The first day of Sasquatch feels like the first day at summer camp, only everyone is soaked with booze and often wearing silly costumes that resemble plushy animals. Every Memorial Day weekend 23,000 people, roughly three times the population of nearby Quincy, flock to Central Washington for four days of sun, bands, and parties. The cars are lined up like crops in a field and tents spring from trunks like plants bolting from seeds. Car stereos start immediately and songs echo and blur into each other as you walk the rows. Flags from various camps wave in the breeze and occasionally fighter jets scream overhead. The grounds are huge and without landmarks so even being sober at midday it’s incredibly easy to lose your camp.
The music doesn’t begin until three o’clock Friday, which gives people plenty of time to catch the opening acts. But the line of cars outside the gates looks endless. It’s not unusual to sit in traffic outside the gates for up to six hours.
Much to the chagrin of many of the campers there's tiered camping. General campers often sneer as they walk by the VIP areas. They're located just off the gates, have plenty of space between camps and are rumored to have shuttles and complementary ice cream. Apparently there's a lot of glamping—glamor camping—this year as well. Think of Paws Up if you've never heard of it before. For much more than everyone else pays you and a friend can stay in a luxurious cabin for two just off the grounds.
This is a festival for the young. Throngs of twentysomethings wearing next to nothing or ridiculous vintage clothes troll the camps and make friends they’ll party with then likely never see again. Almost everyone is clutching a beer can and yelling something or other but somehow the herds of cows in the neighboring field aren’t phased.
Need your palm read? Face painted? What about a breakfast burrito? You're sure to find someone selling it. But even if you just want to hang out it's a welcoming place. Possibly the best part of the campground life is the sense of community everyone has. It's amazing to me that people can be crammed in such tight quarters, drunk or high on God knows what and still be so kind and respectful to each other.
Friday’s the most rambunctious day of all not only is everyone feeling fresh but they’re still brimming with anticipation. Don’t get me wrong, the party literally doesn’t stop, but it doesn’t maintain the same energy. Groups don’t mix like they do this first day. You can bet that by Sunday afternoon— instead of making friends at every porta potty— people just get to where they need to go.
Canadians make up the largest group going to the festival by far. There are no official stats but practically everyone you meet and many of the license plates hail from Saskatchewan or British Columbia. When I asked why they travel so far to be here they all say roughly the same thing, “There’s just nothing like this where we are.”
In 1998, a Missoula band called the Sputniks went on tour with a writer from the New Yorker. Those of you who remember the band and read the article might be interested to know that it's now online and available to read on photographer Mary Ellen Mark's website. (Though, ironically, the photo doesn't seem to show up on her site). Those who haven't read it, should.
Chad Dundas, the Sputniks drummer, posted yesterday that "if you want to read a story about a bunch of 19 year-old kids getting drunk and saying embarrassing stuff, it doesn't get much better than this." Whatever embarrassments the band might feel, the story by Bill Finnegan is really well done and he captures with amazing detail and thoughtfulness the world of the Missoula punk rockers as they drive the country eating mustard sandwiches, sleeping on people's floors and playing to excited and not-so-excited crowds. It's sweet and poignant, as well as hilarious:
Chad's high-hat cymbal fell apart, causing a delay. Grady asked the crowd if anybody had an anvil. "That's what we do in Montana," he said. "Anything goes wrong, we just forge a new part. These guitars we play are all solid steel. Made 'em ourselves." Nobody laughed, or gave any sign that they knew what an anvil was. Grady wondered aloud if they were alive. Zach said something about "fun," then asked if kids in Chicago were familiar with the concept.
Here's what the story looked like:
Here in Missoula, a town dominated by the presence of the university, graduation day is a big deal. Perhaps you are graduating, after working hard/hardly working for a long four/six/23 years, or perhaps you know someone who is. Families are in town. Commencement is an event that, unlike a lot of things you learned in college, you'll remember the rest of your life.
Here we compile some handy Dos and Don'ts to make your, or someone else's, graduation day just that much more special. These examples may or may not be based on actual events, circa 2011.
