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By virtually any measure, Saturday’s Avant Fairfax festival was quite the success. With a lineup full of relative obscurities and a location far from the center of metropolitan D.C., success was never a guarantee, but thanks to consistent and wide-ranging publicity efforts on the part of its organizers, Avant Fairfax managed to draw a diverse crowd of over 150 people. Midway through, I asked co-organizer Chethan Kenkeremath if he had expected such an impressive turnout. The response was immediate and emphatic: “Fuck no. I thought we were each going to lose a thousand dollars out of our own pockets, 30 people would show up, and they’d be all the usual Velvet Lounge regulars.”
Did he know most of the people in attendance? “In the beginning, most of them were friends of mine. But at this point it’s way beyond that.”
More photos and brief thoughts after the jump. There’s also a full photo gallery here.
I arrived a bit late and missed Layne Garrett and Insect Factory, to my dismay. The first set I caught was Kuschty Rye-Ergot (above), with local guitarist John Stanton and former Velvet Lounge curator Scott Verrastro on electronics and percussion. Despite some feedback issues, this was a highly enjoyable, low-key set perfectly timed with the slowly fading ambient light in the Old Town Hall space. By the time the next act, Stag Hare went on, it was dark outside and the music – a densely textured noise/drone piece – once again fit the mood.
Avant Fairfax’s musical palette was pretty diverse, and surprisingly accessible. Perhaps the most straightforward act of the evening was Outpost, a three-piece band whose psych-rock was the most song-based music that I heard all night. They were followed by Anduin (above), another one-man act whose dark ambient music was accompanied by compelling visuals: in particular, a video of a crackling fireplace that, rather than being comforting, became strangely ominous in the context of the music. Anduin was probably my favorite performance of the night.
The most warmly received performance of the festival was Mike Tamburo (above), who performed a lengthy and apparently fully composed piece on solo hammer dulcimer. In a festival that generally placed thoughtful improvisation and deliberate playing ahead of sheer chops, Tamburo’s piece was a tour de force of brilliant musicianship, and his composition ebbed and flowed gracefully while still throwing in the occasional suprising twist to keep things interesting. He seemed somewhat bemused by the enthusiastic standing ovation that he received, but it was well deserved.
Kohoutek, above, is a band with which many in D.C. are already well-acquainted. For their half-hour improv at Avant Fairfax, they were a quartet of guitar, drums, electronics and voice/various weird wind instruments. The result was a pretty representative psych-rock jam, much more out there than Outpost’s material but still grounded and accessible, mostly thanks to John Stanton’s relatively melodic explorations on electric guitar. Although they were under pressure to end their set quickly as the show was running extremely late, their improv seemed to progress and wrap up at a logical point, ending just when the musicians seemed to run out of things to say, no earlier and no later.
Kohoutek’s Avant Fairfax performance is already available for streaming and download at District of Noise.
Headliners Cheer-Accident did not get started until nearly 1:45am, at a festival that had an advertised end time of 1am. As a result, they had to play a very truncated set of only about half an hour, some of which they whittled away with idle banter. At the outset, multi-instrumentalist Thymme Jones (above, on trumpet) said something like, “This has been a great festival so far… it’s too bad we’re going to ruin it with some rock music.” Cheer-Accident’s music is indeed more prog-rock than much of the more improv- and drone-oriented material of the earlier performers. But they are no retro group celebrating the glory of the 1970s; instead, their avant-rock remains fresh and unpredictable, and even in the course of a 30-minute set one was never sure what was coming next. The set seemed kind of disorganized and crowd had thinned out greatly by the time Cheer-Accident was forced to finish up at 2:15, but I really enjoyed a lot of their choppy, proggy avant-rock.
All told, the only real complaint about the evening was that it failed completely to run on time. For a first-time festival thrown together on a relative whim, that’s hardly a damning criticism. And the word from organizer Andrew McCarry is that he is not ruling out further similar events in collaboration with Fairfax Spotlight on the Arts. Looks like Sonic Circuits and the Velvet Lounge have a new ally in the suburbs.