The Beatdown

Matt Kowal is happy about being fat.

When everything's going well, people often say they're fat and happy. I'm convinced, however, that this is categorically impossible. Those who are fat are rarely happy, and vice versa. Take me, for example: I've had the fat part down since the Carter administration, and although I generally seem content -- provided I'm parked in front of an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet -- I'm actually agonizing over being...well, fat, which doesn't make me happy. It's like I'm stuck in a moment I can't get out of.

The Reals front man Matt Kowal doesn't seem to have this problem. In fact, when I ran into him at the Thin Man a while back, he went on and on about just how fat and happy he's been since he landed a gig at the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins. And now I see why: Kowal got to help mastermind the ten-city trek dubbed Tour de Fat, which will feature five of Mootown's more intriguing acts. But Kowal doesn't exactly embody truth in advertising. Husky? Maybe. But even that's a bit of a stretch. What's more, none of the cats in the lineup -- Cabaret Diosa, DeVotchKa, Motet, Oakhurst and Born in the Flood -- are all that rotund, either. Isn't this a tour promoting better living through obesity? Shouldn't some of the parties involved be at least a little chunky?

"Your hard-hitting questions, Dave," Kowal says with a laugh and an exasperated sigh. He's obviously not as amused by this inquisition as I am. Tough shit, I didn't come up with the name of the tour. "They're coming at me too fast. I can't think."

As it turns out, the tour, which is sponsored by New Belgium, is a play on Tour de France, and proceeds benefit cycling nonprofits and environmental advocacy groups. Over five years, Tour de Fat has evolved into a vaudevillian/circus type of event -- complete with bicycle-powered amusement rides and dudes on fire-shooting pogo-sticks juggling chain saws -- centered on an "anti-race," Kowal explains. "It starts off early with a bike ride that goes through the town. People dress up in goofy outfits and go out in the street to show some bicycle love to the city. There's really nothing competitive about it. It's more about taking a slow pace and finding ways to entertain yourself that don't have to do with burning gas or watching TV -- that's kind of the aesthetic we're going for."

So despite a name that seemingly celebrates hardening of the arteries, Tour de Fat actually requires physical activity and includes a tree-hugging element. Perfect. Where do I sign up? Well, at least there are killer bands on the bill, which Kowal helped pick, of course. The Reals participated in the tour last year, and Kowal says he had so much fun, he decided to join the company. Since then, he's spent the bulk of his time "helping find venues for this thing and music for it and people to give money to," he explains. "It's kind of like being a concert promoter Santa Claus."

And how did St. Fat decide which artists to pull out of his bag this year?

"We chose bands to bring out to these events even if they didn't have a real big following," says Kowal. "It would be real easy to bring out a band that has a good following just to boost up our numbers, but that really isn't the focus of this thing, to have the bands carry the weight of bringing the people there. It's really a shared aesthetic of various things besides the music. To have somebody come out and see a band like DeVotchKa and get turned on to something that is more thoughtful and interesting is cool. We chose the bands that we just felt are quintessentially Colorado, as something to take out of here that we could show the rest of the country."

For the homegrown talent, the gig's a great chance to build momentum and gain exposure. According to Kowal, many of the acts augment the tour with mini-tours of their own. Born in the Flood and DeVotchKa, for example, are planning a few one-offs in Boise; Oakhurst and the Yard Dog Road Show are setting up some West Coast dates. (Kowal says he's already inundated with prospects for next year, but he will gladly consider other locals -- those interested should send packets to Kowal c/o New Belgium at 500 Linden, Fort Collins, Colorado 80524.)

Tour de Fat kicked off June 5 in St. Louis, and makes the first of its Colorado stops this Saturday, July 9, at the Peninsula Recreation Area, a half mile south of Frisco on Highway 9. The ride begins at 10 a.m.; when it comes to a stop, Cabaret Diosa and DeVotchKa will throw down alongside "slackrope/juggling maniac" Peter Sweet and Tobias the Mystic Man. (The tour returns to Fort Collins on Saturday, September 24.) If you go, be prepared to unleash your inner freak. "The vibe of this thing is to bring people out with their own kind of freak show going on," Kowal says. "So it's not just coming to get entertained, but expecting people to participate with their own kind of flair. A lot of the spectacle is the people who bring their crazy outfits and their tricked-out bicycles -- kind of like a freaky cruiser-bike rally. This event just really reflects what this brewery is all about.

"Everybody here -- from the people who work on forklifts to the marketing -- are all super-involved with Tour de Fat," he concludes. "People are really proud of it. This place is powered by the wind and employee-owned. It genuinely is what it appears to be. And the people who work here are super proud of it, and they feel real ownership of it."

Hmm. Looks like you can be fat and happy, after all.

Upbeats and beatdowns: First impressions are everything. A few weeks ago, I watched the bassist for Sunset Curse reduce his four-string to a pile of splinters. I don't know if we can count on more of the same when the act performs Thursday, July 7, at Old Curtis Street, but we can hope. On Saturday, July 9, Curse joins Ben Park Drive, Rubber Planet, More Than Medium and more at the Soiled Dove for the second night of Rockfest. Meanwhile, Shoot Romeo and the Last Seen help Ten Cent Redemption celebrate the release of its debut disc at Bender's Tavern.

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