Festival showcases eclectic talent
By Dominick Duhamel
Oct. 18, 2006 9:00 p.m.
For every artist that breaks into the public eye, at least 10
are doomed to obscurity, despite having ample talent and a unique
approach to music. In a city that endorses only the commercially
sound, it’s rare that these voices are given a chance to be
heard. But Arthur Magazine is fighting to change that.
Arthur Nights, a four-night music festival that will run from
tonight until Sunday in downtown Los Angeles at the Palace Theatre,
will host a huge variety of underappreciated artists and styles,
the likes of which has not been seen in the city for some time.
“What we’re going for is a wide range of serious
musicians, people who aren’t being covered or recognized or
presented elsewhere in the way they deserve to be,” said Jay
Babcock, editor of Arthur Magazine.
Though the festival features some of indie music’s bigger
names, including Devendra Banhart, Comets on Fire and Be Your Own
Pet, its greatest offering will be rare performances by artists
such as Charalambides, Josephine Foster and Ruthann Friedman. Tav
Falco, one of the artists scheduled to play on Friday, hasn’t
made an appearance in Los Angeles in more than 10 years.
Clic here to listen to "Benton Harbor Blues," by The Fiery
“He’s nearing 60,” Babcock said. “They
do call him “˜the Dorian Gray of rock and roll,’ so
maybe he’ll be able to do this for decades more, but who
knows? It’s kind of a golden moment, when someone’s at
the peak of their powers before age catches them.”
Another aging legend who will be making an appearance is Bert
Jansch, a guitar hero to such notables as Neil Young and Jimmy
Page. Jansch has not been to the United States in more than eight
years. Babcock attributes these special appearances to the
relationship Arthur Magazine shares with the artists it covers.
“I think the connection is deeper because this magazine is
the labor of love, and love is deeper than commerce,” he
Scott McCarron, a fourth-year English student, noted that summer
2005’s ArthurFest was a festival experience unlike any
“The atmosphere felt less corporate,” he said.
“It felt more free. It felt like you were a part of something
According to McCarron, even the connection between the artists
and the audience has been stronger than that of a typical concert
at Arthur events past.
“The artists were walking around with the fans and they
were talking to everybody. I’ve never seen that before at a
festival,” he said. “Everybody just felt like a friend
The acts billed for Arthur Nights represent a cross section of
musical genres that includes ambient, shoegaze, noise-rock,
psych-folk, jazz and classic rock. In order to bring such a diverse
collection of largely undiscovered artists to Arthur Nights, Arthur
has established a network of people with a good ear for music to
“There are people who have really good antennae, and if
you network all those antennae together, you find amazing
things,” Babcock said. “And if you can bring that stuff
to an audience, hopefully it’s an “˜everyone wins’
situation: The artist has a bigger audience and can sustain a
career, and the audience is enriched by the artist’s artwork
Eleanor Friedberger is one half of the brother-sister duo The
Fiery Furnaces, who will headline Sunday with Comets On Fire. She
approves of the Arthur outlook.
“We’re really proud to be supported by them,”
Friedberger said. “Looking at the other listed bands,
it’s not your typical festival.”
What will make Arthur Nights even more intimate and rewarding is
the venue, the historic Palace Theatre, which was built in 1911 as
part of a chain of vaudeville theaters downtown. In the past, it
has hosted a diverse lineup of performers, including W.C. Fields,
Harry Houdini and the Marx Brothers.
“The main hall holds about 1,100 people,” Babcock
said. “It’s actually a pretty small room and it’s
divided so that, supposedly, there’s no seat that’s
more than 80 feet from the stage, which doesn’t seem
possible, but I guess that’s what they’ve done.
We’re also going to have music up on the fifth floor, in a
loft space overlooking Broadway, which is really
Friedberger, who could look at it with a musician’s
perspective, was also pleased with the venue chosen for Arthur
“The sound is always the biggest problem,” she said.
“You can never hear anything, and a lot of festivals are
outdoors and it’s always really hard, but this is the best
kind of festival because it’s inside and we get a sound
For fans of The Fiery Furnaces, Arthur Nights will also be a way
to see the group’s newly reorganized live show.
“It’s going to be a totally different show. (My
brother) Matt is just playing keyboards, and Jason Loewenstein, who
was playing bass with us, is playing guitar instead,” she
said. “Adding a percussionist has made things really
exciting. Hopefully people will actually move around when they
Using experience gained from events Arthur has organized in the
past, Babcock and those in charge of the festival say they have
also been working to make Arthur Nights an event that anyone can
“This is our third festival in 14 months. It’s been
an awful lot of work, and it’s been very gratifying each
time,” he said. “With this festival, we brought the
cost per night down and also made it all-ages, so hopefully this
festival is even more welcoming and accessible to everybody than
the previous two were.”
With such a large number of talented musicians, a wide range of
styles, numerous artists making rare appearances and an ideal
venue, it seems that Arthur Nights will be a singular occasion not
only for Arthur Magazine, but for underground music in Los Angeles
as well. Even Babcock, the man behind the event, can sense
something special at work.
“There’s some sort of spirit involved that runs
through the magazine’s pages and runs through these festivals
that’s very different from what you’ll find
elsewhere,” he said.