Rock the Water Tower v. 3.0 pits tradition against change

Aug 28, 2007 at 4:15 pm

Code Red headlines Rock the Water Tower on Sunday night.
Code Red headlines Rock the Water Tower on Sunday night.
Louisville’s changed quite a bit since 1985, but Rock the Water Tower is pretty much the same: It is still at the Water Tower on Zorn Avenue, and it is still Louisville artists playing music outside for a laid-back, late-summer crowd.

This year’s lineup features 18 bands spread over 15 hours on Saturday and Sunday. For Larry Bisig, CEO of Bisig Impact Group, which took over the event in 1985 and still oversees it, the 2007 edition of Rock the Water Tower represents the culmination of half a lifetime.
“Who does a show for 22 years?” Bisig says. “We’ve got the benefit of tradition colliding with a change of format.”

That change came two years ago when BIG replaced the 20-year Rock the Water Tower program that basically leaned on two bands: The Monarchs (steeped in nostalgia) and Nervous Melvin & the Mistakes (a really good cover band).

The event began informally as a party with Bisig’s older brother and friends, but grew into something that needed sponsorship, insurance and all of the other hassles that go with having hundreds of people listen to music together.

Now, Bisig sees RWT as a family-friendly showcase of Louisville talent. “It’s the perfect experience for someone to come and hold their thumb up as sort of a barometer for what the local music scene is all about,” he says.
All 18 acts have Louisville-area connections. The event kicks off with high school-age rock band radiOdaze at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Former Squirrel Bait and Big Wheel frontman Peter Searcy headlines Saturday night, and the hip-hop/reggae outfit Code Red takes over headlining duties on Sunday.

Rock the Water Tower marks the beginning of a fall tour season for Searcy, who is promoting his newest album, Spark, released in May. While discussing the strength of the bands at RWT, he gets distracted and pauses the conversation to watch a red fox take care of some business by the side of a road in Kenwood Hill. Then he picks right back up talking about how good the pop band Digby is at writing songs.

He’ll see plenty of sides of roads — though maybe not as many foxes — on the tour that will take him through the eastern and southern United States.

Searcy says Spark has received more positive response than any solo album he’s made. “It’s fun to play acoustic, but it’s just a blast with the full band,” he says. “Plus, we won’t be going up against the UK/U of L (football) game.”

Bisig also mentioned that game —  which has moved from its typical opening weekend week date to Week 3 — and thinks the RWT may see increased attendance. It is the first time in seven years that the Governor’s Cup game won’t pose a conflict.

But to Searcy, the draw of RWT lies in playing the music he loves outside at night in his hometown. He’ll play for an hour and a half, beginning at 10 p.m.

Twenty-four hours later, pop rock will be replaced by the flowing, dancehall-infused beats of Code Red. The four-man crew formed in 1998 and released their debut album, All Aboard, last year on Label X. Since their inception, they’ve compiled a heavy resume of making music for television, but they plan to get back out on the road soon with a fall college tour.

Mike Kabel, aka “El One,” describes his group’s sound as hip-hop blended with roots reggae, with recent increased incorporation of live instruments.

“Our sound has kind of been organic. If something sounds better with live drums, we’ll do that,” Kabel says. “It’s got a bigger feel, more clean and polished.”

The group toured with West Coast rapper Afroman and has upcoming dates in Charleston and Philadelphia, but it’s the hometown love that keeps them coming back to Louisville. Code Red has played Water Towers past, but this year they have a Sunday night extended set with their name on it.

“It’s great to be tapped to do that,” Kabel says. “It’s validation from the city.”
The unconventional rap group will see the event through to its end, giving an energetic performance that Kabel calls Code Red’s staple.

With Code Red, Peter Searcy and 16 other bands covering Louisville’s ever-changing music scene in between, you should walk away sated.

Contact the writer at [email protected]

Rock the Water Tower
Sept. 1-2
Water Tower at Zorn Ave. & River Road
$6 (before 6 p.m.), $9; 4-11:30 p.m.