Charles and I arrived almost right at the start of the festival on Sunday, the final day of the final Whartscape. Charles understandably was rather reluctant to get there so early. I thought we’d already missed too many of the acts, and wanted to just miss slightly less to get some more bang for the buck. But the chances of actually seeing an irresistibly infectious band wasn’t altogether high.
Sure enough, probability held true. No bands that early afternoon played aural opiate. In fact, the only band that I remember, the only band to even make any sort of impression was Little Howlin’ Wolf. The impression wasn’t made by ways of enjoyable music, but by how fucking ridiculous the set was.
Some background to Little Howlin’ Wolf would probably be ideal. It’s less a “band,” and more the personal project of James Pobiega, out of Chicago, Illinois. James is a gigantic Polish bear. Allegedly, the dude was heading for a career in athletics. Football. I don’t doubt that. Mofo was fucking huge. His nose was probably the size of my face. His face was probably the size of my chest. Anyhow, athletics didn’t pan out (it usually doesn’t), and James headed for another hard-to-guarantee-job career as a musician. Which seemed to ultimately pan out for him…in a way. After a number of decades, he’s built a rather sprawling legacy for himself. Pobiega became a minor street musician legend in Chicago, self-released almost 40 7″ singles, and even received some spotlight in People magazine at one long forgotten point.
So yeah, you think diamond-in-the-rough kinda musician who plays some rusty, grizzled blues. Nope, dude was pounding his acoustic guitar in between playing two saxophones at the same time with his nostrils. Batshit crazy. The music really had no semblance of structured rhythm or melody. Which is rather typical of noise and free jazz. And this was all of those. But it also somewhat resembled “free blues,” if such a genre even exists. Weird music that I will probably never listen to again in my life, no matter how many bridges I end up building. However, the set was still hideously entertaining. For crying out loud, I wish I had some pictures.
I’ve neglected to mention the rest of the band. Pobiega was supported by two women spontaneously wailing in the background, a skinny cowboy fiddling with synthesizers and a weird stick-violin instrument (just a bow and a stick with strings on it that made this piercing scratchy noise), and Jason Willett on bass. Quite a fucking sight, all of them, led by bear of a scary-looking, shirtless man James Pobiega going berserk with all his instruments.
As crazy as Little Howlin’ Wolf was, the next event would eclipse all the music at this festival.
This event would be curated by Mother Nature. Mother Nature, you attention whore.
A crush of wind spanked the Current Space. The tarps on Stages A and Stages B shielding the equipment underneath were torn off. Rain was definitely going to follow. The equipment, worth so many thousands, had to be protected.
Festival staff rushed to prevent the tarps from flying away to Canada. A psychic on Stage B tried to tell everyone to calm down. A tech quickly took away her mic.
People scrambling, shouting. Seemed like a scene out of a disaster movie.
I took some pictures. The carnage was awe-inspiring. Then I felt bad about taking pictures. I was becoming the very people that I despised — those who want to find pictures perfect for Facebook albums that people will ‘like’ instead of helping with a problem.
I asked Charles, “Should we help?”
Charles logically pointed out our limitations. It’s bad to not help. But it’s also bad to blindly throw yourself into a situation and hinder the solution of a problem with your ignorance. It was going to rain. Who knew how long we were going to stay for.
“But yeah, I think we should,” Charles concluded at the end.
The curtain of rain came crashing down.
We threw ourselves into action. Charles and I ran up to a festival staff-member to see what we could do. Charles went to gather all the garbage bags into one spot. I started moving chairs and tables into the storage room. Those tasks were finished fairly quickly.
Charles and I briefly debated leaving. But, there was still much work to be done — the equipment still had to be saved. We decided to stay. I wont lie, part my of motivation for staying was selfish. The intertwined worlds of indie musicians and hipsters are very much mysteries to me. I wanted to see a bit more of and get a bit closer to these people. And also get first word on what would happen to the rest of the acts for the festival.
Charles and I sprinted to Stage B to see how we could help. We held up the duct-taped tarp so people could move around underneath slightly more freely without the tarp getting in the way.
Later on, I started helping out with moving the equipment. Charles, on the other hand, kept his arms up for almost the entire time, dutifully pushing up the blue tarp. In the process, he was able to chat with a woman who was part of the band slated to play next on the stage. We later found out that the woman was part of Prince Rama, a band that’s steadily gaining some attention. Cool beans.
It felt damn good to work arm-in-arm with these people who passionately wanted to salvage this thing that they deeply cared about. And in turn, this passion rubbed off onto me as I pushed myself to see the thing through. Band members and spectators alike were cooperating, working in efficient worker-bee step to resolve the mission at hand. Strangers came together to accept a share of the responsibility and trust that the other would fulfill their role. Teamwork embodied.
This all sounds fairly pedestrian, I know. but seeing such utmost cooperation, especially between strangers, is precious. Seeing all these spectators rush in and help — it’s good to know that the bystander effect isn’t always the default. Fuck the bystander effect.
Eventually, after a two-hour eternity of pitter-patter, it all came to past. The equipment had been hauled away in a truck without any water damage. The show was arranged to go on at other venues. The storm had subsided.
Staff members and volunteers emerged from underneath the tarps. Other spectators that had fled the rain began drifting back, perhaps answering to the call of James Pobiega’s celebratory saxophone soloing. Civilization had begun to rebuild. The Earth would be slowly repopulated.
Amidst the rubble, a band called The Creepers played a makeshift on a minimal setup. Without the backing power of formidable speakers, it was arguably the quietest set of the weekend. But also the most genial, acknowledging that love, whateverthehellthatwordevenmeansinitsprofundity, still exists.
The show would go on to continue at a club called Sonar later that night. Unfortunately, Whartscape disappointingly only felt like a club show after that.
For me and Charles, the festival closed out on a note anticlimactic to the nth degree. Baltimore indie superstar band Beach House, the gem of the festival, were plagued by horrific acoustics in an all-too-brief set that was cut short by the Baltimore City Fire Department because Sonar was over-capacity.
We could’ve gone to H&H to see the few bands that remained. But, having weathered the chaotic afternoon, we were spent. We hailed a taxi to head back.
For us, Whartscape Z010 had long already come to a worthy close.