Now in its eighth year as Missoula's only three-day indie rock festival, Total Fest has reached a point of maturity. Odd to say about an event known for some of the most entertainingly immature stage antics imaginable—Johnny No Moniker of Fleshies, for example, crawling around in his underwear—but true nonetheless. Over the years, the festival has grown from five bands to 20, to 42 and, this year, 50. Wäntage USA label owner and Total Fest founder Josh Vanek has wrangled the event each year, with heavy help from dedicated volunteers.
This year, the event is completely all-ages—no exceptions—due to sponsorships and fundraising that allowed Total Fest organizers to hire extra staff. In addition, the festival crew (or crüe, as they call themselves) includes younger members just out of high school to help add some age diversity when picking which bands out of the hundreds of submissions will fill the event's nightly slots.
As usual, Total Fest brings back festival favorites, as well as new, buzzworthy groups from places all across the country, including Seattle, Salt Lake City, Brooklyn and Huntsville, Ala. And, with the addition of two hip-hop/rap groups for the first time ever, the festival shows that it's not a one-track pony. With an even bigger line-up than ever, we offer a guide to old favorites, one- and two-person acts, old-school must-sees and other delicacies.
Veteran Total Fest bands that you shouldn't miss include The Bugs, whose smart-ass, foot-stomping ditties become the best brainworm you'd ever ask for, as well as the Pine Hill Haints, whose ghostly melodies saunter through dark alley anthems. Another band always worth noting: Japanther. The first time they played Total Fest they yelled into a microphone made from a phone and tossed out bouncy, xylophone-sounding melodies that seemed both pretty and startlingly cool. Last but not least, Vile Blue Shades beat up the crowd last year—musically speaking—with their psychedelic, angular smackdown. That band sucks you in like a dangerous heroin addiction—they make you sweat and sway without any self-control. And how could they not? With a group consisting of eight permanent players, two alternates and one dancer it's a party no matter which way you spin it.
And a-one and a-two
Then again, less is more. This year includes a plethora of bands comprised of merely one or two members. The Limbs is John Mazzucco, a one-man band out of Denver, Colo., who sings and plays, among other things, a drum set and electric guitar. He's a veteran of Total Fest known for his sometimes muddy, sometimes funky, always devilish tunes. LKN is Portland, Ore.'s Lauren K. Newman, and though she's a one-woman project when recording, guest musicians often back her up live. Newman pretty much shreds on guitar with math rock genius and butt-rock delivery, and when she plays drums—which she will with another T-fest band, Palo Verde—she's a feverish demon.
On the local front, guitarist Cindy Laundrie (Saved For this Dark Dawn, Spanker) and drummer Jen Tachovsky (Sasshole) serve up a platter of glaring attitude and never-too-pretty garage rock. And, finally, the hip-hop duo Jiggwatts includes former Missoulian Jimi Nassett (James Two) and Locke. They do a smashing sampling of "Angel in a Centerfold."
Flashback to the '90s
In the mid-1990s, a band called Thee Hedons began haunting the stage of Missoula's former punk rock venue, Jay's Upstairs. The trio of guitarist Josh May, bassist Greg Twigg and drummer Scott Moore unleashed surf-soaked garage rock as menacing as it was catchy. Sexy instrumentals like "WingNut" mixed with songs like "Two Beer Queer" and "Male Itch" marked them as a band with a new sound—at least for Montana. As Vanek notes, "Wearing a heavy Link Wray/Trashmen influence on your sleeve is a commonplace theme, but remember, these were the days before Pulp Fiction, and every fratboy wasn't yet familiar with that spooky, pioneering work." This is probably a one-time-only reunion of a band that helped give Jay's its singular reputation, so it's not to be missed.
If you want to get another history lesson, El Zombi Gato also includes drummer Moore, as well as various members from 1990s Jay's bands like Sasshole, Cicada and Five in the Face. Blowing into town from Portland, another old face includes Leaders guitarist Kelly Gately, who played in old-school Missoula band Honky Sausage, as well as the infamous and explosive dirty rock group Fireballs of Freedom.
S'cream n' swap
If you can't booty shake, at least you can ice cream shake. Live bands and music swapping at the Big Dipper always serve as a refreshing recess for an otherwise full-throttle event. Bring your CDs, vinyl, cassettes, 8-tracks and any other recorded items down to the ice cream parking lot for a little barter action on Saturday. The folk-punk wilds of Hail Seizures and cynically wistful riffs of Tyson Ballew supply the afternoon soundtrack along with the stripped-down, evil-scientist jazz distortion of Why I Must Be Careful. John Niekrasz of Why I Must Be Careful is a mathematical genius on drums, so if you missed his other band, Poor School, of Friday night's line-up, don't miss him here.
The Total line-up
Total Fest kicks off Thursday, Aug. 20, with music at the Badlander at 9:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, music starts at 8 p.m. in both the Badlander and the Palace, with bands playing the Saturday record swap starting at noon. All access passes cost $38. Admission each night runs $15.
Thu., Aug. 20
Badlander: El Zombi Gato, Red Obelisk, Valsalva Menuver, Filth Mattress, Jiggywatts, Blank Its and Attitude Problem.
Fri., Aug. 21
Badlander: Rooster Sauce, Razz m' Tazz, Vera, Taco Cat, The Bugs, The Blind Shake, Rebreather, Black Elk, Leaders, Drunk Horse and Vile Blue Shades.
Palace: Reptile Dysfunction, LKN/Palo Verde, Electric Dandelion, Poor School, Birds Mile Home, RVIVR, Pretty Boy Thorson, Lamborghiniz and Underground Railroad to Candyland.
Sat., Aug. 22
Big Dipper: Hail Seizures, Tyson Ballew, Why I Must Be Careful.
Badlander: Socks & Sandals, Wartime Blues, Limbs, Pine Hill Haints, Thee Hedons, Rad Touch, Lozen, Wildildlife, Helms Alee and Japanther.
Palace: Goddamitboyhowdy, Glassell Park #3, Damage Done, Atomic Bride, Git Some, Sandrider, Le Force, The Coloffs and This Runs on Blood.