Forward Music Festival Night 1; September 19, 2008; various venues
The vision of the Forward Collaborative, the group that put together this weekend’s ambitious music festival, was to assemble a variety of national and regional acts spanning several genres in the spirit of Austin’s South by Southwest annual event. And for the most part they succeeded. The original idea behind SXSW was to give unsigned bands a chance to make contacts in the record industry, but over the years it has turned into more of a showcase for music fans than industry folks. It is that latter model that the Forward Fest aspired to. Both state capitals and liberal university towns, Madison and Austin are often called sister cities for their similarities, so if they can do it why can’t we?
Turns out we can. The festival operated on a wristband system similar to SXSW. Advance purchase got you a two day pass for $25 which increased to $40 the week before. One distinct advantage over Austin’s first come first serve policy for showcases was the option to buy special $10 passes which gave you guaranteed admittance for the headlining shows. Since I was planning on staying clear of tonight’s biggest draw, Neko Case and Giant Sand at the Orpheum, I didn’t bother with advance passes. It turned out not to be necessary for either of the headlining shows I chose.
I started the night thinking I would be seeing Dietrich Gosser at the Frequency, but unfortunately he had a conflict and was unable to make it. I wish I would have known that, I would have gone to the Majestic right away for the Box Social’s acoustic set rather than sit at the Frequency waiting for, well, nobody really seemed to know what. After Vid Libert’s sound check I left to head over to the Majestic just around the corner. The proximity of all the venues involved made show hopping easy, especially by bike. Former Husker Du and Sugar frontman Bob Mould was one of the more impressive names on the bill, especially since he was playing on the east coast only two days later. He was accompanied by bassist Jason Narducy, who gave his electric guitar and voice rants a little more heft. I couldn’t help wishing that he would either trade his electric guitar in for an acoustic or at least play it like one. Sometimes the wash of guitar sound was a little too much, but the occasional catchy tune (usually from the Sugar years) would bring me back.
From there I went back over to the Frequency. I was disappointed to have missed Vid’s set, but at least I was able to catch Jeremiah Nelson (who happened to be playing Vid’s distinctive guitar). Playing under the name Patchwork whether solo or with a full band, the line-up has changed frequently. While I’ve enjoyed all the boys in his bands, tonight’s guitar and violin configuration may have been my favorite yet. The full band occasionally obscures his delicate, haunting songs and intriguing voice, but the violin only reinforced them. Nice.
Bloodshot Records made their name as the home of insurgent country, a term applied to everyone from Robbie Fulks to Kelly Hogan. Over the last several years they have attempted to break out of that mold, signing decidedly non-country bands like the Latin influenced Cordero and the world music of Firewater. Tonight’s showcase at the High Noon featured some of the newer acts in their stable. Recent signing Dex Romweber Duo hasn’t even released a CD yet but the group featuring the former leader of another terrible twosome the Flat Duo Jets and his sister made a strong case for their inclusion on this bill. The imposing Romweber growled and spit his way through a viscerally entertaining set while Sara kept time.
I hadn’t seen Scotland Yard Gospel Choir since Matthew Kerstein (now of Brighton MA) had left the band several years ago. I had always considered him the talent of the band, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed them tonight. A completely different band in sound and line-up than I had seen the last time, they came off like Pulp after too many cups of coffee, which is a good thing. I found myself involuntarily taping my toes and shaking my shoulders to lead singer Elia Einhorn’s ridiculously catchy tunes. Good stuff. The night started off a bit late as Madison’s own Blueheels took the stage 45 minutes late since they had announced over at the Orpheum that everyone should head there next. The Blueheels have always seemed a natural fit for Bloodshot and hopefully they managed to impress co-owner Nan who was cuing up her favorite Bloodshot artists in between sets.
I’ve only seen the Detroit Cobras once and I left in the middle of their set as lead singer Rachel Nagy’s attitude wore on me. I didn’t give them much of a chance tonight as I headed out after a couple songs hoping to catch Decibully’s set at Café Montmartre. Unfortunately, since things were an hour behind at the High Noon I only caught the tail end of their show. I had enough time to verify that yes indeed all seven members of the band were crammed onto the wine bar’s tiny stage, but that was about all. I guess after eight hours of music that’s about all I could handle anyway.
I missed out on night two completely since I had booked a house concert months before the Forward Fest was even announced, which was too bad as the second half of the festival promised to serve up just as much entertainment. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the commitment to diversity in pulling off what many said couldn’t be done. I’m sure all the lessons learned this year will insure an even smoother fest next year.