For the sake of striking up a much-needed conversation, let’s imagine that a team of big dick swinging promoters was exploring the possibility of hosting a major South by Southwest-esque music festival in Boston. For the sake of second references, let’s speculatively call it North by Northeast (NXNE) – even though that’s corny and should never be repeated outside the context of this article (and because, as my homeboy Trees notes below, because it already exists in Toronto). While we’re thinking happy thoughts, let’s also imagine that it would be a massive week-long donkey punch designed to consume Boston the way that only sports and liberalism do now (and that no current music fest comes even close to).
In reality, I’m almost certain that no city – including New York or Los Angeles – could truly execute what the good folks at the Austin Chronicle do each March; it took a quarter-of-a-century for this beast to evolve into the freshest four days on the American calendar. But in flipping through notes from my final weekend at SXSW 2009, I realized that nearly everything I wrote could fit into one of two categories: reasons why NXNE could go down in Boston, and reasons why it couldn’t. I also figured this exercise could be more entertaining than one of my typical overwritten, under-thought dispatch rants. That said; please don’t take any of this seriously; unless, of course, you’re the sort of masochistic daredevil who thinks they can deliver this sort of mass mayhem to the cities on the Charles.
The Boston Police Department will probably arrest the headliners. If promoters got Ozzy Osbourne as the token week-ending act, police would likely cuff and stuff him on account of some zoo animal he fucked in Boston back in 1977. If they booked U2 for the main event, police would probably – and hopefully – arrest Bono for being the subject of Kevin Cullen’s lamest column of all time.
NEMO fucked it up for everyone. Unlike a lot of people who detest the New England Music Organization just for sport, I have a legitimate gripe with the team that threw the now-defunct NEMO festival. The myopic assholes hardly included any hip-hop, and also never used their clout with CMJ to get Boston rappers into that festival. If someone does try doing NXNE, the marketing literature should specify something like, “Not brought to you by the same fools behind that miserable old conference that used to happen here.”
Our transportation lines blow. Since Boston doesn’t have a strip with nearly as many venues as Austin’s 6th Street, people would have to travel between areas like Central Square, Fenway, Jamaica Plain, and Allston. And we all know what that’s like without millions of extra visitors in town. The only way to make this work would be to provide massive shuttle fleets, and to extend train hours until at least one hour after last call.
Drink specials are pretty much against the law. As every Bostonian who spends more money every month on drinking than do their friends in New York City has likely realized, there’s no happy hour around here. During the third annual Chris Faraone’s Free Shit Pub Crawl, I was reminded that complimentary booze-fueled day parties are integral attractions. Considering that I’ve been to some events around the Bean where club owners circumvent senseless laws by running promotions, I’m willing to concede that this concern might be less dire than I’m making it. But until I can leave work at 5pm and get hammered for less than ten bucks, it’s remaining in this column.
Our city shuts down too early. While Cambridge and Boston’s conservative closing times saved my life when I moved here from New York – where the 5am curfew inspires all sorts of degenerate activities – they would crush the spirit of any music festival striving for legitimacy. Afterparties are critical, and I can only imagine Red Bull or The Fader approaching City Hall for permits to erect gigantic tents in open parking lots and serve free booze until five in the morning.
Ciphers won’t be welcome in the street. For me, the best treats at SXSW are rhyme circles that break out on corners outside nearly every rap show (if MySpace has turned the hip-hop community into the equivalent of an on line university, then SXSW is like the one time each semester where the class meets in person). For some reason, I just don’t see this sort of thing happening on Copley Square without authorities or white people freaking out. As for unlicensed street performers – just ask musicians who do have licenses how much shit they deal with to earn legal wages, and how out-of-towners might be greeted if they sit on Lansdowne Street with guitars and collection plates.
You can’t smoke weed in Boston clubs. I would attempt to count the number of times this past week that I witnessed people roll and light blunts within feet of bouncers and security guards, but I smoked way too much to remember. The type of people who frequent these extravaganzas are the sort who like getting stoned, and when they find out that they can’t burn freely there could be problems. The same goes for artists like my man Classified, who straight up roasted two spliffs on stage at the Music Gym. On the other hand, though, the fact that you can’t get locked for holding small amounts here could boost our street cred.
