CITY ARTS FEST 2011 [Seattle] – What Sets It Apart & What Not to Miss



(buy tix)

These days, the festival format is pretty much dominating the live music industry.  Not only is it a reflection of a financial necessity to redirect focus on the performance element in an age where recorded material is pirated to such a degree that “consumers” actually expect the product to be free of charge, but the idea to corral multiple artists and genres to present them like an audio smörgåsbord mirrors the desires of the growing demographic who listen to mp3s on shuffle and have come to rely on immediacy, expecting to have the ability to switch between any number or variety of options with no more than a simple finger swipe on their ipads.  The 90s had one primary standout festival, the touring Lollapalooza; now resurrected as a yearly one-off that doesn’t move from it’s static location in Chicago.  That model was mimicked with a more streamlined focus for the female-centric Lilith Fair (97-99, 2010), by the jam band revival set for the H.O.R.D.E. Festival (1992-98), and with the punk  fueled Warped Tour, which has opened it’s arms to a slightly more eclectic lineup -along with extreme sports- in more recent years.  There was also a couple of attempts at multi-day fests like Woodstock, but… I think we all know how that turned out.  Once Coachella started to really get rolling at the turn of the millenium, Bonnaroo picked up the formula on the other side of the country.  Then, slowly (and then, quite a bit more rapidly) the multi-day festivals with huge varied lineups really began popping up all over the country.  Rothbury, Wakarusa, Treasure Island Music Fest, ACL, Vegoose, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Outside Lands, etc. etc. etc….  The tours weren’t traveling as much anymore, so the people began to.  And what about those that can’t travel?  Well, if you won’t have a handful of festivals rolling through your city throughout the year, then I guess every city’s gonna have to throw a shit ton of festivals themselves.

Here in Seattle and the greater Washington area, we’ve already had the Sasquatch! Festival, The Capitol Hill Block Party, Bumbershoot, and Decibel Fest, this year, with the Earshot Jazz Festival scheduled for next week.  Last year, the folks at City Art Magazine decided that wasn’t enough and came up with the brilliant idea to launch the city-wide Heineken sponsored CITY ARTS FESTIVAL.  Not only did they toss yet one more festival into the already overflowing pile, but they also had the nerve to do it in the Fall, in an attempt to drag out the “festival season” which had, by all intents and purposes, already officially ended.  Summer’s over.  People are going back to school.  It’s getting cold, especially here in this city.  Is another music festival really fucking necessary?  Well… I’m not gonna waste my time with rhetoricals.  Instead, I’m just gonna explain why, in fact, it definitely is relevant, by pointing out some of the factors that set it apart from the others and make it a unique experience, while bringing attention to particular elements, performances, and artists that might be overlooked.

The BASICS / This Year vs Last

Modeled after other city-wide festivals like Austin‘s SXSW and Portland‘s Music Fest NW, the CITY ARTS FESTIVAL welcomes over 175 different artists to appear at more than 20 of Seattle‘s top venues.  Last year’s festival showcased performances by acts like Belle and Sebastian and Cat Power in such classic and beautifully majestic theaters as Benaroya Hall (home of the symphony) and the 5th Ave Theatre (est. 1926; originally hosting vaudeville acts).  That’s one main difference/benefit of City Arts taking advantage of all that the city has available; you’re generally not going to able to experience these acts playing in these environments.  This year is no different.  The main issue with last year was that it was the first year and with that comes a lot of learning.  At times if felt a bit scattered and more like a bunch of disconnected events, rather than one unified festival.  We covered the fest last time and, as someone who dealt directly with organizers, I can guarantee that kinks have been worked out and that this year is already running exponentially smoother.

Wristbands & Individual show tix

Unless you’re only planning on catching one event, our recommendation is to pick up the 3-Day All-Access Wristbands.  They are only $69 and cover access to any of the events throughout the entire 3-Day festival.  My only real concern with buying wristbands at festivals like this is how functional they truly are.  What I mean by that is, if there are conflicting acts that I was hoping to see scheduled at the same time or if my pass would limit access to an event that had reached it’s occupancy limit.  Last year, there was more than one event that was standing room only and festivals like Bumbershoot have always had occupancy limits which makes it incredibly easy to get locked out of the very shows that you bought the tickets for, in the first place.  This years City Arts Fest, on the other hand, is not only holding extra spaces for every event to, pretty much, guarantee that wristband holders are not prevented entry, but they’ve also done an amazing job with the schedule to avoid as many conflicts in that respect as possible and there is even a dedicated line for wristband holders.  Not to mention that for every wristband that you purchase, you’re automatically entered to win a Hawaiian vacation for two, through Alaska Airlines.

Broke as a joke?  There are actually a handful of City Arts Fest events that are completely free to the public.


