Impressions of Whartscape 2009: Day Three
by Tim Kabara
Impressions of Whartscape 2009: Day Three
I returned to Whartscape 2009 after a shift as a popcorn shill, in step with the happy thump of Lord Scrummage. Six hours had passed and approximately fourteen acts had already performed on Day Three. Yes, I had missed AK Slaughter and The Crazy Dreams Band and Zomes, but there were still things to look forward to. After my brief, initially anxious encounter with the festival yesterday, I was determined to make that mega-pass work.

And work it did. I pumped my fist along with Blood Baby for the fourth consecutive year, got down to Height w/Friends, met the Magnet City Kids, sampled some Gary War, bopped along with Future Islands, tranced out to Teeth Mountain, got hit in the head with a plastic inflatable drum amidst the righteous fury of a back from tour/ready to bring it Double Dagger, surveyed dark audio depths with Wolf Eyes, and saw the Dan Deacon Ensemble bend and tweak their songbook, the crowd completely in tune with the experience. As Josh Kelberman lead the teeming crowd out the gate to dance ecstatically on North Avenue, I was more than getting my money’s worth. And yet, the night was still young. By Sunday, things were a lot different a year ago.

By the third Whartscape in 2008, another year of growth and expansion on the part of the Wham City collective had lead to a much larger and variegated event. People were traveling en masse to come to Baltimore to witness the spectacle, and may have had little to no idea as to what the name was a goof on until they were stuck in the middle of its gridlock and hassles (the decision to hold the event this year the week before Artscape was a wise one). Theater/lecture/sit-down-and-watch sort of things went down on the first night at the Charles theater, the second night having a more quiet vibe at the 2640 space. More rock-type things happened both at an outdoor parking lot and at Sonar, a friendly local club. Finally, the party moved to the Annex space for what was four days worth of event. Mega massive ultra.

Due to some health problems, I was immuno-compromised that year, and these events seemed like everything my doctor had told me to avoid: sweaty crowds, excessive heat, germy places… I imagine she would have issued some stern warnings had my weekend plans been known, and I did try to tread carefully. But still, the highlights of Whartscape 2008 for me where many: the Missoula Oblongata putting on a whole dag-gonned play to kick things off, my initiation into the wild world of Nuclear Power Pants, the re-formed Oxes showing the crowd how it was done while police helicopters hovered, a solo Dan Deacon working some serious crowd wizardry at the bottom of the blistering hot parking lot on North near Howard… the list could go on.

There has been much made in certain circles of the decision to make Whartscape smaller. This was a dangerous move, as it opens Wham City up to calls of being exclusionary and elitist. This is America, after all, and the false doctrine of continual and rapacious growth still holds sway, even as the evidence of the folly of this operating mode piles up around us like so many vacant luxury condos. Shouldn’t Whartscape be brought to us by Boost Mobile and Scion? Shouldn’t this year’s event be even bigger, going for an entire week, maybe? Why didn’t Kanye play?

But when the ultimate point is to be involved and engaged in a creative community, these concerns falls by the wayside. If you wanted complete access to Whartscape this year, it is true you had to plan ahead. I can think of multiple occasions over the course of the last year when many of the acts were performing and there were only a handful of people there. There would have been little planning involved on these occasions, and more attendees certainly would have been welcomed. I was there, more often than not. Were you?

My evening came to a happy conclusion at the Load of Fun space. As was the case throughout Day Three, the familiarity with the format and the layout helped me be at ease. Rap Dragons roared, Nautical Almanac created strange new worlds of image and sound, Polygons made math rhythms bump, and Lizz King brought the house down, smashing the world via table top. After spending some time contemplating the mystery of James Petz via a personal visitation and interaction, it was time to go home. As I compose this sentence, Whartscape 2009 still has an hour left to go.

This weekend was clearly a feast for someone like me, someone who has become, since stumbling into those early warehouse shows, increasingly and happily entangled in this community, which is ever mutating, ever evolving. The intimacy has changed my perspective in many ways, but I remain resolute that, as everything continues to happen, I will look forward to what's next. This is because I am surrounded by people who care and people who are trying, despite it all, to make something interesting even now, when everything has seemingly been done before, to change the formulas and re-write the codes and to try not to repeat themselves too much, to where it becomes boring.

I have offered these reports as my letters to the part of the world that cares about the goings-on in one corner of Baltimore these days. I don’t know if what I have had to say has had any merit, but I do hope that my rawboned impressions will offer some insight into the wonder that was Whartscape in 2009.
Posted by: Tim Kabara

Features (July 13th, 2009)