Where’s My DIY? Festivals Synergize with Sponsors

Northside Announcement
Northside Announcement

At an official ceremony featuring Marty Markowitz at Brooklyn Borough Hall recently, the folks behind Williamsburg’s annual Northside Festival announced bohemian favorite Beirut will headline the June festival. A week prior saw Brooklyn’s Panache Booking Agency organizing an early Spring Break with the first annual hipster Bruise Cruise to the Bahamas. Consider this the nation’s annual hang over recovery week as folks try to determine just exactly what they saw (and actually remember) at Austin’s South by Southwest Music showcase last week.

Need more options? The rest of the month was scattered with summer festival announcements for events all over the country, the press releases arguably more exciting than some of the show-going experiences. And of course, where the average fan sees overlapping news items, competing mission statements and ideologies are never far behind.
The Bruise Cruise, for instance, reads like a great idea: part vacation with the tattooed elite along Bedford Avenue, part press junket for the agency’s young bands anchored by journeymen from the garage and punk scenes on both coasts. Unfortunately the results prompted a review from Brooklyn Vegan to apologize for the melee: “You are all going to hate us,” the post begins, with photos suggesting all the sophomoric, sun-baked hijinks of a prom weekend.
On the other end of the local spectrum was the “Stand Up for Women’s Health” rally in downtown Manhattan, featuring John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill/Le Tigre) on February 26th. The outdoor event was meant to fight back in song and testimony against the recent Congressional attacks against Planned Parenthood and family planning funding.
The inevitable link is power in numbers and while every event doesn’t need a political agenda or corporate sponsor, every festival should at least have a point. The glut of summer opportunities isn’t going away anytime soon, despite shaky tickets sales or weather calamities. The payday and press potential is just too great for all involved. However, it’s strange to think we might have run out of occasions to celebrate en mass when something like the Bruise Cruise succeeds with little more than intent to tan, and reports from South by Southwest all but confirming an official transformation into mardi gras overkill this year.
I won’t take the bait and hate anyone who made the cruise with Panache while Brooklyn was still snowed under. I will point out just how much this event smacks of a strange and particular elitism when the voices, devoid of any important cause for celebration, hardly leave anything worth remembering the next morning. There are plenty of annual “scene” festivals if that were the hard won point. Goner Fest in Memphis and The Fest in Gainesville both celebrate a similar style of music and highly supportive communities, in this case all centered around Goner and No Idea Records respectively.
Similar, although firmly planted on the industry side of the spectrum are events like the Pitchfork Music Festival that celebrate curation above all else. The recently announced lineup for the two day summer festival in Chicago always feels more celebratory than showcase, with the former Chicago-based website and host city presenting a truly independent experience in contrast to the competing Lollopalozzo across town. It just feels good to be there — as an artist and a fan – despite the lineups each year. Debatable still are those of the corporate variety — Bonnaroo. Sasquatch! Coachella. These are all major undertakings that make no bones about courting the sponsors and securing the headliners in perfect marketing synergy.
However, doing it yourself – in the case of the Bruise Cruise or rallies like Planned Parenthood, or even the L Magazine sponsored Northside Festival – isn’t unique and this ethos certainly set the precedent for the underground at large. DIY-inspired concerts like Fuck Yeah Fest or the annual Food Not Bombs benefit in Washington, DC was headlined by Fugazi for years and raised thousands of dollars and events in kind all over the world. Likewise, the International Pop Underground (IPU) festival in 1991 fortified an isolated Pacific Northwest scene in the face of Nirvana’s Nevermind – released the same year from the then-fledgling Sub Pop. IPU was conceived by Calvin Johnson, founder of Olympia’s K Records and often cited for connecting those small, creative communities that many musicians take for granted today. Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life chronicles both events, and remains a coffee table staple for anyone who identified in the politics, music and stories of that time. It’s no surprise to hear that a ten-year anniversary concert was recently announced at the Bowery Ballroom on May 28 to celebrate the book’s publication.
So where exactly does this leave the Bruise Cruise?
It’s all in the name, obviously, which either sounds incredibly trite next to its DIY forebears, or a sad look at where music – specifically music from Brooklyn – is headed as we continue to nurture (for better or worse) the bands driving our cultural radars from here to Austin. That sounds heavy-handed, given the relative size – in sales and life span – of the participants, but it’s certainly not far-fetched to predict the future of music – in precisely sales and output – because it’s all about identifying with the musician as a fan first. What better way to love the music than getting faced at Senor Frogs with the bass player? Ask to see one of the Strokes for a nightcap this year and you will surely be shown the door. The line separating the stage from the pit is blurring with each Tweet from a band as it finishes a new song or another sound check. The Rolling Stones-style fortress between an artist and a record buying public is receding, but strangely making it seem more insular as is the case with the Bruise Cruise (when read about after the fact).
Neither bent on raising an issue, nor conscious of how it all might all come across the entire experience defines youthful existences around the country. Sadly, the same is happening right at this very moment – were you at that party? Better still, do remember it this week? Welcome back, Brooklyn.
Photo by Kathryn Kirk. In photo (left to right): Nick Burry, publisher, Brooklyn Magazine; David Stedman, president, Brooklyn Magazine; BP Markowitz; Steve Holmgren, UnionDocs; Paul Collins, member of the band Beirut; Carlos Hernandez from the band Ava Luna; Zach Condon of the band Beirut; Scott Stedman, CEO, Northside Media Group; Jennifer Galatioto, Greenpoint Open Studios.
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