SIX MONTHS OF MOOGFEST
It’s been six months since Moogfest, but it feels like it all happened yesterday. I often think about the things that happened that week, and in the days leading up to it.
May 5th, Saturday
I was at work. I work at the front desk at a small beach hotel and it is not a strenuous job. I arrived at work, sat down, did a few things on my laptop, and after around 10 minutes stood up. Something twanged in my back and suddenly I could barely stand. I panicked, knowing Moogfest was less than two weeks away. NOTHING CAN RUIN THIS, I thought.
May 14th, Monday
My 40th birthday. I’d made a last-minute massage appointment for that morning because nothing was helping my back. I was in excruciating pain. The massage helped somewhat. I began to have bad anxiety later that afternoon. I was so excited and nervous and was so afraid that my back pain would not allow me to enjoy the fest that my brain and guts were in knots and I could barely function.
That evening my parents and I had dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant in Bradenton. It is a little dark in there, and fragrant, with gold statues and carved dark wood and flowers. It gave me some peace but I still felt so chaotic inside that it was hard to relax and enjoy the experience. I could hardly eat.
After dinner we went to my parents’ house where my mom used her TENS unit on my back and painted my fingernails. I felt a little better. They gave me a few gifts, my favorite of which was a Lomo Instant camera. I couldn’t wait to use it.
Just before sunset I left Palmetto for Jacksonville, a four hour drive. I watched the sunset over I-75. My back felt better and worries began to melt away a little. I spent the last hour on the road listening to my favorite songs on the Hair soundtrack over and over and singing to them really loudly.
I arrived at Jay’s house to a sweet card, a balloon, an assortment of delicious chocolates, warm hugs, and a very excited dog. The adventure was starting.
May 16th, Wednesday
We packed a cooler, packed the car, gathered the dog, and drove to Durham, NC. Surprisingly and luckily, my back pain had almost completely gone away by the time we hit the road. It was my first time in Durham and I was very excited to be there and to see new things.
We stayed in a Super 8 not far from the area where the fest was taking place. There were parakeets in the lobby, a lurky maintenance man, a broken ice machine, and a bed like a gravel pit, but the room was cheap and decent and they allowed pets.
May 17th, Thursday
I woke up with no back pain at all! None!! I couldn’t believe it, especially after sleeping on that terrible mattress. I’d been so worried I would be hobbling around in pain all over town. It was like a miracle. We headed off to check in and get our press passes.
It was a little rainy and everything smelled fresh and wet. The sun was shining. There were city sounds. We’d driven through neighborhoods of beautiful brick homes and tree filled lawns to get there. The buildings of the city were old and glorious. I feasted while walking around Durham, on smells and windows and parks and doorways and the tallness of things. We ate lunch in a beautiful Indian restaurant that was very dark, with many mirrors on the walls. I had much fun experimenting with my new instant camera.
The first official Moogfest Thing we did on Thursday was go to the marketplace, which was located in the American Tobacco Campus, a former factory complex.
The marketplace was filled with vendors of many musical what-have-yous on the ground floor and used and new records on the 2nd floor mezzanine.
Also on the ground floor were a couple of interactive displays (more on those later) and an exhibit of Ralph Steadman’s art.
My favorite part of the exhibit was the display of ink bottles and nibs under glass. I’m not sure if these were used by Steadman, but I could imagine that they were, and that caused me to have a lot of thoughts about the way he creates his illustrations, and I spent much time staring closely at the work and thinking about his process. Also that afternoon we saw a screening of the film “For No Good Reason”, which is a documentary about Ralph Steadman. It was fascinating. Chaka the very good dog sat with us in the theater and napped.
Walking around Durham afterward, I felt that lightning bolt that I get every time I’m at a convention of any kind. It’s a feeling of rushed excitement, of so many things to do and see in a short amount of time, and of being in a place with a lot of people from all over, all of us there for the same magical thing.
After the movie we took Chaka back to our motel room and went back out again to see Suzanne Ciani and others perform a live soundtrack to the silent film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at the Armory, a very large and cavernous venue. I was transfixed. I took zero photos of this experience. It was too immediate, too moving and deeply beautiful for me to want to break the spell by trapping it in a cage. I let the experience happen to me and float away into memory.
I thought, “this is a special time, a special thing, a thing that will never happen this way again. We are lucky to live in this world, where we have things so special, and so fleeting.” I thought about how powerful a feeling, when art and music can fill you with a heavy stone and make you cry. How marvelous that a thought could translate into an image or a sound and that those things can inject into you an entire experience. How lucky we are.
