Every summer for the past 14 years, the Indy has previewed Total Fest, the three-night, 50-plus-band music festival that has become a Missoula mainstay. We giddily anticipate the return of bands that made big first impressions onstage, like Red Fang, Vile Blue Shades and Mika Mako, as well as offstage (Vile Blue Shades, again). We look forward to the new bands we don't even know we'll fall in love with until it happens. We get pumped for surprise reunions of local bands we thought were broken up for good.
But this year is different. Total Fest XIV marks the festival's bittersweet end as organizers, like founder Josh Vanek, look toward other projects.
The farewell event loads up on nostalgic acts, with groups like Humpy, Oblio Joes and Volumen getting back together to say one last goodbye. There are also heavy hitters taking the stage, such as Big Business, Naomi Punk and Black Cobra. If you haven't attended Total Fest before, and you like any manner of punk, metal, sludgy and country-tinged rock, take our word for it: This weekend is not to be missed.
Total Fest XIV will create new memories, no doubt. But in the spirit of The Last One, we asked the people who helped make this DIY event what it was to talk about their favorite moments from years past.
Prior to performing at the VFW for Total Fest XI, Minneapolis' Brain Tumors were in crisis mode. The band knew that if they were going to make a splashy debut at TF, their singer, Drew, had to rep the punk lifestyle by looking the part. Any alternative rocker worth their weight in expensive body modifications will tell you, no body-mod challenges the status quo more than a tattoo on your face and/or head. But Drew was too broke to go all-in on some dope ink before the gig. Our solution? Temporary tattoos, and plenty of them. Rather than going to Party City, I suggested we shop local at Rockin Rudy's. Of course Rudy's came through. On Drew's face, neck and arms, we applied roughly 30 iconic punk designs: butterflies, smiley faces, lightning bolts. Needless to say, Drew's alternativeness stunned the crowd, and no one had a clue that we had just pulled off what may be the best kept secret in Total Fest history.
Colin Uriah-Johnson of Skin Flowers and Shahs
Kate Whittle, Indy reporter and past Total Fest organizer
Having Fitz of Depression play. About two to three days before they are set to come, they don't have a bass player. Lead singer/guitarist Mikey Dees asks me, "If we still come can you find us a bass player?" I say 'Yes,' not even knowing if I can pull it off. I check with a few people and no one can do it. I am in complete and total panic. Then I remember I forgot to ask Millie Sasshole. She immediately says yes but then panics that she only has a day to learn the songs. Mikey sends me a partial set list and says if she learns these, that will carry her over on the rest. She was nervous as hell up until she got onstage, mostly because she was in awe to get to play with them. But, damn it, she did great.
Dennis Lynch, formerly of El Zombi Gato and past Total Fest organizer
- photo courtesy of Amy Donovan
- The first Total Fest took place at now-defunct Jay’s upstairs with just five bands. Over the last decade, it’s turned into a three-day, 50-plus band event drawing in people from around the Northwest.
One: Getting to see my friend Millie onstage playing bass for Fitz of Depression. Two: Standing a foot away from Helms Alee for the duration of their set, without earplugs. Three: Having the singer of the Fleshies riding on my back for an entire song, and not spilling my drink. And four: Akimbo. Holy shit, Akimbo.
Randy Palmer, editor of zines Darlene and Spaghetti Dinner & Dancing
Jay's Upstairs, real sweaty and packed, floor bouncing up and down. Moose Drool. Lots of Moose Drool. Pasty long-haired rock-and-rollers taking over the Blackfoot. Old friends. Missoula is a real gem. Glad to have been able to be part of the magic!
Lana Rebel, singer
My wife is a huge Carpenters fan, but her favorite band at TF 2013 was Gay Witch Abortion. Also, just hanging out on top of the parking garage with friends between sets, goofing off like a bunch of teenagers all weekend long. Oh, and the International Playboys' reunion.
Jon Van Dyke, VISTA at Zootown Arts Community Center
It's difficult to boil down Total Fest to a single memory or moment so here are a few: Total Fest VII when This Runs on Blood stepped in to play an early set when Birthday Suits' van broke down. Seeing DEAD. The back-to-back sets of Black Velvet Elvis and The Trucks at Total Fest VII. Everything about Total Fest X. The thing that sticks with me the most is the people. This year will no doubt tug on the heart strings, but I couldn't think of a better community of people with whom to celebrate the final festival.
