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Four More Months

It's November. I don't even know what I'll be doing on New Year's Eve, let alone next March. A lot can happen in the next four months. A band can form, record an album, play a few shows, and break up within that time span. Hell, if I could have predicted in November '04 the car accident I was in the following March, I might have — I dunno — not driven toward the damned sunset. But if there's one thing Fats does know, it's that I'll be at the Langerado Music Festival the weekend of March 9, 2007. I know that date now because I got it straight from the source — Ethan Schwartz and Mark Brown, the guys who've been working to make Langerado something of a household name for music fans. Now in its third year at Markham Park in Sunrise (or "way the hell out west" for us east-of-95ers), this year's Langerado — the fifth overall — is slated to be the biggest one yet. The formerly two-day festival has grown to three, and an extra hour has been added to each day. However, the one thing there won't be too much of, ironically, is music. That doesn't mean they're cutting the number of performers (there's that extra day, of course), but the simultaneous performances have been scaled back a little.

"We did a survey to get audience feedback after last year's event, and they said there was too much music going on," Brown told me. "We're going to cut one of the main stages. We're hoping to give people a greater opportunity to check out all the music."

And just what does "all the music" mean this year? Well, there's all the familiar names that have rocked past festivals (Toots & the Maytals; Medeski, Martin, and Wood; Mofro; Soulive) and a few newbies-but-goodies (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Blackalicious). Topping off the already topnotch bill are Widespread Panic, Matisyahu, and Trey Anastasio. (The complete lineup can be found at Altogether, there'll be about three dozen bands that weekend. So it's a damned good thing the old curfew of 9 p.m. has been extended an hour.

Last year's lineup, while seen by many fans as the best one because of its more indie-rock-oriented cast (Wilco, Brazilian Girls, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), didn't initially sit well with everyone. But that all changed once the event actually happened.

"When last year's lineup was announced, it seemed like it might have alienated some of the jam band fans who'd been coming out since year one," Brown said. "They'd say, 'Who's this band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or the Brazilian Girls or Kinky?' But I think after they got to see those bands live, it turned them on. There was a whole different reaction after seeing them."

Schwartz echoed that sentiment.

"People would send me e-mails saying, 'What happened to all the jam bands?'" he recalled. "But then afterward, I'd get e-mails from the very same people thanking us for turning them on to these bands."

And really — exactly what is it that makes a band a jam band? It's more than just songwriting. A hip-hop group like the Roots (not on the Langerado bill) would be as home here as the North Mississippi Allstars (who are coming). The essence of jam music lies in the style of execution, and it's largely tied to a band's live performance.

"Even when we first started it and it was very jam band-oriented, we always tried to bring in many different genres under that [jam music] umbrella," Schwartz said. "But as someone who's listened to jam bands for so many years, I wanted to listen to what the bands were listening to, to hear where they get their influences. There's just so many kinds of music out there that you can put under that umbrella."

Brown and Schwartz aim to make Langerado more than a campground with music. It's not Woodstock, nor is it Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, or even Lollapalooza — it's more like Sunrise City Limits-apalooza (or something).

"One thing Mark and I have done is travel around to a lot of different festivals," Schwartz said, explaining his and Brown's research process. "We got turned on to a lot of different music. We'd meet with the managers, and they'd tell us all about what they're doing. So now we're trying to combine our favorite aspects of these events."

Keep in mind, Bonnaroo is held on a farm in Tennessee. Markham Park ain't no farm, and this certainly ain't Tennessee.

"It's not an all-out camping festival, although we love Bonnaroo, and it definitely has that element," Brown said. "There's a 2,000-person limit for camping at Markham Park, so not all the attendees will be able to camp. It's also a city event."

And by that, Brown means outside venues like Revolution and the Culture Room will again host afterparties with some of the bands (Disco Biscuits and Mofro, to name a couple). As Schwartz points out, not every out-of-towner will be there for Langerado.

"We want to take advantage of everything else that's going on," he noted. "A lot of people will be down for spring break. There's stuff going on all around town."

Still, Langerado is an event most of its attendees travel to see.

"I'd say about 60 percent of the crowd comes from 100 miles or further," Brown estimated.

Schwartz answered my next question before I could ask it: "The park managers came to us afterward saying there were license plates from everywhere — even Alaska and Hawaii."

Damn, and I bitch about having to drive west of 441. Then again, when there are somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000 people at a single event, I wouldn't be surprised if a few came with visas. And to think Langerado started out as a 3,500-person event only a few years ago. But it is, after all, a full-time project.

"We work on this all year long," Brown said. "The minute one festival's over, we begin work on the next year's. We build a city that lasts for three days."

And now there's that extra hour too. So tell your pals in Walla Walla, Washington, to get plane tickets for early March. Make sure your friends in Sacramento fill up their bio-fueled bus. Oh, and for all you east-of-95ers, make sure to do your westward driving well before 6 p.m. That sun can be a real pisser.

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Jason Budjinski

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