The three key components to any successful underground music concert are good bands, cheap booze, and a sketchy venue whose identity is a semi-well-kept secret. By those lofty standards, last weekend's first annual Providence Underground Freak Fest Eco-Rave Shaman Slam (PUFFERS) festival was on point.
The two-day event, held in an alley off Manton Avenue more fit for hiding bodies than putting on a show, featured a mix of more than 30 mostly local experimental electric bands, including Lolita Black, Olneyville Sound System, and Novus 2.
The headliners each night were cult heroes Peter Glantz (Saturday) and Tony Conrad (Sunday), two performers who have come to embody the "DIY ethic" the event hoped to achieve, according to the festival's co-founders Cordey Lopez, Tabitha Piseno, and Sam Keller.
Lopez said the idea for PUFFERS stemmed from a Baltimore-based festival called Whartscape, which over the course of five years became one of the city's premier musical gatherings. The event was canceled this year after its founder Dan Deacon said it couldn't get any larger and he didn't want it to "become an institution."
Now the trio want to create something similar in Rhode Island. Lopez said he hopes the first installment of the Providence version created enough of a buzz that they can continue putting on shows in the future.
"We put this whole thing together in less than a month," he said.
The crowds were sparse during the afternoon both days, with seemingly more people paying attention to the blowup kiddie pool a couple of concertgoers set up in the parking lot than the performers. But as the sun went down and featured bands took the stage, the audience swelled to well more than 100 each night.
Lopez said he was pleased with the turnout. Fans, meanwhile, were pleased with the outcome.
Nick Cosma, 32, drove in from Boston to see his friends play on Saturday afternoon, but after having such a good time (and maybe drinking too much), he decided to stay in town for Sunday's lineup.
"This was a great weekend," Cosma said. "You sometimes never know what you're getting when you have underground shows, but most of these bands were really good and the atmosphere was fun. I'd come back."
It's still too early to tell, but the PUFFERS people may be on to something here. In a city where everyone seems to be in a band and a festival appears to takes place every weekend in the summer (see page 14), the underground concert series is still an untapped market.
The potential is there. If Lopez and his crew can recruit more bands and spend more time promoting the festival next year, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that PUFFERS could become Whartscape 2.0. Lopez said they're certainly up for trying.
"We figured this would be a fun and interesting thing to try," Lopez said. "Hopefully we can do the same thing again."