Rustbelt’s Comfest May Be the Best

Kept Secret From The Music Business.

By Moses Avalon

It’s of all places, Columbus Ohio.Pouring rain. The rage of bands playing multiple stages challenges your focus and invades your urge for order.Thousands of people dance in the summer mist. I’m huddled under a tarp, getting wet anyway as I eat some god-awful, organic earth burger. Huddled with me is Michelle Shocked. (Yeah, the “Anchored Down in Anchorage” chick.)Neither of us can believe this amazing scene.

This three day, non-profit, political activist, love–in called Comfest just may be one of the country’s best-kept secrets FROM the music business, and for a very good reason.Unlike SXSW, Winter Music, Mid Point, or countless others, Comfest (short for Community Festival) is strictly a local deal; you must be from the Columbus area to play.Despite this, Comfest can claim, percentage wise, more local success stories than many of its contemporaries: Times New Viking signed to Matador, The Sun on Warner briefly and Saving Jane on Toucan Cove/Universal. Cost to the bands for playing– $0.

Ms. Shocked was one of the two name acts flown in to give the festival a bit of pizzazz and even her presence was fraught with whispers of Comfest “selling out.” (The other act was Black 47.)

Each year Comfest’s organizers fly me in to teach a music business class, so I guess I can call this “work.” What they don’t know is, I’d come anyway.However, it was Michelle’s first time. No fancy green room for their guests from the “Left Coast.”All we got were expenses, complimentary food tokens, a disposable rain pauncho, and three days of appreciation.

We felt overpaid.

If you were not at Woodstock in 69, this is as close as you will probably ever come.Beer and weed openly consumed; topless women with political slogans painted well… anywhere; booths that sell everything from organic pizza to hard left rhetoric. All challenge the mind and the constitution. (Yes, pun intended!).For example, a local eatery, Dragon Fly, has a Vegan seder on Passover. I’m there!

Now, I’m not a country music fan by nature, but I can’t help but get my yahoo on when I’m at Comfest.Sandwiching edgy rock bands and slogans like “free hugs” are super-fast fiddle ensembles. The Spike Drivers and their center piece, award-winning violinist Megan Palmer are a perennial.If you’re not familiar with the Rustbelt genre, think hillbilly hootenanny… on crack!You’ll dance.Believe me, you’ll dance.

Ms. Shocked, performed on the main stage to a mixed welcome from provincialists, but won everyone over within the first thirty seconds of her outstanding force of Texas blues.Her inspiring energy translated to the small, solar powered stage the next afternoon when she had locals help her finish a new song in an intimate workshop/jam.

You won’t read about this gathering anywhere.Comfest doesn’t solicit weasely record executives from New York.Nor do they do any real PR. Organizers told me that the festival is getting too big and may be in danger of losing its location in the hip part of Columbus’ Short North District. In fact, they probably don’t want me to write this, but I can’t help myself. I don’t get to write about real music enough.It’s always the business.

But Comfest is the reason we started jamming; not for money, but for the love of an appreciative crowd and to make the world a better place. Even if it’s just for a few days.

Don’t let the location fool you. Put Comfest on your calendar for next year. You’ll thank me.

Mo Out.

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