In Arthur, we trust
A step-by-step guide to siphoning gasoline from SUVs. A weekly feature in which indie rock heroes such as Will Oldham share their favorite recipes. An advice column authored by 85-year-old bluesman T-Model Ford.
These are the kinds of stories found in the pages of Arthur, a free bimonthly magazine dedicated to under-the-radar art, music and views.
On Sunday and Monday, however, the underground takes the stage when the 3-year-old ‘zine mounts ArthurFest -- a two-day celebration of music and culture at Barnsdall Art Park in Los Feliz. The event features Yoko Ono; a host of respected indie rock bands such as Sonic Youth, Spoon and Sleater-Kinney; and a smattering of rare films, poetry and other creative outbursts.
That a publication such as Arthur -- which relies on an all-volunteer network to distribute its 50,000 copies to 900 locations nationwide -- could front such a festival speaks to its independent spirit and sense of community.
“I call it the next iteration of DIY,” says Arthur editor/mastermind Jay Babcock, referencing the initials that became an indie rock ethos in the 1980s. “Instead of do it yourself, it’s DIO -- do it ourselves.
“Most of the [magazine’s] contributors work for nothing or for trade. It’s a different way of doing things and it’s a different amount of trust involved. It allows you to put a labor of love out there instead of just a labor for gold.”
It also fosters the kind of artistic sprawl that will transform the 36-acre art park from a quiet, hilltop oasis into vibrant scene with three stages of entertainment for a crowd expected to number about 2,000.
“I grew up in Hollywood and used to go to Barnsdall Park for arts and crafts classes,” says Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, whose classic rock-fueled new album “The Woods” was championed in Arthur’s pages. “That was my childhood haunt; it’ll be really interesting going back and playing a show.”
Like the magazine, Arthur’s leap to the stage was far from a do-it-yourself enterprise. Inspired by earlier success with an Arthur-sponsored show at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival, Babcock teamed with Spaceland Productions’ Mitchell Frank to assemble his “dream bill,” a diverse lineup of artists that would provide a home for not only his favorite bands but also the magazine’s growing legion of readers.
“We’re sort of this lifeline to a lot of people, especially outside major cities, who get the magazine from their coffee house or some weird video store at the edge of town,” Babcock says from his Atwater Village apartment, which doubles as Arthur’s headquarters. “Part of this festival is a coming out party to say, ‘Here we are.’ ”
Although booking a concert of any size can be fraught with logistical pitfalls, the goodwill generated by the magazine among musicians and artists helped make booking a relatively headache-free process.
“People really wanted to be a part of this,” says Spaceland’s Frank, whose Silver Lake club has long served as an incubator for up-and-coming artists. “We were getting offers from people who would’ve bitten their arms off to play it -- that literally was a quote of the day.”
“All these outdoor rock festivals seem the same, but I really think this is going to be different,” says Dan Auerbach of supercharged blues duo the Black Keys. “It’s Jay, and it’s Jay’s vision for a festival.”
FOR the uninitiated, the bulk of ArthurFest offers a peek at some of the wilder tributaries of the underground. From the unhinged psyche-rock of the Bay Area’s Comets on Fire to the danceable electro-funk of the Juan MacLean, ArthurFest’s lineup includes nods to free jazz, acoustic freak-folk and spaced-out drone explorations. When not performing, 85-year-old bluesman T-Model Ford will even reprise his role as Arthur’s advice columnist for festival attendees.
In short, ArthurFest hopes to offer something for everyone, while at the same time acknowledging that none of its performers are for everybody.
“It’s true, most of the people coming might not [care] about the films or some of the more avant-garde acts,” he says. “But at least it’s available, and if they’ve got 20 minutes to burn while they’re waiting for Spoon, maybe they’ll go check it out and have their minds blown.”
With its expansive schedule it’s tempting to compare ArthurFest with the summer’s massive Coachella Music and Arts Festival. A fair comparison, if Coachella promised easy public transportation access, mild temperatures and, most importantly, space.
“This is a really small event, maybe 1/50th the size of Coachella,” Frank says. “The Wiltern sells more tickets than we’re going to sell. But there’s going to be picnic areas and lots of grass if you just want to hang out and get away from the music for a while.”
Like its namesake, ArthurFest may be modest in size when compared with corporate-backed giants, but Babcock compensates with lofty ambitions. He plans on making the festival an annual event, and it’s easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm for its potential.
“At the minimum you’re going to hear good music, but there’s also the possibility that it will become something more significant,” he says hopefully.
“For people who are left-leaning or bohemian these are very dark, grim times, and this is going to be sort of a Technicolor oasis of freedom and imagination for two days. Sometimes that can carry you for a long time.”
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Where: Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz
When: 1 p.m., Sunday and Monday
Sunday performers: Sonic Youth, Sleater-Kinney, the Black Keys, T-Model Ford, the Night Porter, Wolfmother, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Magik Markers, Brightblack Morning Light, Merzbow, Six Organs of Admittance, Josephine Foster, Lavender Diamond, Circle, Radar Bros., Dos, Pole, Fatso Jetson, Winder Flowers, Residual Echoes, Viking Moses.
Monday performers: Yoko Ono, Spoon, Cat Power, the Oliva Tremor Control, Sunn O))), the Juan MacLean, Comets on Fire, Dead Meadow, Vetiver, Earth, Brad Laner, Merissa Nadler, Growing, Jack Rose, Nora Keyes, Modey Lemon, Geronimo, Future Pigeon, the Time Flys, the Young Jazz Giants.
Price: $40 per day, or $75 for a two-day pass
Info: (866) 468-3399 or www.ticketweb.com or www.arthurmag.com