One showcase to rule them all

 

Musical Family Tree hosts second annual festival

It’s time once again to pull on your favorite rock ’n’ roll T-shirt, worn jeans and button-covered hoodie as your underground alter-ego supports 26 eclectic, do-it-yourself songsters with Indiana roots during the Second Annual Musical Family Tree Festival. It’s the perfect time to share and compare those well-honed musical tastes.

MFT: the beginning

For regional songwriters to thrive, they must network with other bands, trade each other’s songs, promote gigs via word of mouth and support creative efforts. Indiana-grown alt rock, folk, indie, pop, punk and metal bands have become a subcultural community, battling as one against cookie-cutter top 40 bands hogging the airwaves. This Musical Family Tree is exactly that: more than 200 up-and-coming musicians collected like bright, blinking fireflies on a user-friendly Web site created for the bands and their fans.

In 2004, Jeb Banner founded the MFT site, which began as an effort to archive the local indie rock scene of the 1990s, merging past and present Bloomington and Indianapolis-based bands in hopes of exposing their music to wider audiences. A year later, more folks got involved, giving nationally-signed, veteran bands and newer, virtually unknown Midwest musicians a captivated audience.

The MFT site now has 2,000 members, community sponsors, streaming audio samples, personalized playlists, message boards and a recent CD compilation, Delicious Berries, for sale. The first in what Banner hopes is a series of site-supporting album compilations, Delicious Berries, distributed through Luna Music, features 19 talented MFT bands, including Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Brando, Marmoset and Gentleman Caller.

“I’m pleased just to see the consistency of quality music and that the audience for MFT has continued to grow,” says volunteer Peter Christie. “It’s cool to see that it’s opened up to other spheres of influence. We’re slowly seeing more rap and hip-hop, and [we’re] digging even deeper for the more influential and hard-to-hear bands.”

This year’s festival

With two all-ages shows at the Big Car Gallery, even young indie rockers will have the chance to see live performances on Friday, Oct. 20 by I Don’t So Now I Do (ambient space rock), Otis Gibbs (country folk), Mike Pancini (sleepy fingerpicker-pop), Burr Settles (infective country-tinged rock) and Norman Oak (mystical music).

Saturday, Oct. 21’s all-ages show at the gallery includes The Innate (intense, distorted Iggy Pop-style rock), Faith Kleppinger (dark acoustic-driven vocals), The Sheds (smoky rock), Dale Lawrence (veteran Indy icon), Amy Lashley (introspective light rock), Stephen James (upbeat indie rock) and Arrah and the Ferns (beautiful lo-fi).

Muncie-based Arrah and the Ferns (www.arrahandtheferns.com), comprised of Arrah (vocals, piano, guitar), Carl (vocals, guitar, bass) and Dave (percussion), formed during an open mic night, sparking a deeper friendship between the trio. A Luna Music performance put them in touch with the Musical Family Tree in 2005, and they have since been writing quirky songs about science books and fidelity. The band’s pop elements blend with spunky folk and jazz to create a lighthearted, melodic and slightly sarcastic sound.

Arrah and the Ferns’ debut album Evan Is a Vegan (2006) is one of Muncie Star Press’ top 20 albums of the year, included in a list with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Show Your Bones. The group even boasts its own ringtones and Dave says the only obstacle the group still needs to overcome is “getting over Carl’s rodeo cowboy boots.”

Another MFT band, Burlington, Ky., duo Chris Haubner and Paul Bunyan of The Sheds (http://theshedsmusic.com) joined the community thanks to artist Axlerod Gunnerson. Their new CD, The Sheds Quit Smoking, is one of three theme albums, “each a story about salt-of-the-earth type friends,” according to Haubner. He is happy to be a part of the MFT aesthetic, even though he isn’t from this area. “I think Indiana singers are genuine,” he says. “They tell stories, and they’re not soft, dull songs. They’ve got knuckle.”

As stories told during dinner dates wind down this weekend, those ages 21 and up can grab a drink at Radio Radio and soak in the sounds of MFT’s late-night bands. Friday’s lineup includes The Society (Indy-based rock), The Fervor (pleasurable female-led group), Abner Trio (experimental indie rock), Born Again Floozies (a tap dancer as a musical instrument), Everthus.the.deadbeats (piano cabaret meets The Who), Spitshine (rock bar band) and Prizzy Prizzy Please (rugged pop-punk).

The MFT showcase ends on a high note this Saturday with Deep Cricket Night (guitar humor), Door Keys (Midwest anthem-lovers), The Fireworms (pop-punk), Velo-Deluxe (crunchy Violent Femmes-style pop), Gentleman Caller (melodic mellow swag), Brando (1960s-influenced indie rock) and The Carter Administration (three-piece pop band from Nashville, Tenn.).

The Carter Administration (http://cartereight.com) played their first show for their girlfriends in 1998. Luckily, Ryan Ervin (guitar, vocals), Todd Kemp (drums, vocals) and Andy Willhite (bass, vocals) have since received more attention and released Air Guitar Force One in 2005 on Theory 8 Records. In addition, the trio released a six-song EP, God & Country, in August. They also played the 2006 Midwest Music Summit and are headed to CMJ next month.

“We play what the kids might like to call ‘freedom rock,’” Ervin says. “Our songs are mostly about failed relationships and struggles with daily life. We write sad songs and then make fun of ourselves by giving them titles like ‘Kentucky Is Ohio’s Alabama.’

“Sometimes it gets to the point where you wonder if anyone will ever really care about what you’re doing,” he adds. “Then something like Musical Family Tree happens and you think, ‘Oh yeah, this is fun.’”

The highlight of this year’s MFT showcase is a one-time reunion of legendary Bloomington, Ind.’s Velo-Deluxe, comprised of members John Strohm (formerly of the Lemonheads), Kenny Childers and Mitch Harris, who disbanded in 1997.

“They wrote a lot of good songs, sold a lot of records, played a lot of good shows [and] toured all over,” Christie says. “That means everything to a scene — to see a band have that kind of success. They never became tragic, either, which is cool.”

Continuing the positive trend of growth and scene support, MFT founder Banner hopes to eventually spread the site to other cities as either a non-profit organization or a business. Each city would have an editor seeking out talented musicians to join the site, but for now, it’s all about Indiana.

“There’s something about the Midwest that creates a certain quality of music — an honesty,” Banner says. “The scene is especially vibrant now.”

 

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