By Jerome Langston
“The first step―especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money ― the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.”
There is a quiet revolution happening in Norfolk. It’s quiet in that it’s not totally intruding upon the broadly accepted “way of life” here in Hampton Roads, as much as it’s attempting, with impassioned effort, to add to the region’s diverse ways of living. I am speaking of the remarkably sustained efforts by a creative class of Norfolkians, with now significant support from their city government, to transform Norfolk into the country’s next significant art town.
It’s very important to distinguish that this is a small phenomenon that is centered here in Norfolk, though its successes seem to be bleeding into the more progressive parts of the remaining 757. It’s in this new, vibrant arts scene that the 4th Annual ETC (Embrace the Culture) Festival, a Festevents produced event that provides one of the biggest yearly platforms for artists and culture leaders throughout Hampton Roads, enters. Dubbed an indie music & arts festival, the event brings progressive minded bands, local culinary artists, visual artists, and related others, to downtown Norfolk’s waterfront park, Town Point. It joins downtown Norfolk’s monthly First Friday events, as well as the upcoming Chelsea West Fest, and the deservedly hyped NEON Festival, as milestone cultural events that are attaining national buzz for the city.
And of course what’s really admirable is that adequate corporate sponsorship allows the ETC Festival to provide free admission to the general public. As other significant art towns have shown, providing affordable access to these types of events is essential to their success and ultimate growth.
Spread across three stages, both local and national music acts will perform during the ten hour festival. They will be joined throughout the park by creative food vendors and artisans exhibiting and selling their works. One of those stages is the TAO Emerging Artist Stage, which will feature local artists like Skye Zentz, Andy Geels, Mike Lawson, and Holly Bishop, performing 30 minute sets. Main stage performers this year include The Mowgli’s, an alt-rock band from Cali known for its patented brand of feel-good optimism and love music, while Second Stage acts are highlighted by the cerebral artistry of Little Tybee, the pop punk aesthetic of Little Pants, and the stadium rock of the VEER music award-winning duo, The Dahus.
I recently spoke to lead singer Larry Frame about his local band, The Dahus, and why playing events like ETC are essential to a band’s success. “It’s really exciting―we actually played the very first one that they did―it did really good for us…” he says. “I’m really proud of where I’m from, so being recognized as a band from the area, and being asked to play this thing for the second time―it’s really exciting.”
Larry describes the Etcetera Festival―which is what I call it, as Norfolk’s indie-rock Harborfest, which makes me slightly chuckle. It makes sense though, considering the combination of the nautical location and history of the city. The duo of Larry Frame and Drew Orton, who have sometimes been supported by Bryan Knispel on bass, formed in Norfolk, and have been generating local buzz for several years now, with shows played at the NorVa and other mentionable local venues. And that buzz has led to significant gigs in other markets as well. Interestingly though, the singer/songwriter considers playing in front of local audiences here, to be considerably harder than playing for audiences in other markets. He embraces the challenge, but it makes for a curious observation.
Their 2013 self-titled debut album will be followed by a new album this year, which Frame suggests will abandon the guitar-rock sonic tapestry of their debut, for a more Radiohead-like take on electronic soundscapes. And we all know that I love Radiohead―Thom Yorke is one of the most emotive singers and poetic songwriters that Western Civilization has ever produced―so when Larry tells me that during our phone conversation, I am immediately intrigued. It suggests to me that The Dahus may indeed follow in the footsteps of fellow Virginia reared music acts, who have gone on to carve out enviable careers on a national and international level. Missy Elliot recently suggested to famed hip-hop journalist, Sway Calloway, that there’s something in the water here that produces innovative talent. Larry agrees that it’s an ideal location for cultivating talent.
“Buddy Holly called this place a gold mine for a songwriter…and I’d have to agree, there’s so many different things around the area―you can go out to Pungo and be in the middle of a cornfield―go out to Norfolk and be in the middle of the arts scene that’s growing right now, especially with the NEON district…and you can also go to the ocean―this area is just so diverse.”
4th Annual ETC Festival
Embrace the Culture
Indie Music & Arts Festival
Town Point Park
Little Pants 12:30
The Dahus 2:45
Little Tybee 5:00
Johnny Swim 6:00
Royal Teeth 7:15
The Mowgil’s 8:30