“This has to be the greatest collection of underground music ever assembled!”
The crowd exploded in agreement as Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the wildly popular rock band the Flaming Lips, beamed from the stage of the Stardust Room at Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club in Monticello, NY.
This was the shared feeling among attendees and performers on the final night of 2009’s All Tomorrow’s Parties NY — a three-day, limited-admission indoor music festival in upstate New York that took place this past weekend.
Unlike any festival of its kind — save for the eponymous British collection of festivals from which the American version was spawned — ATP brings together music lovers for a weekend of intimate concerts and activities with an attendance rate capped out at just under 2,000.
Now in its second year at the Kutsher’s compound — last year’s inaugural event, which was curated by shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine, drew rave reviews — ATP continually breaks the mold set by most contemporary music festivals.
Oddly enough, the weekend harkens back to the pioneer days of the festival circuit set by events such as Woodstock, which took place only several miles away from the Kutsher’s site.
There are no corporate sponsors; you will never see a band at ATP playing the Vitamin Water stage, you will find no Verizon Wireless VIP tent and there are no advertisements proclaiming that the weekend was made possible by Budweiser.
Rather, ATP functions as an autonomous machine, with revenue generated by the event’s established name as a British music promoter. As such, ATP feels communal and significant in its own right.
“It still feels strange to be playing something like this so far from home,” mused Randy Randall, guitarist of Los Angeles noise-punk duo No Age. “The people who stayed behind in LA don’t know what they missed.”
In a time when most music festivals cater to a younger clientele by filling lineups with buzz bands and chart-toppers, ATP goes against the norm by hand selecting performers that possess an appeal generally unseen by mainstream acts.
As a result, the festival attracts music lovers spanning several decades in age — there are no drugged-out hippies simply looking to party or 12-year-olds hoping for a glimpse of MGMT here.
Kutsher’s in itself seems the unlikely place for a music festival. Once a hotbed of the famed Borscht Belt strip of predominantly Jewish summer resorts in the Catskills, the compound — as well as the surrounding community of Monticello — now sits in various states of disrepair, a tangible testament to the country’s ever-fluctuating economic climate.
Throughout the weekend, attendees continually remarked that Kutsher’s felt like a haunted resort; a wrong turn down some deserted hallway and the getaway could seemingly turn into a scene from The Shining. One audience member even remarked that the flamboyant pink wallpaper and cheesy paintings in his suite reminded him of his Jewish grandmother’s house.
“Honestly,” Randall mused as he gestured sadly to the worn and dated décor of his band’s Kutsher hotel suite. “Just look at this place.”
The residents of the areas surrounding Kutsher’s have grown to appreciate the impact of the festival upon their mountain communities. Asking my friend if she was in town for the festival, the cashier at the local Wal-Mart remarked that ATP was “the only thing [Monticello] has anymore.”
While many music events bring noise complaints from neighbors and worries of the “wrong” crowd descending upon a secluded area, ATP and Monticello have developed a symbiosis of sorts; now, it appears Kutsher’s may be saved from demolition by the revenue brought in from ATP alone.
For all its wonderful perfections, All Tomorrow’s Parties had its fair share of pitfalls: the smaller of the two stages experienced terrible reverberations from the room’s back wall all weekend; a member of the band Black Moth Super Rainbow’s entourage accidentally shattered a chandelier when he tossed a water bottle into the crowd, sending glass shards flying and injuring several audience members; Kutsher’s three ATMs ran out of money daily as patrons gleefully purchased cash-only concessions and drinks.
Aside from ATP’s technical faults that befall all music-related events, the lineup — and even the small group of festival-goers — seemed to lack a certain diversity. I should have taken heed, however, as several female repeat attendees warned me that ATP tends to be, for lack of a better phrase, “a sausage fest.”
“It’s a bit upsetting,” said Crystal Castles’ frontwoman Alice Glass before a performance by the Athens, Ga.-based pop group Circulatory System — one of the few groups with two females among its ranks. “That’s the only thing about [All Tomorrow’s Parties] this year I haven’t liked.”
Female performers peppering the lineup during the three days could be counted on both hands, and female-led bands were an even rarer sight: the 14-piece orchestral pop group, Caribou Vibration Ensemble, brought no female musicians to the festival, and the only women onstage with the Flaming Lips were scantily clad dancers made to look like go-go-dancing bear/cat hybrids.
Musical sexism aside, ATP’s unique conglomeration of multiple musical generations manifested itself as a part of No Age’s Sunday night performance when Randall and No Age drummer Dean Spunt shared their set with Bob Mould, frontman of the legendary punk group Hüsker Dü.
As Randall, Spunt and Mould blazed through some of Hüsker Dü’s greatest songs — in addition to several No Age songs, as well as a Ramones cover of “Chinese Rock” featuring Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox — it suddenly became clear that All Tomorrow’s Parties is truly an irreplaceable gem of the music festival world.
All Tomorrow’s Parties really has something special on its hands. The sheer lack of pretension, the intimacy, the strangeness, the magic and the seclusion — nothing like this could happen at any other festival in any other part of the world.
I am certain I was not alone in this sentiment as everyone flooded out of Kutsher’s Monday morning to head back home, already speaking about their plans to return the following year.