Welcome to Tour Journals, a Music Times segment where we ask some of our favorite up-and-coming bands to send us a dispatch from the road. This time around, we've asked Jimkata frontman Evan Friedell to keep a journal on tour with him. Last time, Evan talked about festivals, cops, and the band's storied rehearsal space. This week, he reflects on the power of music festivals to bring good energy in numbers. Check back next week for more!
In the world of live music production, there is a term that signifies doing everything on the fly: festival style. Usually at a club when everything is running behind schedule, theres five bands to play and no time, the sound guy will say, "we'll just do it festival style." Its basically a fun sounding euphemism for setting up and soundchecking in front of a crowd five minutes before your scheduled set time. Due to the sheer number of acts in a weekend at an actual festival, however, this is just how it has to be, and as a band you have to become focused and efficient at setting up, quickly soundchecking, and hitting note one within 15 to 45 minutes.
This adds adrenaline that can either fuel excitement or anxiety. If it goes smoothly with no sound hang-ups and the set goes well, pulling off the last minute soundcheck just adds to the feeling of success. If it goes poorly- an amp suddenly doesn't want to work, theres a mysterious high pitched feedback, etc. - it can feel like chaos and, worst case scenario, like a missed opportunity to put on your best show in front of a bigger crowd. It's like lighting off a bottle rocket out of your hand. If it fires correctly, its gonna be a lot of fun.
Over the years, I've learned to treat this as an exercise in adopting a zen-like attitude. You prepare as much as possible ahead of time to eliminate some of the variables, and once you're on the stage, just take it easy, man. Whatever will be, will be. We will navigate any small crisis smoothly as it comes. After all, we're only doing the best thing in the world, playing music.
At Great Blue Heron Music Festival I found myself in this state of mind standing behind the stage changing my strings a couple of hours before the set. The Heron is one of our favorite festivals all year and this time they were giving us the opportunity of a prime-time mainstage set at 945pm in front of a couple thousand people. We really wanted to nail this one. I had a small issue with my amp the night before at Liberty Festival in Pennsylvania, so I plugged it in backstage and thankfully it was working. A couple of the other guys were setting up as much of their gear ahead of time as possible. It's always best to avoid anxiety by being prepared.
We had 45 minutes to set up and soundcheck and luckily had one of our guys running the front of house. Any time that you go over that 45 minutes usually cuts into your set time. In this case, we went ten minutes over. But all of us, staff included, had the attitude of zen monkeys sitting in a natural hot spring. And the one factor that seems to make everything easier is an eager crowd of two thousand people. I've heard other musicians say this, and its true; it is way easier to play in front of a large crowd than a small one. It has something to do with the collective energy created by such a large gathering of people, and in my experience, the energy at Blue Heron is exceptionally positive.
By the end of the set, we got called out for an encore and stepped off feeling like this one was a success. We got some time to drink beer, have conversations with friends, family, and fellow musicians, and watch stellar musicians play old-time country, rock, and zydeco music that this festivals 23 year old roots are steeped in. In this day and age where festivals come and go year after year, and the most popular (or just populated) ones seem as much for the press and corporations as they are for the fans and musicians, I feel lucky to be a part of a tradition that feels authentic, communal, and warm-hearted. It is a celebration of life in all its richness and thats what music is for.
You can check out Jimkata tomorrow (July 12) for their 11 p.m. set at Luna Light Music and Arts Festival in Barto, PA.