Loving Loufest 2011, a sweet end to summer
The summer music festival has a long and rich history in the United States. As the spring thaw melts into the hazy torpor of summer, temporary stages are constructed and vast, sprawling lawns are groomed for the public. Performers are hired, and the general public is invited to enjoy. The Aspen Music Festival (held each summer in Aspen, Colo.) was born in 1949, and it grew to become a nexus for quantum physicists to come give lectures on theory, mathematicians to discuss proofs and young, budding musicians to display their burgeoning talents. Rolling Stone called the legendary Woodstock festival of 1969 a top pivotal event in rock ‘n’ roll history. Lilith Fair of 1996 took America by storm with the vigor of the third wave of feminism. Needless to say, the summer music festival has long been designated as a cultural bedrock of newness. New music, new ideology, new social norms.
In the last two decades, the summer music festival has evolved. Last summer, something very important happened to St. Louis—Loufest was born.
Last weekend, I meandered on my bike through the trails of Forest Park towards the mammoth Central Field. As I approached the bike valet, I could hear the thumping bassline of Surfer Blood. I checked my bike, exchanged my two-day ticket for a chunky wristband and crossed the threshold into Loufest 2011. And let me tell you, the city of St. Louis did well. I walked through the Green Area (a large composting retainer flanked by recycling dumpsters) to get to the vendors. The booths and tables were an eclectic mix of vintage stores, traveling arts-and-crafts vendors from Illinois, record shops and Cherokee Street shops, including St. Louis Style, which sells kitschy t-shirts with an array of designs that both embrace and lightly mock St. Louis.
Two stages were placed at each end of the field, and the acts alternated between the two. Surfer Blood petered out on Stage 1 as DJ Questlove revved up on Stage 2. (Questlove, the drummer of the Roots, DJed in the place of his band’s performance, due to Hurricane Irene and airline/transportation difficulties.) Following Questlove was Deerhunter, whose thrumming ambient rock captivated the crowd at Stage 1. The Hold Steady, Saturday’s closer, rocked out as the sun sank below the trees and reflected off of the metropolitan skyline.
On Sunday, I checked my bike just in time for Cat Power’s mellifluous vocals and ambient guitar ensemble. Chan Marshall, lead singer, paced the stage moodily as she crooned out “The Greatest,” which was received with much-delighted applause. Chan’s soothing, almost tenor-ranged vocals and her band’s rolling guitar swells of Stage 1 gave way to the post-punk soul music of TV on the Radio on Stage 2. TV on the Radio was spunky, loud and wonderful.
As the heat of the afternoon dissipated into the light warmth of a late August night in St. Louis, the sun once more disappearing through the trees, crowds of all ages jumped and fist-pumped and cheered for the closing band, while others meandered to the outskirts of the festival. Couples held hands under the canopies of Forest Park’s lush trees, and parents set up quiet picnics with young children in the grass outside of Loufest’s thin fences. The ambience was calm, in spite of the driving rhythms of contemporary rock only a football field’s distance away. Loufest, I’ll be back in 2012.