The fourth annual PLAY:stl Fest starts tomorrow night with a kickoff party at Cicero's featuring Chicago indie rockers (and last year's big draw), Owen. This year's showcase follows the same formula as previous festivals: 100 bands, 3 days and cheap as all get out -- $20 for a three-day wristband. This year's headliners include Bloomington, Indiana's Murder By Death and Chicago acts The Hood Internet and Cast Spells, as well as scads of local and regional acts and one international artist, Russian balalaika virtuoso Alexey Arkhipovskiy.
Laura Hamlett, who founded the festival with her husband Jim Dunn, projects festival attendance to outstrip the numbers from previous years, and said word has gotten around about the festival.
"Last year it really felt like an exponential jump, it had moved from this certain audience to a lot more people hearing about it and coming down for it," she says. "We've definitely had more artists submitting from different countries. We had an Iranian band this year who couldn't get a visa fast enough."
Mike Roche, lead singer of local notables Art Majors, said the band is excited to play the festival. (He said the band will also be sure to catch Owen, especially because they're also sharing a bill at next weekend's Pygmalion Festival in Champaign, Illinois.)
"We submitted [to PLAY:stl] because we had heard about it, we didn't think they were ever going to call us back -- and sure enough they did," Roche says. "It's always flattering when you can submit and they get excited to have a band like yours on there--it lets you know you're doing something right."
Hamlett said they chose bands based solely on quality music, not name recognition.
"We've chosen them on talent more than anything else," Hamlett says. "I think it's a great opportunity to very cheaply check out some music and find some stuff that you really like."
But she's most looking forward to the panels and workshops, aimed at teaching independent bands about the business side of music.
"When I go to independent festivals across the country, I go for the workshop more than the music to be honest," she says. "You can go see bands all the time, but you don't have a chance to meet them face to face and listen to industry experts.
"One of [Play:STL's panels] is about networking," she continues. "Although social networking is a part of it, it's more: How do you get out there, meet other bands, meet booking agents, why you need a manager and an attorney and what they can do for you? I think a lot of bands don't do that anymore. They figure,'We'll go on Facebook and our friends will see it' but a lot of it is personal contacts."
As for the artists to look out for, Arkhipovskiy is a must-see, as is indie-electronic outfit Vinyl Thief from Nashville and Chicago's Brighton MA. Fans of The Hush Sound will want to check out Greta Morgan's solo project, Gold Motel.
Roche is looking forward to other groups besides Owen. "I really like The Blakes from Seattle, they're a rock band I think is underrated, and Poison Control Center. And Murder By Death; I caught them at Off Broadway and I was absolutely floored, I'd love to see them again."
Hamlett also names a few locals to watch. "Copperview is really hot right now," she says. "A couple newish indie bands... I know Art Majors got some buzz, and Luxora is doing pretty well. Dawn Weber, and Dropkick the Robot will kind of bring a little more of the jazz sound. It's kind of a showcase for independent bands. We also bring in a lot of artists, some that people have heard, some they haven't. We've had a few that we've broken in town because that was the first time they played here."