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Musical Space

Musical Space: Music Festivals Off The Beaten Track


With spring just a few days away, Mark Foley says it’s time for Music Festival Season.

Festivals have had a profound effect on music ever since the Newport Jazz Festival started in 1954, or possibly as far back as Stonehenge. 

Monterey in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 turned out to be game-changers for music history. And they are still important, if for no other reason than the incredible size they can attain. Glastonbury, Coachella and Bonnaroo accommodate an audience five times that of Intrust Bank Arena. And the biggest crowds can get the biggest acts; the only way you’ll see Kendrick Lamar this summer is if you travel to a festival.

At best, a music festival fosters a community of like-minded fans. It’s visceral and close to nature. At worst, though, the music can end up like fast food - the same everywhere you go and easily forgettable. For a truly memorable experience I recommend finding a festival that doesn’t cater to the largest audience.

South By Southwest in Austin is famously big, and pretty much everybody agrees it was better when it was underground. Something more true to the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” might be the Levitation Festival, which will feature more experimental rock acts like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees. Other niche styles have their festivals, too, like opera at Santa Fe or blues at Telluride.

And there are some unique settings, like one in a series of Mexican caves, and one on a remote Norwegian island north of the Arctic Circle.

Caterina Barbieri, “Scratches on the Readable Surface,” Patterns of Consciousness (2017)
Performing at MoogFest this year.)


Listening list:

There’s Sonar in Barcelona, which bills itself as a festival of what they call “advanced” music. Not only are they presenting acts like Thom Yorke, LCD Sound System and Gorillaz, they’re also dedicated to transmitting advanced music to potentially habitable planets outside our solar system.
Claude Speeed, “BCCCC,” Infinity Ultra, 2017
One of the Sonar acts this year.

Ty Segall, “The Main Pretender,” (Released 2017 on Bandcamp)
He’ll be at Levitation April 26

Telluride Bluegrass Festival:
Punch Brothers, “Movement and Location,” An album (2013),
This song amazes me; it sounds like electronic music, but it is done completely on acoustic  bluegrass instruments.

John Adams, Finale from Dr. Atomic,
Santa Fe Opera has a tradition of doing new works. Doctor Atomic was premiered in 2005; an opera about Robert Oppenheimer and the first Atomic Bomb test at Los Alamos.

Last year at Telluride:
TajMo - Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal, “She Knows How to Rock Me,” TajMo (2017)
All sorts of Southern roots ingredients, like the slide guitar and the Bo Diddley beat in the drums.