Updated Thu, Mar 15, 2012 10:06 pm
The 6th annual Aquabear County Fair returns to Athens on March 9 and 10. This year, the event will be spread across four venues: Donkey Coffee, Casa Nueva, The Union and O’Betty’s Red Hot (on Union). The schedule includes 16 acts and admission is free.
WOUB's Elliot Nicholson spoke with Brian Koscho, a familiar name to many in the regional music scene. In addition to co-managing Aquabear Legion, Koscho is the marketing and promotions director at Stuart’s Opera House and is a key player in organizing the Nelsonville Music Festival. We spoke about Aquabear Legion and how the County Fair has grown over the years.
EN: How and why was Aquabear conceived?
KB: Aquabear was started in 2004 by Todd Jacobs and myself; we basically run it with the help of a lot of other people. It started as a vague idea to do something that hadn’t really been done. One thing we noticed was that there’s a lot of great music in our hometown of Cleveland, so the theory was, at the beginning, to kind of connect Athens and Cleveland more; to promote all that different music.
EN: Concerning the County Fair, is this the biggest year yet?
KB: This year we have 16 bands, and I believe that’s the most we’ve ever had. The difference this year is that it’s all in two days. Last year we did the Fair Thursday through Sunday, but this year we’re doing four venues in two days, including O’Betty’s, which is kind of crazy, I think. But I’m pretty excited about it. Each year we’ve tried to grow the Fair a little bit, and do a little bit more.
EN: Regarding the O’Betty’s show, how are you going to do that? Is it going to be acoustic?
KB: Well, it's not going to be acoustic, but it's not going to be real loud. When we started planning the Fair, we wanted to do something during the day on Saturday. Once they opened up the new O’Betty’s, it just stuck out as an idea. As far as the logistics, I’d like to tell you I know how it’s going to work [laughter]. But we’ll probably just move a couple tables out and set up in the corner. We’re going to do it at 3 p.m., smack-dab in the middle of the lunch and dinner rush, and hopefully keep some people in there. I just think the uniqueness of having bands play in the hot dog shop is pretty cool [more laughter].
EN: This year, admission is free at every venue. Is that an important aspect of this year's County Fair, and is that how future County Fairs will be presented?
BK: Ideally, that’s the way I would like to do it. The goal of Aquabear is to get this music heard, and get people out. The main goal is always to get people to hear the music, not to make money. So ideally I would like to see it go that way. I think it makes things more accessible, adds another level of excitement, and hopefully it just becomes one of those things where everybody tells everybody to come.
Friday, March 9 schedule:
Donkey Coffee will showcase three acts starting at 7 p.m., including Sovroncourt, Chris Biester and Moon High.
Columbus, Ohio's Sovroncourt performs solo during his live sets, but his albums and EPs showcase a much fuller, albeit lo-fi, brand of folk. His peculiar vocal style grows on the listener over time, with soulful nuances and a welcoming tone.
Athens' Chris Biester follows Sovroncourt. Biester fronted the legendary Appalachian Death Ride for many years and currently hosts Open Stage at the Casa Cantina. Having performed at last year's Aquabear County Fair and Nelsonville Music Festival, the sound of his dusty, travel-themed folk tunes should be familiar to local music fans.
The moody Columbus folk quartet Moon High rounds out the evening at Donkey. Fresh off the release of their most recent LP, Six Suns, Moon High have been catching the ear of an ever-growing number of fans and critics. Moon High’s precisely-constructed, melancholy compositions brings early Neil Young to mind, and leaves the listener wondering what’s next from this quartet.
At 10:30 p.m., the festivities move to Casa Cantina, where four (much louder) acts will be featured: Weird Science, Sundown, Hex Net, and The D-Rays.
Athens band Weird Science's sound is reminiscent of proto-punk giants such as The Stooges and MC5, which contrasts with fellow local act Hex Net, a band that draws its sound from '60s psychedelic rock groups like Moby Grape and Vanilla Fudge.
The D-Rays are another Athens-based group that specialize in their own brand of stripped-down garage-surf rock. If you’re a fan of Dick Dale or garage-rock bands like The Mummies, the D-Rays are a group you won’t want to miss.
Columbus-based Sundown has been growing in popularity after the release of their debut six-track album Mansion Burning! Sundown, which is scheduled to perform at Austin, Texas' South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, has a sound that falls somewhere between traditional country and Dinosaur Jr. This makes for a mesmerizing brand of easy-listening shoegaze rock, which the band has dubbed “Cosmic American” music.
Saturday, March 10 schedule:
At 3 p.m., Athens band Octopus and Owl will be taking the stage with Bonzai at O’Betty’s Red Hot on Union. Between Octopus and Owl’s quirky, old-timey vibe and Bonzai’s exploratory organ solos (not to mention a hot dog-eating audience), it's bound to be an interesting afternoon set.
The Aquabear County Fair's finale will start at 9 p.m., with seven bands scheduled to play at The Union: Dropdead Sons, Wheels On Fire, Freshkills, The Kyle Sowashes, Sportfishing USA, State Park and Weedghost.
Athens/Columbus act Dropdead Sons perform low-down, gritty big beat music with intense attitude. Local band Wheels on Fire will be a familiar name to many in the Aquabear crowd. The band's surf-inspired power-pop will be featured at this year's SWSX.
Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., Freshkills play post-hardcore tunes complete with a bold, lyrical front man who conjures up the spirit of mid-'70s Bowie. Columbus' Kyle Sowashes are an indie-pop outfit that feature catchy riffs and irreverent lyrics.
Yellow Springs' Sportfishing USA have been making a name for themselves in Athens with their mix of folk-rock tunes and instrumentals. State Park is a new local band that favors a dense, driving, drone-y sound. And finally, the loop-based, atmospheric Weedghost will perform in-between sets.
For more information, visit www.aquabearlegion.com.