- The Upper Crust
It was originally christened The Shindig by its founder, with childhood TV images of bikinied girls in high boots go-going in his head. Then the cease-and-desist arrived. It bounces from venue to venue, from Raleigh to Chapel Hill, and back again. It's the once-a-year home away from home for the mighty Shazam. And it's still the best legal bang for your buck. Welcome to Sparklefest 2006.
The festival debuted in 2000 at Kings Barcade, inspired in equal part by Sleazefest and the power-pop-heavy International Pop Overthrow. "[It's] a constant nonstop stream of music of a bunch of bands from a similar genre, but with a wide enough field that it's going to appeal to a lot of different people," mission-states the man behind Sparklefest, area musician, producer and soundguy Mike Nicholson.
Over the years and in a variety of clubs (Local 506, Lincoln Theatre, Martin Street Music Hall and, now, The Pour House), Nicholson has witnessed sets that he describes as "truly transcendent." He mentions the Montgomery Cliffs, the surprise of the inaugural gathering. "They flew in from New York wearing $300 suits and just burned the place down," he recalls. A couple years later, the Boss Martians--appearing as a package deal of sorts with tourmates the Shazam--were equally epiphanic. And come prepared to stay late: Barely Pink tackled side 2 of Abbey Road to close out Sparklefest 2004, and last year's three-day party ended with an impromptu jam of Cheap Trick songs.
Nicholson initially used the term "power pop" to describe the fest's focus, but a wider range of acts has rendered that descriptor inadequate. "I use 'rock 'n' roll' now because that's such a generic term," he says. "People can go, 'What does that mean?'"
That's when Sparklefest offers eight or nine definitions a night, at about a buck a band:
Thursday night: The heart of Thursday is a pair of Jeffs, both longtime area favorites and both Tom Petty fans. Jeff Hart takes Petty's Byrds-iest moments and Kinks 'em all up, while Jeffrey Dean Foster is Petty raised on Big Star. Call it icons on parade. And Sparklechief Nicholson is very high on pop-rocking Raleigh youngsters Tiger Thief, formerly known as Iconic. Coincidence?
Friday night: Smack dab in the middle of Friday night's lineup is Mitch Easter--Southern pop pioneer, patriarch and patron saint all rolled into one. Right before is Tim Lee (whose Windbreakers logged a lot of studio hours with Easter), a literate songwriter with a power-pop rep and a rock 'n' roll sound. Then, Terry Anderson & the Olympic Ass Kicking Team will spread the straight-ahead pubjoy of Rockpile and the Southern-fried Face-isms of the Georgia Satellites.
Saturday night: The promise of Saturday headliners The Upper Crust seems to have everybody's pantaloons in a wad. They sound exactly like early AC/DC, but instead of singing about early AC/DC things, they sing about how hard it is to be a frilly-shirt-wearing dandy in these troubled times. It's nice of the Shazam, who've owned all previous Sparklefests, to share. And watch out for Michael Slawter, central N.C.'s answer to Andy Partridge.
Sparklefest takes place Sept. 28-30 at The Pour House. Tickets are $8 for Thursday, $12 for Friday and $12 for Saturday, or $30 for all three nights. See schedule, times and complete details at www.justplainluckyrecords.com/sparklefestmain.html.