Monday, April 14, 2014

Not Another Tom Thumb XVIII (Saturday Night)

(Goldiloxx/Tom Thumb)
Odds are if I told that you could see an established art/music festival featuring indelible songs, meticulously crafted slacker jokes, and enigmatic pieces of art for free, you'd either laugh and walk away (the polite pathway) or prescribe me an anti-psychotic before I'd even finished my train of thought. We live in 2014. A time when festivals sell out in record time with tickets often starting at a low of a hundred dollars. An epoch which we justify with "out-of-nowhere" reunions, oddball pairings (I see you with my suspicious gaze Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber), and the occasional hologram just to justify use of the term "spectacle." "People who aren't passionate about music are going to festivals nowadays," Drowned in Sound-user "buzzard 55" wrote on a board back in 2011. And before the waves had even fully crested with said holograms, an individual like "buzzard 55" was a virtually anonymous Noah warning music lovers everywhere that a flood was coming. They were right.

And that type of laptop hypothesizing would be unimpeachable law if not for festivals like Kirksville, MO's Tom Thumb Art Festival. Now finished with its 18th incarnation, Tom Thumb survives on: the backs of students from Truman State University, residents of the town at-large, and the support of local business. To say it operates on a "micro-budget" would be a financial over-exaggeration. Every fiber of the event is thread by donations. Venues are found through mutual friends; this year the smoke-stained Djinn Hookah Lounge. The labor required to display 50-plus pieces of art comes from volunteers who will work for 9 hours if it means getting the job done right. If there's a profit scheme, it'd be the sale of festival shirts. Though even those are priced at a modest $5. Rid of a corrosive element like cash, Tom Thumb is still rich.

Almost paradoxically, because you don't have to cough up a single cent every note you hear or brushstroke you see is more valuable. All too often how much you spent on a ticket informs your experience. Few want to freely admit they saw a piss-poor show. And if they're able to, odds are that admittance will be couched in qualifiers. "It was off night for them" or "they have a million other projects they're working on" are two justifications I've frequently heard for a bad show. By subtracting money from the primary equation, the Tom Thumb Art Festival can also nix those ill-concocted justifications. 

I can laugh about a joke concerning Domino's Pizza's vastly superior tracking skills to MH-370 search efforts, told during a layabout performance by comic Kenny Warner, without my wallet commanding me. Each craggy guitar-string picked throughout Daniel Gillette's ghost-ridden folk set stings on its own accord. On an immensely personal level, my jumping up-and-down and tweeting about Big Fig's take on Nirvana's cover of "Love Buzz" wasn't caused by fiscal concerns, but by an admiration of rock-badassery. The reward comes without the slightest string attached.

And as a meteorologically-cooperative Saturday night in Missouri's North Star carried on, that reward grew. Senior Truman-student Sarah Downen's electronic-laden set as Goldiloxx was a true tour-de-force. Coaxing warm instrumentals out of a cold computer, Downen's music made me think of songs from 2am TV-ads that Neon Indian would nod along to. Though I was committed to door-duty at the time, I found myself getting up to draw as close as possible to the magnetic eye of the storm. It was oddly appropriate that a hand-drawn picture of rapper A$AP Rocky hung close to the stage as Goldiloxx played. The beats Rocky clings to are cloudy things and Goldiloxx's set put out more than a few vibrant puffs.

But Tom Thumb isn't worth the "price of admission" simply for vibrant music. The pieces of art students bring in are equally appealing. From ceiling to floor they lined an entire wall of the hookah bar, and few if any deserved to be passed over. One work that immediately caught my eye was "Kickstart Your Night" by Alex Wennerberg, which featured a white display column with a small drizzling of red down the side and a Mountain Kickstart can delicately perched on top. Having had a recent, less than stellar experience sampling the morning-geared energy drink I was repulsed at the sight of the product, but someone with a more favorable view might've seen the intended spill as a great tragedy. An installation with varying degrees of weathered screws attached to crisp white paper elicited a similar muddled reaction. I wanted to immediately hate it because my past with screws and nails has been tenuous at best. But I couldn't bring myself to because of the alluring pattern they were laid out in. Each served a specific function in the piece, just as they would in an actual building project. Being a partisan rap fan though, my personal favorite was a blissfully goofy series of photo clippings of Drake fitted into ornate gold frames. Considering how frequently he shifts between unrelatable opulence and brokenhearted guy next door, the series was a masterful representation of that strained dichotomy. 

If Saturday night closers Chill Jackson occupied a half of the Drake dichotomy, it'd easily be the dude next door realm. Granted, the house they reside in is beer-stained, sweat-soaked, and has No Age and White Stripes records battling at full-volume for ultimate supremacy. Midway through their set, someone in the crowd begged for a cover of the White Stripes "Hotel Yorba", a request which went unfulfilled. Without the bouncy White Blood Cells track, they still managed to win over the now small, but fervent crowd who had been hanging around for six hours by the time the band wrapped up at 12:30. Had they gone until 3am, no one would've batted a sleep-heavy eye.

Quite honestly, a review of this year's Tom Thumb could contain any number of band/artist anecdotes and the tone wouldn't change one iota. That's the uniform air the festival cultivates for itself. It's an air that seems strange at first to interlopers, but starts to make sense as soon as you take your first breath. It's a community event that resists being insular or self-inclusive. You don't need to be a die-hard music fan to attend, you'll be welcome either way. Attendees don't need to be in possession of art degree to relate to the work on display. And they certainly shouldn't worry about bringing a wallet, it can take a night off. 

(Tom Thumb occurs every year in Kirksville, MO, typically in the month of April. To learn more about the festival, you can head to the blog page and like them on Facebook.)

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