs than the rock n roll. Now I was about ready to cry. I didn’t want to think that. I wanted to think that people made the trip, not only for free PBR and the like, but for the great treat of being surrounded by a lot of music and hoping to catch the best of it. Well, I know a number of people who wanted to make it to South Park for the music, but couldn’t. I also know a number of people who were disappointed to find mostly side shenanigans of the weekend reported on and not so much of the music.

It’s an impossible challenge to distill the nearly three days I was there into a coherent and relevant synopsis. First of all, there is just no covering it all. It’s impossible. But even so, much like looking at the festival schedule and knowing I wasn’t going to get to every show I had an interest in seeing, I resign to the fact that I’m not going to be able to write about everything I heard. My first explanation on omissions is that I stuck to the venues in Fairplay, so if it the band played in Alma, I just didn’t hear it. I didn’t want to drive and even though there were shuttles between the two towns, I stuck to where I could walk. Even so, a lot got passed over on my schedule.

The Fairplay Hotel was where I kept getting pulled back in...even when I wasn’t volunteering at the check-in table, I somehow kept finding myself there. The stage was set up in the old hotel dining room. It was a little surreal to see rock bands in front of the old-timey lace curtains, but I liked it. And to further the image of disconnect, I was told that earlier at the Thursday night VIP party the hotel staff was scrambling to take down antique tea pots off the shelf because they were rattling off the edge. Kind of out of place, but in a cool sort of mixed up way. The town outdoor stages made tiny Fairplay just big enough to put on the festival. I can’t imagine it being any bigger and still being manageable. But I like that it’s a smaller scale than the bigger fests. And I love the exclusive indie band set up. Major label bands are already getting attention in lots of places and even though we all are smart enough to know that numbers of records sold doesn’t have a sincere correlation with quality or importance, it sure seems like a fact that is easily forgotten. Besides, South Park is really a pretty place to be.

But, enough explaining the general atmosphere. I went to South Park to listen to music. And so, here’s my account of the best stuff I got to hear:

Born in the Flood. Possibly one of Denver’s most talked about bands right now. I got to hear them twice in Fairplay actually. Once, Thursday at the VIP kick-off party at the hotel and then again at the Bender’s Tavern outdoor stage where they took the spot of an Ohio band that I guess just didn’t make it. Thursday night, in the hotel dining room I was listening to them sing “Low Flying Clouds” and when Nate got to the part where he sings “give it to the hippest cats to spread by word of mouth” I shouted in the ear of my friend something about that line being perfect music festival words. Not missing a beat he replied “aw, that’s some myspace shit.” And it’s all true. But this is the thing, I had heard so many good things about Born in the Flood before I saw them play that it actually took a few times of listening to them before I could hear them with my own ears and begin to like them. The first time I saw them was in Denver and when someone asked me what I thought of them that night I couldn’t really answer, I could only shrug. But getting to hear them twice in three days cleared a lot of the cotton of “they will make you cry” descriptions out of my ears. I still have a slight echo of Coldplay comparisons to clear out of my head but I’ve only heard Coldplay in passing, so it’s not quite as bad. Born in the Flood can be a great band and I think their listeners will grow with them. Joseph plays bass lines that hook you in and Mike nets you in with the drums. People will get caught up in sounds like that. The guitar and noises alternate between addictive pop rhythm and an edgier sound that reminds you this is a rock band. But best of all, Nathaniel sings lyrics so pretty and strong it wouldn’t matter if the words made no sense, the sound of him singing them carries them far.

The Theives. Also saw them twice, but just a little of each set. Once at the hotel party and once at the high school. First look and listen at these guys hitting the stage with their Frampton hair and flaired jeans and I thought, okay, so nobody told these guys that rock, and especially Southern rock, is dead. But that’s cool. These guys hail from across the pond, Oxford, England no less, so I cut them some slack. But after a listen I don’t account their style to ignorance but their choice to play the stuff they like. And they do what they do rather well. If you wished the Kings of Leon were a little more wild and crazy, and British, you’ll probably want to check these guys out.

Playing at the the Denver Post “South Park High School Prom Party” I thought about how I might’ve actually gone to prom in high school if the Hot IQs had been playing instead of…well, I guess I don’t know what was played at my high school dances because I never went to any of them. But the Hot IQs on a school stage delivered enough for everybody in what might’ve been the most eclectic prom crowd ever to have a good time. The school cafeteria/gym/theatre sound had the unmistakable quality of sounding like it was in a…school cafeteria/gym/theatre. But even though the high sounds cracked off the cement walls and everything else kind of swirled around in an incredibly loud muddy middle sound they still seemed to sound good to the happy dancers. But sound quality aside, it was a fun set with another one of Denver’s funnest. Hooray for the Hot IQs!

