It's pretty amazing that Total Fest started on a whim. Founder Josh Vanek recalls coaxing some touring bands—in particular The Last of the Juanitas—to play a 2001 one-night-only show he decided to dub Total Fest. Nine years later, the indie rock showcase has become a three-day, 40-plus band affair, and one of the most anticipated rock events in the Northwest.
Total Fest also has the rare status of being all-ages, with extra security to ensure that certain people—ahem—make good choices to carry on the tradition.
Speaking of tradition, here's our contribution: Your guide to old festival favorites, tasty virgins and must-see reunion bands, plus the inside scoop on how you can smuggle a little eye candy into your dirty music habits.
Reunited and it feels so good
One of the best parts of Total Fest is the coming together of old friends—or long-lost bands, as the case may be. This year Sasshole hits the stage to give new listeners a taste of local music history and old fans flashback fever. Loud, sassy and unapologetic, the band was known for partying and a no-b.s. attitude. The local group started in the mid-1990s as an all-female four-piece, switched line-ups and ended up with three girls and a guy before their final disbandment in 2004. The band's aggressive, lo-fi sound evoked punk rock from L.A.'s 1980s scene complete with witty, freewheeling songs about bodily fluids, beer and blood all performed with mischievous glee. These days, Sasshole members are well-respected professionals and business owners, but none of them really ever shed the sass.
Welcome home, rockers
Seattle's The Lights are veterans of the Total Fest scene. In the wake of their new album, Failed Graves, they'll bring songs that hop between raucous campfire tunes and icy, dark-edged melodies that curl from the corners of early 1990s post-punk angst. Also returning are former locals No-Fi Soul Rebellion whose expertise at audience participation usually leaves people covered in sweat and slightly violated in the best way possible. Finally, if you were lucky enough to witness The Fleshies' Johnny No Moniker wrapped in toilet paper slithering on the Badlander's floor two years ago, and then witness his stage antics again last year with his band Triclops!, you're in for the third wave: Johnny returns this year with his new band Street Eaters for more entertaining and unpredictable behavior.
In a way, Deranged Diction is also a reunion band. It only reunited last year—after being defunct for two decades—to play to a wall-to-wall crowd at the Palace in celebration of new recordings from 1982 and 1983 songs. One would have thought that was the end of it, but the hardcore band is back for Total Fest. Of course, part of the allure is that the band includes a little-known bass player named Jeff Ament from some band called Pearl Jam. Another band (or, more accurately, dude) not to miss: Thrones, aka Joe Preston from the Melvins. Fortunately, both bands prove celebrity status is irrelevant when it comes to good music making.
There are plenty of other Total Fest virgins worth getting in line for. The Unnatural Helpers, for instance, have the kind of straight-shooting rock swagger that almost ensures an electrifying stage performance. Others, like the Brooklyn-based psychedelic band Oneida, already arrive with hype.
Night of Joy might not be on your radar at all, but this Denver band will quench any thirst you have for new-wave. The trio simmers in feverish pop that somehow seems both gruesome and pretty.
Over the past few years, the Missoula Art Museum has made it a mission to find a doorway into the hip, edgy art scene. Artini, which happens every third Thursday of the month, aspires to draw in the kind of crowd that might easily dismiss art museums as stuffy. So, what do you get when you cross Artini's fifth birthday with Total Fest? That's right: a party called Totaltini. The partnership means that MAM will be hosting four music acts that are the opposite of stuffy including experimental local rock band Fag Rag and creative favorites Japanther.
The record swap takes place on Saturday afternoon at the Big Dipper, far away from the boozy bars so that anyone looking for a little afternoon culture can take part. Remember: you can bring tapes, records and CDs, or just come for the live music. This year includes local duo Julie & the Wolves and Salt Lake City's Birthquake!, which somehow combines math rock with woodwinds and gets away with it. Also on deck is Turner Capehart Canty who can easily be introduced by his rich artistic heritage: son of writer Kevin Canty and photographer Lucy Capehart, plus nephew to Brendan Canty of Fugazi (who produced Turner's recent experimental folk album, Building Your Own Hidden Fortress). The former bassist for The Sherlocks treads his own talented path, with no special handouts besides, perhaps, some good genes.
The Total line-up
Total Fest kicks off Thursday, Aug. 19, with music at MAM from 5:30 to 9 p.m., and music at the Palace from 9:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. On Friday, music starts at 9:30 p.m. in both the Badlander and the Palace. Saturday begins with a record swap and music from noon to 2 p.m. at the Big Dipper, and music at the Palace and Badlander starting at 9 p.m. All-access passes run $40/$10 Thursday/$20 Fri. and Sat. Go to wantagetotalfest.blogspot.com for more info.
Thu., Aug. 19
MAM: Abe Coley, Fag Rag, Muhammad Ali and Japanther.
Palace: Ah Holly Fam'ly, The Skurfs, Belt of Vapor, Street Eaters, Thug Nasties, The Ax, Custody Battle, Birthday Suits.
Fri., Aug. 20
Badlander: Bird's Mile Home, The Grandparents, Chin Up, Meriwether!, The Lights, Pure Country Gold, Oneida, Lords of Falconry, Kinski.
Palace: Streetlight People, Miss Lana Rebel, Sugar Sugar Sugar, Fist City, Night of Joy, Lesbian, Thrones, Wildildlife.
Sat., Aug. 21
Big Dipper: Julie & the Wolves, Birthquake!, Turner Capehart Canty.
Badlander: Shahs, Mordecai, Broken Water, Todd Congelliere, No-Fi Soul Rebellion, TacocaT, Sasshole, White Drugs, Deranged Diction.
Palace: Deny the Dinosaur?, A Coin in the Coffer, Coconut Coolouts, Bacon & Egg, Chinese, Arctic Flowers, Squalora, Warcry, Unnatural Helpers.