June 17, 2008

Terrastock 7 - The music fest that’s freaky, drone-y, spacey … and now it’s ours

It is said that this musical scene is underground, so why are there so many references to space?

A band named Bardo Pond will regale us with the best of “psychedelphia.” Other acts are named after a Russ Meyer movie, a comet and a Civil War battle. This weekend, Louisville will be the recognized nexus of post-rock and freak-folk.

Psychedelic jams, some rough-hewn, avant-garde compositions and plenty of unidentifiable creative dissonance will plop down on the grounds of the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center for the seventh Terrastock Festival. 

Unlike either of the caravans that were Grateful Dead tours or the in-place music fests that have eventually established community roots and infrastructure, Terrastock festivals have come together from scratch every couple of years or so in a new location.

Louisville landed the latest incarnation only when a potential organizer reminded the festival’s founder that our city had post-rock before post-rock was cool.

Erica Rucker says she floated the idea to Phil McMullen, former editor of a music magazine that champions these styles of music (he has since established a webzine that serves much the same function) and founder of Terrastock. Phil McMullen, who started his festival in Providence, R.I., but has preferred cultural bellwethers like San Francisco, wasn’t interested in Louisville at first. But Rucker was persistent in pleading the case that Louisville’s music scene would not only appreciate, but also deserved, the honor of hosting.

Once names from history (Slint, Squirrel Bait, Will Oldham) were dropped, McMullen had second thoughts. Now, Thursday through Sunday, a well-respected cross-section of worldwide talent in odd rock, folk and unclassifiable musical styles are landing here.

“My boyfriend (festival Production Manager Rob Codey) and I were thinking about Motorpsycho,” says Rucker, referring to some veteran noisy Norwegians. “How in hell are we going to see this band?” At the same time, Rucker knew that Mellwood was scouting around, trying to find a summer festival. Once this was confirmed, and the two co-organizers had psyched themselves up with a wish list of who they might be able to draw into town (“It would have to have Bardo Pond. And Kinski — I always wanted them.”), McMullen was approached and yet another Terrastock was born — the first since 2006, which had returned to Providence (the only city to have repeated as host).

The festivals have rarely had any more than one or two acts that even resembled “household names” — Country Joe McDonald at the fourth in San Francisco; Sonic Youth at the fifth in Boston. But they often do include surprises for those who know their rock history: Friday afternoon’s Sleeping Pill is Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley — two-thirds of Yo La Tengo. They promise that under this name, they will present something different than the famous Hoboken trio.

The general trend for this Terrastock is “very guitar-heavy,” Rucker says. “More psychedelic and metal. The last one was heavier on folk.”

Louisville’s continuing contributions to this scene will include Parlour and The Photographic on Thursday, Antietam Friday and Tara Jane O’Neil and Sapat on Saturday.


The Terrastocks have always been a labor of love for the participants.

“Only one or two of them have made any money,” Rucker says. She expresses gratitude that Japanese post-rockers Mono only asked for plane fare and licks her wounds at the difficulties of fundraising for the festival.

Despite the growing fan base, “if it’s a moving festival, then getting any kind of financial backing is impossible,” she says. Maybe if Louisville could hang onto Terrastock, it could become a more reliable and stable venture, and sponsorships wouldn’t be so scarce. “We’d like to do it again,” she says, but with a big caveat: The cash flows aren’t all settled yet, and she might feel differently if she no longer owns a car by the time Terrastock 7’s books are closed.

The Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center (1860 Mellwood Ave.) will house concerts in two indoor halls (450 capacity) and an outside stage that can handle many times that number. There are only a few weekend passes left for the entire Terrastock festival ($85), but day passes are still in supply. 


Contact the writer at 

tlx@aol.com