Tuesday, August 28, 2012

LouFest: An Elder Statesman's Review

My arms rested on the cold, wet, rail while water rolled off the brim of a soaked trucker’s hat. The deluge drenched those of us who had positioned ourselves in front of the stage for Son Volt’s set, those of us that were too hardcore to allow a little rain (and by a little I mean a lot) to send us shelter bound. In that moment, I said silent prayers. All I wanted was to see Son Volt.

It stopped.

The stage was squeegeed, and bodies filled in to watch Jay and company tear through a powerful set of fan favorites.

LouFest could have ended right there, and I would have been okay with my decision to purchase tickets, but it didn’t end there. We were barely at the half-way point of Day 1.

Although I cannot seem to find the reference, I am pretty sure I once read that LouFest prides itself on being an Indie Festival. While it always offers well known headliners and a smattering of bands with some mainstream popularity, the bands filling the supporting spots are often bands that you have to know to know, bands that are amazing but someone’s brother’s cousin’s girlfriend probably made you watch a video six months ago, and now you know to know, but you keep the secret fearing if the world knows what you know, the band will somehow turn to suck. As a musician, this is an odd and frustrating paradigm. Never the less, as an elder statesman of the scene, always interested in fresh sounds, LouFest provides an opportunity for me to discover some really great bands that I may have not heard of otherwise, as well as catch some bands I have been waiting to see.

If Son Volt didn’t make my weekend, Dawes would have. I have been in love with them for a few years but hadn’t had the chance to see them do it live. Despite the threat and actualization of the Day 2 storm, their set was fantastic. I always feel a sense of relief when a band I covet can pull it off live. They gave me everything I wanted and sounded seasoned while doing it. Even if Dawes had not been there, I heard a few bands that satiated my lust for new music and made LouFest worth the coin.

On Day 1 Phantogram blew me away. They followed Son Volt which is hard to do because I am such a huge Son Volt fan, but they came at us with abandon. They offered every atmospheric trick to perk my ears and tied it tightly with some solid vocals.

Day 2 offered up Pernikoff Brothers, Cults, and Dr. Dog. I am embarrassed to say I had never heard of any of them, but I know to know them now, and I am letting you know, you should know them too.     

Being a two day music festival, clearly there were other bands, including some bands I already knew; but, in recognition of diminished attention spans, the bands I listed were the ear-openers, for me. What’s great about LouFest is the music is just the surface, the golden carrot goading the masses to open wallets and dig into purses. The truth is, unless I hated every band on both days, I would still probably go because, for me, it is so much more than just the music. LouFest also presents an opportunity for me to spend a couple days with my closest friends, run into hoards of friends that I don’t see nearly enough, and eat some pretty good food.

Like all concerts I attend, I arrived at Central Field early, both days, ensuring I had enough time to ease into the festival, secure a central home base that offered a clear view of both stages and scope out the festival offerings, before those same activities would be met with paused movements as bodies work against gravity to avoid each other. After settling in, I kicked off each day with a Kaldi’s Almond Toddy, the rich Kaldi’s coffee, juxtaposed against the lightness of almond milk and a hint of honey for sweet, provided the perfect reward for getting to the festival before the first band had finished their sound check.

The food offerings were a bit different this year; the traditional food trucks were traded in for a selection of St. Louis’s more interesting restaurants. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be guidelines determining who could cook what. With food trucks it is a bit easier, as they tend to stick to a style of food. If you get four trucks, you will likely have four different styles of food. This year, if I am not mistaken, I could have had 4 or 5 different type of Nachos. Atomic Cowboy was offering your standard Chicken or Beef nachos; PM BBQ was selling Hillbilly Nachos; even the vegans got in on the nacho action with Local Harvest’s sans meat or dairy selection. Hummus was offered by several of the vendors, and sliders were plentiful. For someone that was going to be there all day, for two days, the options seemed limited, but that certainly didn’t stop me from eating, rather it initiated my two day love affair with Dressel’s Pork Belly Sliders. On Saturday, I had them for lunch. For dinner I did a little communal thing with Bryan and Steph and sliders showed up there, as well. So let’s say I had them 1 1/3 times on Saturday. Sunday I had a new plan of attack for lunch. I loved the pork belly but was not a huge fan of the onion heavy slaw, so I got me a couple sliders sans slaw, ordered up some guacamole from Atomic Cowboy, and we were in business.  Since chips came with the guacamole that kept me full for the majority of the day. There may have been an evening trip to the Ben & Jerry’s booth for some Cherries Garcia. Lastly, while I did not have an order myself, Plush was selling Chicken Fried Bacon and Bryan got a cone full. If I had any space left, I would have done the same because it was delicious.

The last thing I would like to say about LouFest, I say not out of spite but out of a sincere desire to see local bands be seen as more than just a local band. For once, I wish that the local bands would not be relegated to the opening spot of the festival. I remember watching John Hardy and the Public last year and thinking, this band is as good as any band that is playing here; and, throughout the festival, that thought never left my mind. I thought the same thing when listening to the Pernikoff Brothers and Sleepy Kitty this year. For those that, even for a second, thought, we should be lucky that they allow local bands to play at all, slap yourself because that mentality is what justifies this action. As an elder statesman of the scene, someone who has been performing in and around St. Louis since 1998, I can tell you St. Louis has a rich tradition of exceptional musicianship, excellent songwriting, and a genuine lack of support from those outside the scene. LouFest has the power and the vehicle to change that by presenting its local talent as equals. I am not saying they should make a local band the headliner (although I thought it was a shame that Son Volt wasn’t given that respect; still, I understand the need to bring in the tweens with their lawn-ready high-heels and parent’s cash) just don’t automatically subjugate them.

Phew, glad I got that off my chest. See you next year LouFest. See you next year.  

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