Mission independent 

Discovering the good, the badass and the odd at Total Fest

Organizers for Missoula’s annual independent music event, Total Fest, stationed themselves around a table last week crafting “total fezes.” That’s right, funny hats with tassels. The stack of bright green fezes almost ended up in the dump after the end of a local Rolling Rock promotion. But one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, as they say, and the salvaged hats are now stamped with the official Total Fest logo for souvenirs.

How is this significant? Well, after seven years, Total Fest still has time to get creative. Last year the three-day event found a new, permanent home at the Badlander/Palace venues, and that pre-set arrangement makes it easier for this year’s organizers to navigate logistics and spend more time fine-tuning the event’s smaller details—like fezes.

And here’s something else new: Josh Vanek, Total Fest founder and Wäntage USA record label owner, is looking to gain nonprofit status for the festival. Vanek hopes this move further cements Total Fest’s founding mission of cultivating independent, original music and not necessarily turning a profit.

“We’ve definitely shifted away from the expectation that they’re going to get paid a lot,” Vanek says. “Although it still is our goal to pay [bands] what we can, just having that not be at the forefront of their mind.”

What should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind is the music. With the lineup full, as always, of Total Fest veterans, touted newcomers and oddball combinations, we offer a rundown of this year’s 42 handpicked musical acts.

All-star players

True, there are no official headlining acts at Total Fest. But even the committee admits some bands make them giddy.

Take Pierced Arrows. Guitarist Fred Cole and bassist Toody Cole are celebrities of the DIY scene from their time in Dead Moon. That band, which garnered a solid underground following in Missoula and had classic dark rock tunes like “Running out of Time” and “It’s OK” covered by the likes of Pearl Jam, lasted 15 years. Now, the husband and wife combo contributes to Pierced Arrows, a beautifully rough rock group similar to the Dead Moon sound.

Federation X is the only band that was actually underwritten to play Total Fest. Once stationed in Bellingham, Wash., the band is now scattered between New York, Portland and B-ham, and almost couldn’t afford to make the trip until KBGA agreed to fund them. Why? Fed X, as the band is normally called, is like an adopted sibling to the Missoula music scene. They play here often and people love their grinding, slightly poppy, disco terror sound.

And who can forget Miss Lana Rebel? Lana Rebel played the first ever Total Fest in her sludgy, Melvins-esque band Last of the Juanitas, and now she’s using this T-fest to release her solo album, All I Need, a stark country creation.

Ageless wonder

Last year, organizers designated the Palace as the only place underage rock fans could watch bands. This year, the Badlander and Total Fest crew worked out a deal where all three stages—the Palace stage and the two in the Badlander—are open to everyone. That said, expect little tolerance for monkeying around—like getting caught underage with beer in hand.

Old faces, new places

When you see Shotgun Moses on stage and think to yourself, Isn’t that Riddlin’ Que?—don’t worry, you’re not going crazy. A plethora of bands in this year’s lineup are made up of musicians well known to past Total Fests. For instance, Secret Powers includes ex-Oblio Joes and ex-Fireballs of Freedom members, and delivers an eye-popping, poppy stage presence—dresses, fake flowers, bubbles and all. And if you reach far back into the earlier Jay’s Upstairs era, you’ll recognize Cindy Laundrie Marshall from Saved for this Dark Dawn and Spanker, and Jen Parsons from Sasshole, teamed up in an eerie, hypnotic band called Vera. Proof of reincarnation.

Underdogs and oddballs

Goddammitboyhowdy almost deserves its own category. These boys from Browning are practically local but, until now, sorely under the radar. Think pop punk “Whoa whoas” combined with the grounded edginess of Stiff Little Fingers all wrapped up in Blackfeet politics.

L.A.’s Bad Dudes just put out an album called Eat Drugs, which seems appropriate when you hear the trippy combination of new wave-synth, disco, dream pop and punk rock. It’s the kind of sound that worms its way around your brain, eating holes in it until you surrender.

Swaps and finales

The annual Saturday morning record swap at the Big Dipper is sometimes overlooked—often because Total Fest fans would rather sleep in. Besides the opportunity to trade music gems, the swap also offers a DIY bazaar with all kinds of original crafts and live music, including a set by Portland, Ore.’s McDougal, the only band unanimously picked by the committee to play the festival. All that leads to the final night of Total Fest, which features Triclops!, fronted by Johnny No Moniker of Fleshies fame, and favorites The Narrows. Wake up early and stay up late. You can always sleep next week.

The Total Lineup

This year’s Total Fest kicks off Thursday, Aug. 14, with music at the Badlander beginning at 9 PM. On Friday and Saturday, music starts at 8 PM in both the Badlander and Palace, with the bands playing the Saturday record swap starting at noon. All-access passes cost $35. Admission each night runs $10 on Thursday and $15 on Friday and Saturday. Weekend pass for under 18 costs $25.

Thu., Aug. 14

Badlander: The Juveniles, Goddammitboy- howdy, Secret Powers, Disgruntled Nation, Bad Dudes, Black Eyes & Neckties and Bridgebuilder

Fri., Aug. 15

Palace: Shotgun Moses, The Damage Done, Rad Touch, Black Ladies, The Reddmen and Squalora.

Badlander: Vera, Why I Must Be Careful, The Pasties, The Sherlocks, Noise Noise Noise, Volumen, The Lights, Nudity, Titan, Akimbo and The Saviours.

Sat., Aug. 16

Big Dipper: Record swap and DIY bazaar featuring performances by Razz M’ Tazz, McDougall and Miss Lana Rebel.

Palace: Part Man Part Horse, The Limbs, Pure Country Gold, The Narrows, Black Elk and Triclops! Miss Lana Rebel will play in between sets.

Badlander: Jacktop Town, Birthday Suits, Black Velvet Elvis, The Trucks, Ex-Cocaine, This Runs on Blood, The Bar Feeders,  Kingdom of Magic, Lopez, Pierced Arrows and Federation X.
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