The total guide to Total Fest

A-Z coverage of Wäntage’s annual indie festival

June 23, 2005
Now in its fourth year, Total Fest has snowballed totally out of control: this weekend more than 40 bands will overtake four stages at three venues to crank out more than 21 hours of music. The annual festival of all things indie hosts more bands than ever before and touts its most diverse lineup, adding hip-hop, country and electronica to the standard fare of punk, metal and garage. Here’s your complete guide to the weekend—everything from what to drink to who to hear—for the novice and veteran alike.

Who’s new this year? What favorites are back again? Who’s headlining?

God bless my black heart, for turnin’ feelings into song…” —No-Fi Soul Rebellion

Let’s cut straight to the heart of the matter: music. Expect local bands and bands from the Northwest circuit of Portland, Bellingham and Seattle. Veterans include the formerly Missoula-based mayhem of The Fireballs of Freedom and sweaty soul revivers No-Fi Soul Rebellion.

Think you’ve seen it all? Be forewarned that Total Fest is hosting new bands from old places like The Lights (Seattle) as well as new bands from new places like The Grabass Charlestons (Gainesville, Fla.), The Soviettes (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Mountain High and Coyote (both from Philadelphia, Pa.).

In the spirit of equal opportunity, no one band is headlining, and each band gets 30 minutes to play. With multiple stages, there will be no lull in the action. The lineup of who plays where and when isn’t published until the night of the show at the American Legion Hall, so people come early and stay throughout. It’s Total Fest. You’re supposed to eat the whole thing.

Who’s getting the band back together?

Arguably Earth is not a space craft. I think I can test that...” —Last of the Juanitas

Who needs a space craft when you have a time machine? In the Total Fest warp you’ll discover (or rediscover) artifacts of Missoula rock lore. The buzz is that one-time rock institution The Banned will resurrect themselves, once again proving why they were the band of the Missoula ’80s.

And then there’s Humpy, one band that can never be accused of quitting, a band that says “this is our last show” time and time again, only to play yet another “final” show to the amusement and delight of fans. Humpy also claims they’re the band that’s played the most Missoula rock shows, but another local outfit (and Total Fest) veteran, The Oblio Joes, claim equal footing on that title. Nothing a wrestling match can’t settle.

What’s contagious? What’s the treatment?

Love is like a battle of the bands…crank up your amps, man.” —Japanther

Nikki Payton, a Total Fest organizer and KBGA DJ, warns that you will fall in love. Deeply, madly in love. But this time it won’t end in sorrow and custody battles over house pets. After all, falling in love with your new favorite band just means getting tingly while they play and buying their album to listen to on your own terms. Last year mobs fell in love with Everybody’s Debby, Big Business and The Narrows, just to name a few. All are back this year, so brace those weak knees.

What do the locals eat and drink?

I woke up in a ditch today it’s not half as bad as you’d think...” —The Oblio Joes

Those of age, beware the flow of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the unofficial drink of Total Fest. Last year, PBR was so popular that The Other Side actually ran out, causing organizers to fear the outbreak of a riot.

For those not as young as they used to be or needing a dancing boost, beware The Sparks—a caffeinated malt beverage (think Red Bull with six-percent alcohol) that some Total Fest pros credit as the secret for outlasting 21 hours of music.

All beverages, including non-alcoholic options, will be sold by the Missoula Skatepark Association (see Up Front in this issue).

As for eating, Knuckleheads BBQ will be selling pulled pork and other savory treats at the Hall. For late-night, post-set munchies, the Oxford’s JJ’s gravy is a band and fan staple. Or walk down the street from the Hall to the 24-hour Ole’s on Russell—if you arrive late enough, the expired 99-cent hot dogs are free—and that’s pretty rock ’n’ roll.

Can future rockers attend?

Where will they go? What will they be? Who will raise them…you or MTV?” —The Soviettes

Total Fest is sympathetic to young rock appreciators who can’t see bands at bars. Organizers are adamant about running a legally tight ship, while equally persistent that rock should be an ageless indulgence. What’s true about Missoula’s independent scene is that many of the current rockers were inspired when they were young by equally creative DIY bands. Want youth inspired by reality TV? Or youth inspired by creative song? Total Fest is open to all ages.

What’s the best reason to rise early after Friday night’s sets?

We are the victims of the pleasure of the sense of hearing.” —The Lights

One person’s junk is another’s treasure. In the piercing light of noon on Saturday, record (as well as CD and tape) collectors will gather ’round the Big Dipper parking lot eyeballing imports and working that bargaining charm. The record swap is hosted by touted collector Bryan Ramirez (also one part of the insane noise band Poor School). Not into trading? Eat ice cream (we recommend the coconut)—either way you’ll be serenaded by live music from Juanita Family, Two Year Touqe and Talkdemonic, a duo recently awarded best new band by Portland’s Willamette Week.

What if we want more? Rock it to the East, move to the West—to the city that I like best…” —Fireballs of Freedom

Then consider checking between your earplugs. But for the truly voracious, keep an ear out for KBGA radio spots throughout the weekend featuring interviews and live songs by Total Fest bands.

To whom do we owe this pleasure?

And we’ll play that kickass rock ’n’ roll 2 nite!” —The Banned

It’s no coincidence, no stroke of mere luck that Missoula hosts an independent rock festival that gathers more rock wizards and appreciators each year. The reason Total Fest continues to happen is because of the burgeoning local scene, and because the festival’s ship is captained by the tenacious and recently mustachioed Josh Vanek, and fueled by hard-working volunteers. They all possess the do-it-yourself spirit that attracts independent minds.

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