Sunday, May 27, 2007

So, Friday, before everything went south for me, I was leaving the gym when a guy stopped me.
"Hey, he said. Do you know where there are any pick up volleyball games around here?"
It’s a patentedly silly question, because I am short and fat and old, but he must have had some intuition because, I do in fact, know that the Venango Catholic High School gym is sometimes open on the weekends with pickup volleyball games. So, I told him.
"Won't work," he said, 'I'm looking for something local."
Oh, and did I mention we were 8 miles away from the VC gym at that point?

Flash forward now almost exactly 24 hours, my air condition has pissed through my second floor plaster in a stream that would make many a middle aged man enviable. I've spent a sweaty morning in my attic tearing part a pump and a rebuilding a drainage line and then hoping everything will be nice and dry. Now, I'm walking towards Justin Parson's van with him, chatting as he gets his guitar. The crowd for the Oil City Independent Arts and Music fest thinned out after a storm (which had missed Franklin - I was stunned to see puddles on the ground at Justus Park and some moist looking people) and we were placing bets on when people would return (around 4:30 it turned out).

"The thing is," I said, "right now, I know there are, like 100 kids in a 20 mile radius bitching to their friends and parents that there's nothing to do."

Even junkies have to walk to the corner to make a connection. My friends, the moral is, if you wait until a concert or a pickup volleyball game drops into your literal front yard, you will spend a lot of time complaining and missing out on things like this festival which was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable afternoon I have spent in at least a year. And what may have been the most enjoyable time I have ever spent without the presence of booze, firearms, and/or fireworks.

My wife and I showed up to the festival late. We had planned to spend the whole day there hanging out, but the HVAC emergency meant plugging those holes and then fitting the festival in before we continued up to finish purchasing the items needed to fully completed he repairs.

We rolled in towards the end of Jeremy Jack’s set.


Jack is the proprietor of Meat and Potato Records, an Americana label out of the Johnstown area who sometimes records solo and sometimes Black Coffee Orchestra. Jack is an affable guy – quick witted as they come. Telling the audience, ‘I hope you liked that song…I guess if you don’t…you can….follow me to the parking lot and beat me up.” He’s got a retro sound that conjures up slow cool mornings of thick newspapers and for me, at least, the poetry of Wallace Stevens :
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound.
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre

with a more vernacular crunch.

It was pretty clear that the rain-shrunk crowd was more of a challenge to some than others. Performers like Jack - used to more mellow crowds - were still able to relate. Justin Hoenke however, didn’t seem to be having as much fun.
His set was great and he was a nice guy to chat with afterwards, but it was pretty clear from his on stage patter that he was bummed that there wasn’t more of a vocal crowd.

Which is true. The crowd was an odd one. My wife whispered to me that perhaps I shouldn’t have told people not to act like jerks, but really, I have to honest – it was a joy. When we showed up, people were still nervous about the rain and so were hanging back under shelter which, as a performer, must have made it insanely difficult when your closest audience member is 20 feet away (hence, I think, some of Justin’s frustration), but as the day progressed, people scooched forward. Everyone was all so…good…

When I left there were around 75 people milling about the park and not one jerk, no loose dogs, the teens all hanging out, no one heckling the bands (my lips bloody from biting them each time the cry "Freebird!" rose in my gullet), no one smoking meth in the bathroom. Babies danced in the dirt drooling great Churchillian ropes of slobber on their clothes, teens dressed in their best freak out the normals milled around the river’s edge smiling politely at the senior citizens, hippies napped between sets on the grass and everyone ate cotton candy and Velveeta stuffed pirogis. When sets were over, musicians came down just to talk with the crowd about their sets, not to hawk their tee-shirts. It was a vibe, the likes of which I have never seen at a music festival.

The audience really did, I think the whole music scene in the area a great justice, by proving that hosting a show, even a huge one like this, doesn’t mean that the venue gets destroyed.

Sunny James took the stage next.
A long time area singer songwriter, James was a true pro. She had her between song patter set, talking about the rivers and the hills of PA and even, with Memorial Day coming, finished up with a patriotic song. Her music isn’t really my sort of thing, but the younger performers there could pick up a lot from her professionalism. You got he feeling that she would have had the same show with the same energy is she had been in someone’s living room, or playing in front of 15,000 people. And that’s a good thing.

Justin Parsons was up next.


Justin’s a friend and we had spent some time earlier in the day talking about the difficulty artists with families face – the constant guilt and pull of spending time with the family, doing the morally right thing and being a good father as opposed to carving out the time to do the other right thing and being and artist. Parsons used to be in Big Jack Earl, but his new music, some of it performed for the first time at the festival reflects a new, more somber, even conservative direction. He’s making a move in his work from writing for the sake of writing to working at being a craftsman. He’s well read, and well educated and his lyrics are beginning to reflect that. Like a lot of the performers, he looked up to the sound board to ask, “Is there more time?” the rain had messed up the schedule and with only thirty minutes to each set, the performers were desperate to try to keep things moving. Unlike a lot of performers, his set ended when a string snapped towards the end of his thirty minute allotment and he called it a day.