Josh Harteis, Total Fest organizer
The first year Total Fest consumed the Badlander/Palace compound I was in contact with Michelle from Panache Booking about bands who might be touring this way mid-August. To my surprise, she tells me Mika-effing-Miko (from Los Angeles) is available and interested. I was ecstatic and trying my best to stay cool, said "uh huh," and she said they'd need $300, or maybe it was $400. As an organizer, I knew full well that I wasn't in a position to guarantee anything but ... I said, "Okay, sure, we can do that." It was selfish and risky. I know now and I knew then, but it was Mika Miko and it was worth it.
Nicole Vanek, Total Fest organizer
Wolf Eyes just got in from Europe and were jet-lagged to the max. All they wanted to do was hang barefoot in my backyard and dole out the funniest tour stories ever. I think one of the stories was Neil [Michael Hagerty] taking hours to record a pencil dropping on a snare. And their set was killer: half the crowd was shrooming and I look to the back of the room and see Reggie Watts totally entranced like a hypnotized cobra.
Bryan Ramirez of Ex-Cocaine
The second night of Total Fest VIII was on fire. Seattle's Tacocat inspired a beautiful rash of crowd-surfing and Le Force sucked the air out of the room with their metallic power. But it was the eight-member (or more?) Vile Blue Shades, who enjoyed the riches of everyone's good cheer that night. I don't even know if I like their music, but they played three layers deep into the crowd accompanied by dancers wrapped in nylon, turning everyone into a sweaty crowd of heathens who had no care but the present moment.
Erika Fredrickson, Indy arts editor
- photo courtesy of Amy Donovan
- Portland, Ore.-based Fireballs of Freedom, formerly of Missoula, have played a few Total Fests in the past and will return this year for the 14th and final year of the festival.
Lana Rebel. She's been integral to Total Fest. She played the first TF with Last of the Juanitas. The after, after, after parties sitting at home with a slumber party situation watching the God channel on mute. Playing records and talking shit. Painting each other's toenails. The ass of Juicie's pants [of bands Lozen and Helms Alee] ripping out that one night. The wake up. Food. River. BBQ. Rock 'n' roll. Party. Slumber party. Rinse and repeat.
Jim Anderson, chef at Scotty's Table and past Total Fest organizer
Drunk Horse reunion, 2009. Drunk Horse is one of my favorite bands of all time. Part ZZ Top, part Allman Bros, part I don't know what. John Fleming [from Ear Candy Music] turned me on to them. They played the first ever Total Fest, went on to record another few records and then kind of hung it up around 2005 or 2006. In 2009, KBGA helped Total Fest bring Drunk Horse up for an anchor slot and it was some of the bar none best rock and roll I've ever seen.
Josh Vanek, Total Fest founder
A Total Fest is exactly what it is. It is when you jump totally headlong into the multi-stage frenzy. You see all of your old friends, hit some barbecues, join the black jeans at the river, walk your sore neck down to the bright light at The Big Dipper for the record swap, sit in a pickup truck and listen to heavy metal in the parking garage, and contemplate quitting your job just so you don't have to miss a single part of the total fun, because it really is that fun, and a forever symbol of your youth when every party was worth it.
Kia Liszak, executive director at Zootown Arts Community Center and past Total Fest organizer
If my first Total Fest was an episode of "Friends" it would be called, "The One with the Sparks," aka TF IV. The sweatbox American Legion Hall was packed nuts-to-butts with a sweltering variety of humans, all of whom were thirsty, all of whom drank all the PBR before dark, all while taking in acts as varied as No-Fi Soul Rebellion and Le Force. My cohort, Chad Dundas, and I went about purchasing literal armloads of that sweet Sparks for fear it would evaporate, too. After eight or 12 hours ... the sun came up and I was missing my shirt. Not to worry though, two members of the International Playboys, The Count and Monty Carlo, presented me with the key to the city of Missoula. Well, it was a key anyway, a wooden one that might hang on your grandmother's wall, and it's in my attic ready for Total Fest's return in 2025.
Jason McMackin of Total Combined Weight
Total Fest XIV runs Thu., Aug. 20–Sat., Aug. 22. $60 three-day pass/Single-night tickets also available at the door. Visit totalfest.org for full schedule.