August 29, 2006

Rock the Water Tower gets relevant: Annual music fest takes aim at Louisville’s youth culture and music

VillebilliesIt’s important to know when it’s time for a change. Sure, change is frightening, and it is so much easier to continue on with the momentum of the past, never questioning, developing or growing. But change can be incredibly rewarding. For 20 years, Rock the Water held its traditional position as an annual festival with performances by local oldies acts like the Monarchs and Nervous Melvin and the Mistakes. The festival remained fairly successful throughout these two decades, but suddenly last year, everything changed, thanks to Bisig Impact Group. That’s the local marketing firm responsible for not only Rock the Water Tower, but also last month’s Kentucky Bluegrass Music Festival and The Louisville Blues-N-Jazz Barbeque Festival, among others. Last year, the BIG people decided to try a different approach to Rock the Water Tower.“The bands that performed Rock the Water Tower for years and years and years were great bands who we showcased for a very long time, but it comes to a point where you really have to make the decision to bring in the newest talent that a community has to offer, and that’s what we did,” explained PR director Helene Kramer.With that decision, Rock the Water Tower moved from a traditional family-food-and-fun festival to a vibrant, relevant display of local arts, music and culture, somewhat in the image of the Forecastle Festival. This year’s festival sees several of last year’s acts returning to the stage, including Big Diggity, the Villebillies, Follow the Train and Scott Carney (performing this year with his newly-named band Wax Fang). The festival’s veterans are joined by an array of newcomers: Tyrone Cotton, The Fervor and many more. In addition to the varied mix of some of Louisville’s most exciting new bands, the festival will also play host to an extreme sports exposition and a diverse collection of works by local artists, including paintings, sculptures and blown glass work. And, like the bands performing, all of the extreme athletes and visual artists are said to have Louisville roots, which is why Rock the Water Tower is being promoted with the tagline “100% Louisville.”Kramer discussed the risk Bisig Impact Group took when it decided to attempt to put a collective finger on the pulse of Louisville youth culture and music. She admitted that the prospect of failure definitely loomed over the festival last year and that its fate for the future hinged entirely on how things went last year.“Had it not worked out well, we might have gone back to the old format, but the line-up worked well, and it was too good to pass up,” she said. “The big thing to keep in mind is that we didn’t produce an event, prior to our revising Rock the Water Tower, for really young people. You know, we have Reggae Fest, we have Blues-N-Jazz, we have a variety of things, and we think all of it is fun and attracts people of all ages, but this really zeros in on people in their late teens and early 20s, and a little older too,” Kramer said. “But before, Rock the Water Tower clearly skewed older.”The folks at BIG had a major success last year when they moved on from the older audience to a younger, more vibrant crowd. Kramer promises that this year will bring more of the same, only without the tentative feeling that comes from realizing that success and failure are both real possibilities. This year, the Water Tower will most certainly be rocked.When she left Louisville a few years ago, Aubree Bernier-Clarke, guitarist and one-fifth of the dance-rocker band Swan Island, had just finished a band called Half Seas Over, a weird sort of proto-dance band with obvious rock leanings, but maybe a little too self-aware to be earnest rockers. Now she’s got Swan Island, which is something like an all-female Led Zeppelin but with a little less forthright metal and a little peppier backbeat. The apocalyptic fantasy-lit musings are still intact: Swan Island’s post-apocalyptic vision includes a dance party at the earth’s core, and I’m not altogether sure how tongue-in-cheek it’s supposed to be. One thing is fairly obvious, however: Rock riffs and dance beats go well together (their debut album, The Centre Will Hold, will become Exhibit A this October). So screw impending doom and just try to have some fun before this whole thing slides into catatonic meltdown. —Stephen George Contact the writers at leobeat@leoweekly.com