So you’ve seen the artfully-rendered flyers, the cryptic YouTube videos, the postings on Facebook, and the copies of the free Extreme Times broadsheet that have been floating all over town these past few weeks. You’ve heard whispers, rumors, conjecture. You may even have picked up some funny rumbles on your internal seismograph. All of which leads you to one simple, pertinent question…
WTF is the WTF Fest?
WTF FEST • FRIDAY APRIL 27
6-9pm Astoria PAC 16th & Franklin
9pm to Midnight (18 and Over please)
@KALA • 1017 Marine Drive
$10 (sliding scale) admission at both events.
Pose that question to event organizers Shane and Amy Bugbee, who are bringing this self-described “chaotic, artistic, multi-media, multi-generational, multi-musical-genre event” to four Northwest cities, including their adopted hometown of Astoria, and even they have a hard time defining it. “It seems like it was all planned, and actually it wasn’t,” Shane says. “Me and Amy act out in these weird ways; we don’t even realize we’re acting out sometimes, but we do and things like this start falling into place. Must be because it’s an election year.”
As it happens, WTF Fest grew out of a project in the works since our last election year. In 2008, Shane and Amy threw their dog and turtle in the back seat of their Chevy Blazer and embarked on a year-long road trip across the United States, armed with only $180 in their pockets. Oh, and a laptop, a video camera and a digital recorder. The laptop to test how far they could go with social media and their own resourcefulness as their major means of support; the camera and recorder to document it all – the travels themselves and the encounters they had along the way. The result: a forthcoming book and a full-length documentary, both entitled A Year at the Wheel, excerpts of which will be screened at WTF Fest.
It was at a panel to discuss the Wheel project at the 2010 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas that WTF began to take shape. The Bugbees had already gotten a taste of the “anti-SXSW” shows and events designed to counter the “corporate” nature of the official event two years before; now, sitting in the thick of it, they conceived some SXSW counterprogramming of their own. An event that, like many others, combined art, music, poetry and performance, but with a uniquely radical feel. And I do mean “radical,” as WTF’s core performer came straight from the source: one of the many people they befriended on their cross-country jaunt just happened to be one of the few bright lights of the sixties counterculture whose filament hadn’t dimmed or burned out entirely. “John Sinclair was in our movie,” Shane says. “He was right there in New Orleans and I knew he’d work with us. So I came up with this great idea for something that’d be real easy and real cheap, which, of course, turned out not to be so cheap or so easy. So we realized the only way this was going to make any money would be to do it in the Pacific Northwest, closer to home, so we added five extra dates” – shows in Eugene (4/22), Portland (4/23), and Seattle (4/28 & 29) in addition to the two here in Astoria – “on top of that.” Plans for the Austin event eventually fell through, but thanks to Shane & Amy’s talent for artist management and promotion, not to mention a social networking structure even more supportive of ambitious grassroots projects than it was four years ago (a good chunk of the funding has come via Kickstarter), it keeps morphing and growing. No two events will be the same; the core group of artists and performers will be augmented in each town by everything from skate-punk bands and “circus revolutionaries” (really) to comedians and people who only think they’re comedians (full disclosure – that last category consists solely of the author of this piece).
Sinclair is not only WTF Fest’s biggest “name,” but also the skeleton key to its philosophy – he may be forever associated with radial causes and political insurgency, but it’s his artistic affiliations that will ensure his legacy. (Read a White Panther Party manifesto, then crank up the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, and tell me which one retains its power and immediacy four decades on.) The younger artists drawn into WTF Fest’s orbit – the likes of Ugly Shyla (creator of dark, creepy dolls and “shock performance” artist), Ruby LaRocca (horror/erotica actress-turned-auteur), and Rick Shapiro (raw, caustic stand-up who, unfortunately, will only appear at the Portland and Eugene events) – channel the temper of the times into their art in much the same way, albeit in a more intense, amped-up manner appropriate to these days of rampant rage. “I saw it when we were going across the country,” Amy says. “People realizing that maybe America’s not such a welcoming place for certain of us – they’re angry, but they’re active, they’re looking for a way to use that anger. Some people take that and join a mass movement, like Occupy or the Tea Party, and some prefer to express it in more personal, individual ways. And things get so polarizing and ridiculous, especially in an election year, that the only people I want to pay attention to are the artists.”
“This is how we as creatives campaign, in a way – around what, I don’t know,” adds Shane. “But WTF Fest and things like that are how we deal with these times. It’s our way of being active and political without being ‘politically active.’”
