I didn’t spend as much time at the second iteration of the Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival as I wanted—-on Saturday I was busy being Jewish, and on Sunday I was busy being sick—-but I did circulate from venue to venue for several hours. By a few reasonable metrics the event struck me as an improvement over the first STPP, which took place in June. Each venue, as far as I could tell, had a volunteer sound engineer, as well as someone to keep an eye on logistics. There were maps of the venues, which stretched from Logan Circle to the U Street NW corridor. And there seemed to be more people. Low bars? Sure.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that some sets weren’t sparsely attended, and it doesn’t mean that everything went smoothly. There were some down-to-the-wire schedule changes—-and even some day-of schedule changes, with the house band at Lalibela forgoing its set so that other groups could play. And yet, while festival organizer Dave Mann has taken a lot of heat in the comments below my profile of him, most of the reports from this past weekend’s festival seem to be positive.
Here comes the subjective part: Just like last time, I saw a lot of crap, and most of the venues’ lineups betrayed little curatorial vision. The only venue where I reliably found interesting music was The Islander on U Street NW, which was the only space curated independently of the larger festival. Megan Petty booked bands that she’s written about on her blog Fuzzy Logic, exercising quality control and arranging her acts logically.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole festival like that—-a bunch of bloggers each curating a space—-but it probably wouldn’t work with Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie’s hyper-democratic ethos, which says you don’t need a sizable fan base or bloggers’ endorsements to play at a 125-band rock festival. You just have to be willing to play for free. For music fans, that’s a risky approach, but in its way it’s also kind of endearing.
I caught up with Mann on Sunday afternoon, and he was pleased. Because of his volunteers corps, he didn’t have to run from venue to venue. And he predicted—-again cautioning that he had no way of really knowing—-that attendance was as high as 3,000 people. He said he ran into NPR Music’s Bob Boilen on Saturday, who asked, “Are you Dave Mann?” and said he was enjoying the festival.
And then Mann told me that his next project, the details of which he wouldn’t divulge just yet, would be even more ambitious and exciting—-something really worthy of a cover story, he said.