MiddleWest Fest 2011 is Northern Illinois’ annual celebration of music & the arts. September 9th and 10th employed the town plaza for an arts & craft market and also Sunday was an organized sidewalk sale. This being the second year, word is getting out that this is a good way to enjoy Northern Illinois and meet the new school populace as classes are in full swing.
It was a foggy hazy Friday night when MiddleWest Fest took over the small college town with very eclectic tastes ranging from hardcore metal to quirky indie punk rowk to pick stompin Cornmeal bluegrass. It brought my musical taste buds to life with all sorts of flavor. The town square was decked out much like a small mountain town. Still decent weather and accent pieces all over the cobblestone brick made the town so quaint and inviting. Clearly, no camping but you may hafta throw a blanket on someone in the town park tonight. Funneled into the spacious Otto’s, there was a band playing downstairs to an empty bar with both socializing area and pool tables and room to dance in the empty band shell. Upstairs was that same cellar like feel, double decker. There were no seats in this music venue except for the folks up-upstairs and the lucky few on barstool belly up at the 2 bars on this main floor. You just know that the people who were lucky enough to enjoy a seat while watching the show had been here awhile. Those “free“seats come at a premium.
Comedian Jeremy Essig started off Friday night. “My name is Jeremy Essig, but you won’t remember that. Tomorrow morning it will be that comedian guy.” His set was honest, frank and when the drunken hecklers became too much, he graciously put them to work into his set and made it all less painful. There was a drunk gonzo behind me that whipped out his cock. Classy, but it was not as classy as the guy that yelled “Titty bars!” from upstairs. Essig made it part of the act flawlessly.
After warming up the rambunctious crowd, Brian Posehn of The Sarah Silverman Show fame took the stage. Restless crowd members were quickly slack jawed as his act opened with a reprimand. Hipster Ween fans were dispersed amongst the college aged crowd and it was difficult to see any difference in this counter culture diversity. Posehn referred to the guy upstairs and directly said, “That guy is my friend and if you wanna be a bunch of d-bags I will not perform. Ya know I had a great time here 10 months ago but you obviously weren’t here Fugger!!” The shaved head audience responded kindly to the commands and then show was off and running. It was hysterical. “SLAYER!”
Posehn also kindly pointed out that the worst strip club he has ever been to is located here in Illinois. The Fantasy Club down in Peoria had lots of strippers that smelled like new balloons. That is science fact. “Ya know, the kinda facts I heard on the news when I was baked one time.” Brian Posehn made it very clear however that he does not smoke pot anymore. He is a father now and it doesn’t jive with his lifestyle. Instead he is excited to turn his kids on to good music, like Weird Al Yankovich. That way when his son hears a song like 'Beat It' by Michael Jackson he can say, “Hey! That guy ripped off Weird Al!” And with that the good music began. Gene Ween took the stage.
Gene Ween and Dave Dreiwitz took the stage and played to the crowd that fist pumped in solidarity. The guy with the hearing aid in his ear and standing right next to the speaker was praying to Gener. The sappy love songs were coated in a drunken blitz of punk rowk parody. Each favorite tune sparked more beer guzzling sing-alongs to the Mollusk, Don’t Shit Where You Eat My Friend, Now I’m Freaking Out, Your Party, Tried and True, Baby Bitch. He took a set break but only to come back less than 5 minutes later to a big rotation of the crowd. Brian Posehn was milling about in the crowd and I caught of glimpse of him, or maybe that was one of the other dozen hipsters wearing the same buddy holly glasses. While trying to snap a few photos of Gener back on stage with his cigarette smoking off the end of his guitar in a non-smoking club, a crowd member told me to “be sure and get a picture of the old guy.” It made me realize that Gene Ween isn’t even the main appeal of this show. It’s the blend of the crowd and the eclectic mixture of Ween that makes it all worthwhile. The final tunes included Kansas City Star, a heavy duty Buenos Tardy Amigo and the rebel cry of, “I hope…. We would see each other… Again!!!” Then there was a cover of Neil Young’s Old Man that really got the old guy praying in the front to his knees.
Dear Gweb readers, I am but a lowly poseur. I have been a Ween head for longer than I have been following any hippie bands. It was within the friendly confines of pushing the little daisies that I first came to indie rock and then morphed into the peace loving hippie jam band phanatic that I am today. I was instantly transformed back to my rage roots when Gene Ween stepped on to the stage. We didn’t have hippie names like ganja Dave and we didn’t call pot by its strain name, we just got high. We were mean like Ween. When I approached the old guy in the front about how he liked the show he told me to get away from him with that camera. He had seen me taking pictures and didn’t like having his picture taken. Friggin Priceless.
