In case you hadn’t noticed, the indie music scene is alive and well.
Formerly “obscure” bands can be heard all over the place in movies, television shows and commercials. Arcade Fire, a band still considered by many to be outside of the mainstream, took home the biggest prize at this year’s Grammys. And, most promising, the indie music festival schedule is thriving.
Case in point, LouFest, which just wrapped up its second year of catering to the musical needs of hipsters in the middle of St. Louis’ Forest Park.
I first heard about LouFest a year ago when I was in town for the Moonlight Ramble — an annual, family-friendly midnight bicycle ride around Forest Park. I had read in the newspaper that a local music promoter had put together a music festival that would take place the following weekend.
The inaugural event included the likes of Jeff Tweedy (doing a solo set), Built To Spill, Broken Social Scene and She & Him.
This year’s lineup brought in even more heavy hitters, such as TV on the Radio, The Hold Steady, Cat Power, Deerhunter, !!! and The Low Anthem.
As with Bonnaroo, I attended the festivities with my good friend, Drew. Originally, I was pretty psyched about the festival. But, in the months leading up to it, I tried to get out of it. I realized that I really didn’t care about any of the bands on the bill. I knew a lot of the groups had strong followings and made decent music, but none of them really got my juices flowing.
Eventually, I relented and agreed to join Drew for a weekend in the Gateway City.
We arrived at our hotel — located very close to the Arch — in the middle of the afternoon, hopped on the Metrolink and found a shuttle that dropped us a short walk from the entrance to the festival grounds.
We picked up our wristbands, waltzed easily through the main gate and made our way to within a cozy distance of the Orange Stage, where Surfer Blood had just started their set.
While we’re both fans of the Florida quartet, the music didn’t keep our rapt attention, so we moseyed around the grounds, checking things out and perusing the Nosh Pit (which was full of quality cuisine).
Next up was supposed to be The Hold Steady, but they were pushed into the final slot of the night after originally scheduled headliner The Roots wound up stuck on the East Coast because of Hurricane Irene.
The Roots’ drummer ?uestlove had made it to town and ended up playing a DJ set — which Drew and I found rather boring. After that came our top draw of the night, Deerhunter. We had seen Brandon Cox & Co. at Bonnaroo — actually, Drew saw them, while I sat off to the side not paying much attention — and were looking forward to another killer set.
I’ll admit that I’ve always had a disdain for Deerhunter; their music just didn’t do it for me. But this weekend’s set may have officially turned me. Standing 20-30 feet from the stage, I found myself grooving out to most of the band’s tunes — even though I wasn’t familiar with any of them.
The most enjoyable part of the show was watching the bassist play. He rarely looked down at his fingers as he strummed his guitar, and he was wearing a perpetual shit-eating grin on his face. As Drew put it, “He looks like he’s dreaming of kiddie porn.”
While I wasn’t having a bad time, my feet were getting tired, so, about 40 minutes into the set, I parted ways with Drew and headed for the picnic table area. It turned out to be a wise decision as the band played more than an hour then played a few songs in an encore.
By the time Drew joined me at the tables, we were both pretty worn out. But we decided to stick it out for a little while to listen to The Hold Steady. Having enjoyed several of their mid-career albums, I was looking forward to the set, while the uninformed Drew had very little interest in the group.
As it turned out, Drew’s pessimism was contagious and we just made fun of the first half of the uninspiring set before deciding to leave and find a place to dine.
When Sunday rolled around, we were in no hurry to get to the festival too early. We met up with one of Drew’s old friends for lunch before heading to The Loop neighborhood for a couple of hours of dawdling.
By the time we reached the park, Das Racist was on, and we chose to just lied on the grass outside the fences and listen to our iPods for a while before heading in to check out !!!. I had no real interest in seeing the confusingly named group and just relaxed in various spots far from the stage.
Drew found a spot relatively close to the stage and apparently had a gay ole time.
After re-convening, we both noted that we had very little interest in Cat Power. So we decided to load up on supplies (i.e. food and beer) and stake out a spot for the closing act, TV on the Radio.
We ended up getting a great vantage point — about 12-15 rows deep, directly in line with lead singer Tunde Adebimpe.
While I’ve listened to the band’s last three albums and liked them for the most part, I’m admittedly not a big TVOTR fan. However, I recognize a handful of their songs and I knew they’d put on a great show, so I was pretty pumped.
I wasn’t disappointed. As the rest of the band members played their instruments expertly, Adebimpe was full of energy and had the crowd bouncing from the opening number — “The Wrong Way”.
While “Will Do” was the first song I recognized, it wasn’t until “Young Liars” that they had totally pulled me in. About halfway through the set, guitarist David Andrew Sitek had attached a chime to his axe — something I’d never before seen, nor imagined.
It was also about this time that I turned around to discover that many of the beach balls that had been flying around the crowd had been deposited directly behind me. I took a quick count and saw eight or nine of them lying between me and some attractive lass.
Her response to the collection: “Those balls were all in my face, and I’m sick of it. I didn’t come here to play volleyball.”
Back to the music, the band closed with a rousing rendition of “Wolf Like Me”. They returned quickly for a four-song encore that included such solid numbers as “DLZ” and “Dancing Choose”. My only gripe was that they didn’t close the encore with a well-known song and they didn’t even perform “Golden Age”, the first single from their penultimate album, Dear Science.
But as Drew tweeted at one point, “TV on the Radio is making every other band seem completely pointless.” And the show definitely made the entire weekend totally worthwhile.
As for the festival itself, I think it has a great future. Set in a gem of a park, it was totally low-key and relaxing. The lineup was solid, and the price of admission was relatively cheap. And the way things were arranged, a person could easily set up camp just outside of the fenced-in grounds and get nearly the same experience.
I’d love to see the event continue to grow and prosper. I only hope it does so organically and doesn’t become too big for its own good.