The Free Times Music Crawl, a music festival/pub crawl devoted to local/regional acts in Columbia, is the reason I got into local music. It was almost on a whim that I decided to attend the crawl back in 2006 as a college sophomore, and I owe it to opening my eyes to the possibility that your next door neighbor could be making music just as good as the folks I spent forty dollars to go see last month. So I always get a little excited each time it rolls around again.
As usual, the festival has a strong, diverse line-up and features a very geographically compact set of venues from which patrons can flit to and fro. My lone point of concern is that this year, for the first time since I’ve been attending, attendance is limited to those 21 and up rather than 18. This unfortunately cuts out a huge chunk of USC’s undergraduate population that would likely attend, and means that the me of 4 years ago couldn’t go either. I know there are (probably) very good reasons, both legal and practical, for the change, but it still sucks.
But let’s focus on the music. For a complete schedule and description of every act you can check out this week’s Free Times, either in print or online at free-times.com, but I’ll just run through some of the highlights that I hope to catch (not to say that the other acts are bad, this is just the route I want to take).
I’m gonna try and start the night off at 7:40 with the Celtic-Appalachian rock band Loch Ness Johnny, who are perhaps best known for their infamous St. Patrick’s Day tributes to The Pogues. Seeing a band at Flying Saucer is always an odd sort of experience, and will undoubtedly be complicated even more by the concurrence of the USC football game on the beer hall’s big screen, but the band’s compelling mix of rollicking acoustic guitar with fiddle, banjo and accordion colorings should be able to power through the din.
After LNJ’s set I kind of want to be in two places at once, for the relatively new “Faulknerian chamber-pop” group The Restoration (8:40-9:25) is following the band at Flying Saucer, while for sentimental reasons I’d like to catch The Thirsties at the Art Bar. The Thirsties played my first crawl back in ’06 and excel in their blend of 80s/early 90s college rock influences of R.E.M., Guided By Voices, et al.
Another artist I saw at that first crawl was singer/songwriter Erich Skelton, who now plays with the band Marry a Thief and delivers emotive, atmospheric pop/rock that soars somewhere between Death Cab and U2. The band is playing the 9-9:30 set on the Art Bar’s outdoor stage.
Following Marry a Thief, on the outdoor stage is one of the hottest rock groups in Columbia at the moment, Magnetic Flowers (10-10:30). They just released their second full-length this summer, which utilized their dynamic vocal line-up and the spastic keyboard talents of Adam Cullum. The band plays a heavily literate and musically multilayered brand of folk-infused indie rock. Think Bright Eyes meets The Hold Steady (with a lot more, and prettier, vocals than either).
After MF plays, I get pulled in a bunch of different directions once again. Immediately following their set The Unawares (Minutemen/Husker DU-style punk rock) turn up on the Indoor stage at the Art Bar. I’d also like to catch a bit of singer/songwriter Austin Crane’s set at Mellow Mushroom (10:50-11:35). Or I could just chill out outside of the Art Bar and wait for the ass-kicking alt. country band American Gun to take the stage (11:00-11:50). Decisions, decisions.
After the Gun’s set, the toast of the young hipster crowd of Columbia, The Heist & the Accomplice, take the stage with their pounding, angular indie guitar rock led by Chaz Bundick (of Toro y Moi fame). I’ll be cutting out from their set early, though, to finish out the night with local guitar-hero Josh Roberts and his sprawling roots-rock vehicle, the Hinges. A blisteringly appropriate way to end the evening, I’d say.
This is roughly the way I plan to attack the crawl, but I’d also like to mention a few groups I would love to see but will not likely be able to…
Sweet Vans (Rust, 8:20-9:05) – These guys do over-the-top joke-rap, and I would find it endlessly amusing to see their act in front of a fresh audience that has no idea what to expect. It’s a crazy-brave thing they do.
Preach (Rust, 11:20-12:05) – I’ve always been a fan of mixing in blues and jazz samples with old-school hip-hop beats–maybe because I’m white middle-class liberal who is suppose to have those leanings but alas–good stuff to be found here.
Black Bottom Biscuits (Flying Saucer, 10:40-11:25) – This bluegrass/country band have a good mix of fun and serious songs, + shiny shiny suits!
Everybody at Mellow Mushroom (Chris Compton, Haley Dreis, Austin Crane, Hannah Miller) – This is a great sampling of some of the excellent singer/songwriters populating the state’s capital, and each of them transcends the blandness that pervades the lion’s share of similar artists…