Alexandria’s Fest Too Was A Whirlwind Of Great Music And Amazing Experiences

by | Jul 18, 2014 | MUSIC

Fest Too is an annual three day music festival that takes place in Alexandria, Virginia at The Lab At Convergence. The 2014 edition of the festival took place from June 26-28. It showcased roughly 40 Virginia bands, had various workshops, and tons of merch/distro, plus food was included with the ticket price.

Fest Too is an annual three day music festival that takes place in Alexandria, Virginia at The Lab At Convergence. The 2014 edition of the festival took place from June 26-28. It showcased roughly 40 Virginia bands, had various workshops, and tons of merch/distro, plus food was included with the ticket price.

The drive from Richmond was rife with traffic, but it was worth it. This year, the shows at Fest were all held inside, which was a nice reprieve from the heat. It was nicely decorated, with large handmade Fest Too signs out front, diy lanterns, and a very professional setup inside. At the front of the main stage was a table with Fest Too-specific merch, such as guitar picks, posters, and flyers. Information for the Fest was displayed in a well-crafted zine-type pamphlet, which featured maps, performance schedules, and food times. There were many volunteers for the Fest, and it was evident they were all passionate about working with music. The comical pictures of coordinator Dan ABH in the pamphlets also made it evident that he and the other volunteers had spent a lot of time setting things up throughout the year leading up to the Fest.

The Lab is a “safe space”, which means no alcohol or drugs are allowed, and “being a dummy” is discouraged. The intention of The Lab is to give musicians in NOVA a place to play, and for kids in that area to be able to go see shows closer to their homes. Throughout the fest, I met a lot of people who were friendly, and genuinely cared about music and the well-being of the musical community in this state, or in general. It was a very positive environment.

The first band I caught was Real Clothes (which featured members of Tesselations). The band was a four piece with a female vocalist. The vocals were deeper, nostalgic, spacey, and sad. The band had a sort of futuristic feel, like Florence and the Machine, however this was subdued by their sound’s dark quality, as well as their earthy vibe. At times, the music in the background sounded like cathedral music.

Between sets, those attending Fest Too were able to go upstairs and buy merch from the bands they liked. Some labels, like Say-10 Records, were doing distro up there too. The merch room wasn’t limited to band merch. Some people were selling diy products, like Cathaus. Those attending Fest were invited to distribute or sell projects they had worked on together, as long as they were approved and created by members of the Virginia music or diy communities. I was upstairs selling merch during RVA’s own Toxic Moxie, but I could hear them rocking the house from where I was. Everyone came up sweaty, and I could tell there had been a lot of dancing going on.

The next band I was able to see was also a Richmond band, Truman. This four-piece stood out to me because they were a lot darker than other bands that had played Fest Too. As soon as they started playing, the audience was like a thundercloud gathering around them. They are pretty doomy screamo, with a vehement vocalist. The music definitely had an “emotional” quality, taking you down a similar hole that black metal would. The band had quite a few parts that sounded disjointed, and sections of their music even had a math-y quality to it. The crowd was into it, and the lead singer at one pointed looked like he was being exorcised. I’d heard of this band before, but had never seen them, and I was pleasantly surprised by them. They also had awesome gravestone t-shirts.

Don’t Look Down is a five piece from Winchester. They were a crazy throwback to my old Florida days when I used to go to pop-punk shows. True to form, the band wanted to get the crowd involved. However they had a little bit of a hard time. I think at this point everyone was pretty tired from the traffic and the heat. This didn’t stop the band, though. The dudes were energetic, and when the songs got really poppy they started jumping around in the air. This spurred a couple of kids in the audience to start grabbing some of the slinkies that were lying around, and they started jump roping with them. Like at any show, one of the best things about Fest Too was when kids got really into the music and went nuts. Midway through the set, the band took a bit of a change, started doing less poppy songs and switched to music that sounded a bit darker, with parts of the vocals sounding like Claudio from Coheed and Cambria.

