For most of the bands performing at LouFest this weekend, the road to the festival's stage was a long one. Years of touring, dozens of shows, and at least a couple of full-length releases usually precede a given act's appearance at an event of its size.
Not so for local trio Starwolf — comprising vocalist/bassist Chris Rhein, guitarist/keyboardist Max Sauer and drummer Tim Moore.
Despite having released just two singles and performing live only twice since the group's formation in early 2016, the group has managed to score a coveted 4 p.m. Saturday slot on Loufest's BMI/Tunespeak stage. There, the trio will play to a festival crowd likely to exceed 25,000 (though they'll be competing with better-known act ZZ Ward for the audience's attention).
So how did a band with only two singles and as many live shows under its belt find itself in such an sweet situation?
It certainly helps that Rhein's employer, Tunespeak, is one of the festival's major sponsors. "Last year I met all these people, just being at LouFest," he tells the RFT. Thanks to Tunespeak's connections to festival organizers, Rhein was able to get one of the band's tracks, along with a video of one of its live performances, passed on to the LouFest booking agents who — it would seem — were impressed.
Getting such an unseasoned band an audience with the organizers of a music festival the size of LouFest would have been impossible without the connections Rhein's day job at Tunespeak afforded him. Still though, he says he recognized there was no guarantee that his network-flexing would have the desired results.
"We were very surprised," says Rhein about hearing that Starwolf had been chosen to play. "We were even more shocked when we found out that we were playing at four o'clock on Saturday. I was like, 'I'm not gonna ask any questions, but OK.'"
Despite the band's exceptionally small body of work, Starwolf does have an undeniably polished and astutely trendy '80s throwback sound, as you can hear on its most recent single, "Promised Land."
In addition to the track's tight pop songwriting and Rhein's Phil Collins-esque vocals, the single showcases deftly combined lo-fi and hi-fi production as well as meticulously crafted synth sounds thanks to heavy-hitting producer and engineer Jason Kingsland (whose resume includes working with big-name indie acts including Washed Out, Band of Horses, and Belle and Sebastian).
It also couldn't have hurt that the band has a surprisingly large social media following — 2,343 Facebook followers at the time of publishing — even with such small output thus far.
In a serendipitous turn of events last June, YouTube star Steven Suptic tweeted the band with a request to use "Promised Land" in one of his videos. "I looked him up and I was like, 'Wow, man this dude has a lot of subscribers," Rhein says.
The band tweeted back, "totally!" and didn't hear from Suptic again.
"He didn't even tell us, 'Hey, here's a link to the video,' or anything. We just started getting all this traffic."
Now, with only two shows and two singles under their belt, Starwolf has a social media following in the thousands and a spot on its home city's largest music festival. Not a bad place to be.
On what Starwolf hopes to gain from performing at LouFest, Rhein simply says, "We're just excited to play for some people who haven't heard us before… some people who are looking for their new favorite band, hopefully."