We don’t have Jack-in-the-Box. This isn’t necessarily a reason against NXNE feasibility, but rather something that would bother me if it ever went down. One of my favorite things about traveling is sampling foreign fast food restaurants, and, if I don’t have to travel, I’ll be stuck grubbing Burger King and McSqueeze all week like usual. Maybe it’s just me.
People in Austin may be cooler than people in Boston. While Austin streets energetically exploded for four straight days this past week, a sad and shitty bar named – I hate even writing this – Coyote Ugly sat virtually empty. At one point I even heard Foreigner playing on the jukebox. If there was such a place in Boston, there would at least be some meatballs hanging out there no matter how much sweet new music was available to discover nearby.
Live Nation will most likely play along. As much as the segment of the music community that deplores corporate venues and ticket surcharges would probably like to avoid dealing with the entertainment giant, it’s a simple reality that Live Nation venues – from the Orpheum to the Bank of America Pavilion to the new House of Blues – will be needed as the cornerstones of such an undertaking. Their clubs and music halls in Austin participate, so I don’t see why it would be a problem here.
We have Berklee College of Music. That’s right – one of the best and most respected music schools on earth is located directly in the middle of our city. In addition to the support that Berklee would definitely lend to such an effort (they throw a bash in Austin every year), the fact that leagues of now-touring artists spent time here would only add to the lure for big ticket bands that NXNE would need to attract.
Boston rhymes with Austin. As far as people in the Netherlands and Japan are concerned, Austin and Boston are just a few letters apart. Am I suggesting that we trick foreign bands into coming? Sure – why not?
We have enough college kids to fill venues. The key to SXSW success – and that of any other music conference – is to attract enough fans to simultaneously pack dozens – if not hundreds – of venues. The parties in Austin – especially those rocking on the outskirts of downtown – are mostly stocked with college kids (even though UT kids are on Spring Break), who drunkenly fill in spaces where credentialed out-of-towners aren’t. With more than 30 schools, Boston has comparable manpower; whether underage drinking will be as permitted and rampant – and if Boston co-eds are as much a bunch of hi-heeled whores as the Austin belles – is another question altogether.
There's an abundance of better-than-good artists here. Of course it's obvious that Boston, Cambridge, and the surrounding areas have enough solid acts to provide the backbone for such a conference, but I left it out of the first draft of this spiel. So there it is.
I Set My Friends on Fire. That actually has nothing to do with this list – it’s just an emo band name that’s had me cracking up all week. I can totally see some high school kid saying something like, “Yeah – I mean, why wouldn’t you set your friends on fire?” I digress…
Texas is supposed to suck more than Massachusetts. In some ways, I shouldn't just concede that there could never be a better music conference here than in the state that’s bred some of the most horrid conservative Neanderthals this planet’s ever seen. I know this is relatively ignorant - and that Tom Delay has nothing to do with music, but, if for no other reason, someone has to mess with Texas just on principle.
The most hyped afterparty would get shut down. I know what you’re thinking – why is this a reason that NXNE could happen in Boston? Well – on my last night, the late night Red Bull fandango got cock blocked by cops before Erykah Badu and The Crystal Method performed. I spoke with some people behind the scenes, and got the impression that Austin’s finest came for one last handout; when they didn’t get it – they said there was a noise complaint (even though we were in the middle of an industrial wasteland). Now that’s definitely the kind of buzz kill that we could handle up here.
The Phoenix has clout. While in Austin I saw the SXSW premier of For the Love of Movies – a Gerald Peary documentary about film criticism. Not only was the film spectacular, but it was also eye-opening for a reporter on assignment; I particularly agree with Pulitzer Prize winning 1930s film critic Robert Sherwood, who once wrote, “I would go to the movies even if I weren’t paid to;” I feel the same way about chugging canned beer and assaulting my eardrums night after night.
Anyway – in the film, The Boston Phoenix is mentioned several times for having bred several of America’s top critics. Sure, Peary is a Phoenix alum, but the sentiments only confirmed what I already knew from talking to people around Austin all week, and by the amount of web surfers checking out our coverage: that heads everywhere know about and appreciate us spreading news about alternative arts and culture – maybe even enough to take time out of their busy party schedules to come spend a week in our city.