Oh, music festivals. Those little bundles of joy that make up most of our summers. Not too long ago, they were once rare. You’d hope and pray Warped Tour would roll on through your town, you’d listen to the radio for special sponsored events, and you’d skateboard around town searching for gig posters. Now, given the popular market, you could see a festival anywhere. Not only that, but they’re announced so far in advance that your summers are usually built around it. Some might say it’s too packed.
We won’t. Well, we understand there are plenty of festivals out there, but we’re always keen on finding out about new ones. It’s actually sort of intriguing how many pop up each year. Every state in the country’s in on the game. Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, one of the Dakotas (can’t remember which one; maybe both), Maine, etc., etc. This list could go on for hours. Still, we’d love to see more.
But, we don’t want to just see any festival. We like when they throw us a curveball…with spit on it. We want something fresh, something unique, and something that shatters expectations. One way in which this has been effective is how certain festivals have tagged curators. As of late, we’ve witnessed some strange folks behind festivals. Matt Groening, anyone? So, with the likes of Jeff Mangum and Portishead hosting some saucy festivities this year, it got us thinking: Who else would we want behind the proverbial festival wheel?
So, we put together a list. You’ve probably heard of these folks. They’re pretty creative; in other words, we figured they’d offer something fresh, unique, and they’d not only shatter our expectations, they’d shatter your expectations. What are you waiting for? Take a gander. Not only did we issue a list of names, but we’ve also surmised what they could offer, too. It’s a little hopeful, it’s a little borderline fan fiction (okay, it is), but it was fun. Besides, maybe, just maybe, one of them will see this and that lil’ lightbulb will spark some.
Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.
Lynchville: Where the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.
There’s a kind of inevitability about the idea that one day soon David Lynch will get to curate his own music fest. Small towns have featured big in his films so Lynchville would be a natural name for it. The guy has the imagination and vision to conceive a host of shows simultaneously, so the event will be a multimedia one encompassing a raft of small gigs sitting comfortably alongside a big stage; a kind of mini SXSW with cinematic sideshows and all manner of life’s little curios. Several locations come to mind but Snoqualmie Falls, a key setting for Twin Peaks gets the call. Musical director Angelo Badlamenti could set up base at The Roadhouse and host late evening shows ending with Julee Cruise reprising “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart” from the pivotal Episode 14. The Bookhouse Boys (UK band) might be the house band and in homage to the enigmatic character from Mulholland Drive, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy would get to play “Paralyzed”.
The David Lynch Foundation already has a foot in several musical doors and recently announced a Pledge campaign bringing together big names and emerging artists. Many would be a shoe-in for Lynchville; expect Tom Waits, Peter Gabriel and Iggy Pop for starters. The big news would be a kind of Beatles reunion. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr supported the DLF launch but it might take all of Lynch’s persuasive powers to persuade them that Liam and Noel Gallagher could settle their brotherly differences and take the Lennon and Harrison roles. Soon Brian Wilson and Mike Love would be rumoured to be making guest appearances. That’s until Liam decides the medley from Pet Sounds is a fooking stupid idea. At which point I can decamp to The Roadhouse and chill out with Lady Lamb The Beekeeper while deciding whether it will be Audrey or Donna on the back of the Harley.
Warren Ellis is an archon of alternative culture. No, not the Australian musician – the British comic book author. There’s few genres he hasn’t written and few lines he’s not crossed. Ellis is man with one foot constantly stepping into the neon-lit puddle of the near future. His iconic comic series Transmetropolitan is a cyber punk tribute to Hunter S. Thompson, Doktor Sleepless is an anarchist’s cookbook for those of us disillusioned by a future without jetpacks, and its sister book, Captain Swing, is a steam punk send-up to rebellions that once were and might have been. Biohackers, body modders, burlesque dancers, cyborgs in training, all walks of counterculture lifeforms look to Ellis as a man of bold ideas. An event of his devising would be a glorious freakshow and no ordinary festivity – it would be the future kicking violently against the amniotic sac of now.
