Okay, so I have a bit of a confession to make. My original plan was to write each entry the immediate morning after the day in question; I ended scrapping this after my morning writing/photo-uploading session lasted until the afternoon. The consequence of this poor timing, is that I ended up missing Cottontail (an awesome folk/electro-pop group). But the morning wasn’t all bad. As I worked on the first day’s round up, there was a nod of recognition with every scruffy, tattooed patron of the café, who had obviously come for a coffee break between acts. I also couldn’t help but put on the biggest grin when the barista behind the counter asked “so who the heck is this Pat The Bunny guy I keep seeing on everyone’s t shirts?”
When I got back to camp, the heat was bearing down worse than ever. I decided to follow the example of seemingly a quarter of the festival goers, and listened to Calyx’s noise-laden powerpunk from the comfort of the pond. At one point, as I lay in the water listening to her calming wailing to the accompaniment of a thrashing drumbeat, a water moccasin lethargically glided about an inch away from my head. That was when I decided to get off my ass and treat my journalistic responsibilities seriously. I got back just in time to catch the impressive pop-punk double feature from Nostrodogous and Nutter. The two groups were both fast and hard-hitting, with Nostrodogous delivering a greater sense of desperate energy in the way their lyrics and melodies were delivered. Meanwhile, Nutter’s vocalist offered a more ironic kind of singing, that heavily added to the overall fun of the band.
After an hour, I needed to change return to camp just to change shirts and rehydrate. On my way back, a guy named Lucas unfortunately informed my that the barn was now taking a two-hour break between acts. For a moment I was so disappointed that I almost didn’t notice that he was inexplicably wearing a black and crimson ball gown- one that would make even the most salacious of evil Disney queens jealous. He explained that he’d dropped by trading post that two kids had set up outside the barn which, true to its name, was trading wares for other goods. Assembled in front of them were patches, shirts, old toys, children’s books, assorted ps1 games, and a Nintendo 64 controller. They were also giving away stickers in exchange for hugs.
Not too far from them, a circle of people had gathered around one of the designated workshop areas, and were having a heated discussion on prison reform. Near that, another seminar was taking place, exploring the benefits of herbalism, and giving out recipes for natural solutions for anxiety, indigestion, and menstrual cramps. Some folks from a group called Mystic Hand had also set up a printing station, letting people craft their personalized Plan-It-X Fest posters, or anything else that took their fancy (I’d eventually spot someone printing their catchphrase on their underwear.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a true folk-punk festival without a platitude of stalls dispensing revolutionary literature. PM Press had a table inside the stable, selling books on anarchism, environmentalism, veganism, colonialism, and trans reform. Next to them, a vast collection of zines and self published novels had been set up by Pioneer Press. There was also a logo-less table near the pond that was selling the assorted works of Marx, Fuccault, and Sarte for, roughly, $5 a piece.
Once the music started up again, I’d have to say that one of the real standout performances of the day came from Brooklyn queercore act Little Waist. The band played quick pounding melodies, with the instruments delivering their riffs at a pace that was constantly changing, yet always so catchy that your brain would want to just go along with their seductively angry tunes. Throughout all these songs, vocalist Audrey Zee stood so close to the mic that you’d swear she was almost kissing it, giving a roar that conveyed a fierce mix of sadness, anger, and apathy, all at the same time. Since the set ended, I think I’ve listened to their track “I Wanna Be A Dyke Wife” at least ten or so times. I had a chance to speak with Audrey after the show, and I was fascinated to learn that her voice was, in fact, one of the most anxiety-inducing components of the group’s sound.
“I always thought I would never be able to sing in public, let alone front a band,” Audrey said. “When I started to sing in public, I think I kind of wanted it to be a way that was a little bit noisy and fucked up, so I thought if I’m a singer-songwriter, unless it’s something a little more fierce, I’m going to feel way too scared of people hearing me; so I thought ‘I’m going to make a lot of noise, and people are just going to have to listen to that noise.’”
I’ll be uploading the full conversation with Audrey in a later post, but one of the most fascinating insights I gained from talking with her related, not just to her music, but to the identity of the DIY scene as a whole.
“This is something that I have a hard time defining, but I already feel like an outsider in punk music,” Audrey explained. “I feel like I also do have a really good community of people who are like me, and with who I can make music that is really powerful. I don’t know, I kind of, like, feel really free to do whatever the fuck I want, already I’m, like, different, so maybe I’ll make this song go into 6/4 or something, because I’m already a fucking weirdo up here, so I might as well make my music a little weird too.”
Little Waist was then followed by Dasher, another extremely memorable act purely thanks to the intensity of their onstage presence. I’m continually surprised by how rare it is to find a group where the drummer doubles as the lead vocalist. Usually, the drum kit is relegated to the background of the stage, serving as a sort of boiler room to the band; its beats form the lifeblood of the songs, but its worker is kept in the shadows. But when Dasher played, Kylee Kimbrough sat front and center, screaming bloody murder into the mics and beating the ever loving shit out of her kit. She managed to convey so much ferocity, even while remaining seated, because all of her dark lyrics carried a physical repercussion whith each drum-strike. Of course, this would be nothing without the backup of the guitar and bass, which delivered harsh tunes both dark and witchy, a perfect accompaniment to the howling demon in the center.
Much like the previous day, all the festival goers emerged from their fire circles to crowd the barn to catch the headliner; in this case, it was the Max Levine Ensemble. However, anyone who showed up earlier was treated to a wildly entertaining set from the wild rock two-piece Shellshag. Consisting of a guitar and a drum kit, the duo played around a strange light emitting device that sort of resembled a tripod from the War of The Worlds remake. Their music was fast yet soothing, working vocal harmonies into CBGB-era punk riffs. The duo kept on finding new ways to add creative flairs to their music, whether through the working in Ramones and Blink 182 mash-ups, or in the way drummer its drummer would twirl around the stage, showing off the tambourines that snaked around her ankles; or even in how they concluded the show by precariously stacking their instruments atop each other, like some strange future-punk monolith.
Lastly, there was the Max Levine Ensemble which, simply put, was absolutely electrifying. As they played “My Valerian”, guitarist David Combs and bassist Ben Epsstein constantly hopped across the stage as if the floor was made of hot coals. The audience, meanwhile, began letting some of their pent up mosh energy out, with roughly a dozen people leaping off the stage to surf across an extremely welcoming audience. The set concluded with several other musicians entering the stage, to join the trio in a rendition of Mischief Brew’s “Old Tyme Memry”, a serene song about memory that, in of itself, honored the memory of a fallen hero.
With its lineup concluded, the barn was then turned into a makeshift projection room to screen entries in the Instant Gratification Film Festival. However, that didn’t mean that the music of the night was necessarily over. A couple hundred yards away- practically on the other side of the festival- a stage had been set up by PIX for whoever felt brave enough to play. These acts were, by nature, unplugged; hell, the musicians were only visible thanks to a few people in the cross-legged audience with enough foresight to bring flashlights. This was the ground zero of folk punk; twenty-somethings playing borrowed guitars and screaming their lungs out as they sang about depression, alcoholism, and the futility of life. Within these acts- groups with names like The Whoopi Goldblum Experience, Happy Noodle Boy, and The Broken Glass Kids- I found a distilled concentrate of everything wonderful about folk punk. While each one of these acts held a unique musical identity, they all shared the same scrappy desperation to figure out what it means to live a life worth living.