This past weekend, my bandmates and I in SPACESHIPS loaded up our van and drove out to Urbana, Illinois for the first Audiofeed Music Festival since 2019. I had hoped to spend the entire weekend there myself, but no one else in the band was able to make it work, and high gas prices aside, it would make no sense for me to drive a Ford Econoline full of gear by myself while everyone else drove separately. So I swallowed the bitter pill and changed my plans.
But what a single day it was.
As soon as we pulled into the Champagne County Fairgrounds (after the obligatory stop at the American Football house, of course), I could feel the love of the Audiofeed community washing over me. I called out to someone who I thought was my friend Tyler—it was not him. I introduced myself, and he said, “I know, it’s Matt,” and my synapses snapped into place as I remembered the conversation we had just the week before about whether or not he would be able to make it.
There were a lot of those moments throughout the Fest: people who I was once used to seeing every three months or six months at various festivals and tours milled about, now half-remembered as my brain tried to place which profile picture and online pseudonyms belonged to which people. A number of conversations started with, “remind me who you are again? It’s been a long three years.”
But that duration of time proved to be insufficient to destroy the connections forged in this community. Even before my synapses reconnected to remind me who exactly it was I was talking to, I was awash with hugs and laughter and conversations.
Then, of course, there were all the people I didn’t need any help placing. I quickly ran into old friends like Mikey Rosado from Wind Words, Andrew Alojipan from Kept on Hold (currently drumming for Wind Words), Kevin Schlereth, Jay Costlow, Jordan Doyle from Gaffer Project (who was cutting hair, as usual), Dave and Erica from Families, Joe McElroy and Noah Schaeffer of Oyarsa, Ricky and Lacey Terrell from All Hallowed, Chris Noyes from Adjy, Nate Allen from Destroy Nate Allen, Tobin Bawinkel from Flatfoot 56, Christiana Benton of The Still Small Voice, Zack and Jeff from the Audiofeed team, and fellow Tuned Up contributors Phil Hawkins (whose face I had never seen), Marco Castro, and Ryan Getz…among many, many others (but not my friend Tyler, sadly). There were so many friends who I was used to seeing every two or three months as we would run into eachother at other festivals, as they would tour through my town, as our bands would play together. After two and a half years, it felt like the biggest shred of normalcy I’ve had since the pandemic began.
I had a bit of anxiety coming back to this community after such a tumultuous period. Audiofeed has always attracted a diverse crowd from different political and spiritual persuasions. And as our society has grown increasingly more polarized, the Audiofeed community was no exception. Friends on either side of the political divide have moved further to their respective poles, leading to some ugly interactions on social media the last couple years. With recent events in our nation’s politics, I worried that Audiofeed might be a powder keg. To my great relief, that was untrue, with many of the most extreme members of the community absent from the fest at all. Some queer friends expressed the same apprehension, with an even greater relief.
The music was almost secondary to reuniting with old friends after two and a half years of isolation. And honestly, I missed a lot of sets while catching up with friends at the hospitality pavilion, and only being there one day, I missed a lot of sets that I would have loved to see (Idle Threat, Adjy, Narrow/Arrow, Flatfoot, Side Walk Slam, American Arson, Hushpad, Saint of Pine Hills, Must Build Jacuzzi…).
But the sets I did catch were wonderful. Wind Words played a rare full-band set that amplified Mikey Rosado’s folksy spirituals to the point where his mewithoutYou influence was much more prominent. The Cedar Shakes impressed me with a mix of alt country songwriting with post rock tinged guitar work. I’ve never been a fan of Listener, but their set gave me quite a few reasons to change my mind.
But one of the things that has always made Audiofeed feel so special is the Impromptu stage at the Front Porch. The first time I was there, a hardcore band played through as much of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory as they could in the time allotted. In 2019, I took part in an infamous mewithoutYou cover set (someone I didn’t know recognized me from that set and told me it was the best set he had ever seen at Audiofeed. I didn’t believe him).
This year, the Front Porch delivered the first-ever set by Oyarsa (which I was glad for, since I was missing their set on Sunday). I’ve known Noah and Joe a long time, and mourned the dissolution of Comrades and Eaves profoundly. So when they started a project together, I was already excited. When I heard their single, I was ecstatic. Their Impromptu set was a beautiful explosion of heavy, dreamy noise, tuning to Drop G# (you read that right) to create a crushing brand of heavy shoegaze in line with Holy Fawn, SOM, and Glassing. My anticipation for this project was already at a fever pitch, but now I’m almost delirious with excitement.
Our night was capped with a set from the one and only Pedro the Lion, who played a set that was very heavy on cuts from Havasu and Phoenix—which I won’t complain about. The set was relatively stripped: David Bazan played bass, flanked on either side by a drummer and an electric guitarist, both of whom seemed to be newer collaborators. But that appearance was only betrayed by the brief conversations between songs to clarify where certain changes were. There were a few older songs thrown into the mix: “Indian Summer,” which was slightly edited to refer to guns, “Bands With Managers,” where he altered the lyrics to clarify that now he drives himself, and “When They Really Get To Know You, They Will Run” from It’s Hard to Find a Friend. I found myself singing along with every word, but the most impactful performances for me were “Model Homes,” “Old Wisdom,” and “First Drum Set,” which I’m realizing more and more might be my favorite song of the year.
At one point, Bazan said, “here we are. In a tent. In Illinois. In the summer. And it. Is. Triggering.” The crowd laughed, and he clarified, “Not necessarily in a bad way, but damn.” Now, I never went to Cornerstone, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of that statement. But from what I can suss out, the community that I have come to love so much had much of its genesis in the mudpits of Bushnell, Illinois. That festival may be gone, but its spirit lives on in the relationships in this community and the music made among them.
As for my band, we’ve all decided that next year, we need to stay for the entire festival.