June 6-9 brought KDHX’s annual Twangfest, an event that covers a multitude of musical styles in its celebration of all things twangy. We checked in with Chris Bay, member of the Twang Gang and interactive Web publisher at KDHX, to learn more about the St. Louis festival and how this year’s event went.
How did the idea for Twangfest come about?
Twangfest was started in the mid-’90s by a group of friends that participated in an alt-country internet message board named “Postcard 2,” which was an offshoot of the similarly-themed “Postcard” message board (named after the Uncle Tupelo song of the same name). Most of these folks were spread out across the country, with many in the Midwest, and the idea at the time was simply to get a group of bands together in a somewhat central location to throw a big party that celebrated the music they loved.
How long has Twangfest been going on?
Twangfest has been running continuously since 1997. We just wrapped up our 16th annual event.
Why focus on Americana?
Because that’s what we love. The roots of the event were in the aforementioned Postcard 2 message board that sprouted out of the alt-country/No Depression movement of the ’90s and early ’00s. The event has always been centered on Americana, however, we also branch out into pop, rock and soul. Detroit Cobras, Kelly Hogan, Steve Wynn And The Miracle 3 and Wussy have all performed at Twangfest. It’s hard to describe exactly what constitutes a Twangfest-compatible artist, but every member of the committee has a clear idea of what the event represents and who will fit. This year, we hosted Pokey LaFarge And The South City Three, Wussy, Langhorne Slim and John Doe on separate nights. Those four bands on the same bill would’ve been schizophrenic at best, but with focused billing, we were able to pull off four incredible nights of music that each had a very different feel.
How many artists play each year?
Fourteen to sixteen, typically.
Does St. Louis have a strong local scene, and does that play into who is chosen for the final lineup?
The St. Louis music scene is very healthy, and there are a lot of great bands here that fall under the Twangfest umbrella. We typically book three or four locals each year—with repeat performances by locals being rare—and we never have a shortage of locals to choose from.
The local scene doesn’t have much of an effect on the lineup, per se. The lineup is built out of the interests of Twangfest’s volunteer board of directors, dubbed the Twang Gang, and we add locals to the front of nearly every bill based on who else is playing that night.
What is the relationship between Twangfest and KDHX?
Twangfest began independent of KDHX. It has and always will be a grassroots, non-profit, volunteer-driven event. KDHX came on as a partner in 2006, after Twangfest 10. Nico Leone had recently become co-executive director at KDHX with the mission of increasing community involvement at the station, and he saw Twangfest as a unique entity whose mission very closely aligned with that of KDHX. So he approached the Twang Gang about folding Twangfest into KDHX as a way to benefit both. Twangfest benefits by having promotional, administrative and other responsibilities shared with KDHX. KDHX benefits by being a part of a unique event that draws in passionate music fans, and which has a well formed brand that fits well with the identity of KDHX.
The Twang Gang operates and makes most decisions about the operation of the event essentially independently from KDHX. It’s impossible to draw a line between the two, however. Of the Twang Gang’s seven current members, four are directly involved with KDHX. All of these four, including myself, are KDHX DJs, while three are KDHX employees and one is a member of KDHX’s board of directors.
How did this year go?
This year went extremely well. Two nights sold out in advance and saw packed, enthusiastic crowds. We had entirely positive feedback from artists and fans alike. Two of the bands performing in St. Louis for the first time, Humming House and Kasey Anderson And The Honkies, each made a big splash and won over loads of new fans. And John Doe, who is a personal favorite of many on the Twang Gang and who we’ve been trying to book for years, closed out the event. And we were able to bring in two veteran artists, Kelly Hogan and Wussy, which again are favorites of ours but very rarely perform in St. Louis. So that was a real treat.
Was this year’s Twangfest different from past years?
The one major difference between this year and years past was that two of the nights saw predominantly younger bands on the bill. Twangfest has always featured both veteran and younger artists, but in the last few years, the focus has tended to be on veteran performers. This mainly has to do with the taste of the organizers and of the event’s fans, many of which have been attending the event since the beginning or close to it. I handled a small portion of the booking last year, but this year I booked the entire event, and having a better balance between young and old was a high priority for me.
I’m not quite 30 years old, but I’m below the average age of Twangfest attendees. I go to a ton of shows, however, including a lot of Americana and roots shows, and I know that there are younger fans out there that Twangfest would appeal to and who can be the next generation of loyal attendees. And as much as I love Robbie Fulks or Jason And The Scorchers, those artists aren’t on the radar of most younger fans of Americana. That’s no fault of those artists or of those fans. It’s simply a matter of how people are exposed to and consume music.