After visiting Orlando in March while on tour with Quilt, I was so inspired by the vibrancy of the town's burgeoning DIY music community that I decided to return for Florida's annual festival, Total Bummer. Now in its third year, the event is always held in the Sunshine State (2011 was Tallahassee, 2010 was Gainesville) but is strongly rooted in the national underground community. This year's fest drew acts from as far as Michigan, Arkansas, Minnesota, and of course, Boston. "When they asked me to play, I was really honored," says Jordan Lee of Jamaica Plain avant-pop project Mutual Benefit, which played Saturday night. Mutual Benefit closed with a huge jam featuring Gainesville experimental duo Hear Hums on percussion, combined with Lee's striking, emotive vocals.
In a way, Bummer is set up like a mini version of SXSW or CMJ, with showcases at different venues to hop around to. But Bummer comes without any of the corporate bullshit, and largely emphasizes community and ethics versus aesthetic, buzz, and money-making. "It's really great to come to a festival where the whole thing is centered around amazing vibes and no competition," says Allstonian Cameron Potter — who plays as Little Spoon, and performed at the fest as part of a joint "FMLY Hour" set with Brooklyn solo experimental artists Emily Reo and Noah Klein. "No self-proclamation bullshit, no self promotion. Just everybody trying to help everybody. That's what this is about. That's why we do it."
There is a strong family vibe to the entire fest; in the end, Total Bummer felt like more of a weekend-long summer camp or underground experimental community retreat than a music fest at all. It spoke to the ethos of the grassroots community it attracts — which, ultimately, is about much more than music.
For a full recap of highlights from Total Bummer, plus photos and Q&As with artists, check out thePhoenix.com/onthedownload throughout the week.