Music on my Mind: Indy music festival pulse-check
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on July 31, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Last week, I was scrambling around my apartment, assembling necessities for a weekend in Louisville at Forecastle music festival. As I printed tickets, gathered clothes, and iced down a cooler of beer, my mind drifted toward Indy’s recent festival forays and where cultural events fit into the landscape of a town whose reputation revolves around sports. To gain insight, I sat down with local concert promoters and other stakeholders to answer several questions. Among them were: Is a top-tier music festival necessary for a healthy music scene in a city? Is a thriving music culture central to Indy’s image nationally? What are the latest developments? What are the possibilities going forward?
“We have a pretty packed calendar of cultural events currently being offered, whether that’s concerts at The Lawn at White River State Park to Dig-In from Irish Fest to Indy Pride,” says Chris Gahl of Visit Indy. “It’s very eclectic and often surprises our visitors when they see the lineup of events. We feel confident in what we’re currently offering, however there’s always room to grow.”
One such sign of growth is WARMfest, Indy’s latest and most substantial attempt at a rock festival with regional reach. Dan Ripley launched the event last year, incorporating Broad Ripple Music Fest and Indie Arts & Vintage Market Place into a four-day showcase of music and artisans in Broad Ripple Park. For Ripley, WARMfest’s larger mission aims to fund the restoration of White River’s banks, removing invasive honeysuckle and other debris that has limited access to the waterway for years.
“For decades, Broad Ripple’s identity was tied to the park and the amusement park, and public docks, and canoe liveries and social gatherings on the river,” Ripley says during a recent boat ride along White River. “When you look at all of these things, I sort of justify my vision as not being hair-brained. People say, ‘Well, that will never work.’ It did work. It worked for decades.”
A look at more established regional festivals should provide Ripley with a bit of optimism. In 2013, Forecastle conducted a financial impact study to track the monetary windfall to Louisville’s tourism and hospitality sector. The results were impressive. Each year, tens of thousands of energetic fans spend an average of $98 per day, pumping a cumulative $14 million into Louisville. Last year, organizers invested $460,000 on local employment. Like WARMfest, Forecastle operates a nonprofit arm, which funds environmental conservation efforts in both Kentucky and South America.
“I think one of the reasons that Forecastle has been so successful and continues to be a success is because we didn’t come out of the gates big,” says Forecastle Media Manager Holly Weyler. “We started small. Like really small. Like 100 people small. So it has been an organic, grassroots growth that’s happened over the last 13 years that got us here.”
A recent Indianapolis festival with humble beginnings is Cataracts Music Festival, launched by Jacob Gardner in several backyards off of Morris Street. in Fountain Square in 2011. Gardner pulled off the event without any formal sponsorship agreements, just the support of a few, eager, like-minded friends. “I wanted it to light a fire under people’s asses to realize that you can do this anywhere,” he says. “You can do this in your front yard. It’s called DIY for a reason. Do it yourself. Don’t complain about not having a show space. Go find one. Go create one.”
Cataracts spent two years on Morris Street before moving to Garfield Park in 2013 after police declined to issue Gardner the necessary permits to hold the event at Fountain Square Brewery, citing noise complaints after the 2012 event. Those circumstances led Gardner to take a year off and regroup in 2014. “If somebody could see that we’re just doing this so that Indianapolis can have something to hold onto, then I would keep doing it,” he says. “As it is now, I’m letting it rest and fall where it needs to naturally.”
“We can do Cataracts again,” Gardner says. “We just have to appropriate funds correctly. Even if I have to pay for the majority of it, I’ll do it. But it’s gotta be in a really unique place. It’s gotta be in the right setting. It’s gotta be at the right time. The right bands have to be coming through. I would really like to do it in houses again, and scale it back. Maybe two stages with 15 bands all day or something like that.”
Josh Baker, who manages MOKB Presents and local events website Do317, recognizes the value that people like Gardner bring to Indy. “We need more younger music promoters who want to go out and do shows and take risks,” he says. “We need people who want to open more venues or change venue formats to be centered around live music. We need more people buying music and supporting bands. All of those things are catalysts and vital to a thriving music scene and I think a market has to have a thriving music scene in order to have a successful festival.”
Baker oversaw talent-hiring and filled a variety of other roles during the inaugural WARMfest. He chose to forego involvement this year to focus on opening a new Fountain square venue, The Hi-Fi. He has a long history with music festivals on a local and national level. He was the primary force behind Midwest Music Summit, a SXSW-style conference held in Indy in the mid-2000s, Monolith Music Festival at Red Rocks in Colorado, and other events like First Friday Food Truck Fest at Old National Centre. “The city is the direct benefactor of a festival,” Baker says. “The festival takes all of this risk and spends all of this money on marketing on behalf of the city and their brand. I think there’s something there from a city and tourism standpoint. They should commit a financial investment into some of these events to help them grow, because the city will see the rewards.”
