At last year’s Total Fest, a band called Swamp Wolf swooped in to save the day. The Flagstaff quintet was among more than 100 applicants that applied to be in the festival, but didn’t make the final cut. They happened to be passing through Missoula during the three-day event anyway, and when word came down that one of the slotted bands had canceled at the last minute, Swamp Wolf offered its services. Total Fest co-president Josh Harteis recalls that organizers weren’t sure what to expect from the band; they were simply relieved to have a backup. Then Swamp Wolf took the stage and unleashed a set of stunning metallic hardcore and showmanship.
“The singer was [writhing around] on the floor in front of the stage,” Harteis says. “They just rocked it.”
The Swamp Wolf story is quintessential Total Fest. The event, now in its 12th year, has gone from small and largely under the radar to a destination for Northwest music fans looking to experience 40-plus bands from all over the country (and world, in some cases) over the course of one weekend. The nonprofit organization, run nearly year-round by a collection of volunteers, combs through hundreds of applicants annually and has to decline more than half just to keep the event manageable. Despite the increased attention, Total Fest maintains a focus on performers steeped in stage presence, skill and sheer sonic power, if not hype. The feel, both behind the scenes and in front of the crowd, is fiercely independent and DIY.
The all-ages event brings another collection of veteran and newbie bands to local venues this year. As co-president Kari Workman says, “New smells. New flavors.” (And she’s not just talking about the intense barbecue wafting from Dickey’s, which is now situated inside one of Total Fest’s key venues, the Badlander/Palace complex.) To prepare you for all that newness, we’ve put together this Total Fest guide. It’s incomplete only because there are so many bands to talk about and, no matter how much planning goes into it, there remains a level of unpredictability to the three days. After all, that’s how we came to find Swamp Wolf.