This Little Underground

Bao Le-Huu takes on Orange You Glad Fest 2012 and finds much to love

This year's Orange You Glad Music Festival ruled. It's just that simple. All the hard, smart work the organizers did to present an elevated event worked beautifully. The whole affair was inspired and inspiring.

I loved this year's roving focus where OYG took over a different, walkable and hip district each night (Mills Avenue, Audubon Park, Milk District, downtown). More than just a music festival, it was a good showcase of Orlando's overlooked but deepening terroir. And apart from Sunday's disruptive weather, the proceedings were generally smooth and timely.

Most importantly, the overall festival experience was exciting with remarkably stepped-up talent and performances. National headliners like Cults, Tennis, Mr. Gnome, the Big Sleep, Caveman and Grandchildren shined. But much of the hottest heat came from Florida's heavy and hardcore scene, a segment that's commendable for a mainly indie-rock festival to represent so well, like it did all night on March 8 (Uncle Lou's). West Palm's Centuries lit the fuse of what was clearly TNT ready to blow in this charged crowd because their monstrous hardcore drove this place maximum bananas. I've seen all sorts of crazy shit at hard shows but pool-table diving, well, that's a first. The noise-rock danger of Mr. Pussy reignited the sickness two nights later, again turning Lou's into a boxed tornado. That frenzy must've been contagious because an actual pit combusted immediately afterward over at Will's Pub for the all-out rocking but rather artistic Mr. Gnome, aka the highest functioning two-piece alive. That's the first time I've seen that happen for them here. But this was no ordinary night because it was also the first time I've heard a whole room chant their name to demand an encore.

But one of the absolute zeniths of the festival was Saturday (March 10). The feeling on Mills that night when OYG was in high gear – full of foot traffic, sound and event buzz – was just perfect. This was Mills Avenue at its best, and it's a glimpse into what it will become if things keep going this way.

The reasons to root for OYG overflow. However, the reasons it may not just survive but actually contend in the long run are how organically it's developed, its tasteful selectivity and its favorable positioning. First, OYG has both street cred and a devout sense of place, a powerful combination.

Second, its beefed-up booking this year landed some bona fide next-big-thing indie acts, bands that are already a big deal to those in the know. Attracting talent truly worth getting excited about may seem obvious but it's often lost in the procedure of festival organizing. And the thing about excitement is it's contagious and reciprocating. Headliners like Cults and Grimes expressed genuine surprise at the vibes and reception they got. The talent was real, but I'm extraordinarily heartened to see the city rise to the occasion. Good job, Orlando. That kind of enthusiastic, two-way live exchange between artist and audience is exactly the point of all this, and OYG's focus on buzz-worthiness is what gives it prestige and makes it a brand you can trust.

Finally, the festival's scheduling is as ingenious as it gets. In conjunction with like-minded, smartly timed regional fests like the new Savannah Stopover Music Festival, OYG can potentially build its name as a bright new magnet on a viable Southeast leg of the indie festival circuit leading up to the center of the music fest universe that is South by Southwest. That could be seriously sustainable.

This year's pumped-up edition felt like a festival of size and quality. Most importantly, it gave you the feeling that, yes, it's happening, it's happening now and it's happening here. At this new level, OYG is Orlando's next event of possible national consequence.

The beat

Even though my dance card was impossibly full, one act that impressed me enough with their extra mile to squeeze 'em in last-minute was Toronto's the Elwins (March 9, the Social). Any touring band that writes an ode to Orlando to introduce itself and posts the video on YouTube is worth a shot. Live, they were as affably adorkable as their overture. But they also proved to be a nova of pop incandescence, one with enough spirit and hooks to give even Mumpsy a run for their money.


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