APPEARING AT THE ASTORIA WTF FEST:
Founder of the White Panthers, manager of proto-punk monsters the MC5, psychedelic cause célèbre, blues/jazz scholar, poet, author, broadcaster, activist, and perhaps the only person to have a John Lennon song named after them without having to marry him first – John Sinclair was and remains one of the pillars of the American counterculture. His 1969 arrest and conviction for passing two joints to an undercover police officer turned him into the hippie movement’s Number One Martyr, culminating in the 1971 “Rally for John Sinclair,” a truly impressive gathering of performers (including Allen Ginsberg, Stevie Wonder, Archie Shepp, Bob Seger and, oh yeah, John & Yoko) that helped result in the Supreme Court’s overturning his conviction and the rewriting of Michigan’s marijuana laws – a shining example of the power of art to effect social change that lives on in events like the WTF Fest. Unlike some of his peers, too many of whom softened up, sold out, burned out or faded away, Sinclair continues to keep the faith. His radio show can be heard at www.radiofreeamsterdam.com, he had a regular column for High Times magazine, and he sells John Sinclair Seeds through his website. You figure out what grows from them. (www.johnsinclair.us)
Dave Archer’s outer space paintings have adorned the sets of Star Trek – The Next Generation as well as several of the Star Trek films; graced the covers of books by SF legends Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Jack Vance, among others; and been shown at the Hayden Planetarium in New York as well as the world headquarters of AT&T. But that’s not the impressive part. The impressive part is that his paintings are rendered on glass using a million-volt Tesla coil as his brush! Another fellow traveler on the underground railroad of the counterculture, his roots extend all the way back to the San Francisco Beat scene of the early 60s, and his appearance at WTF Fest is sure to be – you will excuse the term – electric. (www.davearcher.com)
Densmore probably needs no introduction to most Astorians, as his appearances as part of the annual Fisher Poets Gathering here in town are already legendary. Described by WTF Fest organizers as “an authentic Alaskan tough guy,” Densmore has literally made the harrowing and dangerous world of the ocean his life – he was even the skipper of a commercial fishing boat at the age of thirteen! His words, presence and presentation are, like his livelihood, tough, harrowing, and beautifully real, and sure to inspire anyone who experiences it. (www.davedensmorefishermanpoet.com)
“Fear, Loathing, Lipstick and Art” goes the credo of this Cajun dollmaker, performance artist, alternative model and bona fide Voodoo priestess. You can call her work dark, disturbing and in-your-face, but don’t look for an agenda underneath it all. “Unlike some artists, I really have no clue why I do what I do or what it’s even about in a way,” she says. “I’m on the journey just like the people that see my stuff are. I’m like a medium or channeler, I’m just the vehicle. Sometimes I feel the need to make things addressing certain subjects – it’s like what Southern Baptists refer to as a ‘burden’.” I won’t give away what she has planned for WTF Fest (mostly because it’ll be different every time), but suffice to say it will make an impression. As the carnies used to say, “a minute to see, a lifetime to forget.” (www.uglyart.net)
RUBY LAROCCA & MONICA PULLER
LaRocca and Puller’s recently-formed production company is known as Snatch Devil Devil Snatch, which may give you some indication of where their interests lie. As might the titles of some of the 60+ films on LaRocca’s ever-expanding resume, including The Devil’s Bloody Playthings, Orgasm Torture in Satan’s Rape Clinic, and Night of the Groping Dead. And if that doesn’t get the point across, note that LaRocca is also a contributor to the newly-published Have a Heart for Horror Cookbook. Devoted to exploring the dark, fertile ground where horror, eroticism and femininity meet, LaRocca and Puller will be at all WTF Fest performances, filming, performing, and who knows what else. (www.rubylarocca.com)
San Francisco-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Strange draws from the vaudevillian tradition of the one-man band – she plays accordion, drums and sings all at the same time – but it would be kind of a stretch to call what she does “traditional.” Her music has been described as “acoustic electro-clash goes to the punk rock circus in Mexico,” and her lyrics, sung in both English and Spanish, are as salty, saucy and brassy as the artist herself. She has toured with Cyclecide, the world’s only punk rock bicycle carnival with pedal-powered midway rides and wrote and performed the music for the Lifesize Mousetrap, a 25-ton Rube Goldberg-esque assemblage of kinetic sculptures handcrafted to resemble a very large version of the classic children’s game, both of which seem manifestly appropriate and very WTF. (www.esmereldastrange.com)
LONNIE D. WAGES
Another hard-bitten survivor-made-good, Wages has seen the world, done time, beat cancer, and even did a stint as roadie for Willie Nelson. A devoted advocate of marijuana legalization as well as a skilled singer/songwriter, Lonnie comes to WTF Fest to perform several of his original compositions, some of which have been recorded by a number of country legends.