Big Head Todd and the Monsters at the 2013 Rosewood Crawfish Festival | photo by Sean Rayford
It’s been a while since 1997, a fact that many of Columbia’s music festivals seem keen to ignore. But while this fixation is widespread — St. Pat’s in Five Points has often depended on ‘90s-era alt-rock as one of its tent poles — none have dived deeper into this grungy pool than the annual Rosewood Crawfish Festival.
What: Rosewood Crawfish Festival
Where: Rosewood neighborhood
When: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday, May 3
With: Everclear, Lefty at the Washout, John Wesley Satterfield, more
Price: $12 ($9 advance)
More Info: rosewoodcrawfishfest.com
Everclear, whose simply driving strums and raggedly relayed daddy issues sparked an intense burst of fame two decades ago, ride their slowly dwindling renown to the top of Saturday’s 2014 lineup. Past headliners include Gin Blossoms, Marcy Playground, Tonic, Better Than Ezra, Eve 6 and Big Head Todd and the Monsters, other groups that grabbed their 15 minutes with a few choice hits released before the turn of the century.
For Dave Britt, the guy who booked all those bands, it’s just a matter of giving the people what they want. In fact, the annual crustacean feast and musical celebration has actually built a reliable draw around these increasingly dated offerings — for both better and worse.
“If I had my way, Dr. Dog would be the headliner,” the veteran promoter and festival organizer offers, name-checking a popular group of indie rock road warriors. “But if I ask 30 or 40 people what they think about the band and they say, ‘Who?’ that’s a problem.
To Britt, the idea of using his position as a booking agent to force his own taste isn’t the point. He’s interested in doing what works. And the numbers don’t lie: The festival has grown from 3,000 attendees in 2005 to at least 10,000 at last year’s event.
“The festival caters to a certain demographic,” he explains, pointing out that the festival is primarily intended to attract crowds to Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood, not to emerge as a cutting-edge music festival. He also draws a distinction between the Crawfish and St. Pat’s, which skews towards college kids rather than the families and professionals who descend upon Rosewood. And while Britt’s proud of his fleeting attempts to push those boundaries — such as adding the Columbia-launched rapper Ben G and the reggae-rocking The Movement to last year’s festival — he says that these forward-thinking choices haven’t gone over as well as he’d hoped.
But Britt has found another outlet for his ambition in Rosewood’s local offerings, which once again make up the bulk of this year’s 17-band schedule. The programming leans heavily on jam, folk and pop-rock bands and eschews hip-hop or anything particularly heavy or electronic, but the selections are still decently diverse. On Saturday, indie-friendly rockers like The Restoration, Dear Blanca, American Gun and Chris Compton share the bill with familiar country and folk talents Danielle Howle, John Wesley Satterfield and Dr. Roundhouse.
“I try to play a bit on the nostalgia side, a bit on the indie side, a bit on the jammy side,” Britt explains.
Despite this local appeal, it’s hard not to see the relative success of the Jam Room Music Festival’s adventurous rock bands or the well-attended concerts put on by the Indie Grits Film Festival as evidence that eclectic and cutting-edge offerings can work in Columbia. And while nostalgia will always draw, it shouldn’t be the only tool in the kit.
Of course, Britt has a response for that criticism, too: “There are lots of opinions,” he says. “Music is a fairly subjective experience. I just try to please as many people as possible in the budget.”
And considering the throngs likely to crowd Rosewood Drive this weekend, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
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