Wednesday, August 20, 2008

North vs. South Music Festival

This weekend marks the 5th anniversary of The North vs. South Music Festival, held in Lawrence, KS for the last four years but moved to Kansas City for this go round.

Conceived by Mike McCoy, Hunter Darby, and Grant Johnson, three of the more prolific musicians operating along the IH-35 corridor (amongst other parts of the country), the idea originally was to take the best indie bands from the two notorious music cities at opposite ends of IH-35 (that's Austin and Minneapolis if you can't figure it out) and have them meet in the middle roughly on the anniversary of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence, KS during The Civil War (look it up – I ain’t your history teacher). Not a competitive event at all, the philosophy was to bring together two very different and yet oddly similar musical scenes for the purposes of fun, networking, seeing a lot of great music one might not be exposed to, and getting shit faced drunk. It has been a smashing success the last four years, and there’s no reason to expect the fifth won’t be as well.

In the last five years the festival has expanded to include acts from all over the country and, this year, even an international act (Australia). If this isn’t a sign of expanding success I’d be hard pressed to say what is.

The point here is that this is a grown from the ground up, DIY music festival showcasing unsigned and indie acts. This kind of shit doesn’t happen anymore, and it’s a Goddamn shame it doesn’t. I’ve been accused of harping incessantly on the “good old days” of the music scene of the 1980’s and it’s probably true – that was the milieu in which I came up. At the same time, there was an entirely different culture and approach to underground music at that time that seems to have all but disappeared. A music festival like North vs. South, while still cool, wouldn’t have been such an anomaly back then, as such things were cropping up in towns and cities all over the nation. In Austin alone you had the Woodshock festivals, not to mention the staggering juggernaut that is South by Southwest which had equally such inauspicious beginnings. Houston hosted The Westheimer Arts Festival, which gave more than equal time to indie bands.

What’s missing here in the 00’s? A spirit of cooperation? An idea that we’re all in this together and, while there are only so many of us that will ever make a dime off playing music, we should be supporting one another and applauding those that break out rather than treating it as a cut throat competition that plays directly into the smarmy club owners and promoters hands? An inspiration to, if the clubs won’t come across, find some like minded artists and make your own venues wherever you can? Guerilla promotion? All these things, unless I’m just missing it. The internet seems an ideal, not mention inexpensive, way of accomplishing a lot of this, but every music “cooperative” I’ve found on line smacks of some kind of ponzi scheme whereby you, the artist, shell out for a “premium” package which ultimately buys you exactly nothing, and which is even less help for those that opt for the “free” services they offer. They also, through “top rated band” bullshit, engender that same sense of cutthroat competition that is strangling the indie scene.

There are a few exceptions I know of. While exclusive, the Orange 6 collective out of Athens, GA seems to be pretty effectively circumventing the powers that be, and God bless them for that. Nothing else comes to mind at the moment, but consider I’m sleep deprived, stressed out, clinically mentally ill, and have to get on an airplane in 18 hours when I absolutely detest flying (like, panic attack detest – I have to be sedated).

I’m really not one to talk. While I have organized and promoted indie shows with some degree of success (and am currently trying to put one together with extremely limited success so far), I’ve never gotten together some like minded people and attempted something on the scope of North vs. South. The idea has occurred to me, and even entered preliminary planning stages, but fallen apart due to lack of interest and the daunting amount of work and capital it would take to make it successful. That’s not to say it can’t be done. It’s just to say I’m kinda lazy.

I’m proud to be a charter member of North vs. South, having played all four previous festivals and playing this one this coming Saturday, even when, as last year, I had to pull something together at the last minute. It reminds me of the good old days of indie music, as sick as I’m sure you are at hearing that term.

It would do America’s ailing underground music scene a universe of good to see events like North vs. South cropping up around the country. It would certainly do my ailing faith in the vitality of underground music a universe of good - people doing it just because they love it, not because they want to be Conor Oberst. In the words of a Homestead Records era J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. (then simply Dinosaur), “I’ll just keep on hopin’.”

You can find info on North vs. South at


Caterina said...

Any idea why they abandoned Lawrence for those border raidin' border raiders in K.C.?

MiseryCreek said...

It's a little unclear to me. The official word is better venues and better stages. I know there was some friction between venue management/owners last year over the behavior of some of the bands and patrons, which I would imagine could have something to do with it. It's kind of a drag, because the convenience of having everything centered on Mass. St. made it super easy to get around. This year, with the clubs spread all over Westport, it's not going to be so accomodating. It's my hope they take it back to Lawrence next year but, hey, I just write about this shit.