The Austin Chronicle

Playback: Saturnalia Lands

Austin welcomes new DIY music fest while another gets blocked in court

By Kevin Curtin, December 1, 2017, Music

Late Sunday afternoon, Topaz McGarrigle stood in the grassy, multi-acre expanse fronting Webberville Road Baptist Church. To his right, African-American elders in exquisite suits moseyed out of a worship service. To the left, a day party raged at Sahara Lounge, with the marquee reading "Lesbian Wedding." Betwixt, he visualized what the lawn would look like for Saturnalia Fest.

"The stage will be here, Ra's temple goes there, all this will be fenced in," waved the native frontman for Austin's wildly popular Afro-psych spectacle Golden Dawn Arkestra. "Everything will be lit up with liquid light shows."

McGarrigle and his friends from underground space haven the Electric Church were in crunch time orchestrating the scene's newest DIY music spectacle: a four-day party with a name evoking toga-wearing revelry. Launching with pre-parties at Electric Church (Thu.) and Hotel Vegas (Fri.), Saturnalia goes into full effect Saturday and Sunday on Webberville Road.

"There's a serious need for [an event like Saturnalia] in this town, with big fests dropping out and a lack of smaller grassroots fests going on," offers McGarrigle. "We're also encouraging people to get weird – dress up, wear masks. That's also lacking in our community right now. Everything's gotten so white-bread."

With every festival lineup drawing the same townie complaint – "Why aren't there more local acts?" – it will be telling to see if Austin shows up for a lineup drawing 90% of its talent from within the burg. Largely curated by Electric Church archbishops, Saturnalia pulls heavily from Austin's psych, world music, rock, shoegaze, and experimental scenes, bracing bona fide community favorites like Ringo Deathstarr, Octopus Project, and American Sharks with trending locals including garage-pop sirens Annabelle Chairlegs, crossover honky-tonkers Croy & the Boys, New Wave aggressors Big Bill, and femme rebels Sailor Poon.

National acts – namely jangle rock tripster Morgan Delt, Foxygen's Sam France, cycloptic Geto Boys MC Bushwick Bill, retro rockers Allah-Las, rap curio Vockah Redu, and Burger Records faves Cosmonauts – bolster the potential for maxing out Saturnalia's 2,000-capacity. Of course festivals embody a mosaic of experiences and emotions greater than music. Reverend Charles Easley, the pastor loaning his land for the fest, demonstrated his belief in a missive to the City in support of permitting for the "grand blessed event.

"We live in a time when there are a lot of hurting people, therefore, when approached with the idea of Saturnalia … we welcomed and agreed that this activity would be an excellent time to promote healing, harmony, and happiness in the community."

Rift in the Drift

Three months after organizers launched a website advertising the Driftwood Music Festival as a continuation of the Old Settler's Music Festival with the phrase "Welcome back to our party," the endeavor now feels like a failed mutiny.

OSMF representatives filed suit against two former team members, onetime president and former director of operations Scott Marshall and production manager Ryan Brittain, whose proposed event was a clear act of aggression against the former convergence: same dates, same genre, same land OSMF was recently evicted from. This month, a Travis County District Court judge wrote in a court order that DMF had "misrepresented themselves as being OSMF," "used OSMF's confidential information and trade secrets to unfairly compete with OSMF," and "usurped OSMF's 2017 plans to hold their 2018 festival at the Salt Lick and Camp Ben McCulloch." A temporary injunction was handed down, blocking organizers from booking, promoting, or selling tickets to the event.

A trial is set for Jan. 22, but OSMF Executive Director Jean Spivey revealed this week that the two parties are already in settlement talks. On Monday, DMF organizers announced they'd be searching for other dates to hold the fest at Salt Lick Pavilion. The first-year fest now faces major uncertainty for a 2018 debut, compounded by rumors that their booker, Nine Mile Touring agent Tim Regan, has resigned.

"Playback" emailed Regan about the matter, but didn't receive a response. Meanwhile, Spivey reports that the OSMF team has a lot of work to do setting up the infrastructure at their new site in Tilmon near Lockhart. Their early lineup promises new blood with Billy Strings, Colter Wall, and Greensky Bluegrass. More performers are expected to be announced this month.

Half Notes

Michael Corcoran, having long deemed the Grammys worthless, received two nominations – Best Album Notes and Best Historical Album – for his work on obscure bluesman retrospective Washington Phillips & His Manzarene Dreams. Additionally, controversial country comers Midland saw their mega-single "Drinkin' Problem" earn Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Country Song nods. In that latter category, Jack Ingram got noticed for his contribution to Miranda Lambert's "Tin Man" and onetime Icelandic Austinites Kaleo got a Best Rock Performance nom for "No Good."

José Feliciano welcomes Austin guitarist Ulrich Ellison as musical director for his 2018 Golden Anniversary World Tour, which spans five continents. The Austrian transplant's heavy blues-rock group Tribe will open most of the shows for the blind guitar legend. Ellison's birthday show, Dec. 23 at Antone's featuring collaborators Tommy Shannon, Abra Moore, and Nakia, marks his last local appearance before jet-setting.

Ikey Owens, the Grammy-winning keyboardist for Jack White and the Mars Volta, who died three years ago of a heart attack, will again be honored by his former neighbor, Austin musician Chase Frank, with a birthday tribute at Swan Dive on Friday. Guest of honor: Ikey's brother, prolific multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Brandon Eugene Owens. Also on deck is Ikey collaborator Jesse Carzello's art-funk project Bobby Blunders and Dub Seance, featuring Joseph Woullard from Black Joe Lewis.

Brown Sabbath finally met Ozzy Osbourne! The Prince of Darkness and his spawn, in town to film their A&E show, got a private performance from Brownout's Black Sabbath tribute band of Latin-imbued takes on "Fairies Wear Boots" and "Sweet Leaf" at the Little Longhorn Saloon, after which the Ozzman muttered, "Fuckin' brilliant."

Buy the Parish on eBay. Owner Doug Guller put the Sixth Street venue up for sale online Wednesday with starting bid of $1. The deal includes the brand, a 12-year lease, and two five-year options on the 5,300-square-foot club. Guller is currently divesting from his music interests, having sold the Scoot Inn to C3 Presents in July.

Before Dead & Co. steal faces at the Erwin Center Saturday night, distinguished Grateful Dead biographer and radio show host David Gans will play with the Barton Hills Choir, a group of elementary schoolers known for covering "Ripple" and "Brokedown Palace." After appearing on Gans' Sirius XM show Tales From the Golden Road, BHC director Gavin Tabone invited the singer/guitarist to come play with the kids. "I've always known the music of the Grateful Dead would outlive the people who made it," mused Gans this week in an email. "That is truer than I could ever have imagined: There are musicians all over the country playing these songs and improvising on these themes and grooves. Teaching it in school is another great (and valid) honor for this great American songbook."

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