I’ve referenced here a few times that I moved to Chicago not more than a year ago. That’s because I hail from a small central Pennsylvania city named Lancaster that has upped its “cool” tenfold these past 10 years or so with events and programs that connect its artful community under one umbrella.
Perhaps the best example of this — well, my favorite anyway — is the Launch Music Conference and Festival, an event sprung out of the ground a couple years ago that attracts musicians from the area and across the nation (and Canada!) to descend into the city for three nights of music. Over 200 acts performed — from a pool of about 700 applicants — and I want to say skill level was about par with last year’s conference.
For me, the conference is less about the talent, really, and more about the ease of bouncing around from club to bar to restaurant with a magic wristband that’ll get you into any of the participating dozen or so venues. Everything’s within a few blocks, so the ease of the whole thing is genius. As well, it’s fun to see my city celebrate itself and the arts over a long weekend in late April, and all in the name of music.
My adventures began not on Thursday — the event’s opening night — but Friday, as my flight from Chicago, long story, got me into Lancaster laaate Thursday night. After a sweet morning of Rachele’s Creperie and kindhearted exploring, I returned later to the city to take in Dana Alexandra at one of the city’s “finest” institutions — The Chameleon. I and a friend had remembered her chill, acoustic set at the Convention Center’s Freedom Hall in 2010 and knew she’d be well worth seeing again this weekend.
But instead of a cutesy blond tossing out sweet guitar tunes and then pawning off tapes and CDs from a pack strapped to her pack following her set, we got a Kelly Clarkson-esque entertainer full of confidence and authentic energies. She had guitar, bass and drum help, too.
And Dana killed it, really. I don’t know when she made the sometimes dreaded transition to pop, but whatever the case, she totally killed her 30-minute allotment. And it being hosted by The Chameleon made it that much sweeter. I love that space.
After a ho hum Slimfit set, we made our way to Dipco (Lancaster Dispensing Company) and had a run-in with perhaps my favorite discovery of the weekend — Canyon. Hailing from Westport, Connecticut, the two-person group is a folksy blend of guitar and cajon. I picked up a free download card of their EP at Isaac’s, so I wouldn’t think they’d mind a download link here. I was going to do the EP’s title track, “Aeroplanes + Astronauts,” But I decided on “Varnish” instead.
mp3 — “Varnish”
Saturday kicked off the way all Saturdays in Lancaster should: at Central Market — a farmer’s market that also happens to be the country’s oldest. I brought home with me chocolates, peanut butter spreads and a gigantic two-pound bag of oats.
Later, our Saturday night at Launch began at Isaac’s with The Static Trees, of Gettysburg. I enjoyed these guys. They seemed super young, and yet have four albums in the bag already. They list The White Stripes as an influence, and that makes a ton of sense. They’re sans drum kit, and along with guitar utilize harmonica and other knick knack instruments. A note on their dress though: They’re trying hard and aren’t themselves. The dude alone wore a top hat, sunglasses, vest, green pants, a funky belt and shoe situation. Every piece was eccentric, but together didn’t work for me. It felt like imitation.
After a set at The Chameleon, we returned again to Isaac’s for 30 minutes of Canyon. The night before, we had happened upon the last half of their Dipco set, and a half-hour more of Canyon seemed like solid planning. It was — I think the duo is the real deal. As they say, they’re not one for covers, but their take on Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” is totally their own.
We hit some jazz at Belvedere — not affiliated with Launch this year — and then a Mumford and Sonsy group named Cop Drama at Senorita Burrita. Lizard Lounge, then, hosted a second favorite of mine of the weekend: Val Halla. Of Regina, Saskatchewan, the group is heavy on rock and utilizes simple but catchy bass lines to drive its tunes. I dug it. I’m not usually one for bands with so much edge, but by the end of the set I’d inched my way so closely to the space’s probably worn-out speakers.
We then closed out our weekend with Broken Fences at Dipco and The Mint at The Chameleon.
My time in the city was brief, but well spent. Not everything was golden — ahem, Metropolis America — but on the whole I discovered a lot of good stemming out of the weekend. Now if only we can get Canyon to come west…