For years, Memphis' place along touring routes into and out of Austin, Texas, has created a surge in club shows each March, when Austin hosts the South By Southwest Music Festival (see cover story, page 19).
If the density of SXSW-connected local shows has, at times, felt like a mini-festival, that relationship is being formalized this year with the first Fareveller Music Festival, which moved from a prospective fall date to this weekend in large part to take advantage of bands' SXSW-based touring schedules.
"The fall is so packed, with the Cooper-Young Festival, Gonerfest, River Arts Fest, etc.," says Fareveller organizer Brandon Herrington, who is booking roughly 40 acts in four venues across three nights. "Spring just made more sense. Picking the weekend after SXSW made it a lot more interesting in terms of artist availability. We had to pick and choose wisely because our budget is limited."
A member of local rock bands such as Dora and This Is Goodbye, Herrington — who recently finished a stint with the South Main Association as president of the arts district — was looking for a different way to impact the local music scene. A friend he'd met while touring, Seth Fein, runs a similar multivenue festival — the Pygmalion Festival — in Champaign, Illinois, and Herrington talked to Fein about duplicating the Pygmalion fest in Memphis.
"I called him and said I wanted to do that same concept here. He handed me the golden book, so to speak, and is now acting as my talent buyer. His festival is a really cool niche festival, with about 6,000 people attending every year," Herrington says. "I wanted to stay involved in making Memphis better. I thought that the easiest way to do that was to go deeper into the music scene and find something that isn't happening and then do it."
In addition to working with Fein, Herrington has sought advice locally from Louis Meyers, the Folk Alliance director who helped found SXSW.
"Indie music is so weird, and that term doesn't really mean much these days, but that's definitely our focus," Herrington says. "I'll probably focus the most on indie rock and singer-songwriter stuff, but there will also be electronic and some hip-hop."
Among the touring acts hitting town as part of Fareveller is Portland's psychedelic roots-rock band Morning Teleportation, who got some nice buzz in Austin. They'll be at Newby's on Friday. There's Indianapolis' chamber-pop band Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, who are playing the Hi-Tone Café on Thursday. And there's New Zealand guitar band Surf City, who will be playing the Hi-Tone Saturday.
Though there are lots of out-of-town touring acts at the festival, the lineup is 60 to 70 percent local.
"There has to be a lot of local artists," Herrington says. "Memphis isn't that big, but we're cliquish. I hope this creates more connections in the local scene. I definitely want local bands to take some ownership of this festival."
Among the local acts are folk-rockers Star & Micey (Young Avenue Deli, Saturday), newish shoegazer/metal band American Gods (Newby's, Friday), and emerging rapper Cities Aviv (Young Avenue Deli, Thursday).
"I don't have overly inflated hopes and dreams for it," Herrington says of his goals for what he hopes will become an annual event. "I just want it to be a part of everything, much in the same way Live From Memphis, Goner Records, and the Hi-Tone are permanent fixtures in this scene. I want to give people something to look forward to every year and, hopefully, bring some amazing talent to this city.
"My personal opinion is that festivals appeal to a new generation of people who are inundated by technology, media, etc. People don't commit anymore until the last minute, because there are always so many options. Festivals bring all that together. They satisfy that A.D.D. urge to have a lot of choices. They let you preview lots of music. And there's usually beer involved. In my mind, Fareveller is a no-brainer."
Thursday, March 24th
Hi-Tone Café: Mobley, Dignan, Young Buffalo, Margot &
the Nuclear So and So's
Young Avenue Deli: Cities Aviv, Total Savage
Friday, March 25th
Hi-Tone Café: Greenside Manners, While I Breathe I Hope, Pezz, The Subteens, Mouserocket
Newby's: American Gods, Youniverse, The Oldest Profession, Nicos Gun, Morning Teleportation
Young Avenue Deli: Andrew Bryant, The Wealthy West, Damien Jurado, Chase Pagan
Saturday, March 26th
Hi-Tone Café: Rainy Saturdays, Modern Convenience, Death on Two Wheels, Surf City, Bare Wires, Pujol, Turbo Fruits
P&H Café: Animal Sounds, Holly Cole & the Memphis Dawls, Andrew Kelley Simons, Jeremy Stanfill, The Near Reaches
Young Avenue Deli: Myla Smith, The Sheriffs of Nottingham, Rainy Day Manual, Jamie Randolph and the Darkhorse,
Star & Micey
Individual show tickets range from $10 to $15; three-day festival wristbands are $25. For set times and more info, see fareveller.com.