Saturdays are always busy at Lawrence. We fill our weeks with so much activity, inside and outside of the classroom, that even downtime is precisely scheduled and packed with social engagement. Some events simply fall off the radar, victims of an overlap or a lack of public awareness.
This was unfortunately the case for Band Booking Committee’s Broadly Local Music Festival, a three-act free show to generate publicity for GlobeMed which happened Saturday, Feb. 26 in the Campus Center. GlobeMed was raising money through a bake sale to benefit educational endeavors in Ecuador, with the musical component and the VR’s small bar as promotional content.
The festival showcased a variety of rising talent from Wisconsin. The first band, the Wishbone Breakers, are a local Appleton group that blends lush indie folk with a singer-songwriter bent. Frontman Luke Crowe displayed a quiet coffee-shop affect with his brother Ryley filling out the sound with vocal harmonies.
Many of the songs followed altcountry stylings as well, not unlike the fellow Appletonian and folkrock darling Cory Chisel. Though the festival purported to highlight the variety of local bands, the Wishbone Breakers helped affirm the possibly emergent “Appleton Sound.”
The band had a bit of trouble commanding the room, through no fault of their own. Minor troubles with stage sound caused their set to get going slowly, and once the band had hit its stride the crowd had lost its focus. Even when Luke switched to an electric guitar, conversation was audible above the band. Though many appeared to be local friends and fans of the
group, the atmosphere was off-putting regardless of the Wishbone Breakers’ talent. The chatter was unfortunate, as the band had much to offer for those who paid attention.
Milwaukee outfit Sat. Nite Duets didn’t face the same problems that hindered the Wishbone Breakers; the swirling guitar-and-disaffect combination was easily comparable to Pavement, and also louder than the Wishbone boys. They easily obtained their sway over the audience, partially because there were around 10 people in the room when they started.
The band reconfigured at several points in the set, with vocal duties spread among almost all members. The band’s drummer sang lead on a third of the songs, with the keyboardist taking up his place; on two songs they both played percussion at the same time.
Sat. Nite Duets was an extremely capable group that knew its aims and met them without ever appearing to try too hard. Their ‘90s-throwback vibe thankfully emphasized the torn confessional sound rather than the cooler-than-thou trope prevalent in similar bands, and the result was fun — shoutable choruses like “This is boyfriend season/ I love you for no reason” were abundant.
The Ragadors garner more press than either Sat. Nite Duets or The Wishbone Breakers, which may have helped refill the room slightly for their headlining set. A Milwaukee band with one-time Lawrence student Ben Hall on lead vocals, the group’s swaggering rock and roll proved more popular with the remaining audience.
The band’s set demanded rapt attention from those in attendance. The group tapped into a darker side of its blues influence, at times unleashing a fury accessible by only the greatest electric bluesmen. Hall broke a string on his guitar very early in the set, and could have stomped a hole in the floor if he had not moved in bursts of motion about the stage.
Drummer Josh Harper’s Bonham-esque drive offered additional heft to the satisfyingly sludgy guitars, while Russell Leary offered blistering, if familiar, Stratocaster licks. Kevin Topel supplied the low end and much of the humor.
All three bands offered a premier free Saturday night experience for those in attendance, and any of the performances were worth the forfeit of an hour on a weekend. The Broadly Local Music Fest offered a surprising slice of what Lawrentians miss off-campus; regretfully, it also demonstrated what they tend to miss right here at home.