From Kansas City, here they come: The state line isn't the only thing cutting through the heart of Kansas City these days. In February, organizers behind the gigantic Kansas City Blues & Jazz Festival -- one of the largest events of its kind in the nation -- announced that this year, they would not be hosting the festival, which had been scheduled to enjoy its twelfth installment in July. Initial blame was laid on the now familiar "post-9/11" downturn in travel and tourism, but some now say the festival's demise had more to do with the promoters' inability to draw big-name entertainers into the lineup -- and their tendency to pay ridiculously high fees to the stars the festival did attract. When major sponsors, including Pepsi and Sprint, withdrew support, the Kansas City Blues & Jazz Festival board of directors realized it had been whupped like a dog in an old Delta ramble.
While this is surely unwelcome news for those who enjoyed the annual trek to the Midwestern musical gathering, it could be a boon for Denver's Performance International, the firm that presents this city's Blues & Bones Festival each May. Considering that Denver is just a ten-hour drive from Kansas City, Blues & Bones may be in a position to absorb some of that unspent jazz-and-blues energy.
"When I heard that they had thrown in the towel, it occurred to me that some of them might make the trip," says Blues & Bones producer Al Kraizer. "People who love the blues tend to be really dedicated; they go far and wide for these festivals. And the fact that we have barbecue -- we're sort of appealing to the two religions. There's total orthodoxy involved: Blues and barbecue is like the jihad for some of these people. They are very, very serious about it."
There's certainly room for everyone should the faithful decide to make the pilgrimage to Denver. This year, the festival's sixth, Blues & Bones moves from its previous on-street location in the Golden Triangle neighborhood to Invesco Field at Mile High, where the blues and the bones -- and the beer -- will sprawl across the grassy esplanade outside the arena's south side from Friday, May 24, to Sunday, May 26. And while our little festival has a long way to go before it gives the New Orleans Jazzfest folks a run for their ticket money, it's a fine three-day party that includes performances by WAR, Shemekia Copeland, Taj Mahal, Dr. John and Sonny Landreth. (Go to www.denverfestivals.com/blues/blueshome.html for the full schedule.) Kraizer's pick for the fan who might be seeking something a little more...rustic? Richard Johnson, whom he describes as a "North Mississippi Delta, hill-country-style player."
"Every year, I try to find someone who blows away the guys at the Denver Blues Society," he says, laughing. "I look for something really obscure and wild. We got this guy's CD in the mail and -- boom -- we knew we had our man."
About this time last year, former Warlock Pincher leader Andrew Novick -- known to fans, alternately, as Ang, KC Ksum and Braceface Audio -- invited bands to submit their own versions of songs culled from the diaphoretic discography the Pinchers had amassed between 1987 and 1992. Novick wasn't merely being vain; he was assembling a compilation album that would celebrate one of the most compelling, funny and creatively charged outfits ever to spurt from the Mile High City's cowtown culture.
Of the more than forty submissions, 31 songs spanning the band's three albums -- Circumsized Peanuts and Deadly Kung Fu Action/Pinch a Loaf (originally released separately, and now combined) -- were selected for inclusion on Imposters: Warlock Pinchers Tribute. Unlike many tribute albums that feature artists doing their best not to step on the toes, or intentions, of the songwriter they are honoring, the Warlock wannabes step, stomp, smear, slay and sacrifice the Pinchers' catalogue. But then, their music was always unabashedly self-referential, anyway; why not offer non-affiliated artists the chance to join in, and alter, the song(s)?
"We wanted to use as much of the material as we could fit on the disc," Novick says, "because so much of what we got was just so good. Well, good...in different ways. I have been listening to this album over and over again, and I can't get over just how funny and strange it turned out. For a person who was in the band for so long, it's just really cool to revive some of this stuff." (As a remedy for the space problem, Novick trimmed some songs for the CD; full-length versions of all tracks will soon be available via www.warlockpinchers.com.)
