Throughout most of my drive from Indianapolis airport to the Plan-It-X venue, I was roughly 80% sure I was totally lost. The terrain around Spencer is almost exclusively farmland, and the town itself is small and quiet, a place where near half of the store fronts looked permanently closed. Just when I was on the verge of pulling over and checking my map, I saw six hitchhikers, all in a row, walking in the same direction and all wearing the same look of triumph. That was a good sign. Then, as if on cue, I passed an orange sign with an eye-patched smiling cat, and below that words “You’re Close!” were written in sharpie.
At a quick first glance, the Festival almost seemed like a summer camp- a summer camp populated by mostly-drunk adults in patched jackets, tattered shirts, and muddied boots. All of the acts played on a stage in an old barn. Beside the barn, lay a green pond, within which five people were splashing around an inflatable pond, and around which groups of people were sleeping and jamming. Beyond the barn and the pond, a small tent shanty-town stretched for about half a mile through the nearby woods. As I set up my tent, some nearby speakers to my left was blasting Mischief Brew’s “Thanks Bastards”, while to my left a guy with a guitar was giving his rendition of “Three Chord Circus”. This impromptu tribute to the late Erik Peterson was simultaneously beautiful, and strangely haunting, yet the mood was quickly lightened when two of my neighbors walked by, inexplicably chanting “STD’S WERE CREATED BY THE GOVERNMENT!”
Throughout most of the day, people followed a fairly simple routine; watch the performances in the barn until the heat and humidity become unbearable, return to your campsite to rehydrate on water and beer, then repeat as necessary. Every group played a short, sweet, half-hour set, and unfortunately I missed Dakota Floyd, the first act of the fest. Fortunately, I was able to make the latter half of the set played by Double Jinx, a two-man group that played pop-punk tunes that, while bursting with bright energy, actually played immensely political songs about police brutality and homelessness. They were immediately followed by Ugly Lover, a duo with a considerably darker tone that delivered moody dark wave tunes about healing and grief, both members erupting with desperate rage.
While the first two bands created two vastly different sounds, they both paid careful attention to the making sure their respective messages were conveyed to the audience. The songs would be preceded with short, earnest explanations of their nestled ideas, and while Ugly Lover focused more on themes of personal healing, both bands conveyed the same call for solidarity, as well as a love of being surrounded by friends of allies.
As the day progressed, the bands differed vastly in musical sensibilities, but the themes of love and community remained as a prevailing constant. Dog Years played jumpy, short songs that let every guitar riff and vocal line shoot up with an unquenchable energy. The Minor Kind delivered slow, wistful Americana tunes about staying true to oneself. Some of the acts weren’t even musical; Julia Eff, for example, delivered a beautiful poetry reading that explored the role of music in becoming something else, and in transcending ideals of gender and identity. Anywhere else, this shift in tone would seem slightly discordant, but Eff’s reading ultimately stood as something wonderful delivered to the prefect audience, one that could completely relate the struggles of understanding oneself, and would cheer at all the nostalgic references to Myspace and early-2000’s pop-punk.
At nightfall, the oppressive heat of the day finally lifted, only to give way to a swarm of mosquitoes. People gathered around separate campfires, all cooking their own, unique, ramshackle dinners. When I finally made it back to the barn, I could hear Terror Pigeon, a one-man act, blasting dreamy electro-punk riffs while screaming the repeated line “you make my heart explode!” He was then followed by Dogbreth, a pop-punk act that mixed melancholy lyrics with totally unrelenting energy and movement, with both guitarists collapsing to the ground throughout the final solo.
Unfortunately, The Taxpayers had been forced to drop out of the festival at the last minute. So, the climax of the evening was delivered by Your Heart Breaks and Ghost Mice. I had absolutely fallen in love with “America”, Your Heart Breaks’ incredibly mellow previous album, so it was quite a (pleasant) surprise when they delivered an fast, electric set that focused on their earlier work. When Ghost Mice took the stage, the barn was now completely packed full of people. The group was fully prepared for this turn out, forgoing their usual acoustic sensibilities in favor of something faster, with Chris Calvin absolutely killing it on an electric guitar. The audience absolutely adored this decision, singing along and jumping in unison to songs like “Critical Hit” and “Song For Tomorrow”. With the conclusion to the set, someone even jumped on stage, tossed an inflatable raft onto the crowd, and spent the final song crowd water rafting (I don’t know if that’s a thing, but I’m going to call it that).
The night was concluded with Super Famicom, a solo experimental goth punk act. Then, from 1 am until about 2, there was a karaoke show. As I walked back to my tent, three young punks were delivering an… unconventional rendition of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles”.
I spent the rest of the night sitting around a lantern with my neighbors, listening to distant covers of AJJ and Ramshackle Glory songs. A guy named Elton told me how, the previous year, an ambitious washboard player decided to spend an entire night playing, and re-playing, the entire Johnny Hobo discography, much to the frustration of the rest of the camp. As we all sat there, slowly succumbing to our exhaustion, I was struck by the tremendous friendliness and generosity of the people around me. Beer, food, and cigarettes were constantly being traded; while stories and ideas flowed freely from person to person. Lying in my sleeping bag, I found my mind running through the final lines of The Mountain Goat’s “The Color In Your Cheeks”:
“But they came, and when they finally made it here
It was the least we could do to make our welcome clear
Come on in, we haven’t slept for weeks
Drink some of this, it’ll put color in your cheeks”