After losing my music festival virginity to Warped Tour in 2008, it took four years for me to warm up to another. Daytime summer heat and mediocre outdoor venues aside, I got to see two bands I really wanted to see—and cheap. For the price, I couldn’t expect Moogfest.
Moogfest, for me, started two days earlier, in Atlanta. At the Variety Playhouse, I met up with my friend Paul and caught the beginning of opening fodder Girl in a Coma. Sounding something like Karen O-meets-Alanis-Morisette’s-odd-vocal-twang over energetic all-girl punk I doubt I’d pay to see again, they still kept me distracted until Cursive hit the stage.
Cursive covered the hits and then some from their eight full-lengths, many from their best known “The Ugly Organ,” regrettably all I’d heard in full. Hearing more, I knew I had to hear the rest, if only to join the hardcore fans who knew all the words to their other songs. Fans like my friend Paul.
So it was, if only for “The Recluse,” their biggest hit, that my tongue joined theirs (metaphorically speaking). Tim Kasher sang as an overnight lover more attached than intended as “I wake alone in a woman’s room I hardly know.” Uncharacteristically catchier and more melodic, it capped off a slew of other songs spanning relationships, philosophy, art, and religion.
Not quite, alongside Minus the Bear, with their layered guitar loops, danceable drums, and often uninspired vocals. Two songs into their first set, I was more concerned with whatever smelled of ganja and piss. Then, I remembered a drunken douche bag who’d, moments earlier, pushed his way to the front because “my friends are up here.”
Not to be outdone, another drunken burnout shoved his way to the front—directly in front of me. After Paul and I politely convinced him to move, I stood assertively shoulder-to-shoulder to the guy for twenty minutes before he finally turned and curtly related, “I’m going to make your day, man,” then disappeared.
Behind me, a mother and daughter thanked me. So ended the only really exciting part of Minus the Bear’s first set. The second set ushered in some of their older work more familiar to me. I danced a little. Then came a crackling, high-pitched voice in the crowd calling for their breakout single “The Fix” between every next song until the band finally caved.
As we all sang along, even the bowels of hell couldn’t keep angry burnout from rejoining us. Only this time, I wasn’t the only one pushing him back and this time, he left for good once he’d had his fix, the song ended. “We should kill that guy,” I overheard another fan say after the show.
The next day, Paul and I caravanned by car to Asheville, North Carolina. Paul watched electronic act Justice that night while I got a taste of downtown Asheville by myself. We convened at Asheville Music Hall for a free concert.
We caught the underwhelming Levek and a two-person instrumental group called 2PPM (Two People Playing Music). 2PPM’s jazzy drums, groovy bass lines, and distorted piano so entranced me I later went to buy their record only to realize I was talking to Levek’s merch guy. I felt awkward long enough to find out 2PPM’s music is free online anyway, and it’s hard to argue with free.
Especially if you’re the $3 waters I bought the next night at Moogfest, in the U.S. Cellular Center. Enough fuel to run from venue to venue, catching a few songs each from Nas, Pantha Du Prince, Bear in Heaven, and Miike Snow before learning a lesson about music festivals. You can’t catch all 19 bands playing 5 venues, often at the same time. If you want even a decent spot anyway.
El-P (right), his hype man (left)
So I walked 20 minutes to The Orange Peel venue where I waited in front of the stage for nearly half an hour. But I got my spot. El-P made it worth my time, with only a hype man and two multi-instrumentalists, one playing guitar/drums and dressed in just a bathrobe, sunglasses, and a captain’s hat. El-P said it was his guitarist’s preferred outfit; he joked, in turn, that he wore it for El-P.
El-P performed mostly his latest album—solid but not my favorite—and dedicated a song to his recently deceased friend Camu Tao. Later, he brought out fellow rapper Killer Mike, who’d played a set of his own there earlier that night.
You know I had to get a shot of Killer Mike's shirt.
Afterward, I jetted off for the second half of Primus at the last venue only to find myself the worst crowd position of the night. So I walked right back 20 minutes to catch Black Moth Super Rainbow 30 minutes early to ensure a good spot. Though I’d only heard a few of their songs—older songs—I’d loved what I’d heard and loved them even more live.
Solid musicianship, especially tight, ever-pulsating drums turned hazy vintage-synth-driven songs into an indie dance party. Meanwhile, wall-projected videos played, music videos where appropriate and for the rest, trippy visuals of odd locations with randomly appearing-and-disappearing people. The crowd, too, was fun to watch, especially a guy in a rhinoceros mask who went crowd surfing and a guy wearing a creepy surreal orange-shaped mask from BMSR’s “Windshield Smasher” music video.
"I hope my friends didn't misunderstand me," I told several strangers in the packed crowd. "When I told them I was going to GZA." I paused. "But really, how could they? It works either way."
As GZA took the stage, he showed us how relevant a rapper in his mid 40s can be, moving the crowd with only a DJ behind him and decades-worth of charisma. He ran through his entire classic “Liquid Swords” album alongside numerous other songs and guest verses he’d written over the years. In between songs, he humorously engaged the crowd, calling out one fan who couldn’t identify the rapper on the kid's own Wu-Tang Clan shirt he’d worn to the show.
After the show, Paul and I walked to a vegetarian-/vegan-friendly restaurant open late, literally the last two customers that night allowed into a crowded Rosetta’s Kitchen. We loved it so much we came back the next day for lunch where he happened to run into and get a picture with The Magnetic Fields. Before I started home, I confessed my love for Asheville, my desire to be inside it forever. I would have to wait in line, Paul reminded me, with all the other people with the same idea, in an already overcrowded local job market. Guess there’s always next Moogfest.