We walked down dark streets to Motorco, one of the smaller venues participating in the fest. I felt a thrilling sense of belonging while standing in line waiting to get our hands stamped. Music boomed from inside, becoming louder for a moment any time the door opened. Inside we caught part of Madame Gandhi’s set. I wasn’t into the music really, but she made me want to be. Her enthusiasm was infectious.
After a bit we walked back to the Armory to see Author & Punisher, who played some sort of weird, futuristic, robotic rigging. We could see a joystick, some strange moving objects, and a million thick cables, all somehow producing a wall of grinding sound. This was a thing that I wish I had gotten a photo of. I was unable to get to the front and by that time, my senses were so overwhelmed that I was having an “all or nothing” experience. Wanting to photograph literally everything, I ended up photographing nothing.
We also stuck around for the first part of Jon Hopkins’ DJ set, and during this ran into lovely Christina Coocoo (Spookstina) who I had recently seen perform at Dylan Houser’s house during Antifest. We had intended to stay until the end, but Jay and I were both tired and weary, and ended up going back to the motel around midnight.
May 18th, Friday
Jay and I were both getting ready to leave for the day when he stood up from the bed and suddenly went stiff - a familiar scene - his back twanged out exactly as mine had two weeks before. What were the odds?? I’d brought some ibuprofen and tiger balm with me because of my own back pain. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I tried to help alleviate the pain and was as encouraging as possible but kept thinking, “will this keep us from seeing the rest of the fest?” We were both determined that it wouldn’t.
We headed out with Chaka to the 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Durham. There, we saw Wes Borland in the midst of playing a 4 hour durational sound installation in a dimly-lit, high-ceilinged ballroom.
We spent a little time wandering around through the galleries in the hotel’s upper floors. The art there was wonderful. Much of it related to the environment, some of it apocalyptic, some celebratory, and some highlighting the fragility of life. I thought that staying in a hotel like this with art everywhere would be just marvelous. The building used to be a bank and they retained the heavy vault doors and safe deposit boxes when they made it into a hotel. That was nice.
We also saw Wild Actions in one of the upper galleries, a performance I’m not sure I understood. It frightened the dog. People crawled and posed and onlookers participated by balancing piles of metal objects onto them. Metal fell clanging onto the hard ground, things banged, were thrown, bounced rattling, and I felt incredibly uneasy. Chaka and I left the room and hung out in the stairwell for a little while so that Jay could watch and take some photos. The stairwell was dark and quiet, with floating digital images of clouds softly changing.
We returned to the ballroom for the last part of Wes Borland’s set and spoke to him for a few minutes afterwards. He is a nice man who knows Jay from years before in Jacksonville.
We left the hotel and began to walk down the sidewalk and suddenly realized that we were walking by Michael Stipe, who was standing outside the hotel talking to someone. He looked at us, removed his sunglasses, put them back on, and continued his conversation. It was a surreal moment that moved more slowly than the moments before and after it.
We returned to the hotel soon after. We were both concerned about this twangy back situation. We hung out and took it easy for a while, lying about, looking up Moogfest performers, trying to decide who we couldn’t miss.
We headed back to Motorco sans dog - Chaka would not have enjoyed any of the tremendously loud sounds we knew we’d encounter - and arrived in time to see Suicideyear. He was a man with a laptop and the music he made was conducive to dancing. I was moving around a lot. Jay had to sit on the sidelines because of his back. I felt like a real ass going up and enjoying myself within the crowd while he had to stay away, but I kept traveling back and forth between where he was sitting and the center of the action so that I could sort of have it both ways. There was a large screen behind the performer and on it was projected a mesmerizing looped video compilation of cars racing through european streets and first-person footage of snowmobiles tearing through dark, snowy wilderness.
We stuck around Motorco for the next performer - Kyoka. She was a great DJ. She would look very serious while concentrating but then would glance up and laugh or smile at the people dancing, as if it gave her great joy to do what she was doing. I felt some of that joy as I wiggled it a little to the music.
As we were leaving Motorco after Kyoka’s set, it began to rain. We had a bit of a walk to the Carolina Theater to see Mouse On Mars, the band I’d wanted to see the most at this year’s Moogfest. We had only 15 minutes to make it there before Mouse On Mars went on, and Jay could not walk very fast because of his back. It began to rain harder. I shuffled, hunched forward in an attempt to protect both my instant camera and digital camera from the rain. It rained HARDER. I ran. I left Jay behind in the rain! Struggling forth with a fucked up back, sloshing through rivers flowing at every crosswalk. I’d panicked - I was worried about my cameras getting wet, worried about missing Mouse On Mars, and for a moment it felt as if I could maybe get less wet if I was moving faster. But it doesn’t really work like that.