Do: Check the weather and dress appropriately. It's May in Montana. If it's going to be windy/rainy, forget the cute dress and sandals you were planning on wearing and find some pants. And bring extra pins to keep your cap on. Also, those graduation caps do not provide shade and you'll be sitting in the sun for the entire ceremony. Wear sunglasses and sunscreen.
Do: Make sure your family is wearing proper shoes. If your family is from rural Montana and more accustomed to driving than walking, insist that they all bring comfy tennis shoes for being on campus and getting to Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the ceremony.
Do: Figure out ahead of time where the family will eat lunch in between the big morning ceremony and the smaller department afternoon events. Downtown will be packed and every restaurant will be busy, so have a game plan.
Do: Go all-out with the party. When it comes to post-graduation parties, it's fun to organize a small backyard shindig in advance. Or find a few fellow graduates who are willing to combine events, making for one big party with enough strange people to force your family to be polite and mingle.
Don't: Drink too much at your graduation party. It's tempting, because there's a ton of good booze purchased on parental dime, but you do not want to get too drunk in front of your mom, who is having a bad day because it was so windy and her feet hurt.
Do: Bring your mom glasses of water and slow down her drinking, or she might quaff one too many Blue Moons and, in a misunderstanding that will be memorable for years to come, mistake one of your friends for your ex-boyfriend and try to punch him.
Do: Chill out. Even if your graduation is kind of a disaster, remember that in a few short years, it will all be hilarious, and you will still have a diploma that is sort of useful.
The Big Sky will appear on screens at the Cannes Film Festival, which runs May 15 - 26 this year, thanks to two films shot in Montana that star big Hollywood names.
The first, Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian), was shot in Browning and East Glacier in July 2012 and stars Benicio del Toro. It's based on a nonfiction book by psychotherapist Georges Devereux's experiences psychoanalyzing a Blackfeet man after World War II. Jimmy P. is the first English-language film from French director Arnaud Desplechin. A press release from the Montana Film Office says 125 Native American tribal members or descendants appear as extras. It also stars a few University of Montana professors, as we wrote about during filming last August.
Alexander Payne (Oscar-winning director whose resume includes The Descendants and Sideways) presents Nebraska, a drama about an "aging, booze-addled father" traveling from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son to claim a lotto prize. Scenes were shot around Billings and Laurel, and it stars Will Forte and Bruce Dern.
Check out the rest of Cannes' line-up here.
It's not often that a band tour documentary begins with the band members wanting to go home. In Tim Goessman's new film about Missoula band King Elephant, the first words we hear are, "We're in fuckin' danger" as we see the tour van with a smashed in window. Next thing we know, musician Joey Running Crane is saying, "Maybe we should just take it as a sign. Maybe we should just be like, 'Okay. It's time to go home.'"
If you want to know what happens next, check it out. The documentary, We're Going Home, gives an hour-plus long look at a band of pop punk dudes on their rocky roadtrip. And it's now available to watch in its entirety on YouTube.
The Zootown Arts Community Center (or “ZACC”), a nonprofit arts organization, just took a huge step and secured the basement space under their main-floor digs on Missoula’s North First street. It’s pretty awesome news if you’re like me and you consistently long for an informal, hang-out-watch-bands, talk-about-stuff situation compared to the average show. Oh, and I’m stoked to see Criminal Code again.
They played Total Fest last summer and are a great, fast and kind of chorusy (the guitar effect) ala Hüsker Dü new wave punk group from the unassuming, sleeper hit-maker city of Tacoma, WA. The Funs from Chicago and two great locals, Needlecraft and King Elephant round it all out. $5, 8-11 PM. Event information is here
The thing I want to talk about is this: The ZACC is a registered 501C3, or nonprofit organization. It provides arts education to pretty big crop of young Missoulians and it’s awesome, important work they do. Missoula’s a fortunate place to have an organization that provides arts education as increasingly the K-12 system falls short of the mark for arts. It is a huge, huge deal (correct, two huges) that the ZACC has chosen to widen its scope of support to original, local and traveling musicians. Low-overhead show spaces are hard to sustain (see closures to shows of Zoo City Apparel, the Lab, Eating Cake, Spruce St. etc. etc.) but among the most fertile ground for supporting a community of musicians and bands. That the ZACC is getting into this business is worth celebrating, supporting and respecting. Here’s how you can do all three:
Celebrate it: I know that sounds unfortunately new agey, but I'm serious. Think if you lived in... say, Jamestown, ND. Would you get many chances to see music this vital? come see the show, and other shows! These are great, informal times with awesome music. They’re truly structured to be safe, affordable and for all-ages, 8-80. Bring earplugs if you don’t do much loud music listening.
