Monday, September 28, 2009

Pygmalion Music Festival

College prepares a person for life in the real world. It’s that magical time that urges kids to forget about cliques and “popularity” in exchange for individuality and maturity. It’s an exciting transitional stage. But it’s not just about preparation for a full-time job. College should prepare the groundwork for a person’s musical world-view in addition to the professional. Remember the music you listened to in college? Of course you do. And more than likely, it’s the music you still listen to.

Horizons are expanded, minds are opened, new experiences abound; all those cliches. They all come true in college. The concept of “higher learning” isn’t just about gaining book-smarts. In addition to the intellectual, we usually increase our visceral knowledge during those four years after high school. And from there, become more attuned to higher art. This hints at the reason we have so many strong indie scenes in college towns.

Cities like Chicago, LA and Brooklyn are base stations for the country’s most creative outputs, but they don’t plant the creative seeds in young artists the way college towns do. Oftentimes, the artist who moves to a major city received artistic first-fruits in smaller scenes. Denton, Boulder, Bloomington, Chapel Hill and Champaign-Urbana are all big college towns that account for some of the best indie bands and labels in America. They’re regularly overlooked in art circles for the larger cities, but college towns deserve more praise than what they usually accrue.

This is why a festival like Pygmalion is so special. For four days, Champaign-Urbana gathers some of the best indie bands in the country along with their favorite local acts for a celebration of community art. Big names like Iron & Wine, The Books, Ra Ra Riot and RJD2 catch the sponsors’ attention, but hidden secrets like BLK JKS, The 1900s, Jookabox and Lymbyc Systym make the festival a little bit homier.

Nobody really goes to a college town in hopes of making a splash in their music scene, it’s always more organic than that. Whereas an artist takes his work to Chicago, LA and Brooklyn in hopes of making it big, an artist of Champaign-Urbana simply emerges out of a natural reaction to the environment. If the artist has the right mix of talent and sincerity, the community will support him. They’ll even place him on the same level as Iron and Wine, The Books, Ra Ra Riot and RJD2. Because great music isn’t about popularity.

In a college town, education is priority number one. This is not true of large cities. Culture is usually primary in the major metropolis. But where education is primary, culture is desired. As much as some parents may hope, there really is no such thing as immersible education. And the stronger the attempt at immersion, the greater the resistance will be. Apparently, the natural reaction to too much studying is rock and roll.

At Pygmalion, all the music venues in town open their doors to out-of-towners and locals alike. It doesn’t matter which venue you’ve decided to go to or when. Good music is everywhere.

It’s not just one style either. Denison Witmer allows listeners to sit on the floor as he quietly sings and strums his acoustic guitar. Japandroids actually get the people up front moshing (even though the singer reminds them, “A word of advice guys, when you mosh the girls all go that way” as he points outward with his arms). Skream provides UK-approved dubstep and the Hood Internet prove the mashup isn’t dead. There’s so much to choose from, just like college.

This was the fifth year of Pygmalion Festival, and each year it has increased in size and sponsors. This was the first year it actually sold out, and it probably won’t be any smaller in 2010. It’s a music festival for people who love music. It’s not uptight, and it’s not boring. It’s about fun. And this is the foundation for all music-lovers. To keep music tastes rich, the offerings must be diverse and unique. Don’t come to Pygmalion if you’re looking for scene points. You’ll be lost in a sea of music lovers, unwittingly preparing themselves for the rest of their musical lives.

originally published by Burnside Writers Collective:

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