Festival Fun

Every one knows the Americans can’t do rock festivals like the Europeans. Not for us over here the full weekend of camping in the mud, getting wasted on bad cider and bad acid, losing our friends and possessions and taking three days to get out of the car park at the end of it… And not for us the sense of camaraderie and joyous escapism and tons of good music that comes with it, either.

But on a smaller scale, Americans can do the outdoor music thing just perfectly. Last year, I wrote about how NYC residents had some 500 outdoor concerts to choose from over the one summer. (That’s approximately three a day, and at least half of them are free of charge too.) And this coming weekend it’s a particularly good time to be an indie rock fan in Chicago or Cincinnati.

Firstly, in the Windy City, it’s time for the Intonation Festival, curated by Vice Records and not surprisingly headlined by that label’s two biggest British imports: Bloc Party on Saturday and The Streets on Sunday. Also on the bill: more Vice Records acts (The Stills and Panthers), transatlantic hip-hop (Ghostface Killah, Dead Prez, Lady Sovereign), singer-songwriters old and new (Roky Erikson, Jose Gonzalez), and others assorted eclectic acts ranging from Annie to The Constantines, Robert Pollard and highly recommended new Brooklyn act Favorite Sons. BBC America is among the many sponsors whose input seems to have helped keep ticket prices down. One-day passes are only $20 (£10!) and two-day passes just $35. Expect 15,000 or more people to cram into Union Park and make the best of this brilliant line-up.

And if you think Intonation is inexpensive, wait till you hear about the Desdemona Festival taking place a few hundred miles down the road in Cincinnati, where $24 will buy you a three-day pass into Sawyer Point Park. To be honest, though there are some good acts playing on Friday (Apples In Stereo) and Saturday (Stellastarr*), you’d be better off conserving your energy for the Sunday, where just $12 will buy you a ticket to see The Fiery Furnaces, The Walkmen, Rogue Wave, Radio 4, The Stills, Heartless Bastards, We Are Scientists and Richard Swift among others. A better bargain would be hard to find this side of a free festival.

I’d love to be in Cincinnati on Sunday, but I’m going to stay closer to home and hang out at my local Hunter Mountain, where The “Woodstock” ReggaeCariFest is being headlined by “the original line-up of The Wailers.” That clearly can’t include Peter Tosh or Bob Marley, but it will mean Bunny Wailer in the house (or, I should say, on the slopes), with the added attraction of the iThrees featuring Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths and none other than Rita Marley. (Rita stood me up for a TV interview once, at the same time as I had been invited to by R.E.M. to attend their MTV Unplugged show; I will try and forgive her). I’m also looking forward to seeing HR of Bad Brains on the bill, and I’m hoping that the likes of Jah Paul and Causion will be more than mere filler.

The Reggae Fest ticket is not cheap – $35 up front – and while Woodstock hippies love Bob Marley almost as much as they love Dave Matthews, I doubt the mountain will be too crowded. But last time Hunter hosted a rock festival – its first ever weekend camp-out, for the Mountain Jam – circumstances found me on the other side of the world, enjoying a rock fest in Greece. It makes more sense this weekend for me to be just down the road, no?

PS: British monthly Q Magazine just labeled Coachella, hosted each spring in the Californian desert, “the most glamorous and exciting music festival in the world, bar none.” Scrap the opening sentence?

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December 2021