I eventually backtracked and rejoined Jay, apologizing. We made it to the Carolina Theater after Mouse On Mars had already begun to play, but by the time we got inside we both were so cold and soaked that we just sat down and I didn’t even dance. It had rained so hard that everything we were wearing, our socks, the insides of our shoes, our hair, our underwear, everything inside my purse, was SOAKED. We sat in the theater seats and took off our shoes and socks. Mouse On Mars’ set was RATTLINGLY LOUD. It shook my eyes like when you eat Corn Nuts too fast. Jay said that it was so loud he thought it might vibrate us dry. That seemed logical to me at the time, but ultimately proved untrue.
Outside the theater afterward, we meandered over to the food trucks and ran into John Lackey, who (along with Jay) comprises one half of Circuit Circuit, and his friend David. We stood around wet, eating food, catching one another up on our adventures.
We told John and David about both Jay and I throwing our backs out and David told us that he thought it might be meningitis. “I don’t wanna alarm you guys,” he said, “but we might wanna see a doctor”. I told him I was pretty sure we were safe and that the only thing we were suffering from was being middle aged.
John told us about how they’d run into Michael Stipe at a bar and had taken a photo with him. Thrilling! Michael Stipe seemed to be lurking everywhere. We wandered into the lobby of what I think was the convention center and sat on comfortable chairs for a bit, still talking. Kyoka walked by and Jay and I said hello to her and thanked her for playing such a fun and enthusiastic set. She was like a little bird and I loved her and immediately sent her a friend request on Facebook that she still hasn’t responded to. But hey, that’s life.
May 19th, Saturday
I have not yet mentioned that we visited the Snow Building multiple times each day since we’d arrived in Durham, hoping to see Michael Stipe’s installation, Thibault Dance. Every day there was a sign out front that said it was undergoing technical difficulties and that it would open “soon”. On Saturday morning we were FINALLY LET IN to see Thibault Dance. We walked into a lush, art deco lobby and heard booming dance music. Quite cheesy, technoey, bad dance music. Well, not BAD. Boring. Which is worse than bad. There was a video projection in a small room of a young man awkwardly flailing. Dancing, I guess. “Is this it? Yeah, I guess this is it”. We left.
We hit the marketplace again, and I bought too many records, as I tend to do. We also spent some time fiddling with the Moog Grandmother Synesthesia exhibit. There were armchairs set up in a row with synthesizers and headphones in front of them, and a few yards away, a wall of televisions. I am still not completely sure how it all worked, but it seemed that depending on what you controlled on the synthesizer, you could create sounds or images on the screens or even movement within the chairs.
We then went to the Carolina Theater because Michael Stipe was doing a talk. Michael Stipe! Wonderful legendary Michael Stipe, doing a talk! How marvelous! We excitedly took our seats. And guess what? Michael Stipe is excruciatingly boring! That may be a bit harsh - it could have been the subject matter that was boring. “Here is another photo of my back,” he tells us. He doesn’t like the way his back looks but there are inexplicably scads of photos of it that he’s eager to share. His voice lulls us into a soft, swampy pit. I woke up suddenly and realized that Jay and Chaka were also asleep next to me. We left immediately. Poor Michael Stipe.
We took Chaka back to his little nest at our motel, and returned to the fest. Once there we met up with John and David again and headed to Motorco to see ONO.
ONO was great and all over the place. I most enjoyed focusing my attention on each member of the band one by one, every so often. Everyone was very talented. The singer was very flamboyant and larger than life, wearing a floofy tutu dress over shirt and pants. He opened himself onstage, often standing legs far apart, arms stretched wide above him, owning space around him. He changed clothes at one point, putting on another floofy dress, this one red. He leapt off the stage and sang in peoples’ faces, He hugged people and twirled around. It was joyous, exuberant. He made me nervous; I was too close to the action taking photos and my anxiety kicked in when I realized I wasn’t sure who he would hug or bounce up to next. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate him or want a hug from him, he was just boundless and unpredictable and his expansiveness flipped a weird switch in my brain and made me want to shrink away. Regardless, I left the show feeling glad I’d been there.
Next was Psychic TV at Carolina Theater. We walked through dark streets, looking, talking.
I love Throbbing Gristle. I REALLY love Coil, and Chris and Cosey, and basically everything anyone from Throbbing Gristle who is not Genesis has ever done. Before seeing Psychic TV at Moogfest I could say that I liked the band, although I do not care too much for Genesis. I read Cosey’s autobiography and I believe her account of things and among a lot of other reasons for me not to care much for this person, they did a cruel thing to Cosey’s cat which made me sick to read. That alone made me feel disgust toward Genesis as a person. So, going into this show, I was excited to see the band, but felt mixed feelings about all of it.
