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 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
IndyMcGrath Conquers Pitchfork Music Festival 2011
Back within the confines of Indianapolis, I find myself reflecting on how fantastic it would be to teleport. I spent the bulk of my 200-mile trek home from Chicago attempting to frame up all that was Pitchfork Festival 2011. Tons of bands, hundreds of hipsters, sticky hot heat and a big, old city to bring it all together. I love P4KFest for two simple reasons:
Year in and year out, P4KFest is able to grab all of the bands that are buzzworthy and surround their energy with a core group of headliners. Union Park proved optimal for catching every act that I desired, because of it’s small size. With plenty of opportunity for shade, attendees were able thrive amidst the heat. I felt excited after each day, not drained like my unfortunate experience at many other festivals.
In order to appropriately capture all that I enjoyed at P4KFest I will make this write-up extremely structured. I will cover my Top 10 acts, food, fashion, misc., and after shows. Please feel free to reach out @IndyMcGrath
10. Yuck (London, England)
The self-titled debut LP from this collection of 20 year olds is one of my favorite albums of 2011. Their ability to play loud or soft while embracing the roots of their forefathers (Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth) is extremely impressive. Their performance was great and exactly what I had expected. Unfortunately, I have to ding them a bit for the guitar malfunction during fan favorite “Operation.” The band battled through a rough minute of the song was before quitting completely. This moment brought me down to earth and reminded me that this is still a group of children. There are always bumps along the road. As long as you look cool while dealing with those bumps, then success remains. These guys looked cool.
9. tUnE-YarDs (Connecticut)
The mind of Merrill Garbus is something I extremely admire and I was honored to see it come to life. Tune-yards opened up the entire festival for me by playing on the secluded Blue Stage on Friday afternoon. To answer your questions: Yes, that voice is real and yes, it sounds like that throughout the entire performance. Her stage presence, endurance and energy are the items that stood out to me. Out of nowhere, the band’s rendition of “POWA” caused my excitement to spill over. It rocked me like a lullaby and kicked me in the butt. P4Kfest had arrived.
8. Toro y Moi (Columbia, South Carolina)
What started as a college musical project to pass the time has transformed the indie scene and given birth to the sub-genre we now know as Chillwave. Chazwick Bundick is the mind and creator for what we know as Toro y Moi. Chaz completely won me over with the tight sound his band was able to produce. They opened with “New Beat” off of their sophomore release Underneath the Pine and took Chillwave Nation for a spin. The strength of Chaz’s vocals impressed me more than any other aspect of their performance. I will officially tag him as the Sinatra of Chillwave.
7. Gang Gang Dance (NYC)
This served as the old catch a band while I solidify my spot for the next show routine. I am glad I hit the jackpot with Gang Gang Dance. I was familiar with them heading into P4KFest, but they were not on my to-do list. I had listened to their latest release Eye Contact a few times, but never thought much about them. Do not to miss this act if they come to your area. Front chick, Lizzi Bougatsos might be one of the hottest ALT chicks I have ever seen. She commanded the attention of the crowd and got everyone moving with her stellar looks. I will make sure to purchase their entire catalog and love it forever.
6. The Radio Dept. (Lund, Sweden)
Everyone was excited for these indie Swedish Sensations. A group that rarely tours the U.S. and continues to produce classics that everyone loves has earned this band a significant cult following. Whether you call their sound Dream Pop or Shoegaze, it does not matter because they delivered a relaxed sound that you can tap your toes to. The crowd exploded for songs like “Heaven’s on Fire” and “David.” Elin Almered gave off extremely good vibes and seemed quite bashful in front of the U.S. crowd. The vulnerability of The Radio Dept. made me understand them better and appreciate all that they do.
5. OFWGKTA (Los Angeles, California)
They were Pitchfork. They were the buzz. They were the most talked about band. You could not move around Union Park without hearing the words “Odd Future”. I do not care what they rap about, what kind of music they put out, or even if it is good or not. If you are being talked about by everyone—all of the time—then you are doing something right. Tyler, the Creator was brilliant. He transmitted his Twitter persona to life. He controlled the crowd like a maestro. He is a nut. It is not an act. I was convinced after I survived Odd Future. He jumped into the crowd TWICE, despite a broken leg. The highlight for me was when the crowd screamed the line “I’m stabbing any blogging faggot hipster with a Pitchfork” during “Yonkers.” Although the line is heinous, the correlation with Pitchfork was brilliant. I left their set thinking two things: 1. I am glad I was not hurt because there were bodies everywhere and 2. I think Hodgy Beats might be a bigger nut than Tyler.
4. Fleet Foxes (Seattle, Washington)
Fleet Foxes are indie-rock icons known for their folk freakouts. This was the impression I had both before and after their set. Robin Pecknold’s song selections sent the crowd on a sensational roller coaster of highs and lows. “Sim Sala Bim” from recent release Helplessness Blues got the crowd jiving. “Mykonos,” “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Lorelai” all touched a sweet spot in my heart. The crowd was huge and our folky friends delivered. I will also go as far to say that Mr. Pecknold currently has the best beard in music. Cheers Fleet Foxes.
