Thursday, July 28, 2011

Patrick Brown's UMS Wrap-up

This was the second year that I’ve had the opportunity to both perform at and attend the UMS, and it was every bit as fun as last year’s event. And as with last year, the showbiz maxim “always leave them wanting more” came into play since no matter how many enjoyable memories I have of what I did get to see and do there, I keep thinking more about how much more excellent the whole weekend could’ve been had I been able to be in several places at once to catch (at the very least): Le Divorce, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, A. Tom Collins, BLKHRTS, Gardens and Villa, Pacific Pride, Sole and the Skyrider Band, Pink Hawks, Safe Boating Is No Accident, Band Bahja Brass, Gauntlet Hair, The Bottesini Project, The Dendrites, or The Photo Atlas – but there’s only one me and only so many hours in the day! Still, by my count I caught at least fifteen minutes of set by at least 25 artists and played a nice (if I may say so) DJ set at the Sputnik, so it was still plenty to do on a sweltering weekend, including catching 10 of those bands on the day I was gonna sleep in and catch only one and skip the rest. And then there were the bands I saw less than ten minutes of; the bands I heard in passing venues with open windows or on quick (and frequent) bar or restaurant stops.

Whew – so it’s too much to take in, but already I’m wondering how 2012’s festival will shape up. One thing I learned this year more than anything else was to simply keep your ears open to what people are talking about. Two of my favorite surprises in this year’s festival came from simply checking out bands that were either recommended to me by friends or that I heard others discussing in passing – ManCub and (especially) Khaira Arby and Her Band. ManCub is a Denver-based duo that does live-time – and seemingly improvised – electronic music with an array of cheap-but-cool-looking equipment, but with a mind towards keeping people dancing while experimenting with their sounds. They played a set at Delite that had a packed house inside, but as they were playing in front of an open garage-door styled window at the venue and facing each other rather than their indoor crowd, they drew as big a crowd outside to watch/hear what they did as well. That’s where I was and the constant flow of traffic kept jamming up because people were stopped to watch and listen – and usually dance for a bit too. Khaira Arby is a singer from central Mali – from Timbuktu, just south of the great Sahara Desert, to be specific – and she describes her music as “Desert Rock” an attribution that doesn’t seem too far off when you hear her amazing band, especially her 22-year old lead guitarist who blew away every one of the indie rock guitarists in the audience that I spoke to afterward. For a touch of what the worn-out Sunday afternoon crowd got to see, check out this live-in-the-studio version of one of her tunes:

When she started her set there were about a dozen folks in the know, by the end of it, her voice and her band were powerful enough to have snared in at least five times that number to watch, listen, and dance. Pretty amazing stuff.

Other highlights of mine included: B. Dolan, an indie rapper who records on Sage Francis’s label and also joined Sage on stage during his set; Joshua Novak, who I’d only previously heard in a stripped-down setting but sounded great with a full band; and Wheelchair Sports Camp, a group lead by the wheelchair-bound MC Kalyn Heffernan. But the thing that hit home this year more than anything was not that this was about catching this buzz band or that buzz band – though there were plenty with buzzes around them – but that it again reinforces the strength and vitality of our local music scene; how much support comes from and goes to the musicians, the fans, and the venues. It was startling how many folks I knew that I would chat with were wearing the performer’s green wristband, so I’d ask “When are you playing?” only to tick off yet another band on the schedule that I’d want to go check out later (and maybe not be able to make it to see). You can check out my sloppy photo album of the whole event here:

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