Walk the Plank is a four piece from DC/Fairfax. You could tell by their attire they had been in the punk scene for a while. The music they played was hardcore punk, more like DC-band inspired music, perhaps influenced by bands like Reagan Youth or Bad Religion. The vocals in this band are a little gruff, but it added to the overall aesthetic. The singer was very enthusiastic, and paced around the stage as if he were nervous or angry, or a little of both. He mentioned he was thrown off by wearing sleeves, as they were getting in his way. He also stated he had taken a public speaking course to improve his ability to sing on stage, and it made me think a lot about anxiety issues and how a lot of kids in the music scene have to grapple with them. It was comforting to hear someone speaking openly about those type of problems. Sometimes seeing bands live is awesome because you get to find out a little bit more about the performers. It makes the whole experience a more human one.

The first band I saw Friday was Skullkid. They are a three piece, and like Truman, Skullkid is affiliated with This Old Railroad, a record label from the Northern Virginia area. I had seen Tommy Sorensen, the bass player, play at the first Fest Too, but in a different band, Rivers. Whereas Rivers was acoustic emo type music, Skullkid is dubbed “emotive hardcore screamo” on Bandcamp–which is pretty fitting. The music seems to come from a dark place. The vocals are throaty, but definitely not in your face–they’re not yelling at you, that’s for sure. In fact, the members hardly acknowledged one another, or the audience. For the most part, it was as if they were in their own worlds while playing. This added to the overall feeling of the set, which was upset. The music was amazing, but a friend and I joked around after the set about how we needed medication after it was over. Very emotional.

Friday and Saturday were both workshop days, which meant making difficult decisions as to whether you would see bands play, or go to workshops happening during the music sets. The workshop I went to on Friday was called “Who’s Running This Show?: DIY Booking.” The workshop focused on booking events like Fest Too, but there was a lot of discussion about various aspects of booking. We talked about the differences between being a booker vs. a promoter (i.e. booking singular shows vs. a whole region’s shows), and what complications or good experiences one may have.

Saturday, day three of Fest Too, started off earlier than the previous two days. This day, the sets took place in a separate building across the street. The workshops started off right away, at the same time as some of the sets. I was so bummed I missed Lines & Lies, an acoustic project from Northern Virginia. Instead, though, I ran over to catch some of the workshop The Dominion Collective was putting on. The Dominion Collective is a Virginia group that promotes local musicians and writes reviews on local music. The personal budgeting workshop was also going on at this time. Shortly after, I had to run over and catch some of the musical sets that were going on.

Rachel Kline was the first set I saw Saturday. The room which housed the sets this day was quite perfect. It was smaller, bright and full of windows, had hardwood floors, and the hallway-style of it really drew attention to the performer. Rachel played simply with electric guitar, no shoes on, on a small area of carpet. Her voice is deeper, and coupled with her style and the content of the music, she reminded me of Amy Winehouse. Later in the set, some of the songs got a little more twangy. Her songs touched upon some darker topics; there was definitely an element of pain to her music, and on her Bandcamp she says that her most recent EP, Demons, was written when she was “in a really dark place.” It was kind of amazing to see someone who appeared so young and upbeat play tunes with this direction.

The songwriting workshop was one of the workshops I was most looking forward to. This workshop appealed to me because although I follow and write about music, I am not a musician myself. The whole songwriting process is of interest and sort of a mystery to me. Tyler Walker from the band Family Cat ran this workshop, although Dan sat in and threw some opinions out there–in fact, most of the workshops were actually more like discussions. Tyler and some others discussed their personal methods for songwriting, which were all varied. Dan likened songwriting to “collaging”, saying his method sometimes involved taking something he had previously written and reconstructing it to fit the format of the music he created. There was discussion about needing free time for creativity, the ephemeral relevance of songs you may write, and emphasis on the need to work together as a group (if you are in a band). All in all, this workshop was informative and interesting.

