A long time ago (in 2001), at a venue now long gone (Jay's Upstairs), a music geek named Josh Vanek put on a show that would change the shape of Missoula's rock and roll galaxy forever. That one night—featuring a seven-band line-up—put into motion an annual all-ages music event and non-profit called Total Fest, which has become a highly anticipated festival, attended by people from the Northwest and beyond, and covered by alt-weeklies like Seattle's The Stranger.
Total Fest X continues the ascension into greatness, with 44 bands in three nights and, for the first time, at five different venues. The bands come from usual places like Portland and Seattle, but also Brooklyn, Alabama, Canada and Australia. Prepare for punk, metal, anti-folk, experimental, garage, pop and prog.
To Vanek and Total Fest volunteers, we salute you with a beer—the 10th anniversary symbol is aluminum, after all. And to our readers we give you our guide for festival virgins and returnees who are all part of an event that, unlike our faces, keeps getting better with age.
Strange animals and white objects
Are we the only ones who wish that White Lion was rocking the Fest this year? It ain't gonna happen, but we'll keep batting our eyelashes at the T-Fest committee. In the meantime, the fest has gathered an uncanny number of bands with the word "white" or a type of animal in the name. Festival stalwarts Japanther will be in the house again—hopefully without a juicer—and Shannon and the Clams retro/garage sound will inspire you to dance like your grandma did but without the shame and guilt of the late 1950s or the plastic boots of the 1960s. For those not fond of old-timey dancing, we suggest two other bands: White Mystery and White Shit. And White Shit features members and former members of Karp, Melvins, Big Business, and Murder City Devils. Not good enough for you? There's a dude named Tits in the band.
Return of the jedis
Returning band Pine Hill Haints describe their sound as "Alabama ghost music" and the washboard, tenor banjo, mandolin and echoe-y vocals from guitarist Jamie Barrier make it so. It's vintage stuff, but what makes this band T-Fest material is their psychobilly undertone à la the Cramps. Also returning: The Bugs. This is a band we can't get over for the clap-happy song "Fuckin' A Right," which perfectly embodies the way this duo says "fuck" in the same manner the rest of us happily eat ice cream.
Welcome to the jungle
You tend to leave Total Fest with at least a couple of band crushes. This year we know of a couple that will likely make you weak in the knees. If you already love the dark country grittiness of Portland's Pierced Arrows, you'll probably kill to hear drummer Kelly Halliburton fronting his band P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S., whose recent album included Poison Idea's original drummer. And both Olympia's Milk Music and NYC's Vaz bring back the Dinosaur Jr. and SST vibe, so we're already in love with them. We're easy like that.
That's Total Fest International to you, sir
Josh Vanek trades records with all sorts, including an Australian band called Dead. You will not be surprised that this band has a grimy, ominous sound, but you might be blown away by how the duo artfully executes their heaviness: It breathes like fine Australian wine. The band's on tour with a new LP called Thundaaaaah!, which was released by Vanek's label Wäntage USA.
Total Fest doesn't have to invite local bands to its fete. It could make a stinkface and be all, "Whatevs, we see you people all the time, go suck on a cherry." Fortunately, TF is not the bee-yotch who slammed your head in a locker door after third period science class. Locals this year range from the garage-a-go-go of 10 YO GF to the "is he really singing about giving me herpes" stylings of Bad Naked. Anti-pop noise purveyors Mordecai will utterly destroy your pants with stentorian walls of feedback and greasy, awkward note choices. Rez rock radsters Goddammitboyhowdy have a name that sums up the speed and energy that their bitchin' brand of punk serves up. Don't even bother wearing pants to that show.
Swap and meet
Bring your random albums—tapes and CDs are fine—down to the Big Dipper parking lot to swap with or sell to other audiophiles for the afternoon record swap. Or just come listen to a few good bands: Le Sang Song is longtime T-fest musician Craig Chambers from Seattle's The Lights. Sam Humans and the Light offer sparkling rock flavor and include former Missoulian Matt Genz. Plus, local Tyson Ballew will charm the pants off of you, as per usual, with well-crafted popilicious acoustic punk and roll.
From the archives to festival's finale
Youthful energy is a dandy thing, but when it comes to the thunderous grind of heavy music, old dudes bring a special joie de vivre to the shindig. Friday night headliners Big Business is fronted by bassist/vocalist Jared Warren, who started crumbling bass speakers with Karp back in '90. Hammerhead emerged from the mean streets of Fargo, N.D. the same year, and Missoula got a taste in 1993 when Hammerhead played at Connie's Lounge and Jay's Upstairs. There must have been something horrifying on the MTV to inspire these old-timers to start rock and roll outfits ("Cherry Pie?" "U Can't Touch This?"). Both Big Business and Hammerhead have new EPs out this year and continue to put on high-energy, ear-splitting sets that will sterilize unsuspecting teens (hopefully).
No doubt the craftiest veteran of the TF line-up, the man who has shown great creative durability over the years, and most likely a first-ballot hall-of-famer, is Thrones front-master Joe Preston, who closes out the final night of T-Fest. It takes a wily pro like Preston to operate the myriad of pedals and the drum machine, and to rock the bass simultaneously for his one-man band. Some might say he's too old to cut the mustard, but I tell you he can still lick the jar.
The Total Lineup
This year’s Total Fest kicks off Thursday, August 18, and runs through Saturday, August 20. Three-day passes cost $45 in advance until Aug. 15 at totalfest.org or Ear Candy, and $50 at the door. Per-night costs vary. (see below)Thu., Aug. 18
Top Hat: Vaz, The Pharmacy, White Mystery, Pygmy Shrews, Mordecai & Bad Naked. 9 PM. $10.
Fri., Aug. 19
Zoo City Apparel: Japanther, Custody Battle, The Bugs, Shark Pact, Goddammitboyhowdy. 6:30 PM. $8.
Badlander/Palace: Big Business, White Lung, Dead, White Shit, The Men, Gun Outfit, Unstoppable Death Machines, Kowloon Walled City, Grown-ups, Milk Music, Religious Girls, Underground Railroad to Candyland, Omotai, 10 YO GF and Pigs. 9 PM. $20.
Sat., Aug. 20
Big Dipper: Record swap featuring Sam Human & the Light, Le Sang Song & Tyson Ballew. Free.
Badlander/Palace: Hammerhead, The Arrivals, Leaders, Shellshag, The Trashies, The Blind Shake, Gull, Shannon & the Clams, P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S., Helms Alee, Friendo, Pine Hill Haints, Shahs, Microbabies & Thrones. 9 PM. $20.