To hear Lebowski Fest co-founder Scott Shuffitt say it, music is an inextricable part of what makes this Dude fest special.
“We figured part of the movie’s appeal was the soundtrack, so we figured why not bring in some music?” says Shuffitt, who along with Will Russell founded Lebowski Fest, the two-day ode to the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.”
With a soundtrack that features everything from Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me,” a country-tinged ballad that is every bit as sweet as “Tangled Up In Blue” is bitter, to Kenny Rogers (yes, that Kenny Rogers) and the First Edition’s psychedelic freak-out “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” it’s no surprise that Lebowski Fests offer a number of performers for even the most diverse music fan.
Past performers included My Morning Jacket, They Might Be Giants and, at Lebowski Fest West in Los Angeles, The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges. This year combines the codeine- and molasses-drenched sounds of VietNam, the ’60s-obsessed pop psychedelia of Dr. Dog, and the Herman-Munster-goes-rockabilly sounds of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers.
“The ’Nam and Dr. Dog at Lebowski Fest — I knew it had to happen,” Shuffitt says with noticeable enthusiasm. After all, both bands play perfect pop music circa 1968, an era The Dude seems all too familiar with.
While the bong water-soaked sounds of the “The Big Lebowski” soundtrack transport you to an idyllic time and place, the music of Dr. Dog seems to come from the same era but in a much more natural way. Its joyous racket rises above the strobe light and bad-vibe sentiments of similar bands, but is simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. Toby Leaman, vocalist and bassist for Dr. Dog, says that’s no accident.
“We’ve been playing together for a really long time. I feel like the older we get, the tighter the songwriting gets. I think that’s what was going on back then (with ’60s pop groups): really concise songwriting. They knew the formula of a good pop song.”
Recalling Captain Beefheart’s tamer moments, the spirit of The Beach Boys’ late ’60s output and the whimsical sound of Daniel Johnston, Dr. Dog make you realize just how unfair the world really is. Pop music should be this good, and bands like Dr. Dog should be selling out the arenas instead of nostalgia acts and glorified karaoke singers.
The pairing of Dr. Dog and Lebowski Fest, Leaman says, is a match made in heaven: He sees the invitation of the band to play the festival as a stamp of approval of sorts.
“It’s one of the funniest movies ever, and I love that we are playing,” he says. “Our live show is pretty well-tailored to people who are going to be at the festival.”
On a night where grown men will wear jelly shoes, purple jumpsuits and black hairnets, simply liking the movie isn’t enough for Dr. Dog, which will try to recreate some of their favorite songs from the film. They have a legion of “Lebowski” fans (“Achievers” is the preferred nomenclature) to impress.
“We’re planning on playing a couple of songs from the movie … there’s five or six” that we want to play, says Leaman.
But music isn’t the only thing that Lebowski Fest has to offer. Along with an evening of strikes, gutters and White Russians, attendees can also screen the film with fellow fans and play games inspired by the film (including “The Ringer Toss,” in which contestants toss bags of laundry, a la John Goodman’s character, Walter Sobchak), and also a special appearance by Jim Hoosier. While Hoosier’s name may not be familiar to the average person, “Lebowski” fans will recognize him as Liam, the rotund bowling partner of The Dude’s rival from the bowling alley, The Jesus (John Turturro).
“If you say Liam to most people, they aren’t going to know who you are talking about, but if you say Liam to the true Achievers, they are all about it,” says Shuffitt.
“Jim is not an actor. He answered a ‘help wanted’ ad to be an extra in a movie, and all of the sudden he’s hanging out with Jeff Bridges, John Turturro and John Goodman. He’s never been in a movie since, but once a year, he gets this huge rock star reception, everyone’s buying him White Russians, and he loves it,” says Russell.
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