Does Size Really Matter? A Festival Report (Relix Revisited)
Madison House offers packages to fans, such as “the Swiss Cheese Incident,” which “combines four days of skiing in the magnificent Jungfrau region of Interlaken, Swizerland with two full-blown shows. No worries if you don’t ski…relax and enjoy all that the Swiss Alps offer.” Indeed. If you like String Cheese Incident its mighty appealing, and with Madison House booking ski rentals, rooms and airfare at the click of a mouse, it’s all breathtakingly simple, Madison House also books customized yours for fans.
While festivals struggle, Madison House flourishes. If, as the platitude goes, it’s about the journey and not the destination, then Madison House is happy to capitalize. “In the age of travel agencies closing left and right, we’ve been having trouble managing our growth, which is such a lucky position to be in,” says Pomerantz, astonished. “Our trouble has been finding employees!”
In January, Madison House offered an unprecedented destination: Jam Cruise, a pair of four-day voyages from Fort Lauderdale to the pearly sands of the Bahamas and Key West. “Its sort of hard to put into words what happened on that boat,” Brownstein exults, who played four sets with his band, in between soaking up the sun. “The idea of having a festival going on in international waters… it’s beyond anything I could possibly imagine.”
Brownstein can imagine quite a bit As an acknowledgement of the implicit tourism among jambands, The Disco Biscuits have increasingly taken to naming their concerts: Bisco Inferno, Bisco Knights, The Tussey 500, The Banana Ball. “We’ve found that its been extremely helpful to brand events and to make something bigger out of these particular nights. When we do these events, these destination shows, we’ll hire DJs, hire other bands, have something else going on that’s maybe a visual thing. We make many mini-festivals, essentially.”
The last of these events, at which the band simply decked themselves in yellow and ordered six tons of bananas for the occasion, received mixed reviews. “Some people thought it was great, some people thought it was dumb. But it was something,” Brownstein asserts. “Believe it or not, something as silly as The Banana Ball drew nearly twice as many people as we had drawn into that theater the previous time we had played there on that particular night of the week.”
Annabel Lukins, an organizer of Jam Cruise, compares jamband fans’ journeys to travelers moving towards Mecca. If that holds, then it is a Mecca that must be collectively urged into existence. All of the parts must align, and the mirage given body via the massed power of dreaming and money and wanting. If a festival fails for lack of ticket sales, the point of collapse is a peculiar one: the failure of the communal spirit. For whatever reason, Bonnaroo captured the imagination. Hobstock didn’t.
Travel has long been one o the key factors in the Rubik’s Cube of the jamband scene, one element in an endless twist towards the right combination that will unlock the elusive magic. Traveling to Switzerland to see the String Cheese Incident could be fun, but it could be a right drag. Shouldering through a half-mile of sweaty bodies to catch a distant glimpse of a bassist’s bobbing head isn’t fun for everyone. Often, the less factors involved, the greater the joy.
Ken Hays thinks so. For the ninth Gathering of the Vibes, he strives for intimacy. “We’ve been working over the past couple years the bring that back to the forefront.” Compared to Bonnaroo, the Gathering and many smaller, band-centered festivals—such as moe.’s moe.down and Max Creek’s Camp Creek—are lovely picnics in the woods.
Is calling it “intimacy” just a way to make good of a bad situation? In Rob Reiner’s classic metal mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, band manager Ian Faith is asked if the fact that Tap is booked into smaller halls then their last tour means that interest is dwindling. “No, no,” he insists. “Their appeal is just becoming more selective. ”
But maybe that explanation isn’t all bullshit. Ekoostik hookah, for example, were but a blip on the sidestage at Bonnarroo ’03, as they remain in most of the country. But in their native Ohio, however, they are Mecca. Their twice-annual, ten-year running Hookahville regularly draws between 6,000 and 12,000 fans, and claims as its motto “no hassles or bad attitudes.” While it may be laidback hot air, it’s at least common sense, and a friendly acknowledgement that bigger isn’t always better.
“I think it’s great,” hookah keyboardist Dave Katz shrugs when asked what he thinks of Bonnaroo. “Hey, what’re you gonna do when it’s the biggest and the best?” he says, sounding as if he genuinely doesn’t care if Bonnaroo draws people away from his own band’s events.
Hookah has come full circle, too, from a party at Katz’s house, to events at the Buckeye Lake Amphitheatre, and back to their own relative backyard. The band is going into the second year of a five-year lease on the Frontier Ranch, their new home in Kirkersville, Ohio, 20 miles from Columbus. “Hopefully, there’ll be an option to buy sometime in the future,” Katz says, and so Tent City may start to lay down its stakes.
After all, it’s important to own land. It’s one thing to lease it out. It’s entirely another to work it yourself. Perhaps you can imagine what it must be like to wake to a call from a big-shot rock promoter. But imagine, then, if you didn’t get that call. Why, you could sit back on your porch that night and look up at the stars and contemplate the universe and whatnot.
Maybe, you might ponder, everybody is right—that the scene is simultaneously expanding and contracting. Perhaps there are less people going to see more bands. But you might look out on your fine lush grass and do some simple calculations: if your band had 500 fans, and those 500 fans went to a barbecue, why, right here, and had a magical time, well, what would be wrong with that? No packing supplies to brave 15 hours of traffic, no holding your nose and scrunching your eyes in war zone port-o-lets.
“Who cares what they’re doing in Tennessee?” you might even philosophize to no one in particular. You’d sit back and look at the lawn—from grassroots to “grassroots” and back again—just a nation of kids hanging out and making music. Magic is magic right, right? That’s the hippie way.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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