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popfest '97 in nyc...a look back

friday, january 10, 1997: my work had given me the day off (and wisely so, since the previous day i'd gotten about 15 phone calls relating to the fest!), so i puttered about the house all day, answering the phone and making sure everything was okay, as well as building up a healthy dose of nerves. at 6pm-ish the band watoo watoo arrived in nyc and came to my house with another popfest planner, and, laden with tshirts and other fest-esque stuff, we all headed out the door to fez, the club where the show was occurring. soundchecks ensued, the tshirt table was established, and i got more and more nervous. visions of tragedy danced through my head, but luckily none of them came to pass. at 7pm they started letting people in, and watoo watoo, our first band of the night, hit the stage at about 7:40pm. the popfest had begun!

watoo watoo consisted of two people, a listmember michel korchia and his wife pascal, from france. michel played guitar and sang and pascal sang. unfortunately we were unable to tape their performance because they brought a backing tape to use, but the entire effect was quite fun--like an indiepop karaoke!

next up were best wishes, catherine and josh (the artists formerly know as shoebox full of love). they were truly wonderful--just guitar and drums and catherine singing--sort of a stripped-down tiger trap effect. i very much hope to hear more from them!

at this point i think i finally started to calm down a bit, the nerves gradually subsiding (and perhaps helped by a beer). i wish that i had been able to pay more attention to the first two bands, but everything was going well and i was happy to be there!

the third band was coloring book, listmember jen matson of nonstop pop fame and jon chaikin (with help on guitar from someone who's name i don't remember right now). coloring book have been a favorite of mine for a while now, ever since i saw them at the very first tweefest, and i was quite glad to see them play live again. their sound has become a more swirling and haunting type of pop, and is always beautiful, especially the classic "time to grow" from their 7" on the now-defunct queenie label.

at this point in the evening we all looked at our watches and realized that we were actually *ahead* of schedule, which was truly weird. so merrily we rolled along...

...and jumprope hit the stage, and 4 piece from boston including ad boc on guitar and vocals. theirs is an infectious, head-bopping pop, and i think it's safe to say that they were the "rockin'est" band at the friday night show.<

still ahead of schedule, friday night's headliners, the heartworms, were up next. i like the heartworms a lot--i always thought that archie should have gotten more of a chance to sing in velocity girl, and i'm glad that there's a post-v.g. band to make me happy! they played a great set--boppy at times and slower at others, but solid through and through.

our final band for friday night was nord express, from baltimore. their set was slower and swirlier than any of the other bands that night, and quite wonderful as well, and i thought it was an excellent way to end the show. my only complaint was that there were people talking through their set, but that will happen i guess.

crazily enough, the show actually ended *before* midnight--not bad for 6 bands starting at 7:30pm! a bunch of people trooped to kiev for some late night pierogie action, and we played the racecar early 80s trivia game with brian and jina from racecar. (p.s. they're good! watch out for them!) on the way home we nearly lost the racecar kids as well as a few other listmembers to unsafe nyc street-crossing! (always look *both* ways...) but everyone survived and we all went home for a good night's sleep.

saturday, january 11, 1997: saturday for me was spent puttering around the house (much like friday), organizing things and eagerly awaiting the arrival of mario and rose, a.k.a. shoestrings! we'd had witch hazel booked to play saturday night, but they'd had to cancel, so we got on the horn to michigan to try and convince shoestrings to come, and they did! they arrived in plenty of time, still tired from the train trip but excited as well, and we all headed off to fez for popfest night #2!

the first band on saturday night was listmember gary's band gumption, from north carolina, and they power-popped the house! a fun and solid set from this trio, about whom i'd bee curious ever since they were snowed out of the d.c. tweefest last year. and they had excellent stickers too!

next up were shoestrings, for this show playing as a pop duo with listmember mario on guitar and vocals and rose on vocals. their music is so simple and so beautiful--it tears your heart right up and you love it. it's always magic to see them play. (and you should buy their debut cd, "wishing on planes," as well!)

silly pillows bounced out next, with seemingly millions of people onstage. fronted by the constantly-in-motion jonathan caws-elwitt, they were both silly *and* had a pillow!

fourth in the saturday night lineup were racecar, and very fun d.c. based band with listmember brian "tape swap" gray on bass and jina "keroppi tattoo" yi on vocals. i love racecar--they just keep getting better and better, and jina's stage presence is like a whoop of joy! i'm especially fond of the new songs and can't wait for the next cd...oh, and i also got to feel special because they dedicated the long version of "wonderment," in which they go into "rio" by duran duran, to me!

next up were push kings, 4 good-looking lads from boston who make us pop like they used to back in the days when i was still in diapers. i love these guys too--bouncy and fun songs that are easy to sing along to. and the crowd goes wild!

finally, there was holiday, the headliners for saturday night. holiday broke up after this show, so this was kind of an emotion-filled set, with guest vocalists galore and things we never thought we'd hear in concert, like "fifteen dollars" (possibly the only holiday song with a bad word in it!). these guys have been our local pop thrill here in nyc for the past few years, and are great people to boot. they'll be sorely missed.

after the show we all trooped off to a party at the apt. of somebody holiday knew, which was jammed with popkids sitting on the floor and reminiscing. finally the exhaustion got the better of me and, after teary goodbyes and hugs galore, we hauled our butts home for a well-deserved rest

sunday, january 11, 1997: the next day we had one last shebang, hitting the kiev again for some breakfast and socializing. everyone was a little giddy (read: over-tired). afterwards we all went our separate ways, the out-of-towners left for home, and i went back to sit on my couch and remember it all.

so that's my popfest story. thanks a million to everyone who helped, planned, attended and popped! and in the words of the push kings: "the pop just melts away..."

go back to the popfest '97 page!


copyright © maura a. smale