Gahl echoed Baker’s assertion, saying, “To ensure the long-term stability of tourism in Indianapolis, you have to have a healthy mix of convention tourism and leisure tourism. Leisure tourism is driven by sporting events and cultural activities. We can’t get enough of those. We need to keep feeding the funnel and coming up with new events, new ideas, and new spins on existing events to make sure that Indianapolis is fresh and positioned as not only a convention town and a sports city, but a cultural hub.”
For his part, Ripley believes the necessary pieces are in place in Indianapolis. “There are plenty of local promoters,” he says. “There’s a lot of people involved in community development. There’s great support for this music community and there’s a million people in this county. That’s enough.”
The final WARMfest “Warm-Up” concert will be held in Broad Ripple Park on Sunday, August 10, just a few weeks prior to the festival itself. The free, all-ages event will feature performances from Hyryder, Chad Mills, and a kid-friendly set from Ruditoonz. To learn more about WARMfest, scope SBW’s coverage of the lineup announcement and keep your eyes peeled for more in this space in the coming weeks.
Written by Rob Peoni
WARMfest Dispatch: Day 1
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on August 30, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
The first night of WARMfest kicked off with more of a collective whisper than an amplified bang, with North Central High School’s orchestra playing beautifully to several dozen listeners near the festival’s entrance. Last night served as a sort of soft opening, where eager festivalgoers gained the lay of the land prior to the masses engulfing Broad Ripple Park for Joyful Noise Recordings‘ marquee acts this afternoon. While organizers and volunteers crossed their last T’s and dotted their last I’s in the background, a handful of local acts ushered in a weekend of live music and a celebration of White River on two of the festival’s three main stages.
I was at WARMfest for a little over an hour, when Heather Michelle Chapman warmed the Heron stage with a handful of covers. “I think you might be our only fan tonight,” Chapman said to my buddy Dan Murray who was dancing admirably while the rest of the listeners enjoyed the shade of the park’s trees and comfort of its picnic tables nearby. Drinking-age readers might know Murray as the chubby bartender from The Monkey’s Tale in Broad Ripple, just a few blocks from the festival itself. “Do you sing?” Chapman followed. The next thing I knew, Murray was on stage joining in an impromptu duet of John Mellencamp’s Hurt So Good. While the rest of the WARMfest audience winced through this locally grown cover, I relished in the vicarious embarrassment of my longtime friend. (Actually, he did an admirable job given the circumstances.)
After a solid set from local soul singer Bashiri Asad, which featured a surprising cover of Radiohead’s High and Dry, we ventured toward WARMfest’s River stage where volunteers had set up a screening of the documentary The Past is a Grotesque Animal. The film revolves around the band of Montreal, which will headline WARMfest’s main stage this evening, and its enigmatic front man Kevin Barnes. The movie was nothing short of fantastic and it underscored my excitement for the band’s performance today. Nevertheless, I left before it finished to catch a few songs from local punk icons Zero Boys.
Upon arriving at the Hawk stage, I jostled my way to the front of the crowd to capture a few pictures. After all, I’m “working” this weekend on behalf of Sky Blue Window. I knelt at the front of the stage wielding my iPhone, as is the habit of every concertgoer these days, when I suddenly felt the presence of Zero Boys front man Paul Mahern looming overhead. Mahern swiped my phone and a moment of panic rushed through my bones. He’s a legendary punk rocker, and it would’ve been a justifiable move had he smashed my phone to smithereens and sent the various pieces hurling toward the audience. Fortunately for me, he took the opportunity to take a few candid shots of his band before returning the phone safe and sound. I wiped a healthy amount of sweat from my brow and returned to my friends safely outside of Mahern’s reach for the rest of the band’s badass set.
For a preview of today’s WARMfest action, check out my recent post on Joyful Noise Recordings’ curation of the main stage. I’ll be at Broad Ripple Park covering the festival all weekend, but if I had to pick one day to attend it would DEFINITELY be today. Let’s rock!
Written by Rob Peoni
WARMfest Dispatch Day 2
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on August 31, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Day two of WARMfest served as the coming-out party for Joyful Noise Recordings, an Indianapolis record label that has established itself as a bona fide titan in the indie rock world in recent years. From the slacker/garage rock trio Sleeping Bag to the absurdist lyricism of Why? and the circus-like headlining set from of Montreal, the label’s eclectic roster was in the spotlight on the main stage from start to finish on Saturday.