Support it: come prepared to support the show, it’s $5. Buy some stuff from bands. Nearly everybody should have a record, shirt or CDR or something. Make a donation to the ZACC. They put the money to good use, keeping costs low, providing scholarships to students, and doing things like offering their basement for all-ages music. http://www.zootownarts.org/donate
Respect it: I’m an of-age guy, and pretty unoriginally a beer fan. However, I’ll be fine bringing along a water bottle to quench my thirst on Sunday. And don't mistake this for martyrdom. This is more important than having a drink in my hand, and I think I'll get by! These events are alcohol free, and that’s the rules. It's there to ensure that the environment’s truly safe for all-ages, and that’s a lot of trust. Shows like this are typically run by volunteers, and folks who care about DIY music happening. They’re not the authorities, but they are charged with ensuring the show follows the rules, and the alcohol rule is there for a really good reason. If you’ve got time, help folks clean up.
I hope to see you there.
A version of this post originally appeared at the Total Fest blog.
A Synthetic Spring, a one-time-only art/dance/performance event, goes up tonight at the Crystal Theatre. It's the MFA show of artist Jack Metcalf. But, in a twist, Metcalf will be played in the performance by Missoula actor Jeff Medley. Medley and Metcalf recently collaborated on a verbatim staged rendition of an old Mister Rogers album. A Synthetic Spring, which I wrote about this week, is a criticism of "the spectacle" of commodity culture.
When I sent Medley an e-mail to ask if I could interview him about his role as Jack Metcalf, he wrote back: “If you trick Jack Metcalf he will turn into Jack Metcalf.” As it turned out, I wasn't going to get any straight answers, just synthetic ones. And thus began my odd and somehow rather poetic interview with Jeff Medley, playing Jack Metcalf.
Indy: Is synthetic-ness a good thing or a bad thing? Or do you see it as neutral?
Jeff Medley: Without Synthesis, without the Synthetic, all we have is Spring. A season, true, but nothing more. Or is it a season? Helical springs are certainly synthetic. The very presence of Man... and woman (if you allow that man is one rib short and missing a pile of mud/clay somewhere in his potholed lawn), no, let's just say humanity to keep the boat from rocking more than necessary with our humble origins, turtles and spiders.... implies synthesis. We can't undo our existence, though we seem to be trying in some ways. Digressing, I see the earth as a Dog and and we being the water, at some point the dog will feel so saturated we will be involuntarily shaken off into space. The Dog is not necessarily passing judgement on the water, it is simply laden... saturated and has to shake. Until then, we create. We, in my usage, should be wholly considered to refer to 'Artists'. I am Jack Metcalf. I am an 'artist' and I synthesize art. I can't be neutral. Is it good or bad? Is it yes or no? Yes and no? It isn't binary, though I can communicate in Morse Code in the event that the electromagnetic spectrum is seriously disrupted. I refrain from judgement. Everything fashioned by the hand, mind, labor, toil of humanity in this sense is synthetic, thus A Synthetic Spring is, euphemistically, one burgeoning sector in the infinite inner space and very being of me, Jack Metcalf. A flowing river may call to those on the shore to wade or dive in, yet they may choose to passively watch, even turn away.
Indy: As an artist, are you trying to give people an experience that's their own, or direct them toward your own thesis?
Medley: A Synthetic Spring is an 'encounter'. It is an offering and it will be ready for you when you are ready for it. I will make no effort to control or direct the reality for any/all spectators, nor will I physically alter perceptions... though, we are directed from the moment we wake up. We rise, respond to impulses to sate hunger, thirst, the need for relief of all imaginable sorts. We find ourselves directed to sleep again and most people continue this loop. They have the opportunity to dream each night and the alarm, inner or synthetic, wakes them and they start over again. The liminal state between waking and sleeping is the brief glimmer of a moment I sought to control in my infancy and, with great dedication and otherworldly focus, was able to embrace it and free myself from the loop. I no longer have to live subject to the whims of biological. For example, I am able to reach REM state sleep while conducting a perfectly lucid conversation. I occasionally dine with loved ones in Missoula while simultaneously skywriting aphorisms in the Gobi Desert.
