Monday, September 19, 2011

LobsterFest 2011: Mr. Shovel does it again!

There are those in this town who think they can throw together a few songs and call it radio. There are also those who think they can throw together a few bands and call it a music festival. Our beloved Mr. Shovel proved once again this weekend why he is the only king to this throne. No, king is probably the wrong word. Kingmaker, perhaps. And for those wondering who are going to be the hot new bands this year, please write down the names of the acts that Mr. Shovel booked on this year's LobsterFest bill. As last year's (back when no one knew who they were) Fitz & the Tantrums can tell you.

Ostensibly, this is a "KROQ" festival, as the glaringly inappropriate and ugly radio station backdrop will scream at you. The backdrop truly mars the magic going on up on stage, most of the time, and the festival would be smarter and better served to just have a plain backdrop, or one promoting the LobsterFestival, which has now, thanks to former Indie 103.1 music director Mr. Shovel (and NOT KROQ) become a must-see music festival of note.

Let me clue you in to what exactly is "KROQ" about this festival: the very first act, "Lucid Dream Factory" who were "winners of the Cabo Wabo Your Shot to Rock contest" (which was supposed to be two bands, but ended up being only one for some reason).

Berlin, perhaps the only band which KROQ might play, closed out the festival. I loathe and despise this band who, after all, only has one hit (some would say "five"). Luckily for me, I had Emmy obligations   (MicheBelz Hollywood) and couldn't stay for Berlin, but they are crowd-pleasers, and I can vouch for the fact that I think they had record (as in all areas filled with people) crowds, very likely most there to see Berlin for free.

So every band who took this stage over the three-day long festival (except the Cabo Wabo contest one), owes its credit for being there to Mr. Shovel, and should thank him profusely for their appearance, if they have any doubt as to who put them there. It wasn't KROQ.

KROQ is like the neighbor that you hear arguing loudly with their wife at 3 am. Mr. Shovel (whose artistry you can find at Mr. Shovel) is like the lover, whispering magic into your ear. Now which one do YOU want to listen to?

Let me clue you in further to the workings of Shovel's magic. The reason that radio station Indie 103.1 became so beloved by so many was that Mr. Shovel carefully wove together the music to create an aural pastiche of music that was orgasmic to one's ears. The same is true of his music festivals and events that he curates.

One of the hallmarks of his craft on the radio was the way the songs so seamlessly flowed, one into the next, appearing there logically and perfectly. The words and the music combined to flow, like the pages of a book you can't stop reading, a logical progression, but each getting better and better and better (you can hear the opposite of this by listening to whomever is programming Indie 103.1 dot com now as the music grinds, jarringly, one bad song into another totally unconnected one).

So, too, is the progression of his music festivals. Each band, carefully pulled from the ranks of mostly local bands (even local to the Long Beach area, because Mr. Shovel is good that way) flows seamlessly into the next one. Someday, I truly hope that obligations of job and real life don't keep getting in the way, because how this festival is meant to be seen is from the opening act to the closing one, like that book that starts on page 1.

Shovel's magic started Friday night, truly opening with local band, White Arrows, flowing into (Long Beach locals) The Fling, closing out with Australia's Andy Clockwise. Just in those three, you see a taste, an appetizer, if you would, of the treats waiting for you the next two days. Awesome and different local act White Arrows, country tinged Long Beach locals The Fling, and showman and creative force Andy Clockwise. Those themes would be repeated all weekend.

The Damselles & TC4 kicked off the event on Saturday. This flowed into a repeat act from last year, Judson McKinney (watch this one!), who last year performed as "Judson & Mary." We are going to be hearing more about him.

Super sexy Valley girls who dig the misspellings, Deap Vally, performed next. By this point in the day's musical smorgasbord, the Shovel workings become clear. Local favs Light FM step to the stage. Followed by more local favs, Eastern Conference Champions. Followed by one of LA's best bands around, Shadow Shadow Shade. Shadow Shadow Shade took the stage right at dusk. They performed in daylight, the next band was in shadows and shade. It's those little Shovel touches you notice.

All of these bands (Light FM, Eastern Conference Champions, Shadow Shadow Shade) are bands you DO want to check out if you see them performing around town. You will not be disappointed. What they share is a compelling stage presence, as well as a mastery of their music. Shadow Shadow Shade, for example, has a woman singer who formerly sang opera. They weave their craft in front of you, and leave you going, "WOW."

But the night is just beginning.

Another local fave, He's My Brother, She's My Sister, steps up. I'd always heard good things about them, but never seen them before. Their performance proved why they are also a band worth checking out. Colorful (literally and figuratively, did you see that GREEN stand-up bass?) and inventive, they really rocked it.

But just when you think this festival is all about local, indie (or Indie) type bands, Shovel's magic once again shows itself. What came next is what I call the Section Quartet moment. I remember looking at last year's schedule incredulously. The Section Quartet? Classical? What are they doing here? I should know by now not to doubt Mr. Shovel's skill.