The first time I saw Ween at the Aragon Ballroom 15 years ago I drank waaay too much Captain Morgan and I fought with some girl over the towel that Gener threw after the last encore. We ended up ripping it in half so that we each could have a piece of their sweat. The closing of this show at Otto’s in 2011 was not much classier than that. I was more mature but the crowds were the same. Despite my professionalism as a journalist, I still could feel the pure lust of Ween. I was consumed with the same passion that had me fighting with some girl over Gener’s towel back in 1996. Before the show started, I asked Aaron (Gene) if he was interested in an interview, to which he denied. We chatted briefly and I could feel all my butterflies rage from the pit of my stomach. I wanted to tell him how outraged I was when Phish covered Roses Are Free.
It was the second set of a December 1997 show when Phish first covered that Ween tune. When Phish followed it up with a punkish Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars and teases of Black Sabbath, I felt this submerging tidal wave. Never again would Ween be my secret escape back into my punk rowk self. My two selves were colliding. From that point on Ween was immersed with hippies. Sure the punk rowk kids smell just as bad as the hippies but… I wanted to tell him how much his simple tunes like You Fucked Up have really impacted my life. It’s that time when I wanna say… You fucked up! You bitch! You fucking Nazi whore!
I wanted to tell Gener that me getting a boognish tattoo has never been far from a reality. I wanted to ask him how he feels to be celebrated on the big stage while emerging from the humble roots of painting the town brown. Alas, that will have to wait for a destined day of the future. For all I could say when fans were drunkenly throwing themselves at him after the show was, “I’ve been following you for 15 years!” I was so embarrassed I had to leave.
Saturday Evening was much tamer as I was observing outside on the streets of DeKalb this misty fall musical magnet of an evening. One conversation I had was with a fellow fan telling me about the House Café and the hardcore metal music they were hosting.
“There was a chick hula-hooping to death metal! I was like, excuse me m’aam can you hoop towards the back? I’m yo-yoing here.”
“Yeah. I’m trying to walk the dog.”
It was the perfect blend of hippie June and punk rowk June and I knew hanging with my peeps tonight meant that I was bee-lining for TMBTB< GTB< Cornmeal, then Wook before Future Rock. If I made it out past 10, I was going to catch Future Rock. They put on a show.
This Must Be The Band took down the lights on the Van Buren Plaza with such great Talking Heads tunes. An intellectual act, David Byrne’s music always ignites the crazies. The set closed with dulling buzzes and a spectacular Naïve Melody. In the twilight of a cloudless Saturday night it is almost ceremonial in DeKalb to kick off some good bluegrass with The Giving Tree Band.
DeKalb is a town that has welcomed GTB so many times in the past, it’s always appropriate. The green militia was at it again warming up audiences and breaking the sweat. They played Early to Bed and Early to Rise as is auto-biographical for these boys. The feel-good gracious and great green brotherhood got the party started and did their jobs well. The next day would bring another set of miles to fill out their already full festival schedule. The end of the week would bring Cornmeal and The Giving Tree Band back together on the East Coast.
Next up from 9-11pm was the blaring bonanza of the bluegrass masters Cornmeal. Coming hot off Terrapin Hill Festival and then off to Southern MO for Sunday, You didn’t see a line of jet lag in their eyes. They put their firm foot down with funk as they whipped up some cornmeal mash. It was nice to see members of Cornmeal with their families and friends as everybody is from here and able to enjoy the show together. I never knew my feet could fling or the sting would feel as good as they returned back down to the ground as how they feel dancing to Cornmeal. There is a certain wind up to Cornmeal yet on this particular evening I was feeling the crank like spiral of a seed helicoptering down off the maples of the Midwest. The autumn yacht had set sail into an evening of Slip Sliding Away (P. Simon) and then they encored with Benny and the Jets (E. John).
All bets were off as Herm took control of lights at the Future Rock show. Future Rock Sparked, Shimmered, and made the most of the night time. It was all the beauty and the function of fall time leaf gathering. The show combined the colors and community of the collective MiddleWest fest. Flashes of falling arms were choreographed as the whomp thomp of these three combined artists collected their nature over the crowd. Future Rock is a Chicago cityscape sound that bedazzled this MiddleWest fest with an amazing light show and a sweaty crowd of bracelet wearing wrists rose up in unity when the bass dropped. They were warmed up with some lightweight Wook jamtronica. After doing it as long as they have in Chicago, Future Rock killed it to close out Ottos’s and what was the remainder of Saturday night at MiddleWest Fest for me.
I ducked out the back to look over the town. All is right in the word of the MiddleWest Fest’s second-sophomore-exponential-