There are obvious big names that people are going to want to check out.  These are the names that many people are buying the tickets for in the first place, so we don’t really feel the need to tell you to check out someone like ROBYN w/Yacht at the Paramount.  Then there are acts like CRYSTAL CASTLES – incidentally, scheduled late enough to check out after the Robyn set- who, although we “recommend”, are playing so much this year that their appearance at CAF isn’t one of the factors that truly adds to the uniqueness of this particular festival.  Mudhoney is always solid and worth seeing again, but as a local act, there will always be opportunities to check them out in the future.  Then there’s the one thing that really makes CAF a festival like no other: the focus on various forms of art.  This isn’t just another music festival, that simply includes the word “arts” in the title because it’s named after the goddamn magazine.  It’s actually a festival that, beyond music, also features discussion panels, visual art showcases, and film.  Here’s a heads up on a few events and exclusives that we feel that you should know about…




(Visual Art)


Thursday October 20

FRED Wildlife Refuge


Curated by the Free Sheep Foundation, the Fred Wildlife Refuge will be showcasing the work of local Seattle low brow legend Charles Krafft and it’s completely FREE to attend.  We recommend hitting this up, even if you didn’t purchase a ticket or plan on going to any of the rest of the festival.

Originally working as a painter in the more traditional sense, Krafft redirected his focus into ceramics, approximately 2 decades ago.  Juxtaposing  traditional methods of blue & white tin glaze Delftware pottery from the Netherlands with his own, often crass, social commentary, the artist invented what he refers to as “Disasterware“.  Beginning with his own parodies of ceramic collector’s plates -substituting flowers and fields for horrific imagery and that of historic tragedies- he eventually moved on to create everything from ceramic figures of grenades, automatic weapons, and swastika windmills.  His other big trademark comes in the material that he uses for the products itself.  Creating his own clay body called “SPODE“, the sculptor makes his own bone china containing human remains, by mixing in crematoria ashes.



    MAN MAN: Live Laser Show

    (music, visual/performance art)


October 22

Laser Dome

Doors10:30 pm

$18 adv / $22 dos

All Ages

Dressed in his trademark white polo and tennis shorts attire (headband optional) with white smears of facepaint framing his mustached  snarls and grunts -not unlike a 70s Lord of the Flies porn-star version of John McenroeMAN MAN frontman, Honus Honus (aka: Ryan Kattner), leads his multi-instrumentalist troupe through howling performances fueled with the tense cleansing energy of a ritual sacrifice.  Part Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits, part shambolic Captain Beefheart blues, part all-out tribal drum circle, and part something that’s all their own, the Philadelphia quartet has made a name for themselves through these explosive live shows that mix the spooky macabre vibes of a haunted house with the salvation of a baptist church ministry.  Recently, a more futuristic element of synthed-out blaster zaps have been swirled into the mix, evoking imagery of hovering UFOs blowing up dishwashers and other scattered household appliances in an abandoned junkyard.

MAN MAN isn’t new to the festival game -they’ve played Coachella, Bonnaroo, etc.- but, their performance at City Arts should be different than any before.  This time, they will be one of only 3 different CAF acts to perform in the Pacific Science Center ‘s laser dome accompanied by a live laser show!  Given the unique nature of the event, we don’t know exactly what to expect.  What we do know is that you probably won’t want to miss it.




    Replacements Documentary


7:00 pm

Price: $6 – 10

All Ages

In the middle of seeing all this music and art, why not take a moment to head over to the North West Film Forum to check out a movie?  It will give you a nice break, allowing you to sit down in a less crowded environment and change up the monotony, while still being engaged in the festival.  Our suggestion is Gorman Bechard’s newest film, Color Me Obsessed, a documentary about the pioneering 80s rock band, The Replacements.  I love a good documentary and can pretty much watch one about anything, as long as it’s made well, but sometimes, directors feel like the subject will carry the film all by itself and phone it in pretty hard.  One thing that I generally appreciate is when someone works to redefine the structure of a doc; to find and take a new approach to the format.  Color Me Obsessed promises to do exactly that, building a film around a subject that never actually appears in the film at all.  The following information -taken from the press release- should help to explain:

Bechard has been a diehard fan of 1980s rock icons The Replacements for nearly 30 years, and Color Me Obsessed is a movie about that fandom. Unlike other music docs, there’s no concert or other footage of the band in the film—in fact, Bechard has still not met a single Replacement. Their music appears nowhere on the soundtrack. Instead, the film engages fans like Dave Foley, critics like Robert Christgau, and other musicians like Colin Meloy and Lori Barbero to talk about this iconoclastic, deeply influential group and their music. It was Bechard’s way of making a movie about his favorite band that anyone who’s ever had a favorite band can relate to. And if he picks up a few new fans for the Replacements along the way, even better.