Indy: When we walk into the Crystal, what can we expect to see?
Medley: I can tell you, having walked into the Crystal Theatre on a scouting expedition to find the ideal host site for A Synthetic Spring, that you will not see any pre-existing crystalline structures. One reason for choosing it, based solely on the name, was an expectation to be bathed in a cosmic crystal glow upon entering. I have had to do that on my own with my ever expanding team of timeshare salesmen and lube technicians. The name of the theatre is, in actuality, a misnomer... So, coming to terms with crystalline structures lacking, I have employed a small team of fully functional models, not to scale, of Indonesian children fashioned from the renewable hooves of Mexican factory cows fed on the finest grain from undisclosed sources in Central Africa to create most of the installed pieces. You know, I've always thought cities require museums. A Synthetic Spring is a mixture of nothing you have seen before, and everything you might have seen before.
Indy: How did the idea for this show first pop into your head?
Medley: A Synthetic Spring was my earliest cognitive present to myself. Prior to being eligible for citizenship in North Dakota, I had solidified most of the ideas the public will have the opportunity to experience for free. I am actually from a few different places on Earth, none worth discussing. Before I could form words with my lips the event had already reached the advanced fermentation process.
Indy: Will we know you when we see you, or will you be disguised?
Medley: We are all disguised in plain sight, but you will know Jack Metcalf when he is standing in front of you (you being the spectator). You will know him when you have your photo taken with his likeness, yet what is a likeness? Is it the idealized self or am I my own idealization of self? I am several more dimensions than two and three combined. You will know Jack Metcalf when he is laying beside you in your dreams and your hand has been gently shaken. You will know him when he looks at you and speaks with you at the same time.
A Synthetic Spring takes place at the Crystal Theatre from 8 to 10 PM Thursday. Free.
I was first introduced to the trippy, elaborate artwork of Theo Ellsworth a few years ago by a former Butterfly Herbs barista, who loaned me a copy of Ellsworth's lovely Capacity. I remember poring over each page before going to bed, feeling like I was reading an adult version of a kid's storybook.
Ellsworth continues to explore layered headspaces in his new series, The Understanding Monster. Mack Perry reviewed Ellworth's latest, The Understanding Monster: Book One, last October, saying Ellsworth's art looks like a whimsical, storybook take on a complicated architectural blueprint. The Understanding Monster follows a protagonist, Izadore, on a series of adventures and meets "a rag-tag crew of bizarre, dream-state creatures that would make Carl Jung rise from the dead and muse at the implications."
Ellsworth is gaining some recognition, too: he announced recently on his blog that The Understanding Monster is now an honoree for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel prize.
The judges wrote, "His intricately drawn, richly-colored visuals sprawl across the full dimensions of each page, inviting readers into the dizzying, frantic mental space of his protagonist, Izadore—inviting in the way a maze invites entry, with a compelling sense of mystery but without any guarantee of safe exit."
Ellsworth sounds gracious in his blog post, writing, "It also feels like a huge honor to be awarded something named after Lynd Ward, who made beautiful silent novels with wood cut prints back in the depression era. The God Father of the Graphic Novel."
And there's more to come: Ellsworth also writes that he's working on The Understanding Monster: Book Two.
Though I was born early enough to spend my elementary school years in the midst of classic Nintendo fever, my parents were never the kind to buy their children a console. They assumed that having a computer in the house would foster a more "educational" gaming experience and I was left playing the original "Oregon Trail" and most of the "Carmen San Diego" series, only later filling them with terror as their son discovered "Doom," "Warcraft," and "Wolfenstein." At least I was killing virtual Nazis?
All my "Mario," "Tetris," and "Megaman" needs were met elsewhere, usually with friends who had "cooler" parents and the kind of allowances large enough to amass vast libraries of cartridges. No matter how often I complained, we never got a system. Not even to play that stupid Domino's Pizza game. (It's kinda funny to me now considering my mom bought a Wii a few years ago specifically to do yoga with and my dad promptly bought a ton of first-person shooters. Oh well.)
Twenty years after those console-less days, enter local programming wunderkind Brian Thomas and garage-y-surf-divas Needlecraft. Together they've built a game roughly based on the classic NES platform jumper "Bubble Bobble" and packaged it with every copy of their debut LP (available via Wantage USA). I've been spending the last few days trying to beat the thing. Either it's a lot harder than I expected or I just really, really suck at games like these. Probably a little of both.
If you're familiar with "Bubble Bobble," the gameplay is pretty much the same. You take the form of Needlecraft's Mikki Lunda (or in 2-player mode, drummer Hana MT as well) and you jump around, "shouting" bubbles at a bunch of dog-themed enemies. The bubbles then capture said enemies and it's your job to bounce them off the screen. As you progress the enemies become more numerous and harder to defeat, which is pretty much all that happens in a game like this. The big difference is the fact that this is based around a band. A local band, no less, and the basic story is that the Dogmen from Outer Space have captured all of Needlecraft's hunks, forcing Mikki and Hana to struggle through nearly 100 levels of angry canines to finally free their man-meat. I've only been able to reach level 8.
In case you were wondering, you don't need an old system to play this thing. The game comes as what's usually referred to as a ROM file, useable by a ton of classic Nintendo emulators available (mostly for free) for all sorts of modern video game systems. I've been playing Needlecraft on my computer. And still it's only level 8.
From a little more cynical viewpoint, I think the idea of packaging your LP with a video game is ingenious marketing. I'm honestly surprised more bands haven't tried doing this. While I have no idea how hard making "Needlecraft" the game actually was, I'm sure it wasn't any more difficult than writing a set of songs and recording them properly. But what do I know?
Anyways, if you've ever played "Bubble Bobble," you probably know what to expect in this game. Every level presents different enemies and yet another challenge in the kind of mind-numbing-yet-addictive repetitiveness early Nintendo was known for. I still haven't gotten to the final screen but from what I've heard from the band themselves, it consists of hunks dropping from the ceiling, cheering, and a fair amount of making out. If I'd grown up playing these things I'd probably be killing it right now. Eh. No matter.
This post originally appeared on Weird Missoula.
The Magpies are one of those bands that you're certain you've heard before the first time you hear them. They've got that built-in familiarity, and kind of walk the well-worn streets of slacker mode independent rock that all kinds of great bands have. I say "slacker" pretty lovingly, thinking about those groups like Pavement and uh, who else, Superchunk and (the kind of more obscure Iowans) House of Large sizes who were absolutely bands that worked and got recording/tours done, but just had that sort of hair-over-the-eyes kind of vibe. Those were the days when you didn't see a lot of Love Boat-style nautical themes in bands. It was a more jeans/flannel scene. There were shirts that said "SPAWN OR DIE."
Anyway, when I see Sam and Tolan from the Magpies singing duets, I think of greats like Fred and Toody Cole from Dead Moon and Georgia and Ira from Yo La Tengo. It's got that same kind of honest and emotional deal for me.
Hey, look, I'm probably being pretty vague here, but ol' Elvis Costello said it best when he said "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." He summed up the futility of trying to write about something that's such a gut-level deal as music. That said, most of the good music I listen to has happened because somebody's recommended it to me, or told me about it in one way or another. So if you're in one of these towns, or have friends there: send them out to see a great Montana group called the Magpies.
Some interesting Magpies facts: Drummer Dave Martens is an amateur musicologist working on a Montana psychedelia compilation called Long Time Comin': Lost Sounds from the Treasure State. Guitar player Troy "Hank" Donovan is the proprietor of the Rattlesnake Cable Company, an burly instrument cable outfit.
Say hey to 'em for me.
Here are their tour dates:
March 29- Billings, MT Railyard Ale House
March 30- Minot, ND Pangea House
March 31- Grand Forks, ND Ojata Records
April 1- Minneapolis, MN Sound Gallery
April 2- Madison, WI The Frequency
April 3- Chicago, IL The Office (Aka Wally World)
April 4- Milwaukee, WI Quarters Rock n Roll Palace