WHAT A SHOW. Jay and I got up to the very front, at Genesis’ feet. They were magnetic, I have to admit. Genesis’ stage presence swung between fluffy old lady being silly, and otherworldly creature being mesmerizing. It was a curious thing, watching all of them, seeing the swirl of quasi-cultish images play on the giant screen behind them, seeing the cute interaction between Genesis and Alice Genese, the bass player. I now feel like I am a fan (I even bought a t-shirt) but I still feel like Genesis is troubling.
We then walked back to Motorco to catch Georgia, who were very pretty, bubbly, and percussive.
And then we walked BACK to Carolina Theater AGAIN to see KRS-One. Moogfest involved a lot of walking back and forth between venues and I loved all of it. KRS-One was so cool. The hall was PACKED. We were practically in the last row. He was SO COOL. Everything he said, the way he carried himself on stage, pure cool. I didn’t stay long, because I wanted to catch Mouse On Mars’ second set across the street at the Armory, and the two performances overlapped.
When I got to the Armory, the doors hadn’t opened yet and I got in line. There were already 10 or so people in line ahead of me. Very quickly a long line formed behind me, snaking around the corner and down the street. It was raining lightly. It rained lightly often while we were there. As I waited I eavesdropped on the conversations happening around me. When they finally let us in I was able to get right to the front.
This was a very different set than we’d seen the night before. There were robots, the Sonic Robots to be precise, playing different things alongside the band. Watching them in motion reminded me of the factory footage that would sometimes be shown on Sesame Street. This is a robotic arm doing a person thing. Once again, I was enthralled by a Moogfest performance.
Jay popped up next to me in the Armory a few minutes before their set ended. When I turned to see him there I felt ecstatic! I hugged him and laughed and was so glad that he hadn’t missed such a cool thing. As we were leaving he told me that at KRS-One, just before he left to come over to the Armory, he’d looked over to see our old friend Michael Stipe standing right by him. Can you believe?? It was like he was living in the REM song “Radio Song”. I still can’t believe I missed such a weird and beautiful moment, but I’m glad at least that Jay was there.
May 20th, Sunday
There wasn’t much going on on Sunday, the final day of the fest. We packed the car and checked out of our motel. I gave the parakeets one last glance, and the weird maintenance man leered at us as we drove away.
We went to the 21c Museum Hotel to see Nicole Mitchell’s durational sound installation. We got there at the very start. I sat with Jay and Chaka for a little while but soon grew antsy and couldn’t stand being indoors anymore. It wasn’t Nicole Mitchell - she was wonderful. She played theremin, and played a flute masterfully, but I just couldn’t be inside any longer, so I left.
I spent hours wandering around downtown Durham, exploring, looking at galleries and shops, drinking coffee, and sitting in the park reading. It’s a wonderful city.
I felt sad driving away from Durham that day. We were headed for more adventures - seeing Primus and Mastodon in Raleigh, staying on a beautiful farm in the country, exploring wild corners of the Outer Banks - but the last four days had been a magical whirlwind. I not only saw and heard people making music, I felt uplifted. We had gone into another world for just a little while, all senses exploding, and a little bit of that magic has stayed with me ever since.
For more photos, check out Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHskJ32rK8
Great story, great pictures, I wish I was there... your story made it a little bit possible in my head.
Thank you Frank! May Michael Stipe be with you. There are like a million weird versions of Hair from the 60s/70s (Mort Garson, Stan Kenton, etc)! A few months ago Jay and I were talking about doing a Hair album and I am still super hyped on this but we haven't done it yet. Maybe I should submit more cookie recipes, too...
Great!!!! Good work, Jen!
You share your adventure with the sense of being there -- wonderful to read (and view) Jen, thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much!
your architectural photos are awesome! they inspire me a lot! thanks so much!
Thank you!! I really love photographing buildings and seeing their personalities.
Thanks for taking the time to post this! Almost feels like a memory of a trip I experienced now. Would have enjoyed seeing Mouse On Mars and probably Psychic TV. Luckily I caught Throbbing Gristle on their final tour. Of course I would have been tempted to stop by Moog Music in Asheville also.
You're welcome and thank you! Wish I had gotten to see TG. The Moog factory and store in Asheville is awesome!! Jay and I camp near Asheville sometimes and have visited it then. I love the factory tour - definitely worth seeing.
This article story & inspiring photos made me feel like I was there, wonderful! Hoping you guys are better health wise! Mike Jackson of Xkurzhen Sound, Prime Cuts recordings, member of a few HRM bands actually studied under Bob Moog during his proffesor gig!
Thanks for this past Jen. I LOVE these diary styled accounts of fests and shows!
I saw Michael Stipe speak about a piece of his art at an exhibit a million years ago and his piece was yawn inducing along with his general demeanor .. so him being boring is nothing new apparently.
This was a good read and I love the pictures I feel like I was there <3
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