Saturday the music started really early. I was running on fewer hours sleep than I wanted, as explained earlier, but sleep would just have to wait because Porlolo was up on the Bender’s Tavern Front Street Stage at 12:00...noon! Much to Erin Robert’s amazement too, as she couldn’t recall ever playing quite that early a show before. Thankfully the drizzly rain from Friday was gone, and the sun shone down, but it was still a rather chilly day for anyone silly enough to travel to Fairplay in September sans a jacket (yeah, like me.) But super sounds from a super-group sized Porlolo made me forget I was cold for a little while. This was the first time I saw them with their larger line up of Steven Brooks on drums, Jonathan Till on bass and Julie Bluebook on double bass, Carri on violin, in addition to Porlolo base of Tom Mohr on guitar and of course, Erin Roberts herself. All of them talented and great performers. I’ve never left a Porlolo show disapointed, and their South Park appearance didn’t break the trend. It was not surprising, but amazing nonetheless to hear how flexible Porlolo’s songs are that they work equally well with an acoustic guitar and full electric line up, evidencing solid songwriting that stands on its own without need of props and references and lame descriptives of sounds like… It doesn’t need to. Porlolo is.

If you saw Scott Biram walk with guitar in hand, all by himself, up on the stage and expected a sedate acoustic set, you didn’t get what you were expecting. I had met the Bloodshot Records artist from Austin earlier at the hotel check in. I handed him his band badge and freebie bag and asked him if he needed anything else, but all he really wanted was directions to where he was playing because right after that he was headed back down to Denver to play a show at Bender’s that same night. I thought, this is a hard working musician. But anybody within earshot of the Front Street Stage could’ve told you that if they were even half-listening. Biram plays as if there were four or five of him. All that sound and energy coming from one man. The Bloodshot Records site describes how he “lashes together blues, hillbilly and country precariously to raucous punk and godless metal.” Than don’t make no sense if you only read it, you got to hear it. And he will knock you over when you do.

Feeling bad about not taking many stretches outside of my element, I took a walk over to the Hip Hop Takeover Skate Park Stage. It was enough of a walk to feel a little dizzy from the altitude, though not so very far. When I got there it a Denver outfit called Pirate Signal was onstage. I need my friend Judy to write about this stuff because I am no hip-hop student and lack the vocabulary to begin to talk about it. Mostly I stood and watched the skaters and thought about how big a concussion I’d have if I tried to skate that stuff. But it was a really cool set up to have the hip-hop stage right next to the skate park and although the crowd was smallish, it seemed like everyone was having fun.

Heading back to the Bender’s stage made me feel a little more at home. We got back in time to listen to Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots. Although I’ve been hearing this band play the same songs off their self titled cd for a while now, I’m not tired of the songs yet. The sound sounds like Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots. And if you love them, you are never sorry to hear them again. I was surprised to see them performing the show sans their bass player, but was later told it was only because Paul couldn’t be there that day. Cellist Rebecca Vera worked double time filling in the string space left by the absent bass. She’s exceptional, as are Elin and Frieda. And Jeff Linsenmaier, sporting a serious mountain man beard, held the rhythm together as solid as ever. Munly sang and played like only Munly does. MLLH has a strong sense of what they want to sound like and they never shortchange you with a lackluster delivery of their sound, whatever you want to label it. That commitment has always made for a good performance, and South Park was no exception.

Back at South Park High School Lion Sized started up the evening with a sonic fight against the wide open space in the gym. It was loud, and they won. Listening to them I remembered that I don’t go see Lion Sized often enough. They’re a for-reals rock band. And I love love love that stuff. You too? Rock.

By now, the sun had just set and it was hard to believe that there was still a whole night ahead. It seemed like there couldn’t be room for more. As much fun as I already had, I didn’t know that the best was yet to come. Looking over the schedule I kept trying to make myself move from venue to venue, but on Saturday the bands I wanted most to see were conveniently located in one place. Yeah, the Fairplay Hotel. It was a serious line-up at The Onion Showcase and I was gonna stay put for this one. Things started out great with Pee Pee and this was the first time I’d heard Monofog. And I’m going to have to hear them again real soon.

But, Holy Cow…boy Curse! Giving more energy to their performance than you’d think possible in the thin mountain air Cowboy Curse played one of their best sets I think I’ve ever seen them play. Not that they don’t usually play a great set. They do. It’s just that this one was seriously memorable. Not just knit up tight and solid, but such energy and heart all put out there that I worried if they were getting enough air to breathe. This band plays it like they mean it. And I believe they do. When you weigh recorded sound and live show performance together, this trio is hands down the best indie pop band in Denver, and who knows how much farther. And like the best of them, they make the songs look easy even when you know how much they are not. Bop bop bop ba da da bop bop, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh… Evidence that words are not, never have been and never will be enough. Thankfully.

So, for sure the night couldn’t get even better. Or could it? It could. And it did. Bright Channel was yet to play. This was the very first time I had seen Bright Channel live. I’d heard good things from the very few people whose musical opinion I trust with little questioning. So naturally I’d checked out the mp3s on their myspace player. But this was a lesson to me that really wasn’t news but nonetheless a wake up. Hearing some music on the internet is kind of like looking at a postcard of the Grand Canyon and deciding, yeah, looks pretty cool. Some things…there’s no way to capture without actually being there in front of it. And this is the way I felt listening to Bright Channel for real. I was wide awake, and after less than ten hours sleep in the past sixty. They make the cliché “wall of sound” alive and pertinent. They could’ve woken up the ghosts in the hotel. And perhaps they did. I can’t wait to see them again. Even though there was more music to get to if I wanted, I was content and super happy I’d been there and heard all I did. In spite of all their overwhelmingness, annoyances and worse, that great feeling of being there and having the chance to see so much music in one place at the same time is why music festivals, and specifically this time, the South Park Music Festival, is always worth it.

No comments: