The Arctic Monkeys show this past Saturday at the Wilma Theater was one to remember. The crowd was lively and the music was superb. It was my first time seeing the Monkeys and it surprised me how much their music made you want to get up and dance.
Sasquatch crossed the halfway point with a yesterday afternoon mostly low-fi, ambient grooves, giving festival goers a chance to lay in the grass and take up some sun.
Each day has sort of an unofficial theme and all four of them are packed with shows from one to one. There are three stages and one dance tent all squeezed into the amphitheater but engineers do a great job at keeping the overlap to a minimum. The hardest part of the whole thing is deciding who to watch when two really great acts are playing at the same time.
Day one felt like a welcoming party—albeit one hampered by half a day of rain—with tons of afternoon hip hop, soulful grooves from ZZ Ward and crowd pumping shows by Arctic Monkeys and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Friday also featured Red Fang, a seasoned West coast metal band that shocked and rocked the grateful pants off of the unsuspecting indie crowd.
The crowd’s style is brighter than ever this year too. This isn’t some hippie fest (though many of them are around). Most everyone is fresh out of college or just about to be, wearing stripes, animal prints, and neons that roar straight from the 80s.
Freakishly cold nights have kept the parties at bay in the campgrounds. The temperature drops hard and fast around midnight, convincing most people to hit their own tents rather than try to talk their way into someone else’s.
There are British and Australian accents everywhere; none of which can be trusted though; since I constantly hear people walk past telling each other where they’re going to pretend they’re from today.
Saturday’s lineup and its welcomed sunshine gave everyone a chance to quell their hangovers and catch some zees. Sigur Ros, Iceland’s melodic and immensely epic alternative group, headlined the main stage. Comedians like Nick Offerman, and Kyle Kinane kept people laughing all through the afternoon. The biggest surprise of the day came of the Bigfoot stage. At the end of Micheal Kiwanuka’s Motown set, Mark Mumford of Mumford and Sons came out of nowhere and the two sang “The Weight” to an ecstatic crowd.
The XX gave a fantastic performance. Much of their music teeters on the edge of shoegaze rock, which is often heard best when you want to relax but think at the same time; but seen live the band takes on a form of lo-fi dance grooves. The bouncy jams are separated by long sustains and unhurried transitions that don’t allow the audience to do more than clap and nod (perhaps a little impatiently).
The following two days will bring a little grit to the festival. But all I can do now is wait and see.
The multi-award winning musician Ryan Bingham built his career from the ground up by pounding the pavement across the United States and, despite is accolades, nothing has changed. He keeps his fan base by traveling the United States and playing shows in venues of every size. In mid-June he’ll join Bob Dylan for the Americana tour. I caught up with Bingham on the phone while he was in Boulder, Colorado and I was at the Sasquatch campground.
You’ve had a big couple of years, amongst several other awards winning a Grammy and an Oscar for the movie Crazy Heart. How has this recent success affected your touring style?
Not much has changed; we’ve always been a band that’s made our living on the road, not much on the radio or selling CDs. The film Crazy Heart got us exposed to a lot of people that might not have heard of us before, which was nice. But after the movie died down it was time to get back on the road and playing live shows for people.
Why launch your career in Los Angles? It seems like a guy your style might to fit better somewhere like Memphis or Nashville, I mean I don’t hear about a lot of Americana style musicians hitting L.A.
I don’t know, we started going to California from Texas even when we were traveling in a Suburban. We just ended up in California. It’s a really pretty place, up in Yosemite, the coast, the beaches… plus there’s a lot going on in the city artistically. That’s been a really inspirational standpoint— the sheer variety of musicians it has. There’s a lot going on out there for me in the business. As to Nashville, I’m not into the country scene, it’s not something I feel too comfortable in. There’re some of the best musicians in the world out there, there’s a lot of opportunities out there if you want to make it. It’s became my home.
Did going from the desert southwest to L.A. affect your style?
It’s plays a big part in it. The more you travel the more you experience, the people you meet broadens your horizons, living in LA. And all the caliber of musicians are so diverse you can’t help but take that into consideration for what you’re writing. If I were still in Arizona livin’ on the ranch I might be writing songs about riding on a horse.
Can you give me an example?
Musically different influences from meeting other bands have been big; be they mariachi or reggae or swing. You pick up a lot of different things from all over. Meeting people all over the place you learn about them so you end up singing about them too. But people respond differently to that all over. Some people from a different place in the world may not relate to a song about somewhere else though. Like if I write a song about kids fighting on the street on London, guys in Texas aren’t going to relate to that and vice versa. That’s okay though, you just write about the things you see or experience.
Do you actually get the time to meet people though? I mean your schedule is pretty tight.
It’s pretty tough sometimes after these shows. If it’s the right place and the crowd dwindles down I might go out and grab some beers at a bar, but usually we’re on the road or getting ready for the next place.
Your career’s been built on the road, but the touring lifestyle is notorious for taking its toll on musicians. What have you learned to keep yourself in one piece while you travel?
Oh man, the road. It’s a challenging place—playing shows and touring. Ten percent of the time your playing music the rest you’re trying to get some or doing sound checks or something. I’ve tried to really stay balanced out and take a month off after traveling for a month. It’s important for me to stay healthy and eat right while I’m out there. It’s a big mental game you have to realize what you can’t do and what you can. I dunno…I’ve been doing this or a while and I don’t know if I‘ve gotten used to it or what but it’s a routine. I’m not scared of the work; I got the opportunity to get out here and playing music. It could always be worse. Sometimes I have to remember I could be out digging holes and building fences in the desert for somebody but instead I get to travel the country and meet great people.
You’ve been really consistent in releasing an album every one or two years and it’s been about that long since the last release. Can we expect something new anytime soon?
Yeah man, I’m hoping to start recording at the end of this year, for sure. We just go in phases; we go travel and then come home and write about where we’ve been. Then we’ll record for a while and repeat the cycle.
So if you’re on the road constantly and recording when you get home do you ever get to relax? When do you just get to sit around in your underwear and eat Cheetos?
Haha, When I’m done and home I get outdoors and go camping and fishing and hiking. Since I’m on the west coast now I’ve started to surf a bunch. I really like getting out of the city because California offers so much variety.
What’s it like going from playing a big venue like Sasquatch to playing those more intimate rooms that you built your career in?
It is a big difference; we were playin’ 500 to 1000 cap rooms—the last couple days then we played for 200 people. Those small rooms are really intimate and you’re right with the crowd, which is a lot of fun. Also the band was used to playing close to each other and hearing each other. Then we played a huge stage of like 3,000 and we were so far apart that you couldn’t hear each other at all and you feel really disconnected. It makes it so you just have to trust what you’re playing and know the other guy is too. That’s strange. But you know…. I like both, I like those small rooms really get the crowd involved but I enjoy the festivals were you can just up there and turn your amps up loud and just let loose. It’s a different gig every night and that’s what fun about the road.
You’ve made your presence known as a solo artist but the album Junky Star which you released with The Dead Horses was critically acclaimed. Are you a soloist now or do you plan on playing more with the old band?
Yeah were’ going to, we still want to do more stuff for the future. Me and other guys wanted to explore some solo projects; we toured together for 10 years. We want to get some stuff going, we’re just waiting for the right time.
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.