Oh Land (Copenhagen, Denmark), Phox (Madison, WI), Delta Spirit (San Diego, CA), Chance the Rapper (Chicago, IL), Toro Y Moi (Columbia, SC), The Mowgli’s (Los Angeles, CA)
May 4th, 2013
Revelry Music and Arts Festival at Union South in Madison, Wisconsin
Full Gallery: Revelry Fest at University of Wisconsin-Madison
In bold font with liberal usage of caps lock for emphasis, this year’s Resident Information Letter indicated efforts to stifle the annual Mifflin ritual near University of Wisconsin-Madison attained a new level. Mifflin is an annual spring block party that once reached mythic levels before reports of violence and public disturbances, along side an increase police presence, led to the more formalized, city-wide retort of the event. In 2013, on the other side of campus at the Union South student center, Revelry Music and Arts Festival kicked off its inaugural edition. To the surprise of the Revelry Executive Committee, Madison Police Department attempted to use the festival as a “positive alternative” in talks with media. Immediately Executive Committee Chair Sarah Mathews released a response and astonishment, “…we find it offensive that he [Madison Police Department Officer Matthew Magolan] would use our festival as a scapegoat for Madison Police Department’s decision to increase Mifflin St. enforcement on May 4th.”
From the crowds, the waves of red shirts coming in from time to time, Revelry wasn’t received as an “alternative” to Mifflin, but as a welcome new festival in the long storied history of Madison and its cultural contributions to the arts. The Daily Page went into detail on previous Madison festivals, from the revered Forward Music Festival (2008-2009) to Freakfest. Aside from Snake on the Lake Fest in the fall, springtime is a bit bare. Now with Revelry in early May, before festival season swings into full gear, Madison has a music event perfectly timed to celebrate the return of the Terrace and its brightly colored chairs.
Though the festival opened under cloudy, rainy skies, the meteorological gods decided to be kind and turn the chilly day into a perfectly warm spring day by mid-afternoon. Music was spread across three stages: the outdoor Plaza Stage, the indoor stage in The Sett and a DJ booth. Although the Wisconsin Union didn’t get One Direction as they jokingly aspired to, they did attract Hoodie Allen, Toro y Moi, Oh Land, and numerous other quality national, regional and local talent. An impressive line-up given it took less than four months to organize! We managed to catch half the line-up that Saturday.
Just as Julian Lynch was closing up indoors, the Danish electro-pop songwriter Oh Land too to the Plaza. Her second album, Oh Land, received widespread buzz and acclaim, buoyed by her single, “Sun of a Gun” and its mesmerizing music video. With new songs in the works, a third album seems to be around the corner. Although the rain seemed to discourage students from coming out in full force, Oh Land wasn’t phased even as raindrops scattered over the yellow, green and orange Terrace chairs on the second floor patio. Umbrellas and rain jackets let those lucky people enjoy several new songs Nanna is working on, including “Cherry On Top.” She had a knack at making a Nord Electro sound like a lush grand piano on the song. Slower in tempo, the song featured beautiful harmonies in the chorus that brought the Swedish Fredrika Stahl more to mind than similarly sounding electro pop artists. Surrounded by three brass members on the left and violins and a cello on the right, her first ever Wisconsin concert was impressive visually as it was sonically. “Wolf & I” was a beautiful fusion of electro and organic, yet “Sun of a Gun” quickly stole the show in making the crowd forget the rainy weather. With choruses accented by her xylophone player, the singer dressed in starry tights stepped away from the Nord Electro 2 to serenade the single to energized students.
Right after she timidly announced, “This is also a new one, so be kind to it” before going into “Love You Better.” Sweet, a little more somber than what we’re used to, it continued to highlight her voice just as “Green Card” did later on. Saturday indicated that Oh Land’s music is opening up, flourishing with her time spent living among musicians from Brooklyn in New York City.
Revelry went off without a hitch, for the most part. Set times overlapped, so people had to leave certain concerts for others, which posed a problem here and there. With 15 minutes overlapping, I unfortunately couldn’t catch the end of Oh Land for fear of missing the beginning of hometown heroes and heroine Phox. Nonchalantly doling out cooking advice (“Don’t replace sugar with apple sauce, even if you wanna eat healthy…just don’t do it.”) between songs, the indie pop/folk group easily had their loyal followers in the audience cheering on the newcomers noticeably won over by clarinet solos and a raging, hair flinging guitar solo.
More colorful than Mickey’s Tavern on a sunny day, Phox highlighted the surprisingly darker Confetti EP more so than their debut album Friendship. To cheers and claps, the gradual intro of “Slow Motion” built anticipation before unleashing into pure jubilation. With the other, national touring groups watching from above, it quickly became clear as Cheston’s clarinet lifted spirits into an explosive burst only tempered by the following “Blue and White.” Monica’s voice, the surprise revelation of 2012 in all of the Midwest, swept over the crowded Sett as J. Sean kept the household drawing their music within the borders. Never cluttered on stage despite having as many instruments as choices in that popular kid’s crayon box, the group went right into the bopping “Evil” before singing about “really bad baked goods” in “Nineteen Thirty-Six.” Although “Laura” and “Noble Heart” may have been a bit less suited for a festival atmosphere, they ran with the slower songs and handily succeeded-even with the dark horse of an a cappella cover. And keeping it local and in the family, Phox ended their set with “Sister,” devoted to Monica’s sibling “who is infinitely better than me in every way.”
Back in the Plaza, rockers Delta Spirit (and their bassist’s massive mane of hair) had to compete with Chance the Rapper in the Sett. Bouncing into The Sett in the middle of “Brain Cells” off his stellar #10Day mixtape, Chance took to the crowd with a control over the crowd you’d expect on those seasoned veterans that mentor the new crop. Using the drum riser as his own personal half throne half launching pad, the Chicagoan frequently rallied the packed audience. Even if it was just him and his DJ on stage, “Juice” evidenced that he is indeed at the forefront of the new emerging rappers. Coaxing on the crowd, the different shoed artist bounded towards the crowd before unleashing an infectious torrent of energy. Yet he toned back on “Acid Rain,” pulling the mic stand back with a cutting focus in those eyes surveying the audience. Once he had things built up to the max, he threw caution to the wind and called everyone on stage for his last romp, stunning security with an ending that could not have been topped by any other artists performing that weekend.
Despite the sometimes conflicting set times and a security presence that seemed more influenced by Mifflin fears fifteen minutes away than UW-Madison, Revelry came off with an impressive inaugural edition. With goals of spanning genres and drawing in people for an end of school year celebration, the Wisconsin Union has managed to make a good complement to Snake on the Lake, and hopefully a new staple in Madison’s rich artistic landscape.