By Justin Curto
Day Two: Local favorites shine at Californos
I went into my first day of Middle of the Map Fest — which actually ended up being Day Two of the actual festival — with few expectations. I had heard of some of the local bands I was seeing at Californos, but didn’t really know what to expect from them live or from the festival environment.
I was pleased at how the night went, though, as I left with some new favorite artists on local and national levels. Here are the highlights.
The Blackbird Revue
The Blackbird Revue was the first of many local acts I saw at the festival, and the duo started me off on a high note. A singer-songwriter duo of husband and wife Jacob and Danielle Prestidge, The Blackbird Revue’s music bridges rock, pop, alternative and folk. The two switch off on vocal duties, and each brings their own style to the music, especially Danielle’s exceptional clarity. Being husband and wife leads the duo to write some great lyrics, and, combined with their musical talent, it definitely makes The Blackbird Revue an up-and-coming band to watch for.
My Oh My!
It’s surprising the crew at the Californos patio could fit all the equipment needed for My Oh My!, an eight-piece group, onto the stage, but it still happened. The band had a late start because of soundcheck troubles, but quickly launched into its Kansas City brand of Americana music once everything was figured out. Lead vocalist-guitarist A.M. Merker fronts the group, but the real treat comes from the three women next to him who also sing — Sarah Dolt, Stephanie Gaume and Melissa Geffert — who add sunny and classic sounds to the band’s music. Keyboardist Grant Buell also deserves a shoutout for the style he brings to the keys, but, in the end, My Oh My! wouldn’t be the same live without any of its members.
In contrast with My Oh My!, The Sluts’ set seemed very minimalist, but that’s a style they embrace. The guitar-drums duo played the same loud, raw and distorted garage rock that made it a local favorite of KRBZ 96.5 The Buzz, but seeing them live is a different dynamic. Drummer Kristoffer Dover is the true spectacle of the group, with a frenetic drumming style that rivals some big names in rock music. The Sluts seem to be heading for bigger things — for example, the band scored an opening set for Andrew W.K. at the Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland later this month — and, after finally seeing them live, I now now why.
After going to the entrancing album release for Your Friend — a project of musician Taryn Miller — in January, I quickly had a new favorite local artist, and made it no secret to people who I talked to about local music. When I walked inside the room at Californos where Your Friend would perform, I was shocked to see only Miller, sans backing band, with synthesizers, microphones and a guitar. This turned into the biggest surprise of the night: a raw solo set from Your Friend that showcased Miller’s talent through her looping and reworked versions of old songs like “Bangs.” After some time on tour with Porches and Alex G, the show felt like a homecoming of sorts for Your Friend, now more musically mature than before, but also in a transition period without a backing band. The set was sadly cut short due to some issues during “Who Will I Be In the Morning,” but that doesn’t keep it from being a standout Middle of the Map moment.
After a lot of local music, it felt a little weird to close the night on a band from New York City, but San Fermin won me over early on. I had listened to some of the band’s baroque pop music before the show, but nothing compared to the full sound the eight-piece group produces live with violin, baritone saxophone and two contrasting vocalists. At first, vocalists Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate may seem to be the main fixations of the group as they alternate between Kaye’s high-hitting vocals and Tate’s smooth, baritone vocals, but the rest of the group is equally talented. The collective bridges the gap between classical and contemporary, eilte and populist, and the set to close the night at Californos exceeded all the expectations that any one of those labels would have brought forth.
Day Two started off Middle of the Map Fest nicely for me. It was filled with local music, something the festival prides itself on. It also featured a lot of discovery, in line with the South By Southwest comparisons the festival often garners. In short, it was a night of great music.