3. Cold Cave (NYC)
I was fortunate enough to see Cold Cove a few months ago at a tiny bar in Cincinnati and was wowed by their performance. I consider these guys the modern day Joy Divison. They get your blood pumping with their dark synth pops and cool all black wardrobe. They look like a dark team from the 80’s rocking our socks off one synth blast at a time. This was the band I was telling everyone at the festival that they had to see and they did not disappoint. I was literally jumping throughout the entire performance. The highlight for me was when they rocked out to the song “Confetti.” I think everyone who saw them gained a new-found respect for Cold Cave. For me, they went from a band that I liked a lot to one of my current favorites.
2. Guided By Voices (Dayton, Ohio)
This show was a long time coming. Growing up a little bit outside of their era, I was introduced to GBV by author John Sellers after reading his book Perfect From Now On. Robert Pollard’s openness and blue-collar indie rock lifestyle immediately drew me in. Transforming from a band of drinking buddies to one of the most influential bands that the indie scene has ever seen is remarkable. I heard Franz Ferdinand, LCD Soundsystem and Times New Viking as I gushed over their set. Mixing it up perfectly while drinking Tequila in the 90 degree heat Robert Pollard was just a cool old dude. Toe touches were prevalent throughout the set. I was legitimately concerned that he was going to tear a hamstring until he busted out “Gold Star for Robot Boy”. Balancing their set list betweenAlien Lanes and Bee Thousand while mixing in some old favorites was a great move. When I am their age I can only hope I to be half as cool as GBV – though I can do without the drinking problem.
1. Cut Copy (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
The Aussie Dance Party closed out my entire P4KFest experience. I wonder whether these guys are #1 because it was the last show that I saw or if their performance was really that good. I slept on it. I thought about it my entire drive from Chicago to Indianapolis. I continued to reflect while writing. My feelings were confirmed as I thought about how much fun I was actually having during their set in comparison to all others. Cut Copy wins. “Lights and Music” involved the crowd more than any other song of the festival. The crowd was yelling it out and bouncing to Dan Whitford’s every command. “Take Me Over” was also a bloody good time. I was honored to have been sent off in such a thrilling fashion. The excitement I had as I left P4KFest had lasted throughout the festival’s three days. I can not believe it is over. I guess time flies when you are having fun. Thanks Pitchfork.
FOOD, FASHION, ETC:
I want to thank whoever was responsible for organizing all the details for this festival. The crowd was able to overcome the extraordinary heat only because of the volunteers’ dedication to hydrating fans. Everywhere you turned a new face was offered a free, frosty bottle of Ice Mountain. I would not have survived the weekend without it.
Not much of a choice here. Heineken or Heineken Light. They serve as the festival’s primary sponsor, so I understand it. New Castle’s Summer Ale was available in small doses. I do not hate Heineken, but I drank so much of it that I will not touch it until next year.
I made sure to balance my food consumption with the heat and the beer intake. I ate at the same stand twice and will be sure to return. Thanks Wishbone for offering fantastic festival food. I ate their North Carolina-Style hot dog, pulled pork sandwhich, and Hoppin’ John’s Salad. ALL FANTASTIC!
No people watching quite compares to that of P4KFest. Everyone is giving off good vibes and dressed to the nines. Here are some items I noticed that were prevalent amongst our Hipster community.
- Retro Champion NBA Jerseys – Saw a ton of Rodman (Pistons/Bulls). I think the best one I saw was a Scottie Pippen Trail-Blazers jersey. It was fantastic.
- Crop Tops with Fringe
- High Wasted Shorts
- Flat Bill Hats
- Bandeau Tops
- Leg Tattoos
Friday, Lincoln Hall: Smith Westerns (Chicago, Illinois) & Das Racist (Brooklyn, NYC)
I am a big fan of Smith Westerns and enjoyed their work on Dye It Blonde. They show an amazing amount of maturity and technical savvy, despite their age. They rocked out and have come a long way since I saw them last year. I was surprised that they ended up opening for Das Racist. My guess is that the promoter worried that DR may arrive late from their Pitchfork performance. DR was what I expected, a tamer Odd Future but extremely clever with their delivery.
Sunday: Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Aukland, New Zealand) and Yuck (London, England)
UMO is a brand new project and they are one of those bands that I had liked everything that I had heard prior to their initial release. Frontman Roban Nielson (Former Mint Chicks guitarist) was born to lead a band. He transmitted loads of energy to a 200-person capacity crowd. I can honestly say that he is the best guitarist that I have seen in a long time. “FFunny FFrends,” “Strangers Are Strange” and “How Can U Luv Me” brought down the house. I ran into their drummer (teenage prodigy) Julien Ehrich after their set. I told him how great I thought his band was and told him that that I considered UMO a cooler version of Tame Impala.
Yuck was awesome and a lot better indoors. Their sound boomed off of the walls and fans were digging it. Cullen Omori from Smith Westerns was at the show and got several shout outs. I believe Yuck played a reverse order of their set list from earlier in the day, which I thought was cool. “Get Away” and “Georgia” were my highlights. It was a fantastically exhausting and fun idea. I am thrilled I attended.
This was the best weekend of music that I have ever experienced. The best part of the weekend was that I did not have a single problem with the format of the festival or the way that it was operated. It seems like Pitchfork improves with every year that I return. Shelling out $160 for three days of music is completely justified when the host is evolving each year. Thank you bands, friends I made along the way, organizers and the sun for being so bright. See you next year Pitchfork.
Written and experienced by Brett McGrath