‘Aggiefest’ brings a variety of sounds to the ’Ville

By Gary Clift

What sorts of awards would judges give out to performers at last weekend’s “Aggiefest”? Guitarist, ukulele player, and singer Sally Vee would be in the running for “Most Talented.” Topeka space trio Emotional Feedback would be one of the acts with “Most Distinct Sound.” Not a Planet got off one of the “Most Attractive Sets.”

But there would be competition in each of these categories, and in several others as well. Heck, there were almost eighty musical acts playing, last Friday night and Saturday, in venues including The Beach Art Museum, The Dusty Bookshelf, and Triangle Park as well as five bars. I’d never before been in Mojo’s, with its bamboo bar.

But that’s where I started off on Friday night, with The Haymakers, a local acoustic bass, guitar, banjo, and mandolin outfit. All four sang, using “single mic technique,” and they wore hats, toppers becoming, then, one of the themes of the evening. George Ladoux was playing harmonica on “The Ballad of New Orleans” when I came in.

There isn’t a lot of performing space in Mojo’s. The next two acts I saw there were acoustic guitar-playing singers. Tyler Gregory had the hair, beard, and hat to represent the Ozarks. This Leadbelly acolyte had an amplified platform to tap, just like John Hartford at City Auditorium a hundred years ago.

I believe the third act I saw in that bar was called “Soapbox.” We heard him evoke the late Levon Helm and, in some ways, to emulate him in a folk performance heavy with rhythm and blues influence.

There were other solo acts performing in the festival (tickets still $10 for admission to performances at all the different venues). Vee had a set during which she, like The Haymakers, relied on a book of lead sheets. Oh, and she wore a hat. She had wry humor and a good voice she could break, and she did surprising, churning versions of what we used to call “Standards”: “Georgia on My Mind,” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” She played a ballad version of Brittany Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and a Tiny Tim arrangement of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be” that was both comic and musically satisfying.

Neck hammer expert Johnny Bangs got exciting sounds from his six string acoustic during his hour down in Auntie Mae’s. He sang well, too, and used his voice for solo-section melody lines. Wonderfully percussive guitar.

Hats we got on stage. And trios. There were lots of guitar trios, including “Delicious Friction,” a St. George band with a singing guitarist who wore a referee’s striped shirt like Brownsville Station’s Cub Koda. Their music drove like Metal but wasn’t bound by all the conventions, so that the guitar amplifier was a SovTec and the drums Sonors. There’s a mix.

All three members of Not a Planet sang during their outdoor performance at O’Malley’s. And though the music approached what listeners forty years ago would have called “hard rock,” the rhythm section sang effective support lines behind the lead. NaP is another of those groups that has a firm notion what they want to sound like. And it is an attractive sound.

Like the guys in Emotional Feedback, the trio from Jewell called Terrabonne Station were slightly older fellows who played in the park. Their interest in The Dead was perhaps more obvious in their clothes and patter than in their playing, which was effective and consistent.

They were followed on the Triangle Park stage by local youth favorites Fuma who actually sang “Happy Birthday” to one of their fans. The quartet relied on single note keyboard solos, middling tempos, and a good drummer who filled up where there would otherwise have been little going on, or at least little audial tension.

And then there was the well-rehearsed Emotional Feedback with the electronically altered voices and the accompanying belly dancers—honest. Everything was smooth in this set, and the band played with sufficient complexity but without ever straining.

There was a lot of music to like here, and I missed performances by local favorites Terror Tractor, Vi Tran, and Sorrow by Truth.

I did, though, see a couple of other noteworthy solo acts—Josh Adkins (hat) churning out original songs in Pat’s Blue Ribbon’s recently re-oriented space and then Dillon Cowling a little while later there, a good singing fellow with a little pop country to him.

And I saw a couple of other interesting bands: trio-with-singer Spring Break ‘09 in Mae’s, playing punk with changing rhythms, all of it loud enough to qualify the bar as Pet Clark’s “cellar full of noise,” and the intriguing My Marionette, which alternated the sweeter voices of the quintet’s keyboard player or guitarist with the growling nineties metal sound of their lead singer, all the while running through substantial changes in rhythm and tempo.

In fact, I saw so much and had so much to revel in and consider after just three hours of the festival that I found my self wondering whether Aggiefest wasn’t one of those features of cultural life here that I just wouldn’t want to be without.

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