Of all the concerts I have reviewed, I’ve only been concerned about my ears bleeding once.
It happened sitting in a pew of a Unitarian Universalist Church, blissed out to a din of looped synths and ambient noise, watching Efrim Manuel Menuck’s solo set at the Peterborough, New Hampshire festival The Thing in the Spring. The musical turbulence pumped so deeply into my eardrums that I had to periodically feel my inner ear for blood, my eyes never wavering from the esoteric experience from the Godspeed You! Black Emperor member in front of me. Hell hath no fury like multiple cranked-up distortion pedals.
It wasn’t what most people would describe as a pleasurable concertgoing experience, but The Thing In The Spring wasn’t booked for the mainstream tastes of “most people.”
The realm of music outside of hooks, punchy choruses, and otherwise melodious songs is enormous, and The in The Spring offers a solid introduction to all the music that falls far outside basic pop-rock sensibilities. The fest, which took place between June 6 and 10 this year, fleshed out an all-inclusive lineup of folk and experimental miscellany across the downtown area of the small New Hampshire town. Guests who threw a stone in any given direction could hit a poetry reading, film screening, or concert, but the real variety to be admired here lies in the equal parts varied and obscure slew of musicians on deck for the week.
Monoliths piled on the doom sludge on an otherwise peaceful day, screeching next to a rock statue of the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus outside The Toadstool Bookstore. Folk veterans Iris DeMent and Bonnie “Prince” Billy held court at Town Hall, their rustic trill and twang reverberating throughout the second story auditorium. Ora Cogan and The Weather Station made offerings of hushed songwriting at the Unitarian Universalist Church after sunset. Spanning the genre gaps were acts like Laundry Day (breezy slack rock), GIRAFFES? GIRAFFES! (in-your-face-instrumental), and Mal Devisa (Northampton-based country).
While each artist certainly attracted their share of followers at every showcase, frequently the majority of the crowd stopped by to do no more than sit, listen, and absorb the (often unconventional) work of a complete stranger. That’s exactly how fest non-profit organizer The Glass Museum likes it, aiming to book “renown and underground, both nationally known and, as of yet, undiscovered” artists at their events.
Perhaps the most eccentric of the bunch, visual artist Lonnie Holley took to his keyboard at the Mariposa Museum on Saturday. Holley’s work has traveled as far as the White House and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, his artistic prowess spanning from the 1980s to modern day. Performing his music live, on the other hand, remains a newer venture. That didn’t hinder any of his avant and creative juices.
He hammered on his keys while illustrating the everlasting issue of being a “suspect in America,” the sonic dissonance he spewed just as harsh to face as the racial subject matter. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant to listen to — but that’s kind of the idea, and important art isn’t limited to what’s merely easy on the ears.
“All we’ve got to do to get uncomfortable is change our way of lying [down] and living,” Holley told the crowd before his next song. “We need to try to be uncomfortable a little bit sometimes.”
All photos by Victoria Wasylak; follow her on Twitter @VickiWasylak.