While JNR’s stage appeared to go off without a hitch to the WARMfest audience, it wasn’t without its share of behind-the-scenes logistical snafus. Around 9 p.m. Friday, label owner Karl Hofstetter was hosting a barbecue and marathon recording session at his house across the street from the festival when he learned that Half Japanese’s drummer Gilles Reider was barred entry into the country by U.S. customs agents upon his arrival at Detroit’s airport.
“We found out that he had flown from France, where he lives, into Detroit, and they had detained him because they thought it was suspicious because he was only here for two days,” Hofstetter says. “They searched through his phone and found emails relating to the fest, and he didn’t have a proper work visa. I get the feeling that a large contributing factor to him not being able to come was that he just couldn’t communicate with these people. If he was a native English speaker, he could’ve just said ‘Okay, let me pay the $300 fine, and let me go.’ Instead, they sent him back.”
In the 11th hour, longtime Half Japanese guitarist John Sluggett was forced to shuffle into the role of drummer. Ironically, Sluggett first met lead singer Jad Fair while filling in on drums at an impromptu gig in Florida around 1988.
While returning to this role might seem like an impossible task to a non-musician, Sluggett said it wasn’t too much of a stretch. Sluggett served as drummer in Moe Tucker’s band, former drummer of The Velvet Underground, after Fair introduced the pair in 1989 until recently. Plus, he knows these songs. “I’ve been playing with Jad for so long, about half the songs are riffs that I wrote on the guitar,” Sluggett says. “So, I know how they go.”
Rounding out the rest of Half Japanese’s lineup on Saturday was Mick Hobbs on guitar and Jason Willett on bass. Willett met Fair in his home base of Baltimore around the same time as Sluggett when Fair found himself bandless on the cusp of a European tour. “Jad and I became good friends down in Maryland and he said, ‘Come over to my house. I need to talk to you.’,” Willett says. “ He said ‘I have a month-and-a-half tour and no band. Will you, A: be in the band? and B: can you recruit?’” Willett agreed to both, teaching himself bass and 30 songs in the span of a month and recruited Hobbs via a chance long-distance phone call.
“I called up Mick Hobbs in London,” Willett says, “because I was listening to a bunch music – I was listening to Family Fodder, The Work, Officer, The Momes – all these amazing records coming out of England. I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna call that guy.’ I called him up, international information, and he was like ‘Hullo?’ … ‘Hi are you Mick Hobbs?’ … and he’s like, ‘Yes.’ … ‘Do you want to be in Half Japanese? … ‘Is this a joke?’” With the addition of Reider, the current Half Japanese lineup has been in place in some form ever since, excluding the occasional, decade-long hiatus.
Despite the missing members, Half Japanese’s set proved to be one of my favorites in a day filled with extraordinary performances. Fair played a custom-painted guitar that was literally coming apart at the hinges. It looked to be held together by the four capos clamped to the first fret. Fair’s lyrics are naïve and playful. In an epiphany of sorts, he disproved the long-held theory that nothing rhymes with the word “orange,” utilizing the perfectly placed compound “door hinge.” Brilliant.
The strength of Joyful Noise’s roster made it tough to pry myself from the main stage on Saturday. However, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of Sluggett served as drummer in Moe Tucker’s band, former drummer of The Velvet Underground, after Fair introduced the pair in 1989 until recently. Plus, he knows these songs. local super group, The Last IV, featuring Rusty Redenbacher (vocals), Vess Ruhtenberg (guitar), Devon Ashley (drums) and Tufty Clough (bass). Redenbacher is as dynamic a front man as any act could hope for, gyrating, howling and coercing the crowd into a frenzy. The group’s set leaned heavily on covers, but their impeccable taste left no room for complaint in the audience with a diverse set list featuring everything from The Stooges to LCD Soundsystem.
Another noteworthy, non-JNR performance featured a trio of heavy hitters from Indy’s hip-hop scene. Freddie Bunz, Grey Granite and Sirius Blvck rocked a seamless set under the shade of WARMfest’s Heron stage. The trio was sharp, and the chops earned on their recent Ghost Gun Summer Vacation Tour was evident throughout. All-in-all, Saturday was everything I had hoped for and more — capped off by a brilliant, theatrical set from headliner Of Montreal.
Those late to the WARMfest party need not worry. Today’s lineup is stacked. Come out to Broad Ripple Park for big national acts such as Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Head Todd and The Monsters and indie rock icons Guided By Voices alongside celebrated locals like Pravada and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. My sleeper pick of the day: For $10 you should hop on a boat for a Wapahani River Cruise featuring a performance from Sleeping Bag at 3:45 this afternoon. Purchase tickets to WARMfest online or at the gate.
Written by Rob Peoni