First of all- Ellis’ festival doesn’t officially exist, but word travels fast. Messages on walls irl and virtual, word of mouth, and murmurs in social streams leak the times and places of events. Secret art shows in New York City catacombs, a techno seance in a haunted hotel, hackerspaces and maker collectives are alive with devious projects… the underbellies of major metropolitan areas explode with life the world over. Sure, there would be plenty of “official” shows at eclectic locales such as Los Angeles’ The Edison and other established dens of counter culture, but that’s not the heart of this “festival”. Any street corner can be part the show with the right hashtag. Grinders wearing fabricated Doktor Sleepless masks deploy LED throwies en masse and leave warnings of eschaton events approaching. Who’s playing, you ask? Who isn’t playing. If it’s electronic, dark, experimental, or all of the above it’s on. Since Throbbing Gristle can’t make it, there’s a tribute show of underground music’s finest giving them the send off they deserve. Coilhouse hosts the most sought after secret shows including Beats Antique, Zola Jesus, and a slew of acts so underground you’ve probably only seen them on Ellis’ twitter. With this much artistic anarchy unfurling on the streets it might just force the future into the present.
Tom Waits concluded his acceptance speech at his recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction by saying, “This has been very encouraging.” Who would have thought that the 61-year-old lounge act turned beatboxing junkman was in need of a pat on the back. Was this typical tongue-in-cheek Waits, or was it an indication that this old rain dog might be working on a new trick?
A Tom Waits-curated festival would likely take place near his home in Sonoma County, California, in the heart of wine country, which would suit Waits fine because he’s always said, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” With the aid of friend director/animator Terry Gilliam’s visual design, Waits might be inclined to embrace the circus/carnival motif he as always shown a fondness for, with stages under big top tents and an authentic early 19th century freak show along the midway. (Don’t be surprised if you find Waits reprising his “Lucky Day Overture” carnival barker role, megaphoning popular attractions like Jo Jo the Dogface Boy, Priscilla the Monkey Woman, and The Human Pincushion.) Got a question? Then stop by the festival information tent. They won’t be able to tell you which act is playing where or when, but they can answer questions about the mating habits of spiders, tell you all about swastika-shaped pasta , and advise you on what to do if you by chance have a family of bullfrogs living in your stomach.
Waits would have to look no further than his Rolodex to put together an eclectic festival lineup. Norah Jones and blues guitarist John P. Hammond, both of whom have covered Waits, could be there. (Would Scarlet Johansson drop by? Would she promise not to sing?) Sonoma neighbor/frequent collaborator Les Claypool and Primus would likely take a break from sailing the seas of cheese to play a set. But there are some potential really big “gets” here, too. Does Waits entice old friend and collaborator Keith Richards to bring Mick and the boys across the pond? Does Neil Young, who inducted Waits into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, possibly show up? And if Neil is onboard, is there a potential Buffalo Springfield appearance in the works? And if all of this fell through, Waits could probably just gather everyone around and talk about all the towns he knows named after bodily secretions. Spittleville anyone?
Chef/author/TV host/badass at large Anthony Bourdain burst into the public eye with his 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential, altering his status from well-regarded executive chef at New York’s Les Halles to multimedia superstar. While we’re yet to see the release of Bourdain’s debut LP (fingers crossed), his musical tastes are certainly on display throughout his other outlets. As opinionated about music as he is about food, the dude even wrote a big op-ed on the CBGB scene for Spin.com, where he calls the Sex Pistols a “proto N’Sync”.
Unless he has some necromancy or time travel skills we don’t know about, his first choice of headliners (The Ramones [one of his books is dedicated to Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee]) are probably out. His brash, smirking, unapologetic style and love of punk and hard rock would certainly be on display, nabbing Iggy and the Stooges (playing straight through Fun House), a briefly reunited Television, and the New York Dolls at the top of the bill, along with Queens of the Stone Age (all bands mentioned on his No Reservations travel/food show). A 2006 Rhapsody playlist also included major gets Public Enemy, and re-reunited The Cult. Don’t be surprised if a bit of his globe-trotting has influence as well, drawing some of the best punk from around the world. Plus, I think we’re all ready for pho and roasted bone marrow at the food booths.
It’s hard to think about 21st century rock and roll without having the name Jack White come to mind. The frontman of one of the most influential and important bands of the generation, The White Stripes, the founder of Third Man Records, the creator of two super groups, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, and an avid supporter of the vinyl medium, White has made an undeniable mark on the music world that is his own. Recognized by nearly every major media outlet and music fanatic as the current “King of Rock”, White is constantly releasing music in some medium, with Rome, a project between Danger Mouse and Danielle Luppi, being his latest. It is more than clear that now after over 20 years in the business, two albums with both of his super groups, and the disbanding of The White Stripes, it seems that White’s next move could be his biggest yet.
