Baltimore’s U+N Fest amazes in sixth year

By WILL KIRSCH | November 9, 2017

B3_UN-Fest-6

RAMSEY BEYER/CC BY 2.0 Waxahatchee was the main act of the first night of this year’s U+N Fest.

This past weekend, the Ottobar hosted the sixth annual U+N Fest, a two day event organized by Baltimore-based booking company, Unregistered Nurse Booking.

The Fest has, since its founding in 2012, become a destination for local and out-of-town punk, alternative and experimental bands like the Screaming Females, Roomrunner, Night Birds and Angel Du$t — it’s okay if you don’t know any of those bands, just do your Googles.

Night one of this year’s Fest, which I unfortunately could not attend, was headlined by Waxahatchee, the project of Katie Crutchfield, who started making music under the name while still playing with her sister, Allison, in their Birmingham, Ala. based band P.S. Eliot. Waxahatchee’s first album American Weekend came out in 2012 and was welcomed with positive reviews.

However, Crutchfield’s major break came the following year with Waxahatchee’s second project, Cerulean Salt.

This album — which I personally vouch for, especially its opening track “Hollow Bedroom” — was ranked a critical darling and earned a place on nearly every end-of-the-year list worth looking at. Cerulean Salt was followed in 2015 by Ivy Tripp, which had similar success.

In July of this year, Waxahatchee put out their fourth album Out in the Storm and have since been on tour.

Of course, there were other bands playing at the Ottobar that first night. I don’t have a better lead-in to this paragraph than that because I don’t want to call the other seven bands “openers,” but I digress.

Ought, Give, Post Pink, Guilt Parade, Essex Muro, Natural Velvet and Persephone were all featured alongside Waxahatchee in the opening night lineup.

These bands came from as far away as Canada (Ought) and as close as probably somewhere within five miles of wherever in Baltimore you live (Post Pink and Natural Velvet).

COURTESY OF LHLH COLLINS/ C.C. BY SA 4.0 U+N Fest is hosted yearly at the Ottobar, a venue for punk and indie music.

It pains me that I could not attend the first night because Post Pink and Natural Velvet are two of my favorite Baltimore bands.

Post Pink varies between post-punk and punk depending on which song you’re listening to. I have seen the four-piece ensemble live a few times, the first being U+N Fest 4, and can confirm that they fucking rock.

Check out their most recent album I Believe You, OK on Spotify or Bandcamp.

Is natural velvet a real thing? Doesn’t matter, because it’s a sweet band name. Even though they’re both described as post-punk, Post Pink and Natural Velvet do not have much in common other than they’re both solid bands.

Whereas Post Pink’s sound is far more clean-cut, pogo-dancing punk, Natural Velvet drifts towards metal. Heavy riffs are overlaid with eerie vocals, backed by a steady, aggressive drum beat and chunky baseline. Natural Velvet’s latest album, Mirror to Make You, came out earlier this year.

The implicit Baltimore bias of this article should not be read as derision towards Ought, Give, Guilt Parade, Essex Muro and Persephone. They are all good bands and you should go listen to them. I was not there to hear them play, but I am willing to assume that it was a great show.

On to night two, for which I actually was present — albeit drunkenly so. The second night was headlined by the California folk-punk band, a duo consisting of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad.

Girlpool is a great band; their lyrics have a certain gravity to it which is almost contrary to the music’s instrumentally mellow character.

Girlpool’s music is both socially and personally conscious, as it focuses on the struggle of women against oppressive systems and is based on the artists’ own experiences.

Since releasing their self-titled debut in 2014, Girlpool has sort of taken off. They have put out two studio albums: 2015’s Before the World Was Big and 2017’s Powerplant, which came out in May.

In August, they embarked on a national tour with the band Palm, an experimental rock group from Philadelphia. Anyways, that’s how the second night of U+N Fest went. They were accompanied by Joe Biden (which is the name of a band, although it’s tempting to imagine Joe Biden playing at a punk festival), Lily & Horn Horse, The Dreebs, Murder, Wildhoney, Palberta, Palm and Pylon Reenactment Society.

Also, I believe the Ohio band Swim Team played, even though they were listed on the night one lineup. Regardless, there was a band playing and they definitely said, “Hey, we’re Swim Team,” so odds are I’m not wrong.

It’s sort of reassuring to step into a venue decorated like, in the words of esteemed former editor Mia Capobianco, “a high school prom.” It was like someone had taken the prom scene from Back to the Future and some B-reels of The Decline of Western Civilization to create some sort of punk sock-hop.

By the time I arrived, a few bands had already come and gone, including one I really wanted to see: Joe Biden. Joe Biden the man is an endearing, grandfatherly figure whose most aggressive act is threatening to fight Donald Trump.

Joe Biden the band is a Baltimore hardcore group who packs more aggression than that in one chord. Check out their Bandcamp to find their latest album S/T, complete with an old school punk album cover.

Another local band, the noise-pop group Wildhoney, was also present that night. They occupy roughly the same sort of ethereal-but-heavy-rock space as Natural Velvet, although you certainly should not call them similar.

Palberta, an east coast noise rock band, was about halfway through their set when I walked in the door. Since then, I’ve been listening to a few of their albums — Chips for Dinner, their split with No One and The Somebodies, and Bye Bye Berta, both from this year — and fandom is creeping in.

Not being a professional music critic, I can’t explain their sound other than saying it’s sort of like the last minute of “Lady Godiva’s Operation” by The Velvet Underground but a genre.

Swim Team also had a great set. They played on the floor, which is always a good look for a those of us prone to head-banging. They have been described as “thrash-pop” but that sounds weird so let’s just go with post-punk.

As for the rest of the bands I heard that night, who exactly they were is a little unclear; basically I didn’t hear anyone say a name for a couple of the sets.

Nonetheless, I can report that they were all great. Honestly, not a single band that played the second night was anything less than entertaining, as is customary with U+N Fest.

So, if you’re not lame, check out next year’s Fest. Alternatively, if you do not want to wait a year, you can look up literally any of these bands on whatever streaming platform they are available; guaranteed satisfaction or you can have what you paid for this paper back.

Also, check out Unregistered Nurse’s website for their schedule of upcoming shows in Baltimore.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.