The Off Beat Music Festival's fifth year might be the best yet
Ambition and a bigger-is-better attitude often serves rock festivals well, but there’s also something to be said for going smaller—if you have the right effect for the intended listener.
That’s what Off Beat Music Festival is attempting for its fifth run in Reno, Oct. 3-5. There are no huge names or venues. It’s not spread out all over the city, sticking pretty much to midtown. And, it’s more curated than ever before with a definite leaning toward indie rock instead of a one-festival-fits-all eclecticism.
“Some festivals are all over the place, but this festival definitely has a sound and a look to it,” said Peter Woolf Barnato, owner of festival venue the Loving Cup and one of the people who helps curate Off Beat every year. “It’s very cohesive, which is a hard thing to do.”
Now, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a wide variety of stuff at Off Beat. It has bands with elements of hip-hop, metal, country, jazz and punk, but most of the artists mix and match styles with a base indie sound, especially in thrall to psychedelia—either the ’60s strain or its periodic revivals.
The festival has also moved up a month to October. Flip Wright, the fest’s co-founder and director, had a simple reason for the switch.
“I think we were a little hamstrung by the time of the year,” he said. “Bands weren’t touring as much, and the weather was more of a roll of the dice. And in October, we can make sure that the festival is more walkable.”
Off Beat has kept some of its original elements—including a partnership with Boise festival Treefort that ensures a flow of bands back and forth—but this year’s fest definitely has a different vibe, something that its organizers acknowledge.
“A 200-person party isn’t nearly as fun as a 400-person party in a 150-person room, right?” said Spencer Kilpatrick, who helps with Off Beat’s social media and booking. He’s also playing three times during it: once with Barnato’s band Subtle Lovers and with his groups Melk and the Happy Trails.
“A lot of people could take the way the festival has changed as a negative or as backpedaling or downsizing,” Kilpatrick continued. “But, I really admire Flip’s commitment to shrink it to just midtown and make sure each venue is a party that is memorable, that sticks out to you and that is an experience not to be missed.”
The best of the fest
Distilling Off Beat down to the top 10 you should see is a bit of a fool’s errand, and has always has been that way. This year, though, it really is a bit crazy to recommend just a handful of acts.
“I can’t remember a year where it’s been like this, where we pick our favorites, and we can’t cover all the biggies,” Wright said.
We can try, though, so here’s 10 that you should seek out, both out-of-towners and locals.
Internet indie fans and playlist curators are collectively freaking out over this ridiculously fun band from Portland, Oregon. The name should clue you in that there are tongue-in-cheek elements to this band, but Guantanamo Baywatch’s mix of early punk, snotty garage rock and the earliest soul music is deadly serious in terms of quality. They play Saturday at Shea’s Tavern, 715 S. Virginia St.
Y La Bamba
With a brand new album in tow, this is another Portland band that mixes styles, including folk, electronic music, dream pop and Latin rhythms. Led by incisive singer-songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza, Y La Bamba entrances you as much as it makes you think about its strong lyrical content. Barnato also pointed out that the band now has two Reno band members: Zack Teran on bass and Miguel Jiminez on drums. They play Friday at the Holland Project, 140 Vesta St.
This duo from San Diego merges psychedelic rock with legit jazz influences. The musicianship is beyond solid, and the new wrinkle of vocals just adds more fuel to the interest behind this uncommon band of brothers (identical twins, to be exact). “They are blowing up right now,” Wright said. “They just had a 10-page feature written about them in the Washington Post that called them one of the most unique bands in America.” They play Saturday at Chapel Tavern, 1099 S. Virginia St.
Is it possible to be visceral and brainy at all once? Stusso answers that question with aplomb, as this Oakland musician plays folksy-indie that has a melodic bounce straight out of ’70s UK glam rock. “He’s a really inventive songwriter, I’d say really impactful lyrically,” Kilpatrick said. For this show, Stusso will be playing with a full band. It’s on Friday at Chapel Tavern.
Klaus Johann Grobe
The dance crowd will love this group from Switzerland, but there’s more going on here than the thump. There’s a lot of ’70s German influence, down to that era’s peculiar take on funk, giving KJG an edge lacking in the modern disco revival. “It’s going to be a high energy show and people are going to be freaking out to see them in such an intimate venue,” Wright said. They play on Saturday at the Loving Cup, 188 California Ave.
Slow Motion Cowboys
On the opposite side of the indie world is a band like this San Francisco group, by way of New Mexico. The Cowboys play a minimalist, woozy take on trad country and folk. Band leader Pete Frauenfelder is better known for his other group, loud roots rockers the Trainwreck Riders, but this is the flipside of that scratchy vinyl single. They play on Saturday afternoon at Pignic Pub and Patio, 235 Flint St.
Spirit in the Room
One of the considerably louder bands in this year’s festival, this L.A. group has a distinctively arty take on the aggro. Elements of hardcore punk and doom metal are a part of their sound, but there’s also heavy industrial/electronic accents that move it closer to that style. This is definitely not an easy band to categorize, and hooray for that. They play on Friday at Shea’s Tavern.
Chari and The Howlin' Truth
Locals might know Chari Glogovac-Smith from her time in Reno leading popular hip-hop/indie group Knowledge Lives Forever. Her solo work is a whole new thing, with loud rock and classic soul merging with a modern take on dance music. Now living in the Bay Area, Chari’s continuing to push the envelope in intriguing ways. She plays on Saturday at 40 Mile Saloon, 1495 S. Virginia St.
Their recent, astonishing take on 7Seconds’ classic “Walk Together Rock Together” from the local Destroy All That Tradition tribute speaks volumes, quietly. This Reno trio plays melodic indie pop that has an edge as you listen deeper, its ramshackle-but-right sound bringing an intimacy to a scene that’s often blustery. They play on Friday at the Holland Project.
Finally, we get to this anticipated return for a Reno band that did a lot to popularize the acoustic side of indie rock in the scene earlier this century. A slow-motion collision between folk, country and alterno-rock, Buster Blue’s sound has been missed over the past few years, so it’s good to see them back. They play the opening show, Thursday at the Saint, 761 S. Virginia St.