Imagine Paint It White, a music festival taking place a little outside of Nashville, Tennessee spanning over White’s birthday weekend of July 9th and 10th. Featuring two legends, Bob Dylan & B.B. King as headliners, with MIA and Yeah Yeah Yeahs serving as female subheadliners, respectively the festival would look to host a plethora of acts ranging over multiple genres, including The Kills, Beck, Conan O’Brien doing the festivals only-yet-crucial-comedy set, Cold War Kids, Loretta Lynn, the aforementioned Rome Project, and Third Man Records own Wanda Jackson.
With White at the helm, the festival would look to host two stages, multiple venues, including Third Man’s own Record Store Truck, and artist signings along with Q&A’s, the last of which keeps to White’s core value. The artists would plan on sitting down for the Q&As, not for press, but rather for fans, for whom this aspect of the festival would be a dream. White’s festival would be constructed as an event for the fans, with practically every aspect, from the artists to ticket prices, chosen with the fans in mind. Tickets wouldn’t be cheap, but thinking about White, it’s hard to think that there wouldn’t be some form of a layaway plan much like Coachella’s and most probably some form of camping. It would be a rock and roll fan’s dream, with rock and roll’s 21st century god leading the way.
The Southern California writer/director has been one of the biggest names in cinema for the past twenty or so years…and rightfully so. Quentin Tarantino has been referred to (by the cartoon version of Kevin Smith’s Clerks) as a “pop-culture junkie, loudmouth”, and that is exactly why he would be a fantastic festival curator. His love of music, both strange and mainstream, has helped serve his films well. He has even gone on to admit that he usually picks songs before he even writes the scenes….a technique few to none use when writing films.
With a Tarantino-based festival, you can bet on some quality hip hop showing up, as he still keeps in touch with Wu-Tang wizard the RZA. As far as other music, he would probably book a lot of older oddities that most of the population has either never heard of, or barely remembers (rare surf-rock tracks, strange television singers, etc). A couple other of his quirky traits, primarily his love of kung-fu/westerns and an obsession with comic books, would lead one to believe that there would certainly be a film tent, stage, or in-between show displaying all sorts of kung-fu films, or Grindhouse-style features. With Tarantino, you know things are going to get weird….but that’s all we can expect from the guy who played Richard Gecko.
Photo by New York Times
Obsessively involved in all aspects of his film’s production, from the cinematography to the soundtrack, Wes Anderson is an ideal candidate to curate a festival, and also possesses some very dry humour. However, we do have one issue to reckon with: Steely Dan. Now, it’s hard to imagine band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker being anything other than talented, sweet anti-heroes, but they are also a tad irate. Around 2006, the two sent Anderson a “letter of intervention”, wryly detailing their concerns for his career and offering their services. As yet, Anderson hasn’t taken up this offer, and Steely Dan are probably in correspondence with some other indie art director by now, but a festival is a prime opportunity for them to make their presence felt once more.
But here’s another issue. Many of Anderson’s musical heroes that have featured in his films are dead. Long ago, we could have had the most wonderful weekend of performances by Erik Satie and Ravel taking the classical slot, Burl Ives, The Bobby Fuller Four, Yves Montad, Vilayat Khan, Joe Dassin, Art Tatum and Django Reinhardt representing in a folk, sitar and jazz ensemble, Elliott Smith, John Lennon, and Nick Drake mesmerising us with their haunting take on the world, but alas we can’t!
However, Anderson still has some connections, the lesser known duo Hackman Murray is a delightful proposition, taking their cue from the English Chas ‘n’ Dave, with Hackman’s spoken word rendering of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” as Murray hits up the spoons a joy to behold.* And we still have a stellar list of acts spanning the continents, from the Americas (Paul Simon, Velvet Underground, and Seu Jorge), and Europe (The Kinks (though difficult to get), Mark Mothersbaugh, Donovan, Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, Peter Sarstedt, Scott Walker, and The Zombies). There aren’t many women on Anderson’s soundtracks, but do not fear, Anjelica Huston is on hand to represent (along with sometime Anderson collaborator Noah Baumbach) with the recently formed folk group, Poignantly Flawed Characters (they have been going down a storm in Newfoundland).
The festival has the promise of a heady mix of nostalgia, early American and British Folk, and Jarvis Cocker, but it can work, it can reach the “new level of beauty” that David Bowie felt Jorge’s Portuguese versions of his songs reached, and if not, we can always make like Royal Tenenbaum and go to where the action is happening: “Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hittin’ the cemetery?”
*Also available for weddings.