By Joey Thyne
The Off Beat Arts & Music Festival took place Nov. 3 through 6. Sprawling over 14 venues, nearly 100 artists performed.
This is the second annual Off Beat Arts & Music Festival. When asked how this year differs from last, founder Baldo Bobadilla said, “We got a lot of more out-of-town bands. We had about 20 percent of out-of-town musicians last year, and this year we’re up to like 60 to 70 percent.”
“One of our ambitions is to change the culture of music here,” said Off Beat partner Thomas Lloyd Qualls, “to introduce Reno to other music and to introduce other music to Reno.”
The festival kicked off Thursday at Cargo. The show opened with the soul pop of singer-songwriter LOLO. She was followed by the bluesy The Soft White Sixties and the grungy The Last Internationale.
Friday opened the floodgates for a plethora of other concerts as well as several new artistic facets. Brüka Theatre had two shows — “Myths & Icons: Stories That Inspire” and “U on U Poetry Slam.”
“Myths & Icons” mixed the pragmatic and the superstitious, showcasing interviews with real Reno personalities while the interviewer related their life stories to tarot cards. Beth Macmillan told revelatory stories about her upbringing in South Africa, her journey leading her to perform in “Hello Hollywood, Hello!” in Reno in the 1980s and finally her work as executive director of Artown.
A dazzling performance was delivered Friday night by San Francisco funk band Con Brio, which Qualls dubbed “one of the best live bands in America right now.”
It’s true, Con Brio is a band that demands to be experienced live, and the group did not disappoint. A tight rhythm section and celebratory brass players along with skillfully played keyboards and guitar create something truly special. Frontman Ziek McCarter was so provocatively animated that the entire venue, intoxicated and electric, couldn’t help but groove along.
The family-friendly Off Beat Alley: Art & Music Walk took place outside of Craft in Midtown Saturday afternoon. It featured paintings and food trucks from local vendors. Several live acts took stage in the lovely weather, a lot of which had members in their teens or younger.
Street performer Mommy Long Legs, who has been stilt-walking for 10 years, commented on the appeal of the walk: “I went out last night and I saw people I had never seen before that were amazing, but I can come here today and watch this family jam and I can bring my kids down and we can all just be a part of it.”
SISTERS was one of the bands to perform inside of Craft. The Seattle electro-indie pop duo, composed of musicians Andrew Vait and Emily Westman, is releasing its debut album, “Drink Champagne,” on Valentine’s Day 2017.
Vait spoke on Reno’s “music vibes,” saying, “It seems like there are a lot of bands here doing cool stuff.” He went on to commend the up-and-coming Midtown area.
Also on Saturday afternoon was Recycled Record’s Fisherman’s Village Music Festival Showcase. Gothic punk band Crystal Desert had a spirited set despite the confines of the shop.
Lead singer and guitarist Ryan Alexander said, “It was really hot and cramped in there, but we’ve kind of discovered that when we’re in uncomfortable positions or get pissed off when we’re onstage, it kind of makes it better and we try to embrace it.”
A festival highlight was Jub Jub’s on Saturday night, bookended by WEEED’s stoner metal and LSD and the Search for God’s psychedelic dream pop.
Saturday night brought Off Beat’s main headliner to Cargo, electronic DJ The Polish Ambassador. Opener DubCOliNG scratched some upbeat dance tracks as patrons trickled in.
Next was trip-hop DJ Scott Nice who played chillstep beats, which the crowd was ultimately indifferent toward. The audience, a mixture of starry-eyed college students and raving burners, resorted to chatting and drinking.
The Polish Ambassador didn’t end up coming out until after 11 p.m. His signature euphoric energy managed to regain the crowd’s attention, however. The party raged on until 1 in the morning.
The final night of the festival, Sunday, Nov. 6, had two bands. Reno’s very own Moondog Matinee, self-described on its website as “pseudo-sexual anarchy with an inkling of lustful innocence,” rocked the house at 8 p.m. The Veils were a crowd favorite at 10 p.m.
In a short newspaper article, it is impossible to relate every element incorporated into Off Beat. Each night, from the Third Street Bar to Shea’s Tavern to the Holland Project to EDGE Nightclub, there were fantastic shows all over Reno, presenting artists young and hungry on the cusp of making it big.
As far as the future of Off Beat, the sky’s the limit. Qualls is interested in adding a film aspect into the mix.
“We’re still a new festival, so we’re working out some kinks here and there,” said Off Beat partner Loren Condron. “Being a discovery music festival, you don’t have those big names that may bring everybody out. Every year is going to be turning new people on to this.”
Going into Off Beat, one may be intimidated by the sheer number of performers and their obscurity. But Off Beat is all about embracing the obscurity: taking a chance.
Joey Thyne can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.