There are additional showings on the following 2 days, as well as a later 9:30pm screening on the 21st.  The reason that we recommend this particular Friday 7pm show, however, is because it keeps your schedule open and allows you to attend another CITY ARTS FEST exclusive later that evening.  The showing gets out at approx. 9pm but, if you scurry just a few blocks down Pike St. and over to the Comet Tavern, there will be an All Star tribute to the Replacements beginning at the same time (9pm) and running until 12:30.  That show is $8 for single tickets and will feat. members of The Fastbacks, The Cops, Virgin Islands, Kinski, Fort Union, Concourse d’Elegance, Cataldo, Kyle Bradford, Ben Fisher, Gabriel Mintz and a special appearance by John Roderick.





$25 adv / $30 dos

The first time that I was supposed to see Built To Spill was in 1995.  The show was $8 and the opener was HEAT MISER, a band featuring Elliot Smith and Sam Coomes (Quasi).  I had the tickets, but I didn’t make it.  I saw them later that year at the Mercer Arena (now the Opera House) as part of the Bumbershoot festival, instead.  Believe it or not, the Bumbershoot tickets were even cheaper than the other ones, back then (we still sneaked in).  The last time that I saw BTS play was last November in Olympia at the Capitol Theater, a place that is both featured in the Built To Spill LIVE (2000) album booklet and a venue that frontman Doug Martch personally told me that he’s never been able to get a good sound out of.  That show resulted in a reunion of Martsch and K Records founder, Calvin Johnson‘s (Beat Happening) 90s collaboration, The Halo Benders.  It was a benefit and they came all the way out to play that show at a venue they weren’t even very fond of, based on the simple request of a family who’s young daughter was suffering from cancer.

I’ve been seeing BTS shows for the last 16 years (half my life) and in the last decade and a half, I’ve spoken to Doug a handful of times.  These conversations and quick interactions have been in places that vary from the green room at the Crystal Ballroom to sitting out on the sidewalk at night, post show on the streets of Olympia.  Whether we were discussing the possibility of arranging an interview for the site or it was back when I was just some 16 year old kid standing outside of the, now-defunct club, RKCNDY, he’s always been the same equally approachable, humble, and personable guy.  It’s that unpretentious realism that comes through in the music.  The last time that I talked to him in person was in ’09 after the band played a free show on the UW lawn.  He told me that he was in town recording their last album There is No Enemy.  There is some talk that he may be coming to town this time for a similar reason.  This City Arts performance will actually be the one and only U.S. Built to Spill show for the entire year.

I’ve seen Built to Spill so many times, at this point, that it would be hard to count, but it’s one of those rare bands that have burrowed itself into my life and, as cliche as it might be, have provided the soundtrack to so many different stages of it.  It’s interesting when you consider how big Elliot Smith became or bands like Modest Mouse, who not only use to open up for BTS in those early days, but have admitted to owing an insurmountable debt to Doug Martsch‘s work for their own existence.  Martsch, on the other hand, has always stayed a steady course, avoiding any fanfare, and simply offering up consistent work on a consistent basis, for the last 2 decades.  As one of the greatest indie rock bands of all-time, it’s ironic that their consistency is something that may actually play against them being celebrated more than they are, at this point in their careers.  People love a reunion /comeback and I have to believe that, if they had disappeared in the 90s like other groundbreaking acts such as Pavement and the Pixies, they would be getting even more recognition for what they’ve provided to the music world and people would be losing their goddamn minds over them playing a show right now.  BTS have just gotten stronger and tighter over time, as they add more and more to their repertoire.

If you haven’t seen them in a while, you’re likely to find something completely different the next time that you do.  They had a phase when they were busting out reggae versions of Elton John‘s “Daniel” and ending their show’s with 20 minute dub versions of “Cortez the Killer” (Neil Young).  A couple of years ago they began playing the M.I.A. hit “Paper Planes”, live.  When I caught them in Oly they played “Ripple” (Grateful Dead).  The first time that I ever heard a Daniel Johnston song was actually through their version of “Some Things Last A Long Time“.  Somehow, all of their covers sound almost too perfect.  Even the music of others is reinvented and takes on a completely new life through the filter of the Idaho 5-piece.  Everything they do seems so effortless, that it’s easy to forget how great they still truly are.  If you haven’t seen them in a while, this will be a perfect opportunity to remind yourself of just that.  If you’ve never seen them live, then this is a definite must see.  If they are, in fact, recording a new album in town, there’s a good chance they’re gonna premier some new shit at this show, as well.  They usually do.