This moment happened with this year's The Taiko Project. I really wasn't aware that the whole "taiko" music has become a thing. Or that we have one of its best artisans right here in Los Angeles. Guess that's what Shovel is here for, to educate us to what is right here under our very noses. (The Section Quartet, too, is an LA band that doesn't get nearly enough play.)

So let me set the scene for you. All day long, people have been milling about, having fun on the wonderfully expanded lawn area, playing with their kids, eating their lobster or whatever, chatting amongst friends, dancing, if the spirit moved them. (LobsterFest is, for my money, one of the best venues for packing people in to see lots of bands. There is room to move, there is great food available, and the bands are fantastic. What is not to love? Well, except for that hideous radio station backdrop...) Anyway...

It's now evening and we are about to see this band called The Taiko Project. I honestly don't even know if I can do justice to describing what happened next. Everyone started filling in the seats that had been spotty with guests all day (most people preferred to sit on the lawn to listen). Everyone seemed to want to get close to hear this next band. And by everyone, I am describing what really became the mix of Shovel's audience at Indie 103.1 too: indie hipsters, people who had just stopped by for the lobster and heard music, music aficionados who knew this was going to be something, goth girls, proficient jazz artists and rock musicians who knew something special was at hand, and lots of every day folk.

They start bringing out the drums. The taiko drums, all of unique shapes and sizes. So many people on stage in costume. And they start waving their sticks and banging on their drums with magical movements and precision and your breath disappears. They move, fluidly, like dancers, going from one drum to the next, so it becomes a visual and aural feast. The audience has become silent, rapt with awe. They have not been silent all day. (They were similarly silent for The Section Quartet.)

This is really what I want to say, that was coursing through my mind as I was watching. That although The Taiko Project's music was quite uniquely their own, the fact that they were on that stage, at that point in the program, was quite uniquely a Shovel creation. He has always been about introducing people to sounds they'd never heard before, and wouldn't soon forget. (He would demur if you asked him about it, modest and humble that he is, and say that, "No, it's the bands who create this magic." I disagree. It was in this moment that it really crystallized that it was Shovel painting this aural pallette for us. In fact, the moment was so profound that, for me, that ugly radio station backdrop disappeared during Taiko, and it was just a movement of music and sound and art being created.)

I have never heard music like The Taiko Project created. It was rather like the show "Stomp," if you've seen it, performed with actual drums instead of found objects. And more fluid movement. Movement between the performers like dance, like poetry. Beautiful, stunningly beautiful.

They literally took my breath away. There was a half-hour break before the next band. I needed every moment of that to recover from Taiko. (They recommended that people go watch a fire show nearby. Most complied.)

AND THEN! Then we had the rollicking, also all-over-the-stage band Vaud & the Villains. I remember scoffing at that name when I first saw it. Sounded silly. Boy have I learned not to doubt the Shovel after this festival. Vaud & the Villains, true musical artists. Dancers. Singers. New Orleans storytellers. How to even describe them? Let's see. The LobsterFest program says this: "19-piece 1930s New Orleans orchestra... washboards, horns, dancing girls that sing." That skims the surface of what was presented.

It was rollicking and fun and great music.

My friend who was watching with me noted, "it's been a long time since I've seen such great music at a festival." MUSIC, if anyone had any doubt, is what drove Indie 103.1 and drives the LobsterFest every year. Music that you can tap your foot to, music that stirs your nether regions, music that you leave humming. Music that makes you feel like a better person, music that makes you want to create. All of the joys music brings to one's soul is what Mr. Shovel brought to Indie 103.1 so notably, and brings to every festival and event he curates.

And we still had another DAY of it. How joyous!

Another return act from last year's festival, Devon Eisenbarger kicked off Sunday's event. Followed by Dante Vs. Zombies, "perhaps the most original band of the weekend." REALLY? Wow. Cause we've sure seen some "original" stuff. Local band The Little Ones rocked the house next. Lady Dottie and the Diamonds took no prisoners with her "boogie-woogie blues." Wow, amazing. And then, that one-hit-wonder band that everyone was clamouring in to see. I left before they started. I had Emmys to watch.

But I am left, at the end of this LobsterFest, as at the end of last year's, stunned and amazed at the bands I have watched over the days. Terribly sad that for some reason the merch table didn't seem to be active. Bands? Bring your CDs, even if you released them a year or more ago. I'm sure you would've had sales!

Joyous, reliving the memories of the bands I'd seen; old favorites, new ones created.

But mostly, I want to give a deep respectful bow to our own Mr. Shovel. For those who underestimate what it is exactly you do, and think that just anyone can recreate it, they are sadly mistaken, and LobsterFest is proof of that. This man knows music. He knows how to seamlessly package a show that is crowd-pleasing and horizon-broadening. His skill will please both the yokels with lobsters on their heads, and the uppity music snobs who aren't phased by anything. And that is no small feat.

A deep bow to you, Mr. Shovel. Thank you sincerely for this LobsterFest.

Now if we could only get these LA folks to DANCE...


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