On Friday, fans of local musicians will have a chance to catch Burns Like Hellfire, a catchy-as-all-hell group that leans towards the best of alt-country, with tantalizing melodies and passionate, ragged vocals out of singer Brian Young. With authenticity to spare, this is your best bet for a booze-and-blues combination. They're also joined by funk-rock-soul-whatever-fusion band the Longnecks and some good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll from the Shirkers.
Saturday sees the undulating rhythms of Seattle rock band Shim, bringing as much swagger and strut as it can fit in the back of its tour van. Playing alongside will be one of the most promising bands in Spokane, the JonnyForest, with their whispery, plaintive vocals and jangly indie-rock guitars. Man-about-Spokane (and Inlander staffer) Joel Smith will be playing with his Hands of Plenty. Smith's lyrical command of location, movement, and narrative serve him well, packing up plenty of varied instrumentation and copious amounts of blisteringly fast banjo. La Cha Cha (back from the indefinite hiatus?!) and Requiem will round out Saturday's lineup.
The folk/Americana stylings of Lafayette (the renamed and slightly reconfigured Robert Dunn and the North Country) and a quiet acoustic affair with Zac Fairbanks on guitar are the featured acts on Sunday. It'll be certainly intriguing to see how Fairbanks translates to that setting, as his other efforts showcase his talents in the blues and noise settings (the Booze Fighters and Hallelujah Soul Explosion, respectively). We'll also see singer-songwriter Cristopher Lucas showcase his pop sensibilities, with Kent Rockmore as well. But the jewel in Sunday's crown will be the spectacle that is Groove Patrol.
The Inlander caught up with Joshua Simon, one of the masterminds behind the band, and found that Groove Patrol is less a band than a collective, a rotating cast of area musicians playing together with little or no restriction on what they will play. Simon said Groove Patrol has one firm rule: "You're free to play whatever you want." The band began jamming weekly at the University of Idaho, and that provided the time and inspiration to progress from what Simon characterized as "funky stuff" to free jazz. "It wasn't freeform to begin with," he says. "But when you're doing something once a week, you start to move in that direction."
The college clique members went their separate ways, with Simon ending up in Spokane. "I wanted to recreate that weekly thing," he says, but there were obstacles. "We had some trouble finding a drummer at first -- we played nine months without one. ... It made us tighter as a band. We learned how to stay in time real fast."
As word spread, drummers came out of the woodwork. Now the problem isn't where to find one, but how to choose between them. "We're trying to narrow it down to our favorite five or six drummers," Simon added, "although we've done a few shows with two drummers just because we can."
The concept of free jazz freaks some people, so Simon offers an anchor. "If there was a precedent for [Groove Patrol]," he says, "it was '70s-era Miles Davis," referring to Davis' tendency during the time to have studio musicians improvise everything. "The best music is the stuff that breathes and can change. The most appealing thing is how immediate our reaction can be to our environment. My personal favorite nights are when the guys just really take it out there -- when the songs just radically change. I love it when it sounds like you just changed the radio dial. Groove Patrol is like surrealist theater -- the guys show up and make a spectacle out of it."
Though the band doesn't use a singer, it draws influence from the Beat poets. Simon speaks admiringly of Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. "Obviously, we don't use words, so we can't pay direct literary homage to the Beats," he says, "but there's definitely the same sort of energy, the commitment to creativity."
The connection to the Beats also speaks to the band's desire to defy convention, not just musically, but socially. Simon revealed his personal motivations about being a musician, saying, "It opens your eyes to the fact that there's so much [more] out there than finding a job you hate so you can start a family you don't love and be miserable for the rest of your life." Cynical, perhaps, but the sentiment is genuine: Simon wants to find that intangible something out there that makes life worth living. So far, it's been music.
Elkfest unfolds at the corner of Pacific Ave. and Cannon St., Friday- Sunday, May 30-June 1. Music begins at 4 pm on Friday and at 1 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Each set lasts approximately two hours. Free. Call 363-1973.