This album is almost a psychological survey of local acts, a kind of musical Rorschach test. (A number of you are really sick, by the way.) It's also a very cool idea that yielded some gems, albeit distorted ones. Abdomen's "Curious George and the Anti-Christ," for example, is an evil nursery rhyme told in a hardcore dialect. Spliced between an almost sickening psychotropic sound collage (which, according to Novick, was culled from tapings of "anonymous strangers at Casa Bonita," that West Colfax vortex of inspiration and processed cheese), Friends Forever offer what just might be the most static rap ever on "Anthem 5." The song, edited to emulate the Pinchers' beloved speed-rap style, might actually hurt your brain. Agent Nova invites you to join the "Slumber Party," a funny, confounding snippet of a sleepover session starring a bunch of drunk girls and a tape recorder, while Cindy Wonderful takes "Deadly Gary Fu" to places even the Pinchers themselves may not have envisioned, bringing the cast of Diff'rent Strokes and the warped ambience of a society crowd with her. Crystal Lake's "Where the Hell Is Crispin Glover?" is followed by an amusing telephone exchange between Novick and the Glover one himself, fittingly titled "Where the Hell Are You?" After Glover, a recurring character in Pincher songs, casually asks Novick if he's ever broken into his apartment, the two discuss underwear and kids' jokes as the Donkey Kong theme song serves as a backdrop.
Mr. Pacman, Scott Baio Army, DJ Skunk and Bill Picket's Invitational Rodeo are among the many, many other bands that make contributions here. The players are not all local; the Melvins, who once shared a label, Boner Records, with the Pinchers, contribute a grinding take on "Arnie," while the Haters give up a "Pinchers Tribute" and Il Martello di Ester performs "Morrissey Rides a Cockhorse" -- in Italian. Former teen mall-popster Tiffany makes an appearance as well, though I doubt she knows it.
Several Imposters bands will perform on Saturday, May 25, at Monkey Mania (2126 Arapahoe Street) as part of a CD-release party where the album, as well as merchandise material from the Pinchers' back catalogue, will be available. Both the show and the album might well reawaken your nostalgia for the Pinchers, a band that clearly left an indelible gash on the psyche of Denver's creative front before disbanding a decade ago. Then again, they're also nice reminders that the city still claims as its own plenty of oddball kids who like to play with audio -- and who deconstruct songs just for the sheer joy of putting them back together again.
'Tis the season of shameless self-promotion. So let's get on with it, shall we?
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The 2002 Westword Music Showcase is nearly upon us. We've moved the event to Sunday, June 9, to lessen the likelihood of interference from oh, say, a blizzard (such as the one that decided to show up an hour before last year's May event kicked off). This year's Showcase will feature more than thirty bands in venues along the 1900 block of Market Street, including an outdoor stage, where the Dudes (formerly the Subdudes) will cap the al fresco performances. (The Dudes are not included on the Music Showcase ballot, but sixty other bands are: Find yours elsewhere in this issue or through www.westword.com.) Backwash truly can't recall a better or more well-rounded group of Showcase acts than this year's: There are many new names, as well as plenty of familiar ones, thanks to the intrepid -- and expanded -- committee of people who helped us shape the 2002 list.
Also new is Music Lowdown 2002, a two-day seminar of music-industry news, information and advice taking place in the Auraria Campus's high-tech King Center facility on Saturday, June 8, and Sunday, June 9. A joint effort of Westword, the Colorado Music Association and the University of Colorado at Denver's College of Arts and Media, the Lowdown is our best shot at a SXSW-type industry conference and is, frankly, a swell opportunity for those who seriously hope to make a living out of this crazy business called show. You'll cry, you'll learn, you'll get a free lunch. You'll be able to ask Ani DiFranco's business partner what she thinks of your latest masterpiece. (A representative from Righteous Babe Records is among the professionals participating in the Lowdown, alongside delegates from TVT Records, College Music Journal, ASCAP, What Are Records? and Sci-Fidelity Records, to name a few.) The program includes a trade show, panel discussions on topics of interest to aspiring and established artists, songwriters, managers and agents, as well as one-on-one mentoring sessions and song critiques by panelists and assorted expert types. (Registrants over 21 years of age also receive a wristband to the Westword Music Showcase.)
Curious? Why don't you just sign up already? Visit www.twistandshout.com/lowdown.html for the lowdown.