Music News & Reviews

Indie festival Boomslang looks to improve on last year's debut

Michael Coomers, Curtis O'Mara and Jose Boyer make up Harlem. The garage-rock band began as a duo in Tucson, Ariz., then moved to Austin, Texas, and became a trio.
Michael Coomers, Curtis O'Mara and Jose Boyer make up Harlem. The garage-rock band began as a duo in Tucson, Ariz., then moved to Austin, Texas, and became a trio.

About 11 months ago, Saraya Brewer didn't know how the inaugural Boomslang — a three-day downtown festival devoted to indie music, dance, film and even its own fringe-style carnival — would pan out.

The new, WRFL-88.1 FM-sponsored event was designed from the get-go to be an annual happening, and she wanted the festival to spotlight Lexington as both an indie Mecca for its own original music and an inviting tour stop for like-minded artists from all locales, styles and even generations.

"Last year we didn't have real high expectations for the turnout," said Brewer, Boomslang's founder and principal organizer. "But we got a lot of positive feedback from people who really, really knew music — a lot of musicians, particularly. It became a festival geared toward music nerds, people who just eat and breathe this stuff."

Now we have Boomslang's second bow. As an event, it is seeking to heighten the already broad stylistic scope of the music its presents (from neo-metal to punk to psychedelia and more) while smoothing over the inevitable kinks that popped up during its debut year (specifically, very late-running schedules).

"I think there's going to be a lot more interest from people who just heard about the festival itself last year," Brewer said. "Now those people are really interested in checking it out.

"We have a lot of faith in every single act we booked this year. There's nothing that we just threw in there. So we're hoping that even if people aren't very familiar with them, there will be a trust in the really solid team that hand-picked all these bands."

Like last year, Boomslang will stage events at almost every major music venue in Lexington, including Buster's, Cosmic Charlie's, Natasha's Bistro, Al's Bar and the Ya Ya Loft in Bar Lexington.

Among this year's guests: veteran experimental/minimalist composer Rhys Chatham (8:15 p.m. Sunday at Buster's); the Tucson, Ariz., garage-rock trio Harlem (2 p.m. Sunday at Ya Ya Loft); the indie all-star psychedelic collective Rangda, featuring Sir Richard Bishop, Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano (9:30 p.m. Sunday at Natasha's); and modern San Francisco psychedelic stylists Wooden Shjips (8:45 p.m. Friday at Buster's).

Of particular interest is a Saturday night bill featuring Detroit punk/metal rockers Death (10:45 p.m. at Buster's). The band's history is almost as distinctive as its music. Supported and financed by no less a music mogul than Clive Davis, the African-American sibling trio of Bobby, David and Dannis Hackney cut a mere seven songs in the mid-'70s that fell in line with fellow Motor City rockers The MC5 and Alice Cooper, with touches of early Funkadelic and Jimi Hendrix thrown in.

The story goes that Davis lobbied for a more inviting and bankable name for the brothers than Death. The Hackneys refused, Davis walked and Death disappeared. The recordings remained largely lost until the esteemed indie label Drag City issued them last year under the album title ... For the Whole World to See.

"We have received a much bigger response than we expected from that band," Brewer said of Death. "I think they've kind of gone onto that radar with a lot of the indie kids. They remind me a lot of Mission of Burma (one of the highlight acts from last year's Boomslang). They're almost post-punk, but really rockin' post-punk."

Probably the biggest difference between the first and second Boomslangs will be the spot on the calendar. Last year, the event fell in early October. The upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games prompted a rescheduling, at least for this year, to September.

"My first instinct was to do it in October anyway, so we could have an international crowd. But we realized it would be a logistical nightmare with the hotels and stuff."

Probably the most encouraging aspect of Boomslang II is how well it has set itself up for Boomslang III. Brewer said the festival received grants from several outside arts organizations, including the Kentucky Arts Council and LexArts. She described the financial support as "modest," but she said that Boomslang's eligibility for greater aid will increase next year.

Curiously, it was while she was completing applications for those grants that the worthiness of Boomslang's entire mission was reaffirmed to Brewer.

"Applying for the grants really helped us focus our mission very specifically," she said. "When we got it all on paper, it helped us realize, 'Hey, this event really could grow into something that's great for our community.'"