The transition from the dusty oval of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival into Not Enough Fest’s reverse-engineered DIY culture showcase was swift and came with an excitement similar to jumping out of a hot jacuzzi directly into a cool swimming pool. The Jazz Fest has a certain tradition that most New Orleanians have come to love and loathe. A list of seasoned artists is released, the daily schedule is eventually announced, tickets are purchased, parking is found and the ticket is scanned. A charmingly predictable series of events when compared to Not Enough Fest’s mission and course of action. All anyone knew about the NEF and its attractions was that it started at 7 p.m. at the Big Top Gallery, that the lineup was going to consist of bands that had never played a live show and whose make up would be at least 50% girl, lesbian, gay, bi or transgender.
Osa Atoe, the event’s main organizer, pulled the blueprints from the original Portland-based festival of the same name but altered it to suit the needs of the New Orleans music scene. She added the girl aspect of the equation because she was tired of going to shows and not seeing women musicians. A goal of the NEF is to level the playing field by not having veteran acts perform, in hopes that women and gay-identified individuals with a longing to perform would step up, plug in and be heard without the added stress of senior intimidation. Atoe and crew were there from day one offering assistance and positive reinforcement, which further added to the artists’ confidence. The NEF even supplied instruments and coaching throughout the gestation period of the festival to soon-to-be rockers at social mixers and various workshops throughout the spring. The whole idea of the NEF is wildly aggressive. Logistics still need to be planned and scheduled as they would for a regular show or event, but now there is the added responsibility of organizing skill-shares, supplying gear and teaching some of the performers. From concept to execution the labor and time involved is tremendous. Not Enough Fest is not only teaching people how to fish, they are also digging the lake.
As we pushed to 7:45, there was still no live music, only the always-present pre-show scramble and racket of gear being pulled from Civic hatchbacks, the punctual attendees clearing paths between swigs of PBR. It was obvious that a band’s lack of sense of urgency when it comes to load in and load out is not sexual orientation or gender specific. Lesbian drummers have to work late and girl bassists need rides just like heterosexual vocalist need to pick up their girlfriends on their way to the gig. Straight or gay, first gig or 15th, the music will start late, industry standard. What was surprising was the amount of people there to see the entire show. The gallery and sidewalk were littered with people who came early to watch a band they had never heard of open for other bands they had never heard of either. I have watched friends’ bands gig in the city for years, some of which opened for touring acts; and with regards to these seasoned local rockers, attendance at the NEF was more than the sum total of all their audiences. It was an impressive display of community and support that our sometimes-struggling scene seems to lack; and if any of the bands continue to grow and play, hopefully they bring a fraction of the NEF crowd with them.
Before the show started, I was worried and nervous for the performers because I have seen a fair share of first shows and most of them would fit into the lineup at the Eh, Not Too Bad Fest, but others could’ve headlined the Hate Mission Jubilee. The first gig for any band is a frenzied experience. Now, couple that with the promotion and push of the event organizers to amass, educate and weaponize daydream musicians that have been hiding behind the merch table for years. These combined mandated characteristics set the scene like a YouTube video titled “Christmas Dirt Bike.” In some cases we see little Toby all torqued up and cutting his first rut through the neighbor’s backyard. But from the one-second mark there is always the chance of Toby popping the clutch, blasting off like a bottle rocket with no stick and getting hopelessly tangled in the icicle lights decorating what used to be the mailbox. It is the latter I wish upon no one, but accept that mail receptacles are not immune from two-stroke propelled adolescents and will therefore watch every second of an involuntary mailslaughter.
After I gave my donation, the doorman sharpied an exclamation mark on my left hand. I made my way to the bar and spotted the line-up list taped to the PA: Goat, Osedax, Pregnant, Mans, Arabella Arabella, If So, Uh-Oh and Spring Break-up. I looked at the “!” on my hand, thought that a “?” would have been more suitable and wondered which of these 50% GLBT acts were going to take an L7-styled stage dive into amplified public embarrassment, but held onto the idea that this festival has all the ingredients to one day help VH1 biographers write the most interesting intro for a Behind The Music episode.
Splendora (Lee Kyle), the evening’s MC, was dressed in a safety pin-stitched, split pink t-shirt gown that fit high and tight. The towering entertainer strutted to the stage and welcomed us all, let us know that George Jones had passed away, paused for a moment and then introduced the bands. Splendora’s stage presence and banter, dry delivery and wit held the evening together a lot better than the wardrobe stitching.
Goat, a pig-masked trio, took the stage first. The piggies were fed from the troughs of the Tzadik label’s finest avantswill. Goat signaled the start of the great truffle hunt. Cello, iPad, glass bottles and toy pianos wailed and moaned. The crowd steadily grew as if Mike Patton was on stage swallowing microphones. Their set was an exercise in power ambiance, and the crowd actually listened. I knew then that this was going to be a special night for all involved. Rare is the fest where the opening act can charge the crowd with latex snouts and soundscapes. Goat’s set was proof that the concept of the festival filled a need. The band clearly understood that the sty gate was finally open and fortunate for them, they were sow ready.
The second band was a hybrid punk/ industrial (in its purest form) quartet called Pregnant. The high energy set was equal parts G.G. Alice mixed with the stage show of Sharkbait. The lead singer abused and destroyed sheet metal as her afro zipped back and forth like a bouncing ball sing-along to “Mommy, Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight?” The shrapnel and fury of the assault made not knowing the lyrics that much better. Later in the evening I saw someone putting the remains of the sheet metal into the back of a mid-sized sedan. I assume to ensure it was properly recycled.
An all girl four-piece called Mans was up next. All members looked elegant in their black dresses, and I’m sure almost everyone agreed. My H buddy next to me was enamored, the L girls in front of me were drooling and the Ts were probably arguing over who the singer was wearing. Fashion and sex appeal aside, the ladies did a haunting rendition of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” and pulled some artistic license with a play-on-words version of the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The attention from the crowd combined with Mans’ excitement to the reaction was one of several moments during the fest where Atoe and company’s lofty goals were realized and a band was visibly empowered. The singer blushed a little and made a comment to the audience regarding the fact that their set was comprised mostly of covers.
My favorite act of the night was a threepiece called If So, Uh-Oh. Armed with an Omnichord, they filled the Big Top with a pop drone that was simple and refined. The psychedelic wash and synthesized buzz carried the distinct feeling of stumbling out of a dark room to be surprised and blinded by the midday sun and having the guilt from last night stripped away when you realize that it’s only Saturday.
Spring Break-up closed out the festival with a DIY fuck the stage we play on the floor punk rock set. Drinks were spilled, bodies moved and the night closed with a loud and raucous calamity.
The Not Enough Festival was ultimately a success. The audience was aware of the prerequisites needed to be a performer and at times was a little more forgiving than just another crowd; but part of being in the learned gathering was enjoying and sharing the experience with the virgin performers. Watching them work their way through their first time and being there for them when their set was done was highly rewarding. Atoe and company deserve return beyond any conventional means of compensation for their commitment to creating, sponsoring and nurturing the concept of the Not Enough Festival and the individuals it empowered.