Column 239: Lincoln Calling at 6; Review: Monsters of Folk; Built to Spill tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 6:30 pm September 23, 2009

Lincoln Calling starts a week from today, and as I neglected to mention in the column (though people will find it on their Facebook page, I suppose) is that all-access full-weekend wristbands are a mere $30, which is a steal. I stand by my claim that it’s time for Lincoln Calling to “grow up” and start doing things that other successful festivals do, like advertise and find sponsors. It’s amazing how well Buckley’s done without those two basic elements all of these years. I’ve never met anyone more concerned (afraid?) of making money, but he makes a couple good points. He said the only thing he remembers from the Maha Festival is that Alegent was the sponsor, and the only thing he remembers from the Gomez concert in Memorial Park was the cell phone company drones screwing up the introduction before the band went on stage (saying that they were touring their new album, Bring It On, which was released sometime in the late ’90s). That said, I think LC could maintain its integrity and level of quality AND involve sponsors. Why do so many people around here think that making money is such a bad thing?

Column 239: Growing Pains
Lincoln Calling at Year 6

I like to give Lincoln Calling organizer Jeremy Buckley shit. I love to bust his proverbial, music-loving balls. Why, you ask, would I mentally torture this all-around good guy whose selfless efforts have produced one of the state’s biggest, most successful indie music attractions? Because it’s fun, and because I only want Mr. Buckley to continue to succeed, though he’s done just fine without me, thank you very much.

What have I been busting Buckley’s ever-loving balls about? First let’s take a glance at this year’s Lincoln Calling festival, which will be held Sept. 30 through Oct. 3 at eight venues throughout the downtown Lincoln metroplex. I would list all the bands and all the times and all the venues, but they only give me 900 words for this column, kids, and that would take up most — if not all — of my space. So I suggest you do the right thing and go to Facebook.com and search for “Lincoln Calling 2009,” where Buckley has created a nice fan page that gives all the deets.

For now, let me list five things that make this year’s Lincoln Calling Festival different than the past five years’.

Difference 1 — Instead of walking with hat in hand to every venue asking to use their stage for the event, venues for the first time have actually come to Buckley. Both The Bricktop and Marz Bar asked how they could get involved. So look for early band sets at both clubs, followed by DJs the rest of the evenings.

Difference 2 — Duggan’s Pub is back. Buckley said he stopped using them two years ago after “having problems with the employees,” that included shutting down the bar before the final band of the evening performed. “(Anonymous American frontman Matt) Whipkey wasn’t very happy to be told to go f*** himself,” Buckley said. “After that, I didn’t want to deal with their shenanigans.” Duggan’s wanted back in and assured Buckley that he wouldn’t have any problems.

Difference 3 — Metal and punk have been added to the line-up. “I don’t know about bands in those genres,” Buckley said. So he turned to someone who does named Rich Johnson, who helped him find 10 angry young bands to add to the line-up.

Difference 4 — The weekend falls on the first Friday of the month, when local art galleries switch out their shows. To recognize this and the fact that so few women are involved in local festivals, Buckley organized the Women of Music First Friday art show at Duffy’s from 6-9 p.m., followed by bands invited to play by the artists themselves.

Difference 5 — The first annual Lincoln Calling Merch Madness Market, a swap meet/flea market/garage sale held from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at The Bourbon Theater. “It’s a place where any band can sell merch and gear,” Buckley said. Want to sell your junk? Buckley said to contact organizer Malcom Miles on Facebook or “just show up with your merch and you’ll be fine.”

One “difference” that didn’t make the list — Knickerbocker’s is not involved this year after a disagreement over hold dates. Buckley said Knick’s gave away a crucial agreed-upon date — intended for Minneapolis act Heiruspecs — without notifying him. “What if I’d signed the contract and found out afterward I couldn’t do the show there?” Buckley said. “I’d still have to pay the band.”

Buckley blames the fact that he books shows at The Bourbon Theater, and before that, the late-great Box Awesome — both in competition with Knick’s for shows. “In my opinion, Lincoln Calling is a separate thing,” he said. “The whole point is to get the kids at UN-L to pay attention to our music scene.”

This year Buckley also had a particularly challenging time weeding though all the bands that now want to participate, and telling some of them “no.” Not surprisingly “people get mad when they’re not involved.” Really? He said the only ones being left out, however, are those with “entitlement” mentalities or that simply don’t make sense in the grand scheme of things.

Consider these problems growing pains. It’s what happens when people begin to recognize your success, and want to be part of it. Buckley’s favorite example: “I got a text message from (Cursive’s) Ted Stevens asking if he could play,” Buckley said. “My response was, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re Ted Friggin’ Stevens!” Look for Stevens as part of the festival’s closing night at Duffy’s.

