[Editor’s Note: Fall Line Fest took place nearly a month ago, but I have one last recap post to share. If you missed the first two, you can click here to check out the first, which is about Kopecky Family Band, and here to check out the second, which is about Positive No and an intrusive alley cat.]
After I finished my volunteer shift at Gallery 5 a little after 8 p.m. on Saturday of Fall Line Fest weekend, I made the short walk over to the Hippodrome for the festival’s big finale. There were three bands left to play: Photosynthesizers (their set was underway when I arrived), No BS! Brass Band and Big Freedia, who’d been billed as the weekend’s headliner. I hesitate to write about Photosynthesizers’ performance, because I only caught their last few songs, and I enjoyed what I saw way too much to give a half-baked impression of what they have to offer. I will say, though, that their presence was extremely powerful, and I’m looking forward to digging into their material.
I hesitate to write about Big Freedia for very different reasons.
Twerking has become such a lightning rod that it’s nearly impossible to discuss it — or even have a thought about it — without generating a feedback loop of bias and criticism that gets so loud it’s hard to remember where the conversation started. I do know that I used to like Miley Cyrus more — or more uncomplicatedly, at least — and that what she’s done to bounce music is probably not good. I think it’s fair to say (but not fair) that bounce and the dancing that’s associated with it were always going to be a tough sell for mainstream America, regardless of who’d been acting as its torchbearer, but it’s unfortunate that an artist who didn’t grow up in New Orleans took it upon herself to push the subculture into a harsh spotlight.
Things could have been different. Maybe Big Freedia, an artist who is from New Orleans, and who commands respect, and who sets rules for how the crowd should behave and how dancers should be treated, could have introduced bounce music to a wider audience without triggering the swarming condemnation that Miley has triggered. Maybe it’s not too late. I’d like to think it’s not, because Big Freedia struck me as an honest envoy — a caring ambassador for something that means a great deal to a devoted following. I don’t know that I understand bounce completely (to say I did would be presumptuous, I think), but I know passion and joy when I see them, and both were up there on stage while Big Freedia was performing. That’s something that should be celebrated, not condemned.
One reason I’m apt to defend bounce as a scene is that Richmond’s music scene has its own idiosyncrasies — things a visitor from out of town would need to experience firsthand to understand — and those of us who live here and love music benefit handsomely from them. To see what I mean, look no further than the group that performed before Big Freedia on that Saturday night.
Kayne West may claim to be the number one rock star on the planet, but on planet RVA, the members of No BS! Brass Band are the rock stars. The frenzies they whip up and the pride that they instill are off the charts, “you have to see it to believe it”-level phenomena — the kind of thing that’s overwhelming, even when you knew exactly what you were getting into. Their Fall Line Fest set fell right in line. Their energy was as high as I’ve ever seen it, hype tactics cranked up to 11, and the crowd response was simply unreal. (Just watch the video above of that night’s performance of “Thriller” to see what I mean.) At one point, I tweeted about how the Hippodrome’s dance floor was packed, despite the fact drinks aren’t allowed in that section of the venue, and that this proved that Richmond loves No BS! more than it loves alcohol. I really believe that.
It makes me so happy that, in my little corner of the world, a bunch of dudes with drums, trumpets, saxes and trombones — no amps, no guitars, no distortion pedals — have helped shape a scene in which this exceptional reaction is the norm. It’s inspiring to live a place that rallies around its musicians like this, and I’ll take any and every opportunity to evangelize about the good work No BS! is doing. They’ve earned the right to be called torchbearers, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.