Sunday, August 9, 2009

Antifolk Fest, Friday, August 7,2009

Well, the Antifolk Festival is here. I always look forward to this time of year with excitement and dread. There's something very compelling about the rich concentration of performers all playing in this condensed time frame. But since I am so compulsively drawn to attend as much as possible, I know that I'm going to be spending hours and hours hanging in the back room and eating a lot of veggie penne.

I arrived Friday at the very end of Domino's set, which was unfortunate, because I love her shows. She finished up with a song that was requested called Sack of Potatoes. I heard later from other folks that her set was great.

Amos Torres, one of Sidewalk's sound men, played a nice set sitting centerstage with an acoustic guitar. He kicked off with a song about how the only things that will kill him are "mean women, whisky, and cocaine." Well, those'll do it, I suppose. He also played a song in Spanish which he explained had words by his father. Amos has an amazing voice. I wonder if he's ever thought about fronting a band.

Max Miller--am I imagining this or did Max quote a song by the Wowz? I'm not sure, but I think he was singing the lyrics "I'm not depressed, I'm just unimpressed." Anyway, Max did a raucous set with electric guitar and his rock backing tracks. He played a song called August that had the line "I got nothing to lose but my pants and shoes."

The Telethons played in duo configuration. That was how the Telethons played when they originally arrived on the scene--with Jon Telethon on guitar and vocals and Mark Telethon on drums. Now Doug Johnson has taken over the drum role, but it is still fun to see them in this two-piece configuration, which kind of brings back the old days. Maybe it was meant to just be a sound check song, but they started off with C is for Cookie-rock and roll version. Truck Driving Man, I've Had Too Much to Drink and other Telethon hits were in the mix.

Doug stayed on to play with Preston Spurlock, the first time Preston has had a semblance of a band as far as I can remember--at least since the days of playing with his cousin years ago. I gathered that Preston and Doug had decided to play without practicing together and Preston would sort of bark out a rhythm that he wanted like "give me a waltz." And Doug would come back with just the right beat. They kicked off with Put Me Into Cryogenic Freeze and also played Sit and Stew, Pacific Newts (or whatever it's called) Podcorn, etc.

After Preston's set, he and Justin Remer screened videos they'd made. Preston's animated video for Jessica Delfino's song Sudden Change was amazing. You really should watch it here. Justin screened his video for Thomas Patrick Maguire's song "Evening News," and for Brook Pridemore's song "Just Like Nathan Hale, p 2," which features appearances by Thunderbolt Krieger and other Antifolk stars. You can see that one here. Preston also showed a video documenting a luau at Johnny and Julie's house.

Then Elastic No-No Band played. The show seemed to fly by pretty quickly. But it was a fun one. I think we have been playing together long enough now that we're comfortable with the songs, and it's nice to loosen up a bit. We started with You Never Swim, and played ENB hits like You Think It's Wrong to Sing Along, Woody Allen Surrogate, Turn Out Right, etc.

I wasn't familiar with BJ Snowden but had been hearing a lot about her from Ben Krieger. BJ plays standing behind a Yamaha keyboard and uses a lot of its rhythms and beats. She opened up with Mumbo Jumbo, which was an instrumental and showed off her strong piano skills. BJ is an amazingly enthusiastic performer. After practically every song she would throw her arms up in the air and radiate a beaming smile. Although she's from Boston, BJ seems to have kind of an infatuation with Canada, and a number of her songs focused on aspects of that country. She sang "In Canada," "Ontario," "New Brunswick," and "St. Peter's Bay." "In Canada" for example, has the lyrics "In Canada, folks treat you like a queen, In Canada, they never will be mean, In Canada, they treat you like a king, you feel welcome, it makes you want to sing." It was charming that BJ's 80-something year old mother participated in her act. At first BJ's mom stepped in front of the stage and threw out handfuls of candy to the audience. Then later she came on stage for a couple of songs, including "Disaster and Tragedy," and "In Canada." BJ also played a song about being a schoolteacher, one about divorce called "From the Chapel to the Courtroom," another instrumental called "Witch's Prelude," and a tribute to Pete's Candy Store, which she had to be egged on to play because she was worried it might be a conflict of interest with Sidewalk. See my tirade below for a little more about BJ.

I've written so much about the Young Dads previously that it almost feels redundant to gush about them further. I have to admit I was a little worried when I saw them come on stage in costumes. Micah was dressed in a baby outfit with bonnet and everything, and Jesse was wearing what looked like a Geisha robe. But their show was as musical and hysterically funny as ever. Like at the last Antifolk Fest, they had a power point presentation that went along with their act which kind of mocked typical business presentations but also had a lot of funny jokes. One of their songs recounted actual conversations about accounting and auditing that were overheard in one of the Young Dad's work place. They also did some improvisatory beat box type stuff. Micah would beat box while Jesse would vocalize in specific styles such as a bird, a "grossed out pop vocal" and "Bill Cosby imitating Richard Nixon." He also did his father after a "failed home repair experiment," which was truly hilarious. You had to be there. Also Micah did some improvised free style rap based on suggestions from the audience, and that was pretty amazing too. I repeat that their song from the perspective of two ninth-grade girsl is a brilliant piece of songwriting. I was sorry that the third Young Dad was not there to perform the a cappella version of their song Existential Crisis, but it was nice to hear it all the same.

I am truly a fan of the Venn Diagrams, but I was exhausted and had to check out by the time they played.

Time Out New York ran a nice item about the Fest and listed it as among the top music events of the week. Within the piece though they referred to the Antifolk scene as a place to hear "outcasts, miscreants and....local nuts." I wondered why that bothered me, and realized it's not for the reason you might think. I am proud to be affiliated with a place that welcomes and fosters individualism and idiosynchrasy. The diversity of the Antifolk world and its open nature is exactly why I spend time in it. It's just that I think it is too simplistic to label the scene in that way. The people who may be considered "outcasts" in one sense are "incasts" in my book. I feel there's too much labeling going on that doesn't really reflect the complexities of individual personalities or performance styles. The challenge for anyone who writes about music or any art form is to describe something for what it is rather than give it an easy label. BJ Snowden, who performed Friday was evidently included in a book about "outsider" music. But what the hell does that mean? If you label someone as "outsider," you are automatically casting them into some sort of ghetto that sets them apart and discounts what they have to offer. At Sidewalk everyone is on the same playing field and people really appreciate performers for their true individuality. That's one part of its greatness.

See you there sometime soon!

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