All Points West Debrief - Scarecrow Edition

Hey readers/listeners/random trollers:

All Points West was mostly a bust for me this year. Well no, I take that back. I, MYSELF, was a bust for All Points West, meaning I failed the festival. It didn't fail me.

I only made it out to one day of the festival (I had been planning on making it to at least two days, if not three), which also happened to be the short day. The powers that were All Points West decided to hold the doors until a bit after 4 PM, and here lies my one criticism of the festival, which was otherwise bloody fantastic: I don't blame them for up until 2:30 because hellfire & brimstone (and a fair amount of water) was falling from the sky until then, but the subsequent hour-and-a-half wait as they figured out their course of action became pretty draining to the general public standing outside. Even if the bands hadn't started playing till 4, the comedy tent could have gotten some love that was robbed from it while the food and art vendors (the real victims of the shorter time frame on Sunday) could have gotten some business.

With some acts canceled (like Steel Train, who did manage to get in a great acoustic set at one of the Toyota tents) and the need for some time compression on the other stages, trying to see all the acts you wanted to on Sunday became a series of scenarios like this: You leave a band's set to catch the end of another act, you walk up as the second band is finishing. Then you double back to catch the rest of the first band, only to get there and find a bunch of roadies doing a sound check. The main stage ran on schedule but the Bullet stage was off-kilter, so I bet their scheduling was mauled by this discrepancy. Even though I was irked by their handling of the late entry, I wasn't too bothered by the scheduling - I did a lot of trudging through 4-6 inches of mud, but was able to catch 3 comedians and at least a song or two of nearly 10 bands.

Speaking of mud... the dash to figure out scheduling didn't bother me too much and nor did the epic mudbath that was the festival grounds. Day 3's mud was reportedly the worst from those people I spoke to, and there were many lost flip-flops, shoes and even boots. Here's my shoes, which got retired for good after last night's festivities (and a year-and-a-half of wear & tear before yesterday too):

The mud was endearing, and anyone who expected to not have to deal with it is 1) a wuss 2) oblivious to the world around them 3) a whiner. Enough said.

DETOUR: Free Twix, free bags to carry my stuff and gorgeous balloon chains - The vendors, promotional tents and art exhibitors gave the festival a more-than-music-and-comedy feeling. None of the vending/promotion was ever forced down your throat, which was refreshing. Again, I feel bad for the craft vendors, who were stuck in a corner tent and weren't given much chance on the third day to peddle their wares... hopefully their losses on the festival weren't too substantial.

Now, for the acts. My day went as such: Todd Barry -> Christian Finnegan -> Janeane Garofalo -> Steel Train (acoustic set @ Toyota tent) -> Akron/Family -> We Are Scientists -> Elbow -> Mogwai -> Echo & The Bunnymen -> Black Keys -> Coldplay -> MGMT (fleeting glance and half a song before ditching for a late-night train ride home)

Performance Highs:

-Happening to find Steel Train just playing in a vendor tent - I don't know if it was impromptu or if they were always planning on doing a set after their mainstage show, but it was good.

-Akron/Family - never heard of them, but when I heard a baritone sax, screaming vocals, rock guitars and a flute, I was there. I'm intrigued now.

-Elbow - a beautiful breather amidst the chaos and mess of rest of the day. The air was cooling nicely, the sun was setting, and their soft sound was a nice break between the energy of We Are Scientists and Mogwai.

-Christian Finnegan - Todd Barry did well and Garofalo was her typical self, but Christian Finnegan's dramatically shortened stand-up (10ish minutes instead of 30+) was tight, moved well and was legitimately funny. Mad props to this guy.

-And of course, Coldplay. The power of their live shows comes from their ability to use light, color, crowd interaction (conversing/walking among them/big yellow balloons/etc.) to make each song feel unique and interesting. Hate them or love them, the design of their stage shows is more than four guys with instruments. I would love to have seen the whole performance, but I had to ditch early. Definitely worth seeing them again in the future.

Performance Lows:

-Echo & the Bunnymen's stage presence - ranting to a roadie about some "f***ing hamster cage" or something like that for half of your SECOND song is diva-ish and annoying. Just play the music, okay?

-The Gaslight Anthem - ...they never got to play. I don't even know if they got a "second shot"-type set at a vendor tent like Steel Train did, but consider the cancellation of GA to be probably the biggest letdown of the three days of APW - they were denied in their own backyard!

-Witnessing a painful, live, on-air interview between a college radio host and two guys from We Are Scientists - The host was incredibly unprepared (I hope it was because this was last minute), WaS's two jokers decided to capitalize on it and repeatedly threw questions back on her like the nerd in gym class. They dodged questions left and right, they criticized her vague (if moronic) statements about "rumors" and "new albums", and otherwise made for an awkward situation for everyone involved. I'm not sure which party came off worse in the end, because while the host was bombing, WaS's dudes seemed like real jerks by the end.

In the end, my one day of All Points West '09 started off hellish, but once the gates opened and the scheduling was roughly figured out, everything turned out great. The acts I saw that day were pretty much solid all the way through, with only some minor letdowns in the mix (Echo & the Bunnymen, Mogwai). The miscellany that surrounded the music and comedy were welcome additions, and the venue was downright beautiful (well, from the knees up. Below your knees everything smelled like sewage!).

As I turned around to snap photos of crowd reactions to Coldplay's "Fix You" I saw a beautiful sight - the balloon chains that floated above the festival now had LED lights turned on, so giant blue arcs of light filled the sky. Add searchlights, two cities' worth of skylines and Lady Liberty, and I felt quite a rush. Everything was in its right place at that moment.

(and yes, that means I want to see Radiohead come back next summer!)

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