Now that the third annual Anti-Pop Music Festival has done popped, let’s weigh it. Because the event is philosophically and aesthetically in line with my personal ethos, I’ve always had high hopes for the indie-music festival. Ultimately, Anti-Pop should be judged by what it accomplished. Though growing pains could be overlooked in the past (after a strong inaugural effort, the organizers sorta hit the snooze button on last year’s follow-up), from here on out shortcomings will be increasingly less defensible.

And, holy hell, was Anti-Pop back with a hunger this year, resulting in a vastly more visible marketing campaign, smoother logistics and the weightiest lineup so far. Some of the national artists I spoke with were actually aware they were playing a festival this time, which hasn’t always been the case. This is a necessary development if Anti-Pop is ever going to gain a national reputation.

Other critical improvements included imposing much-needed clarity on the pricing structure, a tight production schedule and published set times. (Bravo! Woo-woo!!) These are precisely the kinds of things that enable people to participate in the festival rather than just catching individual shows. And whaddya suppose that yielded? Numbers, duh. The crowd of attendees was visibly, dramatically up this year. Remember, Anti-Pop isn’t the sort of music event aimed at a broad audience, so it’s not supposed to take over downtown like the more mainstream Florida Music Festival does. But, y’know, it sorta did.

In the past, I’ve noted that Anti-Pop didn’t feel like a connected festival, because of the number of shows and venues involved. This year, critical mass was finally struck, generating event electricity. How could I tell? The impossible bathroom lines, mainly, but at most of the shows I went to, I was met with packed venues and queues. Even I’m willing to sacrifice my vigorously defended personal space for a successful local music event. Mobs of people milling about downtown, crackin’ open PBR tallboys and talking about music – my heaven and a positive showing for our city. By putting healthy crowds before worthwhile bands, this once-little thing is becoming something after all.

Apart from the logistically ill-conceived stage orientation of the Social Pavilion, which forced you to negotiate the sometimes-packed crowd just to get a drink or take a leak, my complaints are minor. Overall, the talent was ample and exciting, and the always-essential local component was integrated with the nationals more thoughtfully than before. But the choice in local acts, though tasteful, was conservative, ignoring many of the interesting bands on the fringes of our scene and resulting in little surprise.

One discovery, however, was Tampa’s Giddy-Up, Helicopter!, which may have been the only band ever to sound good in the challenging environs of Central Station Bar (terrazzo floors, brick walls, inappropriately loud dudes). I can only imagine what their lovely walls of shoegaze haze would sound like in a concert venue. Next time they roll through, obligate yourself to seeing them. Other highlights included an earth-stirring set by Explosions in the Sky, the eerie retro-weirdness of Black Moth Super Rainbow and the brooding immensity of Summerbirds in the Cellar.

Without question, the single greatest “I can’t believe I’m fucking witnessing this” moment of the fest was the show by the Tennessee Three, Johnny Cash’s one and only backing band. Led by guitarist Bob Wootton’s uncanny facsimile of the Man in Black’s singular voice, the set was as haunting as it was rousing. I haven’t felt a full-body tingle like that at a show in a very long time. An absolute high-water mark in my life.

Downtown was buzzing with even more action because of Rock for Hunger 2, the all-day activist music festival at Back Booth and its outdoor lot Nov. 10. I popped in just in time to catch the ever-heavy Sage Francis deliver a cutting spoken-word performance – a huge addition to an incredibly worthy event. Too bad it coincided with Anti-Pop.

Refried blues

I have totally been hunchin’ on the just-released singles compilation put out by In the Red Records as part of their Jukebox singles series. That’s because it features the inimitable, ass-kicking Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, one of the greatest bands EVER. With its rare A- and B-sides, as well as alternate outtakes, Jukebox Explosion finds the raw, feral feel and unrivaled lustiness of the music. Completely fried, completely stupid and packing a huge swagger, Jukebox carries the “THIS is why it’s great to be a man” spirit in all its glory and obscenity.

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About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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