Mike Nicholson has to laugh when he thinks about the initial musical gathering he organized back in 2000, a celebration of power pop and melodic rock. “Stupid me, who does not listen to radio at all, named the first fest virtually the same thing as a local radio enormo-conglomo names their huge festival,” he recalls. “Mine was The Shindig, and theirs The Big Shindig.” Despite that potential for confusion, Nicholson’s festival survived its inaugural offering. But soon after, it underwent a name change to Sparklefest.
“[The name] is partly from the song title ‘Sparkleroom’ by one of my charter Sparklefest acts, The Shazam,” explains Nicholson. “The other inspiration is from my purple sparkle Danelectro 12-string electric guitar.”
At this point, with a Shindig and two Sparklefests in his pocket—and a third slated for Oct. 9-11 at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre–Nicholson’s got this festival thing down to a science. (If you don’t believe me, just sneak a peek at the “bands only” link on the Sparklesfest Web site, www.sparklefest.com.) Nicholson’s also expanded the musical scope of the festival, offering the following take on this year’s edition’s predominant sound, or lack thereof: “[The] whole ‘power pop’ tag used to be cool with me, but now I have to reverse and just say it’s just Sparklefest music, which means it has those certain qualities that I dig. This year see bands doing garage, indie rock, art rock, and punk as well as other stuff I dig like the southern jangle of Bobby Sutliff to the new wave bounce of PinkSlip…I want to appeal to a broad-based fanbase that just digs good jams.”
Below is a night-by-night, band-by-band rundown of the acts who’ll be packing those good jams, listed in order of appearance.
Thursday, Oct. 9
(Doors open at 7 p.m.)
Lynn Blakey (of Glory Fountain and Tres Chicas) – With a voice that launched a thousand superlatives and a career that launched one Replacements song, Blakey goes the solo route to open the festival.
Ed James – James’ music channels the ’90s (Jellyfish), ’80s (Plimsouls), ’70s (Todd Rundgren), and the ’60s (um, I’ll give you a hint: his record’s titled Meet Ed James).
Jeff Hart & the Ruins – Longtime local hero Hart has reunited his ace roots-pop group because being in two bands just isn’t enough. Yell for “From Now On.” That’s what I’ll be doing.
Paula Kelley – I’ll let the Boston Phoenix take this one: “Kelley lives for pop, loves Bacharach and the Bee Gees, and often looks as if she’d stepped out of a fashion mag from that era.”
Bastards of Melody – The name of this Jersey City outfit is just a word-swap away from being a Replacements’ song title, and there’s definitely a Sire-era ‘Mats feel to their sound.
PinkSlip – The first page of this quintet’s Web site, complete with a photo that makes them look a little like the stars of a let’s-throw-together-five-disparate-strangers reality show, sums them up thusly: “We are a LA based power-pop band.”
Carroway – How can you not like a band whose inspiration list reads “Wilco, the Jayhawks, the Replacements, and the Old 97’s”? As you might guess from that collective, Carroway traffics in hooky, rootsy pop.
Parklife – This four-piece’s EP sports the moody title Lonely Eyes and Amsterdam, and Creative Loafing, right on cue, describes Parklife’s sound as “moody hard pop.”
International Orange – The world’s newest supergroup, International Orange features area vets Snuzz (from Bus Stop) and Robert Sledge (Ben Folds Five) along with relative N.C. newcomer Django Haskins, he of the guitar-hero first name and the Elvis Costello style.
Milkshake Jones – Pure pop from Pennsylvania. What? With a band name like that, you were expecting something nonfrothy?
The Balance – This Raleigh trio is made up of the side-projecting likes of Jim Brantley (Ashley Stove), Matt McCaughan (Portastatic), and Wes Philips (Speed of Sauce).
Friday, Oct. 10
(Doors open at 6 p.m.)
Daniel Resko – A veteran songwriter from New York City, Resko’s on stage career includes the hardocre matinee at CBGBs and a set at the Speakeasy folk club.
The Frosted Sugar Bombs – Wait, maybe the Frosted Sugar Bombs are the world’s newest supergroup. The aforementioned Jeff Hart, Tom Meltzer (5 Chinese Brother founder), Eddie Watkins (Polvo), and festival father Nicholson (too many to list) make the world safe for 2 1/2-minute pop songs.