Nathaniel Brown, aka Oklahoma Car Crash, played next. Seeing this set live was awesome for me, because he did a lot of songs from the I Know Better Now EP, which I just wrote about for Punknews, so I practically knew all of the lyrics. In fact, this was one of the sets where the whole audience knew most of the lyrics, and they sung along with him. I have been able to watch Nathaniel’s musical progress for years, and his style has become more mature. Also, whereas his songs previously were all acoustic, he has some new songs which include electric guitar. OKCC’s latest work was also recorded at The Lab. While Nathaniel was playing, Dan was watching him from outside the window, which was amusing to note.

Echo, originally a solo project by Shaun Ahmadpour, played this year as well. I’d seen Echo the first year I attended. This year, however, there were two people performing as Echo. As Shaun explained, having someone else mixing music while he rapped over it gave him more energy and mobility on stage during the set. The rap, or hip hop, Echo makes is essentially real-world issues set over music. There was one song they did about “living in a city and being anxious about gun fights.” While most of the music focused on the lyrical content, some of the music reminded me of world music, like something you might hear on a documentary about Egypt. Shaun was dancing around on stage, and at some points used a tambourine to go with the beats, or jumped into the crowd to hang out with them. The set ended on a high note, with vehement musical repetition, while Shaun bounced on a kid’s scooter.

Cat Be Damned is a three piece from Richmond. They are a more modern version of Nirvana, really. They reminded me of music that I’d hear back home in Florida, kind of a backwater sound. The set started out sort of jammy, but then really took off. They were a combination of clean and rough sounds that came together to give that grungey, 90s feel. The vocals sound reminiscent of Neil Young.

Atlas At Last is a three piece that came in right away with heavy drums. They were super loud. They categorize themselves on their Bandcamp as punk/post-hardcore; some of their music almost sounds borderline screamo or metal at times. The band had good stage presence. They were high energy, and the drummer was doing tricks like flipping his drumsticks in the air while he could.

Harris Mendell of Sundials played an acoustic set on his own. He played a lot of Sundials songs, including “Either Way”, “New York Crunch”, “Unpredictable”, and “Neighborhood Well.” It was a good mix of older and newer Sundials songs. The audience knew a lot of the lyrics and sang along. He played a new Sundials song called “Splinter”, which sounded awesome (apparently the record “Splinter” is on comes out in October–they just got done recording it). There was a lot of love in the air during this set. Sundials drummer Cory Chubb was sitting on the side of the stage, supporting his friend and bandmate, and when “Strange” was played, Dan made a beeline for his girlfriend, Alexis. The whole thing was very cute, really. The guitar got super loud at the end, and then that was it, his set was over. Waah.

The Duskwhales played after this. I was eager to see them, as I had booked them for an event at Gallery 5 following Fest Too. Duskwhales are a three piece indie band from NOVA. The band donned flower headbands, which reminded me a lot of Tyrannosaurus Rex (before they turned into T. Rex). That being said, while some of their inspiration seemed to have been from psychedelic rock, most of it was more modern. There was a lot of use of keyboard during their set, which at parts became very dramatic. Some of their songs sounded like jangle-pop.

One of the last bands to play this Fest Too was Family Cat. Family Cat is a four piece mostly from Richmond, which has members of bands such as Close Talker and Springtime. Their lineup was slightly different from the lineup listed on their Bandcamp. The vocals for the most part were throaty, rough, and kinda screechy. Vox were done by both bassist Roger Anderson and guitarist Tyler Walker (who led the aforementioned songwriting workshop). The basslines reminded me of Alkaline Trio, as did lyrics like “take those pills in the dark,” from the song “Loosey Goosey.” Although I’m pretty sure I caught some mistake-inspired laughter during the set, it was all in good fun, and the guys really seemed to enjoy playing with one another. One of the last songs–called “Sextron 5,000,” or so I’m told by Steven–really stood out to me, as it was so heavy. Really tight set.

Overall, Fest Too this year was a total success. The weekend was a whirlwind of bands, workshops, and great experiences. It’s an incredible feeling to be surrounded by so many people involved in the music scene who love their work, and by those who love to support one another. A massive amount of props to everyone who helped to put this on! Although I didn’t get to cover every band that played, a full list of bands that played can be found HERE. Also, a compilation of this year’s line-up was made and is available from Bandcamp here:

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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