Buckley’s attendance targets are modest. Last year he said Lincoln Calling drew 2,300, not including bands and venue personnel. This year he’s shooting for 2,500 paid participants.

That’s impressive, but it’s also reaching the ceiling for what is essentially a one-man DIY festival. If Buckley wants to get to the next level, he’ll need to explore sponsorships, something that he’s always been skittish about. “I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio because I don’t like commercials,” he said. “I don’t like people telling me what I should buy.”

That’s magnanimous, but Buckley also realizes that with sponsorship comes more money, which means more for the bands (That’s right, bands actually get paid to play at Lincoln Calling) and more money to attract larger out-of-town acts. The chance to sponsor what has become the largest, longest-running independent music festival in Nebraska should be a no-brainer for any Lincoln business. The only problem is that Buckley doesn’t know how to go about it, which is what I’ve been busting his balls about.

“I guess I need to learn how to look for and ask for sponsors,” he said, adding that if anyone knows how to set up LC as a 501c3, he’s all ears. “This has gone from being a fun hobby to an opportunity to help make Lincoln a music town.”

* * *

The Monsters of Folk made their network television debut last night on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. There wasn’t much mystery as to what they were going to sing since “Say Please” is the first “single” and one of the few songs on the album that features all three vocalists. Conor certainly stood out in his colorful aviators — the only one in the band to wear sunglasses during the performance. All wore suits. Well, you can see it for yourself below. It was as good as any typical Oberst late-night performance.

Over the past few days dozens of reviews of their new album have been posted online. Of course the one that will be looked upon as the most “relevant” went online today, at Pitchfork (here), where the album was given a 6.5 — the standard-issue rating for any Omaha-affiliated indie rock release. The writer is obviously a Jim James fan.

I’ve been listening to the album for the past few weeks. We all know that there was no way it could live up to the hype that’s been generated since it was first discussed in, what, 2007?

Like the Pitchfork writer and everyone else, it is virtually impossible not to compare this “super group” to The Traveling Wilburys, right down to the production treatment on some of the songs. So who is who? Jim James, with his irresistible voice, has to be Roy Orbison. Conor, who wrote the best songs on the album, is (of course) Dylan, which puts M.Ward in the George Harrison role (some might say inappropriately as James just released a Harrison tribute EP) and makes Mike Mogis Jeff Lynne (who produced the Wilburys’ albums along with Harrison).

As successful as those Wilburys albums were (the first one went 3x platinum in the U.S.) they never did much for me. And the same holds true for this Monsters of Folk album. Though Mogis’ production and the fact that they played all the instruments were designed to “hold it all together,” it sounds like a collection of songs by the individual artists instead of a cohesive album by a singular band. I don’t know how that could have been avoided. That said, the M.Ward songs sound like stuff off Hold Time, the Conor songs sound like they could have come from the Mystic Valley Band albums, and Jim James is Jim James. So for fans of those records, this could be a real coup rather than a let-down.

I hate to sound like a homer, but my favorite moments come mostly from Oberst. “Man Named Truth” is the best song he’s written in years. “Ahead of the Curve” sounds like a slowed-down, down-cast version of “Souled Out,” and I like it. In fact, I like this record better than the last Mystic Valley album. The other standout track is M.Ward’s lovely, dreamy “The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me.” The best part about the Jim James’ songs are his voice. His “Magic Marker” is pretty, but sounds like he took a huge bong hit before he wrote the lyrics.

The rest of the album is somewhat forgettable. “Say Please” — their “Handle with Care” — is the most radio friendly. One assumes that since they decided to go with multi-millionaire-owned Shangri-La Music that it’ll get shoved down radio programmers’ throats, and placed in “heavy rotation” in hopes of hypnotizing The Great Wad that need to be told — over and over again — what to listen to. I guess that’s what these guys want after years of flourishing in indie obscurity.

I, for one, hope that Oberst eventually backs away from all these collaborative projects and gets back to what he does well — write complete albums, either as Bright Eyes or simply as himself.

* * *

Tonight at The Slowdown it’s the return of Built to Spill with Disco Doom. As of this writing, tickets were still available for $20. Do yourself a favor and see one of the best live indie acts currently touring. And bring your earplugs.

Also tonight, Simon Joyner plays songs off his new Team Love-released album, Out Into the Snow, at The Bemis “Cave” (724 So. 12th St.) with Jack Rose. $8 for non-Bemis members, and starts at 8:30

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