Now a fixture in the annual Fall entertainment calendar, The Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival returns to Bay City from 9/28 thru 10/1 for its 12th annual incarnation. Over the years the music portions of the program have grown in stature, both within the event and in the eyes of potential performers. The Festival now enjoys a stellar reputation as a host for independent, original music.
As described by HHM Music Committee Member, Cole Waterman, “Selecting bands for HHM can be a daunting, but ultimately rewarding, endeavor. There are so many quality acts on our wish list every year and narrowing it down to a relative few is never easy. In the end, the goal remains to pick acts representing a variety of indie subgenres that will appeal to our audiences' equally diverse tastes.”
This year the roster of artists is larger than ever and draws from a wider radius. In addition to local talent and Michigan bands from Detroit and Grand Rapids, acts are travelling from as far as New York City or Atlanta to be part of this year’s event.
“I couldn't be more pleased with the lineup we've compiled this year. I'm pretty sure it is our most geographically diverse assortment, with Oxymorrons coming in from New York, Gringo Star from Atlanta, and the Kickback from Chicago. To have those three groups play Bay City on the same night is a windfall. At the same time, it's crucial to us to keep championing our love for Michigan-bred bands. I'm honestly torn on which group I am most eager to experience live,” adds Waterman.
Waterman was also quick to point out the continued contributions of long-time committee member Brendon "Deon" Baranek. As put by Waterman, "Deon is the workhorse of the fest's music side. He's the engine, generator, and electrical current that gets everything done with aplomb."
The musical performances are being staged at a variety of venues over the Festival, with the “headline” evenings including multi-band bills at the Empire Room (1205 Washington Ave) on Friday and The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple (614 Center Ave) on Saturday.
Artist Profiles / Ticketed Performances:
Artist: The Old Adage Hometown: Detroit
Synthpop takes on a cinematic sprawl in the hands of these brother-sister sound auteurs. With Mimi Chavez’s supple vocals above Nino’s layered beats and synth melodies, the duo is nothing if not evocative and enthralling. Myriad rich tapestries deliver syrupy hooks that hit like a jolt to your emotional core. Website: https://theoldadage.bandcamp.com/
Artist: The Messenger Birds Hometown: Detroit
This duo’s spartan roster belies their massive sound. Conjuring fuzz-laden distortion and pummeling percussion from a Delta blues template, they’re the kind of band that could shatter cinderblocks. Few acts better embody the tradition of Detroit forbearers the MC5, the Stooges, and the White Stripes. Website: http://themessengerbirds.com/
Artist: PALACES Hometown: Detroit
PALACES somehow interweave nocturnal moods with sun-scorched vibes, making chilly detachment cleave against warm intimacy. Surging guitars and throbbing basslines are laced with a corona of melodic, skittery synths. They employ the swagger and strut of Queens of the Stone Age, mix in the eeriness of Joy Division, and add a dash of My Bloody Valentine’s mysterious ambiance. Website: https://thisispalaces.bandcamp.com/
Artist: Willa Rae & the Minor Arcana Hometown: Detroit
Serpentine and spellbinding, this sextet summons a rough and tumble reinvention of Rust Belt Americana. Sewing together folk, blues, and country, they inject a punk fervor and gothic mood into a roots-based bedrock. Rollicking percussion, seesawing strings, and ramshackle guitars surround Willa Rae’s soulful vocals, crafting an incendiary revelation. Website: https://www.willaraemusic.com/
Artist: Blanca Luz Hometown: Grand Rapids
Blanca Luz masterfully walks the tightrope between early adult wistfulness and the rebellious energy of youth. Their propulsive songs champion a refined tightness that comes from maturity, while being defined by an exuberant sense of abandon. Nostalgia mixed with a lust for the future, they’re all you could want from an indie rock band with a distinctly Midwestern flavor. Website: https://blancaluz.bandcamp.com/
Artist: Sidewatcher Hometown: Detroit
From HHMFest.com: If your senior prom had morphed into a punk rock show, Sidewatcher would be the band tearing up the stage. Or, if you missed prom, this feral trio would provide the soundtrack to your night of plotting revenge for being jilted. They’re a band of punkish, surf rock dichotomies — sweet and bitter, charming and dangerous, seductive and snotty. They’re a hot rod that takes corners on two wheels and barbed wire wrapped around sugar cane.
