Group of the Altos (Milwaukee), Double Ewes (Madison), Hello Death (Milwaukee), P.C. Allen (Madison), Pioneer (Madison), Anna Vogelzang (Madison), Corcovado (Madison), Wake Up Sleepy Giant (Madison)
September 4th, 2011
Rock County, Wisconsin
The 2nd 1st Annual Rock County Folk Symposium marked the southern Wisconsin highlight of the Labor Day weekend. Basically while all the families and students escaped to the Dells, Door County or home, dozens upon dozens upon dozens made the trek through cornfields and woods to camp out along the Rock River. So many that this year was sold out, capping off earlier surprise announcements such as Julian Lynch DJing the day away and a headlining set from Group of the Altos.
The additions this year amplified the magic of the previous. The symposium gathered Wisconsin musicians from near and far to camp out for 24 hours straight, sharing in on music and the splendor that is brats, beer and nature. The most interesting addition was the sonic landscape of FM Forest, an on-site radio station that proved to be the beacon for many wandering their way in. Radios of all shapes, sizes and ages were dispersed throughout the woods; some more obviously placed than others. What resulted was a tremendous, surrounding ambiance of sound emitting from the stage whether you were nearby or cozied up in a tent. The organizers also added luminescence to the stars and moon above, casting a framing glow around the field to generate their own wooded Wonderland. People were also encouraged to document their experience by their very own on-site blog (aka typewriter), as well as write letters attributing to a fierce debate between butter and margarine at a quirky, fantastical forest office complete with desk, table, rug and the official Instagram diorama.
Yet for entertainment purposes, the lineup was much more varied this year emphasizing folk, ambient and now epic rockscapes. Corcovado and Anna Vogelzang followed up Wake Up Sleepy Giant, shifting the setting to have the river itself be the backdrop. An old single microphone caught the music, broadcasting it throughout the grounds. Albeit a bit quiet, the lazy Sunday befit the soft indie of Corcovado. Anna, who the previous year stepped away from all amplification, and Andrew similarly are perfectly matched for this setting. The set emphasized her upcoming album with “Canary” and the ever gorgeous “Volcanoes” (9/30 at The Frequency, her record release show).
As dusk fell during Anna’s set, the next phase of #RCFS began. By then, conviviality was boundless, propped up by the fixings nearby. When the sun did set, Hello Death hung over the stage with their newfound dark Americana. Heavy, yet somberly beautiful, the band is the relatively new project of Nathaniel Heuer coupled with a few of his fellow Group of the Altos musicians. It’s nevertheless haunting, as hopefully you’ll see when footage of the symposium is put together by some of the many mediaphiles that were present. Double Ewes followed with their uptempo, ethereal indietronic sound that echoed off the branches and leaves. It was during this point that the fire dancers began to truly come out by hypnotizing the audience with their lithe movements.
You could call the evening to a close, however you were technically a third of the way through the symposium. Comedy ensued, seriously, on stage for the first time highlighting some of the talent brewing out on State Street in Madison. Completely unexpected, and a bit refreshing in its doses. It forced people who may have been straying to revert their attention back to the stage. Final sets came up shortly after, including the first full-band set of Pioneer and P.C. Allen. Clearly the most anticipated was sandwiched in between; the 12-member Group of the Altos. Quick note: Features members of Volcano Choir, which also features Justin Vernon. So bust out your mathematical principles people and you can infer the talent.
Now Group of the Altos only has four songs and barely any lyrics. Several trumpets, a duo of strings coupled by keys and guitars with a saw thrown in for good measure. They’re effectively our Explosions in the Sky, if the landscape you wandered tugged at you with the shadows of trees, then jutted stones in front of your weary path as if it could feel your emotions and play with a growing nervousness. Ending with “Bagong Ava, Bagong Hele”, the crowd’s attention was fossilized to the red lit-encircled stage. The conclusion to the evening? Never. Rock County Folk Symposium still had 12 hours to go…