It was a bear of a day Saturday for the return of the I AM Festival.
Weather was frighteningly freaky across the region, with severe storms plowing across Connecticut and tornadoes in the Big Apple. New London was spared for the most part, but the mere threat of I AM turning into Twister seemed to be enough to keep many people away.
I AM Festival was returning after taking a one year hiatus. Formerly in Waterfront Park, the festival was now spread at four different venues. All were within a two block radius, and most acts went on as planned.
Though performances were staggered well throughout the day, catching the full twelve full hours of music would have been difficult for even the most avid concertgoer.
This reviewer arrived around 4:45 p.m.- too early enough to catch the acoustic performance of Jesse Stanford of Heirlooms, but too late to catch his other other project, Modern Merchant (that opportunity may come up Sept. 14, when Merchant plays with Ports of Spain at Cafe Nine). Stanford played at the Telegraph, enveloping the record store in layers of porous reverb.
Slightly overlapping with Stanford was Math The Band at Hygenic Park. These two Providence residents never fail to perform with an insane amount of energy, jumping and screaming with huge smiles. It’s like children’s toys on psychedelics and sugar at 300 beats per minute.
Ferocious F**cking Teeth and Fake Babies were both down a man, though Babies carried their comrade in spirit by impaling a mic stand with a color print out of his face.
Bearstronaut came on stage ready to party, but the audience wasn’t. Several locals offered to shake things up during the set, but needed to be dismissed from the dance party after asking the band for money. After a few songs the crowd got their bodies moving, but again it was a casualty of the smaller than hoped for crowd. Tornadoes can do that.
‘Bear’ was the word for this fest, with Bear Hands and M.T. Bearington joining Bearstronaut in the lineup. Organizers realized and embraced it, emblazoning festival credentials with a grizzly saying ‘Very Important Bear,’ and bear shirts for sale.
This joke wasn’t lost on Dom, whose lead singer (who simply goes by Dom) introduced them as “The Care Bears.”
The Dom frontman may have been the star of the day. Between songs he consulted with the band as to what other songs they remembered how to play, asked for shots of Jameson, and repeatedly asked “What’s up with all this bear sh*t?”
It was during Dom’s set, around 9 p.m., that the skies finally opened up. In one moment the skies turned from ominous to drenching, and the crowd sprinted for cover across the street from Parade Plaza.
Dom urged the crowd back with offers of free beer. Some returned to dance in the rain. It was not immediately clear whether they received alcohol as promised.
It was tough to tell whether Dom was drunk, high on life, or both. Either way, the crowd laughed and his bandmates rolled their eyes. It was fun as hell.
Bear Hands, scheduled to close out Hygenic Park, needed to be moved indoors because of weather. Fans and rain refugees packed into the Oasis Pub where it was shuffling room only. Though bear-ly able to catch half their set, it was a fantastic half filled with tight guitars and thumping electronics.
Probably the strangest set of all came from Hospitality based on sheer location. Another victim of bad weather’s arrival, the group was moved from Parade Plaza to the Bulkeley House, a tiki bar.
The impromptu venue was set up on the fly, and the bar was accommodating. Hospitality was flanked by college football on one side, and a five foot monitor frozen on a Chase credit card on the other.
Differences between concert goers and the regulars were as obvious as… well… if a bunch of indie kids strolled into a sports bar with a tiki theme.
Despite being distracting by fried chicken commercials and touchdowns, Hospitality played a great set. They even drew the attention of some of the tiki crowd, who danced and applauded.
Music continued after it was time for this writer to leave, with Graverobbers and MT Bearington playing the Oasis Pub.
Hopefully 2013 will bring fewer tornadoes.
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