Artist: Gringo Star Hometown: Atlanta
From HHMFest.com: Gringo Star was made for sultry, Indian summer twilights. Their aesthetic emanates from an idiosyncratic realm wherein the swamps of the Deep South and the arid mesas of the southwestern deserts share a border. With a cheeky yet deft approach to mining America’s musical legacy, they explore Delta blues, twangy alt. country, dusty folk, proto pop, surf rock, and trippy psychedelia then deliver it through a filter of unbridled garage rock.
Artist: The Kickback Hometown: Chicago
From HHMFest.com: The Kickback is a burgeoning indie rock phenom. Their cup runneth over with youthful vitality that manifests in their infectious hooks. They’re unhinged and experimental, yet they temper their tunes with a degree of familiarity and intimacy when need be. If you took the paradigms set by Spoon, Vampire Weekend, and the Shins, add in the fevered mania of Hunter S. Thompson’s writings, and a pinch of Twin Peaks’ surrealism, you’d arrive at the crossroads the Kickback calls home. Website: http://www.thekickbackband.com/
Artist: Oxymorrons Hometown: New York City
From HHMFest.com: Take the fire and furor of Rage Against the Machine, the intriguing experimentation of TV on the Radio, and the unpredictable virtuosity of Jane’s Addiction and you’ll start to get an idea of what Oxymorrons is all about. As bomb-detonating drums, frenzied guitars, and pulsing basslines create a bedrock behind them, vocalists D and KI alternately rap and sing provocative and titillating wordplay. Genre trappings are rendered asunder by this quintet, their raw energy erupting in torrents. Website: https://www.facebook.com/Oxymorrons/
Artist: Strange Lakes Hometown: Bay City
From HHMFest.com: Post-rock quartet Strange Lakes has found a way to weld multiple lifetimes’ musical influences, creating a palatable variant of opium den psychedelia rife with solid, driving rhythms and coruscating counter-melodies. The group is composed of Bay City born-and-raised journeymen who have played in notable groups such as San Diego-based instrumental outfit Tristeza, stoner/doom/van-and-bandana metal aficionados Whaler, and hardcore punk legends Bev.Clone alongside HHM Music’s founding father Tommy Jenkins.
Artist: Terror Pigeon! Hometown: Nashville
From HHMFest.com: Were aliens to pick up dispatches of Earth’s pop music through some interstellar haze and try to replicate the sounds they heard, Terror Pigeon! might be something they’d come up with. The project from Neil Fridd slices through pop conventions, lays out the components, then stitches them back together in an overpowering aural tableau. Fridd brings a joyful sadness to his concoctions, an optimism that shirks its fetters, so be prepared to dance your asses off and shake your demons out. Website: http://terrorpigeon.us/
Artist Profiles / Free Shows:
Artist: Northwoods Improvisers Hometown: Midland
From HHMFest.com: Northwoods Improvisers formed in 1976 and have rotated their roster ever since. The current trio is based in Midland and has been performing for more than 30 years, playing avant-garde/world jazz across the globe. Members have performed and recorded with jazz greats — Faruq Z. Bey, Connie Crothers, Eddie Gale, Eugene Chadbourne, Peter Kowald, and several more.
Artist: Shawn Butzin Hometown: Bay City
From HHMFest.com: Hailing from Colorado, Butzin’s craft is naturally imbued with the free and pensive spirit of the American expanse. Blending folk, Americana, and alt. country reminiscent of Ryan Adams and early Wilco, his songs aptly accompany a glass of whiskey over ice or an afternoon beer.
Artist: High School Sweetheart Hometown: Detroit
From HHMFest.com: Electronic dance-rock at its finest is what this duo presents. From the ashes of Sugar Baron and the Lunar Calendar arise a surfeit of synth melodies paired with lyrics exorcising personal demons, juxtaposing the poppy with the confessional.
Artist: Sorry Hunny Hometown: Grand Rapids
From HHMFest.com: This all-woman quintet brings a ramshackle, devil-may-care energy to their fusion of folk and Celtic punk. An early evening cocktail isn’t necessary to enjoy the set, but it couldn’t hurt to have one in-hand to toast these lasses as they belt out last call sing-alongs, bar fight anthems, broken-hearted lullabies, and foot-stomping jigs.
Artist: Kostka Hometown: Bay City
From HHMFest.com: This local troubadour has built sizable grassroots rep in recent years, criss-crossing the country with his emotive brand of acoustic indie rock. On the final day of HHM 12, he’s bringing his evocative tunes to you for a matinee show at Tavern 101. Grab yourself a Bloody Mary and soak it in.
(HHMFest.com band bios written by Cole Waterman.)