All words: Robert Winship
If I saw twenty pairs of burned tits and tribal tattoos, then I saw 100. Festival goers were nice enough and anyone I chatted up for was kind to oblige my interest in their favorite band or number of Chili Cook-Offs they had attended. So despite what some will say, Saturday was not a grand mockery unto itself.
In the second season of the Futurama, Professor Farnsworth begins “A Bicyclops Built for Two” by announcing that after 3 years he has finally hooked up to the “The Internet” and sends the Planet Express crew to check it out via virtual reality suits. “The Internet” turns out to be the sleazy neon-lit purgatory of sex-advertising, games, sales and all the wastes of time we sophisticated types know it to be (Chappelle’s Show and Aqua Teen Hunger Force captured the concept as well). What if the internet was a place you could physically inhabit, and what if you could actually experience the mindless, time-wasting, and depraved behavior in some physical presence. As I roamed around the heavily littered festival grounds of RFK on Saturday, I began to see FM radio, not just as wavelengths and good old rock and roll machismo, it began to feel like a real place…a real-life purgatory for the perpetually bored or stoned or painfully mediocre. The DC101 Chili Cook-Off has been an annual DC course for 25+years now. But every year it’s a similar CD wallet of generic alternative rockers and of-the-moment radio rock.
I hustled down East Capitol Street toward the stadium and passed an army of DC policemen riding and waving in parade formation to those on the sidewalks. When I finally got down to the stadium it was pretty plain to see the economy of the day. You pass the parking lots of cars in a line to form up behind a trailer that was the ticket window line to get into the line to get into the cook-off, to get into the line to get beer tickets, to get into the line to be handed a Miller Lite, as any commercial or STP track would rumble out of your car stereo while you wait for segment upon segment just to get to something you like. And radio is usually about what you like or at least what most people like; it’s about what sounds good in the background. It’s about singing along to the hits of 70 years. When you finally get up to the swell of the crowd sounding out in praise of AWOLNATION, all you want is a shit beer and mediocre music. So the Chili Cook-Off isn’t so much about what you like as an individual, it’s a place to be where there IS music and beer and chili and girls….DUDE!
But for the bands that played, the day was better than the sellout 930 shows. All the beach balls and screaming and crowd surfing can’t help but propel your bar-chord swagger to its peak performance. The best band was The Airborne Toxic Event. I knew one song going in and none going out, but their Rancid (the band) vibe reignited a swilling and smoking and singing along befitting the show. Incubus, the headliners pushed a pretty even smattering from their records, including “A Certain Shade of Green” and a powerful, though somewhat out of the limelight focus of “Megalomaniac”.
Cake played a pretty short set, as John voice was not in its best shape, but you got the hits: “Short Skirt…”, “Italian Leather Sofa”,” The Distance”. I’m still pretty shocked at how much people LOVE Cake. It makes sense coming out of the swing and ska revival of the 90s, but John is still sing-talking his way through the same stuff. If I started to get to heady about any band, I just drank more beer and cheered. That’s what a festival should be: economy, good times and at least a few 90s hits.
The spiral of ridicule that can accompany a look outside ourselves should reference Andy Johnson. Andy cemented some ground rules for covering the least common denominators in his look at, and to some degree, conversion to Creed fandom at the Warner Theater a few weeks back. He laid out the dilemma and subsequent decision plainly. Any fun that exists in hating on a band, or in this case a festival, really only exists to the extent that a band takes itself seriously, which is not to say how seriously the band takes having fun. It’s easy to hate on the fifth wave of screamo kids and bands because they take themselves so goddamn seriously within the confines of a world largely devoid of serious life considerations. But every scene, no matter how ridiculous, has a place, as long as it has a fan-base. We fit in a sonic circle of life and at some point even the ICPs of this world have been around too long to ignore the magnitude of their influence, however seemingly bottom-feeder. It’s not hard to find things to ridicule about the day and let it be a chore, but accompanied by my adoptive frat buddies and warm day, why would I want to.