Jeremy – When, Rickenbacker in hand, he’s not worshipping at the altar of the three B’s—Beatles, Byrds, and Big Star—Jeremy Morris runs the pop label/mail-order biz Jam Records.
Cliff Hillis & the Forward Thinkers – Former guitarist for power-pop cult faves Starbelly and the John Faye Power Trip, Hillis now makes records–part Posies, part Sir Paul–with his own name on the cover.
The Saving Graces – You can tell a lot about a band by the songs it covers, and these Winston-Salemites (fronted by ex-Neidermeyer leader Michael Slawter) have been known to tackle Split Enz’ “I Got You” and the Plimsouls’ “Oldest Story in the World.”
The Anderson Council – These New Brunswick, N.J., guys nailed both Elvis Costello’s “Welcome to the Working Week” and Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know About Us” (with vocalist Dawn Eden) on last year’s The Stiff Generation tribute record. Nothing more needs to be said.
The Van Deleckis – Charlotte-area hero Jamie Hoover (Spongetones, sideman for Don Dixon and Graham Parker) teams up with singer/songwriter-leaning Bryan Shumate, formerly of alterna-poppers Let’s Get Mikey, to make music of the pop variety.
Athenaeum – One-time Central N.C. pop/rock wunderkids grow up, continue to play music, and get to headline night two of Sparklefest. It really is a beautiful story.
Velvet – This Chapel Hill-based combo plays smart pop for now people. (C’mon, you knew there eventually had to be some variation on that theme). Think Aimee Mann for starters.
The Breaks – The Breaks’ link on the Sparklefest “Acts 2003” page takes you to a site for Carr Amplifiers. That’s undeniably cool, but the band, alas, remains a mystery to me.
In-Line Six – From out of Knoxville comes a band that’s so new, even they might not be sure of what type of music they play. Among the In-Line Six are Windbreaker Tim Lee, ex-V-roy and current Superdrag member Mic Harrison, and another Superdragger or two.
Saturday, Oct. 11
(Doors open at 6 p.m.)
Robbie Rist – Hollywood’s Rist is a multi-instrumentalizing machine who everybody wants to play with. He typically obliges unless he’s busy with his own band, The Andersons. I’m also required by law to mention that he played Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch
Bobby Sutliff – Sutliff is the other half of the Windbreakers (see “In-Line Six” above) and the poster guy for Southern jangle-pop.
Boss Martians – Surf rockers turned ruff rockers the Boss Martians honor such Northwestern kindred spirits as the Sonics and the Young Fresh Fellows
The Fiendish Minstrels – You say that the promise of Let’s Active reissues, a tribute album, and even a box set isn’t enough to get you excited? How about this? Mitch Easter has a new band, featuring Shalini Chatterjee on bass and backing vocals and Eric Marshall on drums.
Terry Anderson & the Olympic Ass-Kickin’ Team – I’ll keep saying it until somebody makes me stop: if Dave Edmunds lived in Bunn, N.C., he’d sound just like Terry Anderson.
Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings – Clevenger’s upcoming record presents him as 50 percent Nick Lowe, 25 percent Steve Earle, 15 percent Marshall Crenshaw, and 10 percent Robin Zander, percentages that should be listed on the back cover like recommended daily allowances.
The Shazam – These big-rocking Nashvillians are named after a Move album, they helped inspire the name for this festival, and Little Steven namedrops them. Don’t miss ’em.
The Connells – In an effort to make myself feel like a real North Carolinian when I moved to Durham in 1988, the first record I bought was The Connells’ folk-pop marvel Boylan Heights. I hope to be awarded my 15-year fan pin at the show.
The Mockers – Look up pop smarts in the dictionary, and, well, you’ll discover it’s not in there. Bootylicious, yes. Pop smarts, no. But if it were defined, there’d be a picture of the Mockers next to the write-up. Melodies, harmonies, a bunch of Badfinger records–these guys have it all.
Barely Pink – This Florida quartet’s numberonefan was one of the best power-pop records of the late ’90s (with its “Dot to Dot Elvis” one of the best songs from that era), and their new Last Day of Summer shows them pulling some of the same cheap tricks.
(Donations for the Food Bank of N.C. will be taken at the shows. There’s also a Saturday afternoon acoustic showcase at Tir na nOg with Robbie Rist, Daniel Resko, Holden Richards, and others.)
Sparklefest 2003, Oct. 9-11 at Lincoln Theatre. For ticket information and anything else you might need to know, visit www.sparklefest.com