On the streets of Fairplay last weekend, the musicians stood out. They had the best hair.
Hot pink locks, emo bangs and 'fros were in full effect at the South Park Music Festival, a four-day event where industry folk convened and absolutely anyone could enjoy over 150 local and national acts for free. The beer overflowed; visiting groups, not used to the thin mountain air, gasped for breath; and locals' dogs nearly outnumbered the locals.
Kicking off Thursday's party was California's Tim Easton, a boot-stompin', acoustic guitar-slingin' troubadour who delivered a fine set. To imagine his music, mix the white-boy blues of a de-fuzzed Black Keys with a wee bit of early Bob Dylan folksiness. Incidentally, Mr. Easton also plays a mean game of Scattergories.
The recently deceased R.L. Burnside once said, "The blues ain't nothing but dance music." The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, from Indianapolis, quoted Burnside as they got the crowd going with their hyper Delta Blues. Assisted by his brother on drums, the Rev got points for having the festival's best beard, rivaled only by acoustic mountain man Otis Gibbs.
The Rev's wife, "Washboard" Breezy, is a funky punk chick at first glance, but when this mama starts up with her Maid-Rite washboard, look out. The Big Damn Band put out exactly what the Delta Blues should: amazing slide work and absolutely indecipherable lyrics.
With their set, the Hot IQs joined Yo Flaco! And Love Me Destroyer as the crowd's nominees for Denver's Next Big Thing. Their mix of indie pop/keyboardy dork rock is catchy and danceable, but the real talk focused on their cuter-than-reasonable drummer, Elaine Acosta, who kept it going while blowing her bubblegum. Sweet dreams, indie boys.
Halloween, Alaska was in fine form, despite technical problems with the stage's sound system. The Minneapolis band switched effortlessly from quiet mullings to noise rock and electro strut, with much help from their keyboardist, who looks unnervingly like one of those conspiracy dudes on "The X-Files." Their quiet, sleepy rendition of LL Cool J's "I Can't Live Without My Radio" drew nods from the hip-hop folkies in the audience.
Hailing from the Bronx, the Apostles quickly took over, proving adept at getting the crowd going -- especially after supplying shots of tequila. The hip-hop trio, equal parts De La Soul goofiness and Sage Francis ferocity, suffered the same less-than-stellar sound system as Halloween, Alaska, but played on wearing what-the-hell grins.
As amp crackling overtook the beats, one member stopped the music to ask, "Apostles, can we entertain these people organic-style?" They then took it back to 1986, freestyling about their technical difficulties over beat-boxing. In another song that probably wasn't the most applicable to the citizenry of Fairplay, they asked, "If hip-hop's about making a dollar, why's it seem all we're getting is 50 Cent?"
As far as lodging went, Chicago's The Its! probably got the sweetest deal of anyone, as they were housed with a baker in Fairplay. The tiny chocolate bundt cakes they enjoyed provided the fuel for an energetic show, combining good ol' rock with a kick in the pants, in a fashion known to fans of Hot Hot Heat.
There are great band names and there are cruddy band names. Bad ones, however, can be made right if the music is good enough to float them. Fortunately, the eight people of Dallas group Happy Bullets pulled it off, and quickly excited the crowd with their giddily weird show.
With added keyboards, banjo, trumpet and trombone, they delivered songs that are Decemberists in their history-laden content, but powered by a manic and captivating Sesame Street energy.
Like the Bullets, Margot & the Nuclear So & So's -- who deserve a nod for best band name -- packed the stage (with at least five members, and often more). Their "urban folk scarf rock" made for an amazing live show, complete with a wildly flailing percussionist.
And on the home front, Love Me Destroyer's amazing set, played in a tiny bar, was the talk of the town (population: 610). The Denver boys' punk and metal blend reverberated into the street and provided Fairplay its first mosh pit.
One of the more at-ease bands at South Park, they bantered with the audience and each other, declared themselves the Patron Saints of Knifefighting and commented drolly as they watched a cop ticket their van.
-- Photos and story by Kara Luger