It’s hard to criticize an event that’s provided such big-time indie acts as Son Volt, Superchunk, Blonde Redhead, The Mountain Goats, and Guided by Voices to Columbians free of charge. But if one were to pick nits with the first six years of Main Street’s annual Jam Room Music Festival, they might note how heavily it has leaned on nostalgia. While the above acts are great, important and influential, the earliest debut album among them dropped in 1995. Is Jam Room just a yearly celebration for the city’s still-trendy 30-and-40-somethings, or is it something more?
The answer in the last two years has been an emphatic, “Hell yeah!”
Last year, the festival crowned its lineup with the brazenly mutating and powerfully anthemic Baroness, the event’s first hard rock headliner, and a vital and ambitious force in modern metal.
This year’s follow-up represents a further step down this bolder path. Returning on Oct. 26, Jam Room makes a clever pivot by building around one of indie rock’s most potent current trends — female-fronted indie rock bands who bend sounds from the genre’s halcyon ’90s to their own ends, tweaking nostalgia and proving (for anyone still unclear) that gender has no bearing on your ability to shout or sing with an audible sneer or play a great elastic guitar riff.
Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee, which headlines this year’s festival, is one of the movement’s most beautifully adaptable acts, able to sound both fiercely confident and emotionally vulnerable whether surging through purgative swells of electric guitar (2017’s essential Out in the Storm) or plying her cuttingly pretty coo amid delicate bits of piano and acoustic guitar (last year’s Great Thunder EP). Her full-band Columbia performance should skew toward the former.
The all-female power trio Ex Hex is, without qualification, one of the best, most fun rock bands going right now. This year’s perfectly titled It’s Real charges zippy pop melodies and colorful textures with the gritty energy of ’80s-era hard rock — to intoxicating, compulsively fist-pumping effect.
Snagging a third attention-grabbing get, Jam Room smartly incorporates another massively popular trend: “serious” Americana. John Moreland’s sad-bastard laments are among the most devastatingly effective tunes to arrive in the wake of the Jason Isbells and Chris Stapletons of the world, and hearing them live and stripped back (the duo performance will feature spare bits of guitar, keys and harmonica) is a gut-punch in the best possible way.
There are plentiful treats among the supporting acts, as well, with great local mainstays (the also heart-rending ballads of Cayla Fralick and the expansive doom metal of Garrow, the indie-folk-rocked quasi-hymns of Stagbriar and the chamber-level country musicianship of The Boomtown Trio) and some fun lesser-known out-of-towners (the infectious slacker-pop of Charleston's Babe Club, the irreverent pop experiments of Philadelphia’s Arthur).
There is, as yet, no hip-hop, which leaves the bill feeling less diverse than previous installments. But otherwise, this is one impressive, of-the-moment festival lineup.
The full list of acts is below:
George Fetner and the Strays
The Boomtown Trio
The Mustache Brothers