Total Bummer Fest and the quest for a local scene

The coolest summer camp ever
By LIZ PELLY  |  May 18, 2012

bummer1
FMLY Matters By the end of Total Bummer Fest, Say It Loud Gallery felt like a home base of new friends and FMLY. 

In the corner of an enormous warehouse in the Winter Park neighborhood of Orlando, Florida, 40 or so kids are sitting on the floor in a semicircle, cross-legged. Noah Klein, a Brooklyn-based solo artist who performs these days under the moniker Cuddle Formation, sits facing them with his acoustic guitar; behind him is the camping tent he brings with him to all his shows.

Two weeks earlier, a handful of these people sat in my Lower Allston living room watching this same set in front of the same tent. But now we're all over a thousand miles from Boston, for Florida's annual Total Bummer Fest — a small but growing DIY music festival, now in its third year.

Total Bummer is a decidedly non-commercial event, largely emphasizing community and ethics versus aesthetic, buzz, and money-making. The fest, which takes place at five different venues, is valuable for those entrenched in Orlando's burgeoning music scene, as well as for the national grassroots underground community that it attracts.

"Everyone here fucking rules," Klein says in between tracks of ambient electronica and folksy confessionals. After one song, he passes around the microphone and asks everyone to say their name.

The first few times I came here this weekend, this warehouse, Say It Loud Gallery, felt overwhelming. Its tall ceilings and pristine white walls were intimidating, and it was full of strangers. But by this Sunday afternoon set, on the final day of the fest, it feels smaller — more like a home base — and I recognize most faces. There's the FMLY crew (which includes Klein, Brooklyn-via-Orlando artist Emily Reo, Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit, and my Allston roommate Cameron Potter, who plays as Little Spoon), the group of kids from the blog Zen Tapes who traveled here from Michigan, the dudes from the blogs Tiny Waves and Spirit Cat, who helped organize the fest, and my friend/Phoenix contributor Diana Burmistrovich. I spot our new friend from Arkansas, experimental musician Messy Sparkles, who is sleeping on the same floor as Diana and me for the weekend. I also meet some local high school kids who run one of the most successful labels in Orlando, Relief in Abstract.

It feels like the coolest summer camp ever.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what is universally important about fests like Total Bummer, but my immediate reaction is that it's exciting to see kids focusing on building their hometown creative community rather than just moving to places like Brooklyn and LA (like most people in the Boston scene do after four or five years).

That sentiment — the importance of fostering scenes outside of big cities — is one of the issues discussed in In Every Town: An All-Ages Music Manualfesto. The book, produced in 2010 by the Seattle-based nonprofit All Ages Movement Project, showcases examples of places around the country where kids in random micro-scenes have fostered communities, venues, festivals, etc. to make independent music accessible and sustainable for all.

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