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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.

half-japanese-jad-fair-warmfest“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.”

rusty-vess-lastiv-warmfestRounding 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.

Photo by Whitney Walker

Photo by Whitney Walker

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


WARMfest Dispatch: Day 3

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on September 1, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version. 

“What can we do to reintroduce the city and Broad Ripple to this river?” WARMfest organizer Dan Ripley asked me during an interview earlier this summer. “Why is it so neglected and why has Broad Ripple lost its identity? Today, it seems more relevant than ever. Broad Ripple is known for 2 a.m. bar business, but why wouldn’t it be known for these daytime greenways?”

For Ripley, the restoration and reinvigoration of White River is the higher purpose and mission of WARMfest. While Ripley is passionate about the prospect of a successful music festival in Indianapolis, he won’t deny that, for him, WARMfest largely serves as a vehicle to attract locals and visitors to the shores of his beloved riverbank. So Ripley re-organized the layout of stages and vendors to increase the focus on the water this time around. “Against all of my better judgment, we turned our back on the river last year,” Ripley said of WARMfest’s inaugural layout.

The vendors from Indie Arts and Vintage Marketplace have shifted from their position in the middle of the park to a location along the paths at the park’s edge, overlooking the water. The main stage has been turned around so the sound flows into the river itself. The moves are subtle, but effective.


With the festival’s focus in mind, I decided to spend an extra 10 bucks to catch the Wapahani River Session from Bloomington three-piece Sleeping Bag yesterday. “I hope you like this kind of music, because it’s a long swim,” lead singer Dave Segedy quipped after the band finished its first song and our ship cruised steadily away from Broad Ripple Park. Segedy joked that the ship had been renamed “S.S. Sleeping Bag” for the afternoon.

The two-story paddle boat used for the Wapahani River Cruises is actually named Perseverence II and is operated seasonally by the Broad Ripple Boat Company. It was named after its predecessor who roamed the White River more than 100 years ago. After moving to Morse Reservoir as “Star of Cicero,” the ship was abandoned and sunk. Captain Michael McRee salvaged the vessel and hauled it to his shipyard. “All this wood that you see here. It all came off of my brother’s property up in Cicero,” Kathleen McRee said of her brother’s boat. He launched the restored boat during the summer of 2010.

While we cruised along to the sedated garage rock stylings of Sleeping Bag, speed boats, pontoons and jet skis whizzed by from every conceivable direction, towing knee-boarders and skiers. Most offered friendly honks and waves. The nearby homeowners sat along the shoreline in folding chairs, taking in the sounds. Thanks to the removal of massive thickets of invasive honeysuckle along the shoreline prior to last year’s WARMfest, Broad Ripple Park and WARMfest’s main stage are now visible from the river itself. Thanks to the dedicated sound crew handled by The Hi-Fi, they gutted out the heat and humidity without complaint the past few days so that everyone on the river and along its shores could hear it as well. And props go to longtime local musician Dave Jablonski who ran sound throughout the festival.

“Right now, that would be a mucky, muddy bottom with weeds growing in it, but if you remove the snags and let the current flow through it, it washes out that muck and you would have a nice sandy, clean, rocky bottom,” Ripley said. “So, if you help the river, it will maintain itself.”

Today, Perseverence II will host three more Wapahani River Cruises to close out WARMfest. If I had to pick one, I would recommend the intimate set from local songwriters Vess Ruhtenberg (The Pieces, The Last IV and too many other bands to name) and Christian Taylor (Ampersand Blues Band) at 3:15 p.m. It is community day at WARMfest with an overall ticket price of just $10. Purchase tickets online or at the gate.

Written by Rob Peoni


A Joyful Knockout

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on September 5, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version. 

Despite her young age, Kristin Newborn has made a significant amount of noise in Naptown in the past several years. A classically trained vocalist who has worked with local heavyweights at Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Newborn first made a splash in Indy’s underground music scene as front woman of the short-lived but much-celebrated Slothpop. In the years since that band’s breakup, Newborn has steadily honed a sound, under the pseudonym KO, based upon intricate vocal loops and straightforward garage rock riffs alongside her minimalist drummer Todd Heaton of Street Spirits.

Courtesy of Joyful Noise Recordings

Courtesy of Joyful Noise Recordings

Today, Joyful Noise Recordings announced it will release KO’s four-song, self-titled EP on Sept. 23. “I just think she’s a great musical presence, and she had these great songs,” says JNR owner and curator Karl Hofstetter. “Most of the time we don’t really f–k around with bands before they have a full-length, but this is kind of an exception just because they’re not really in a place to finish a full-length right now.”

This week, Newborn moved to Chicago following an appearance at WARMfest, where she dedicated her masterful rendition of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me to her hometown crowd as a farewell of sorts. Fortunately for Hoosiers, Newborn hasn’t moved to the moon. She will return to Indy to play an album release show at Radio Radio on Sept. 20 (tickets).

“For me, it was more about solidifying them, so KO doesn’t just become another band that was never properly released,” Hofstetter says. “Kristin will be huge someday, she’s just got that presence. So it was more about supporting her. We’re happy to be lax about this. We’re not making them tour and record a full-length or anything like that. It’s just four songs. We’ll see where it goes.”

Listen to lead single “B-tches Online” and scope the full track listing for the KO EP below. Pre-order your copy of the limited-edition 7″ vinyl via Joyful Noise Recordings.

Track Listing
1. Four Drinks In
2. B-tches Online
3. White Lie
4. Choke

Written by Rob Peoni