Music News & Reviews

Boomslang 2012: It takes a community to put on festival

McClatchy Tribune

Saraya Brewer says she had two objectives when the third annual Boomslang festival rolled around last year.

The first was to delegate. Having overseen the weekend-long celebration of indie and underground music since its inception in 2009, she wanted to farm out more of the organizational responsibilities for Boomslang No. 4.

The second was to plan her wedding. But getting that in order pretty much meant making doubly sure Boomslang was in capable hands, as her nuptials follow this year's festival by two weeks.

"It's just the way that the planning worked out," Brewer said. "I kind of have the feeling that everything could implode at any minute. But so far, the stress has been really minimal."

Brewer added that the operational word for the execution of this year's Boomslang has been smooth. The event — which was to kick off Thursday night and will conclude with a Sunday evening headline concert at Buster's by the Scottish alt-rock brigade The Jesus and Mary Chain — will utilize nearly a dozen Lexington venues.

That community reach has become standard operating procedure for Boomslang. But the role of student staffers and volunteers at the University of Kentucky's independent student-run radio station, WRFL-88.1 FM, Boomslang's primary sponsor, has increased steadily. This year, staffers have been involved in every facet of the festival's organization — from booking concerts to formatting events to securing performance spaces. Their visibility and duties will increase as the festival hits full speed this weekend.

"There has been a really big movement in getting the UK students involved," Brewer said. "WRFL's student directors now have Boomslang duties incorporated into their official responsibilities as employees of the University of Kentucky. Part of their job at WRFL has been to actually take on certain aspects of Boomslang. I think it's a really valuable experience for any student to be involved in an event like this, to get professional experience at running a festival of this caliber."

For Margot Wielgus, a graduate student of philosophy at UK who serves as general manager of WRFL, work on this year's Boomslang began soon after last year's festival ended.

"The booking committee began work at the end of last year," she said. "It started simply as a matter of asking the general staff who they would want to see at Boomslang, and then contacting agents and bands to find who was available. That went on through the summer. We confirmed all of the acts around the middle of the summer. So that was quite a process."

It was a process, Brewer said, that wasn't nearly as smooth at the start of the summer as it is now.

"I'm really, really proud of the whole festival and really excited about how this year is turning out," she said. "I will admit, though, there was a time about four months ago where we didn't have these headliners locked in and weren't sure how things were going to turn out or if we were going to be able to secure the acts that we were hoping to get. But once it all unfolded, all of us got really, really excited. We've probably received the best and most enthusiastic response from the community that we ever have."

Some acts, like The Jesus and Mary Chain, were difficult to confirm. But others were familiar with Boomslang and approached WRFL about performing. A case in point was the veteran West Coast experimental band Negativland, whose music has varied from pop-esque compositions to improvisational sound and noise sculptures performed in art galleries. Formed in 1979, Negativland seldom tours anymore. But co-founder Mark Hosler wanted to make Boomslang one of the group's few concert stops this fall.

"Mark did a presentation the first year of Boomslang where he talked about his work," Brewer said. "It was really well-attended. We were surprised at how much of his cult following packed out Natasha's (Bistro & Bar) for it. So he approached us out of the blue this year to see if we might be interested in a full-blown Negativland show.

"This is a band that really works under the radar. They don't go through an agent. But Mark approached us because he loved playing here before."

Wielgus said, "The festival is able to bring some really excellent musical artists to Lexington. And this is a very special thing because, sometimes, these musical acts are only on tour around the area. But this is a really good way to concentrate all of that musical energy right here.

"Personally, I'm really excited about the diversity of all the different music we're having. Hopefully, there will be something for everyone there."

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