    Daniel Barrow:

    Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry

    (Visual/Performance Art)

8:00 pm
$12 adv / $15 dos

I’ve never seen the full extent of what Daniel Barrow does as an artist, but there’s one thing that I can pretty much guarantee: you’re not likely to get the same exact experience anywhere else.  There are a handful of things that I do know about him:  He’s from Canada, he’s the 2010 Sobey Art Award winner, and he’s supported acts that range from Miranda July to Antony and the Johnsons.  I also know that he is an illustrator and that he likes to bring his artwork to life by animating full stories in real time in front of a live audience.  The equipment that he uses includes a simple CD player and overhead projectors.  To picture a man narrating a story that’s accompanied by drawings on sheets of acetate projected onto the wall, can sound a bit antiquated, but, based on the imagery that we’ve seen, the work is quite impressive.  Somehow, the combination of his illustration style and the method of delivery don’t feel dated, current, or futuristic.  Instead, they seem to exist is some fantastic alternate universe.  This year,  Daniel will be appearing at the City Arts Festival to present one of the stories/worlds that he’s created titled, “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry“.

The following press release info should be able to explain what he does better than we can:

Barrow has developed an intimate mode of ‘manual animation’ using the antiquated technology of an overhead projector. From a position amongst the audience he recites live narration while manipulating layers of transparencies in continuous motion. Accentuated by interference patterns and sleight-of-hand trickery, Barrow’s hand –drawn images contrive an absorbing tale of comic book grotesques. “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry” is a bizarre confessional detailing the grand but hopeless scheme of an estranged garbage collector and failed art student.

Unloved and rejected by society, the protagonist begins a universal art project in the form of a telephone directory of ‘profound and intimate insights’ to chronicle the lives of those around him. As he snoops through the windows and waste bins of fellow citizens, his survey is rendered futile by a maniacal killer who follows in his wake, picking off subjects one by one. Invoking introspection, pathos and dark humor, this award-winning performance piece is accompanied by an unassuming Beach Boys-inflected score recorded by Amy Linton of The Aislers Set.

The following footage is not of the show that Barrow will be presenting at the festival.  It’s from another one of Daniel‘s pieces called, “Learning to Breathe Underwater“, but it should still provide a quick glimpse into what this guy is all about and what can be expected by anyone that makes their way to check him out on Saturday the 22nd.



    Freestyle Fellowship

    (hip hop)

$19 adv / $24 dos

In the late 80s – early 90s, the West Coast managed to carve out their mark on the hip hop world through the introduction of gangsta rap groups like N.W.A. Around this same time, there was a little South Central Los Angeles health food center known as The Good Life that began hosting weekly workshop-style open mic nights.  The Good Life was somewhat of an epicenter for talent to grow at the time and that environment helped to birth a good deal of future “conscious”/”back pack” rap legends.  The Pharcyde came out of that area and time period and was connected to that scene.  The Good Life crew, specifically, retained a heavy focus on freestyling and some incredibly talented battle MCs came out of those open mics (ex. Otherwize took the title over Eminem in the 1997 Rap Olympics).  Jurassic 5 was born out of those Good Life open mic sessions, as was the entire Project Blowed collective and compilation (feat. rappers like Busdriver and Abstract Rude).  Both part of the Good Life scene and members under the “project blowed” canopy, was a crew by the name of Freestyle Fellowship that incorporated live jazz elements, toyed with scat-like vocal deliveries, and caused some immediate quakes in the rap scene that are still being felt to this day.  Over time, FF members split off to pursue solo careers of various success (Mykah 9 and Aceyalone, especially) and, although certain members may have done work with each other over the years, a proper Freestyle Fellowship full-length hasn’t been released since Temptations in 2001.  Even the 2001 Shockadoom Ep was originally recorded in the nineties.

After all this time, Freestyle Fellowship has finally reunited with the lineup of Mykah 9, Aceyalone, P.E.A.C.E., Self Jupiter, and DJ Kiilu Grand, and are releasing a new album called, The Promise.  In all honesty, the “conscious” rap movement is one that I lost patience with years ago.  Everyone wants to come across as deep, but are far too overt with letting the listener know how “conscious” they are, instead of simply delivering mind-blowing and thought provoking material.  Freestyle Fellowship is the type of crew that has always been focused on the actual craft of their art and whatever labels and/or honors that were bestowed on them came after the fact.  If you’re seriously into hip hop and continue to eat up some of the conscious rap trash that’s being spewed out these days, you owe it to yourself to hit up this show.  After all, these are the guys that these lesser artists are imitating.


CLICK HERE to check out the full schedule

CLICK HERE to view a pdf grid of the entire festival

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it's hard to recall all of the details. "I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn't actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room... but it wasn't actually here... it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle."

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