Wednesday, June 8, 2016 11:11 pm
Dumb, dumber, Dumb Fest
Despite adversity, music festival set to show off Southtown improvements
Kicking off this Friday, June 10, at 5 p.m., Dumb Fest is one of two annual music festivals hosted every summer by the scrappy, consistently ambitious, all-ages punk venue Black Sheep Café, located at the corner of 11th St. and South Grand (Black Sheep Fest celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2015 and is scheduled for August), located next door to venerable indoor skateboard ramp Skank Skates. Press materials for the fourth edition of Dumb Fest boast “50 bands from 16 states” - not to mention one (Disparo) traveling all the way from Australia to perform - along with 10 homegrown Springfield bands.
The youthful, Southtown-based community of punk rockers, volunteers and proud misfits has experienced some turbulence lately. After an impressive period of growth beginning in 2014, including the opening of the Dumb Records record store and Southtown Recording Studio (both still going strong) along with the high-profile signing of scene mainstays Looming to the California-based No Sleep record label, the Black Sheep Cafe itself celebrated a decade in business (ancient by all-ages punk venue standards) and found itself having earned a reputation as a destination venue for independent music acts – and fans – from all across the country and beyond. Black Sheep founder Kevin Bradford stepped down and sold his stake to a few of his more ambitious protégés. It was an exciting time.
Then clouds started to appear. In the wake of Looming’s success, vocalist Jess Knight moved to Austin, Texas, and the band’s drummer/engineer Brandon Carnes – also a co-owner of Black Sheep and engineer at Southtown Studio – soon relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Looming reportedly plans to continue recording and performing despite the geographic challenges). The sudden absence of two of the scene’s most active and visible members sent shock waves through the tightknit community. But there seemed to be little cause for alarm as Brian Galecki was still there running things.
Galecki, 26, is one of the Springfield’s true movers and shakers. He came of age as a teenage habitué of Black Sheep and, after graduating from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, returned to Springfield and started working hard to maintain and grow the venue and the neighborhood he loved. (He works days as a graphic designer at Miles T-Shirts.) Galecki was responsible for opening Dumb Records, acting as its de facto manager, and not only does he co-own Black Sheep but at any given show held there, Galecki is likely to be busy with any number of duties – from collecting the door charge to wrangling equipment – and can almost always be seen in the audience enjoying the music (at least when he’s not onstage performing with his own band, Livin’ Thing). Dumb Fest was his original idea. The festival is his baby.
However, two weeks ago, Galecki - a non-smoker with no previous health issues - suddenly started having difficulty breathing. A visit to the emergency room revealed his left lung had collapsed. He was admitted to the hospital where he remained for many excruciating days, managing what he could of the many Dumb Fest preparations from his bed there, using his phone and laptop (he was finally released Wednesday).
According to Southtown godfather (and landlord) George Sinclair, Galecki had luckily already begun to delegate tasks for this most ambitious of Dumb Fests. “They’ve been having meetings for months,” Sinclair says. “I’m going to let them use [a nearby house] for a kitchen and a crash pad, so that’ll give us a little more operating space.” Sinclair’s primary concern, as always, is improving the neighborhood he has called home since the late ’80s and he sees the activity surrounding events like Dumb Fest as only helping his overall cause. “My goal is to get the grounds as cleaned up as I possibly can before the festival so it’s nice for people to walk through here. I’ll try to get all the cardboard and piles of wood and bricks out of here and get it decorated as nice as I can.” Sinclair plans to offer tours of his garden and beekeeping grounds to interested festival-goers. “We’ll be serving meals and trying to recruit more volunteers,” he says.
One of the volunteers stepping in to help while Galecki recuperated was Kristian Kyle Ratliff, 27, drummer for popular Black Sheep band Our Lady. “It’s three days this year, which is the biggest Dumb Fest we’ve ever had, so we really want to try to be accommodating to all the bands,” he says. “It’s been all hands on deck with Brian in the hospital. What’s going on with him is very strange – he seems like the kind of guy where it’s like, oh, he’ll always be fine. He works very, very hard and we’ve been noticing it ever since he’s been out of commission.”
One positive byproduct of Galecki’s illness was that it forced other members of the scene to take ownership, a prospect that Ratliff sees as both intimidating and exhilarating. “It’s really a beautiful thing, everyone stepping up, making CDs, making flyers, printing out handbills, promoting as much as we can and getting the grounds of Southtown up to snuff so we can host 50 bands. It’s stressful but I think all of us are working toward that moment where it’ll be like, hey, we can actually do this. We’ve got this!”
As for the huge number of bands set to play at Dumb Fest starting Friday, Ratliff says there should be a wide variety of sounds to appeal to different musical palates. “There are a lot of good bands and a lot of diversity,” he says. “Some people might write Dumb Fest off as a bunch of punk bands but it’s far from that.” Ratliff is particularly excited about the off-site event at the Rock and Roll Hardees (2501 Stevenson Dr.) on Sunday at 4 p.m. featuring one of Dumb Fest’s bigger names, California-based band Nobunny, along with a possible opening set from Livin’ Thing, if Galecki is out of the hospital and ready to play by then.
For a taste of the music awaiting you at Dumb Fest, click here to download a sampler of 20 of the bands playing this weekend and here for a full schedule.
Scott Faingold can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.