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Foo Fest field guide

Get ready for AS220's frenzy of music, art, and attitude
By PHILIP EIL  |  August 6, 2014

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The concept of Foo Fest is simple: it’s AS220’s annual, one-day extravaganza taking place on Empire Street between Washington and Westminster.

But, in practice, things can get complicated. This year’s Fest will feature a indie/punk/post-hardcore band called Ask the Dead, a vegan ice cream truck, an Anarchist Book Fair, a nine-year old rapper, a .gif photo booth, a performance by a industrial-music legend, and a pneumatic tube system that delivers advice from comic book characters.

It can all be a bit overwhelming — that is, unless you have some kind of guide to provide info and context. That’s what we’re here for.

Read on, Foo friends.

WHAT IS FOO FEST, ANYWAY?

Veteran AS220 gallery director Neal Walsh provides a helpful intro to Foo Fest for the uninitiated. It is “AS220’s signature event where all its parts come together . . . to host a real great party that celebrates the creative spirit of Providence and RI, while also being an essential fundraiser for AS220,” he says.

But we also heard a few other definitions worth mentioning.

This year’s Foo Fest MC, the local artist/designer/comedienne, Muffy Brandt says the event, “covers a unique spectrum of wholesomeness to eccentricity seldom simultaneously experienced here [in Providence].”

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Ian Cozzens
Prolific printmaker and 2014 Foo Fest Free Culture Award recipient Ian Cozzens lovingly calls it a “weird mess.”

Foo Fest 2014 co-Artist-in-Residence, Julia Gualtieri, of the Providence Comics Consortium says, “I don’t know this for certain, but I imagine it’s the most affordable music festival, at least in the region, if not the entire country . . . [It’s] $7 for 12 hours of music.”

And then there’s Brent Legault, the owner of Providence’s Ada Books, who will bring a table of literary goodies — “from Austen to Auster, from Dickens to Dick, Smythe to Smith, and Wolfe to Woolf” — to Foo Fest’s Anarchist Book Fair.

Legault sent us a lengthy prose poem about Foo Fest that we can only sample here, due to space considerations. It begins, “Remember that dream you had where you were some kind of demi-creature — maybe half-bug or -bat — and being chased by a giant slice of buttered toast on wrought iron legs? And you turned a corner and fell off a cliff but you just floated like a fetus for a while, listening to distant laughter?”

This intro followed by an interlude featuring “some muffin crumbs doing a Morse code dance,” and a moment “in a bar with some of your childhood friends who are all grown up and misshapen with weird teeth and belly-buttons on their cheeks and foreheads,” before the finale, which reads, “And when you wake up you try to tell your wife what happened, about your dream, and there’s so much more that you can’t remember, but it was all so wonderful and strange, so worldly and unearthly at the same time? It’s something like that.”

So, that’s Foo Fest.

WHO’S PLAYING?

There are 23 musical acts performing on two stages — one indoor, one outdoor — at this year’s Fest, and they range from AS220 Youth’s hip-hop squad, Zukrewe, to the one-woman experimental dance music project, Samantha Vacation, to the guitar-marinated Americana of Rich Ferri and the Wealth On the Water.

We’ve done our share of background research on this epic bill, but we can’t compete with the online interview archive AS220 and its interns have put together (foofest.as220.org). There you’ll find performer and accordion-toting badass Alec K. Redfearn telling the story behind the name of his band, the Eyesores — “[It] comes from when they put that hideous clock tower in front of the Johnson & Wales quad,” he says — and local noise maestro Scott Reber (appearing at Foo Fest as Work/Death) explaining why, during his time working as an AS220 night janitor, he recorded the sounds of ceiling fans and buzzing fluorescent lights, then played those sounds back during performances. “Those things are a language in and of themselves,” he says, “and each of us is experiencing that through our whole lives and building up a library and personal archive of what those sounds are and those experiences in our lives, and when you hear those things back, it triggers memories and ideas.”

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Malportado Kids

AS220’s archive didn’t stop us from doing some reporting of our own, though. We sat down with the Providence-based political dance-punk duo Malportado Kids for a translation of their jittery anthem, “Mi Concha.” The refrain of that tune, “My concha no es bastante blanca para ti,” means, “My vagina isn’t white enough [for you],” singer Victoria Ruiz told us.

So, now you know what you’re screaming along to.

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