Kial Hoffman of remora deign took the stage after Parsons, and it could have been coincidence, it could have been the better weather, or it could have been a flash mob set up by wildly txting deign fans, but the crowd swelled by at least 20 people as he was setting up.
Kial (who also spells his name Kyle on some web sites. Cut him some slack, he’s young) has a nice voice, good range, a decent, but improving stage presence and sells remora deign on stage like no one’s business. A smart guy and a band to catch live as soon as possible. Download his "All I Want" .

As The Oil City Indie MySpace Site said afterwards, “mission accomplished, what’s next”?
Problems? Mmmm? Not really, at least from the audience side it ran smoothly other than the weather. It was great to see that the food concessions were all local. I was bummed because I came with cash ready to buy local band’s CDs, T-shirts, badges, hoodies, big red felt pennants for my wall, but couldn’t find anything. Guys (and girls) you’re playing a free concert bring something to sell – if you don’t know how or who to do short run t-shirts, hats, etc, drop me a line and we can talk. But sell your DIY stuff. You deserve to make a living too.

I would have liked to have seen some of the county commissioner nominees drop by and press the flesh and explain how the arts fit into their vision for our area, but again that’s not a fault of the festival organizers (A representative from the Oil City Schools was there, however. Nice.) I’m a big fan of info booths – it would have been a great set up for the Venango Vegetarian Society for instance, but overall this was an A+ experience. And Jerome, Joann the Arts Czar, and Gypsy Dave deserve tons of kudos along with all the performers as well as Dave Poulin the sculptor and the schoolchildren who helped with the entire statue design project. If it doesn’t happen next year, I’ll miss it. And if does happen next year, Jerome, I promise, I’ll get a pro to fix my HVAC so I can stay for your set.

The Flickr set for the Oil City Indie Arts Festival has quite a few photos.


While you're there, I've finished uploading my Psalters set too.


The Venango Vegetarian Society is having a Memorial Day Cookout and Show today (2794 Old Route 8, Polk PA 16323 for you mapquesters out there)with a full free vegan spread, although you are welcome to being a dish to share. Meat eaters are welcome to come and check it out. Artists playing include Kamikabe, Path to Misery, Massacre Outlined, Our Resolve, Full Collapse, Salt the Wound, and Ursus. Food starts at 2 pm, bands at 4 pm. No cover.

Jerome Wincek, IndieFest Mastermind, plays Slippery Rock's North Country Brewing tomorrow at 7 pm. No cover.

Richard Schickel, film critic for Time magazine and a book reviewer for The Los Angeles Times is terrified of losing his job, I mean is terrified that the language of criticism is being cheapened:

Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmaker's or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities.

The Pittsburgh Craft Mafia is having a trunk sale Saturday Jun 02, 2007 at 2:00 PM at Pack Rat (2005 East Carson St., above In the Blood Tattoo.Pittsburgh, PA 15201) If you go, email me and I'll hook you up with a secret code good for swag.

Handmade Arcade won the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council People's Choice Award.

New York Magazine lists 61 of the best novels you've never read.

The Buffalo News takes a look at the cities indie musicians and their strategy for survival.


Joann Wheeler said...

Hay, thanks for the great review -- it was a great day!
A few notes from the organizational end: the Garden Club came in the day before to plant so that the park would look nice for the festival -- and it still looks nice! I love that!
There were no loose dogs because dogs are not allowed in Justus Park (who knew? I nearly brought mine) and several groups with dogs on leashes got sent home by city workers. Apologies to them...
No commissioner candidates made it, true, but mayoral candidate Sonja Hawkins was there early in the day to show her support, along with people from the school district, the campus, the arts council, etc.

Glad everybody could make it -- let's do it again!


Joann Wheeler said...

Hay? I mean, hey.

Dittman said...

Thanks for the updates on the kudos Joann, and, I never thought that I would be saying this, but people must be more law-abiding in the OC than FKL because even though we have a similar law here, our parks are constantly filled with people letting their dogs run loose and no one seems to enforce it!
Thanks for all your hard work bringing this together - it was great seeing you on Saturday.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
This is Justin Hoenke from Belsapadore. Thanks for the really cool write up of the festival. It was really great to be a part of it. I have to disagree with one thing however...

"Justin Hoenke however, didn’t seem to be having as much fun."

I had a really great time...I got to play a lot of songs that I don't usually play live, so I felt quite free.

It would've been nicer, just in general for all the musicians and for Oil City as well, if there was more of a crowd. However, in my experiences playing music around these parts it's just so hard to get people interested in local music. They really just want "Sweet Home Alabama" and that's about it.

I really enjoyed the gaggle of folks sitting quite close to the stage when I played.

And I will would've been very cool to see some merchandise at the show. I would've taken home a few cds from some of the artists. I didn't bring any of my own material because I wasn't told about any kind of merchandising or place that I'd be able to give my music away at.

Overall, I hope this thing happens again, and if it does, I'd really like to be part of it.