Having just finished its fourth year of claim-staking the local music scene, the Anti-Pop Music Festival is rapidly gaining on the McRib as the most anticipated happening around here. This year's fest, however, had a very different tenor than last year's stellar edition, which still stands as the highwater mark. The overall scale was noticeably reduced this time around but that's understandable given the tough economic times. Beyond that, however, here's the verdict.

The Cheers

From all the press releases that flooded my inbox, it's clear that the organizers were more assertive in pushing the festival's brand. In previous years, some of the artists I interviewed didn't even know they were playing a festival. This year, the awareness was total, a necessary condition for Anti-Pop to have any hope of becoming a national name.

Also, the indigenous talent was much better represented in both quantity and scope this year. The area acts tapped to play were judicious selections, save for a couple curious choices. The many genres active in our scene were acknowledged, with the odd exception of local hip-hop, which is one of our strong suits.

Highly significant, however, was the thorough and sincere integration of locals with the big national acts. The gesture maximized the exposure of our native sons and daughters, and that's what any thoughtful festival should do for its home scene. Big ups for that improvement.

The Jeers

The most palpable difference this year was that there was less buzz. The roster represented taste and thoughtfulness as always, but it simply packed less of a wow-factor. Apart from standouts like the spacious twang of Phosphorescent and the avant-classical experimentalism of Kayo Dot, there weren't nearly as many heart-tickling highlights.

A serious logistical problem was that the show schedules were completely FUBAR, resulting in an abundance of festival-going confusion. To navigate my way out from these patches of fog, I had to resort to volleys of text messages to club sources in order to score the straight 411. But few people have that luxury. Even still, the high points on my personal itinerary slipped through my fingers. Single-show attendees likely didn't feel the same affects, but a true festivalgoer like me sure did, and that's the demographic Anti-Pop needs to target for long-term success.

My final finger-point doesn't go to the Anti-Pop people, but it's so fucking low that it has to go on record. According to festival organizers, a guitarist from a local punk band swiped equipment from the Aquabats. But, whoops, Firestone's video surveillance captured the unsmooth criminal in action, and club staff retrieved the gear shortly thereafter. For crossing the line from punk to punk-ass, the guitarist in question was booted from the band. Just desserts for such a bitch move.

The Two Cents

I hold high standards for Anti-Pop because it stands for the right things — an indie-minded ideal, for starters — and it's something our city deserves. Next year marks its fifth birthday, and the festival needs to aim higher by taking a necessary next step in setting a progressive example. This move would position Anti-Pop as that much more of a pacesetter.

An event with this kind of ethos should strive harder to tap bands with ahead-of-the-curve buzz rather than established heat. Such smaller, auspicious acts often come at less expense and diva bullshit, a problem the organizers suffered in a couple of high-profile cancellations.

Of course, there's a bottom-line element to organizing music festivals and balances need to be struck. But my advice for designing the 2009 roster is not to underestimate the intelligence of this city's music-heads. Chin-stroking respectability? Already achieved. The organizers just need to concentrate on making vibrant selections. You get excitement when you give people a reason to be excited.

Will's Pub opens (really)

News flash, suckas!!! Unless something suspiciously peculiar or completely retarded occurs after press time — either of which is quite possible considering the subject at hand — the new Will's Pub opens this week. The city has finally issued Will's a certificate of occupancy. The exact opening date hasn't been established, but the 9 p.m. Quintron show is confirmed for Wednesday, Nov. 26 ($10; 1042 N. Mills Ave., 407-898-5070).

First, Obama gets elected. Then Redlight Redlight reopens. Now, Will's! At this rate of good news, cancer may be cured by Christmas.

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