Sepomana The Curiously Successful Music Festival

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Author: Richard Lawless

First there was Woodstock. Then came Lollapalooza and then Woodstock II. And now there’s Sepomana, Middlebury College’s own annual celebration of indie music. Sponsored by WRMC 91.1 FM, the College’s radio station, Sepomana rocked the campus this past weekend.
Going strong in its third year, Sepomana broke with tradition and was split over two days – instead of being consolidated into one – with visiting artists performing Friday night and student bands taking the stage Saturday afternoon.
Artists as diverse as instrumental post-rockers Cul de Sac, hip-hop duo Roosevelt Franklin, singer/songwriter Josh Ritter and indie rockers the French Kicks ventured to Vermont to perform in Coltrane Lounge on Friday night.
Although the doors opened at seven, the music didn’t commence until around quarter to nine, with Cul de Sac kicking off the evening’s festivities. The Chicago natives, known for their highly innovative, genre-bending compositions, churned out waves of intense noise, which was surprisingly abrasive, given the more reserved nature of their recorded material.
Drummer Jon Proudman played a racing beat, as guitarist Glenn Jones and bassist Chris Fujiwara interwove their instruments with impressive skill. The band played for a solid half an hour but had to cut their set short when Jones’ amp blew out.
Jones apologized and told the crowd that they had just finished an extensive European tour and that their equipment was a tad worn.
Forming in 1990, Cul de Sac have been together for 13 years and have released six albums, including “Death of the Sun” this past February. Playing at colleges is not an unusual occurrence for Cul de Sac, as their 2002 album “Immortality Lessons” was comprised of the band performing live at Brandeis University’s radio station.
Next up was Roosevelt Franklin, an underground rap duo composed of Mr. Len and Kimani. The crowd responded warmly to the group’s highly infectious beats and witty, entertaining lyrics, especially when the group pulled out their song “Muppet Love.”
An east coast rapper, Mr. Len was formerly the DJ in the highly influential trio Company Flow from 1992 to 1999, when the group disbanded.
Two years after the group’s dissolution, Mr. Len released his first solo record, “Pity the Fool: Experiments in Therapy Behind the Mask of Music While Handing Out Dummys.” Rapper Kimani was formerly in the underground rap group Masterminds, formed at Wesleyan University in 1994.
The collaboration between Kimani and Mr. Len is a fusion of the charisma of old-school rap with a knack for experimentation and pushing the boundaries of hip-hop, while still keeping the music light and entertaining. An album under the Roosevelt Franklin moniker is due out later this year, and as the group asserts, “It will be amazing!”
The third act of the evening was Josh Ritter. Backed by a keyboardist, a bassist with handlebar moustache and a drummer, the Idaho native won over the audience with his charming alt-country and contemporary folk music.
The band fleshed out the songs, giving them a propulsive, energetic live feel. Often compared to fellow alt-country superstar Ryan Adams, of Whiskeytown fame, Ritter’s music is personal and touching, as well as highly acclaimed, which helped him secure the opening spot for Bob Dylan’s last tour. Thus far, Josh Ritter has released two albums, his most recent, “The Golden Age of Radio,” being a college radio favorite last year.
For his final song, Ritter took the stage alone, opting for the stripped-down, acoustic album version of perhaps his best known song, “Come and Find Me.” Boasting a sweet melody and earnest lyrics, the song was touching and ended Ritter’s set on a solemn note.
The headliners of the evening, the French Kicks, took the stage close to midnight. Part of the current garage-rock/retro revival of indie rock, the French Kicks sound like a catchier, more artsy version of the Strokes, playing such contagious songs as “Close to Modern” and “Wrong Side” from their debut album “One Time Bells,” released last year.
Driven by propulsive beats and infectious, bouncy bass lines, the French Kicks’ taut rhythm section made the music highly danceable, which went over quite well with the crowd. Officially from Brooklyn, the French Kicks’ original incarnation was composed of guitarist/singer Matt Stinchcomb, drummer Nick Strumpf and bassist Jamie Krents, all from Washington, D.C.
It was when the trio moved to New York that they found their fourth member, guitarist/singer Josh Wise. Finishing with a reprise of “Close to Modern,” the band ended their set with a bang.
The student portion of Sepomana kicked off around noon inside McCullough Social Space, due to the wet grounds from Friday’s rain. The first band, Lobster Duey, consisting of Will Roberts ’03 and Zachary Ambrose ’04, used ambient guitar noise to complement their minimalist, haunting compositions.
Shari Poons and the Funk Brigade took the stage next, opening with a cover of Portishead’s “Strangers,” featuring Sara Stranovsky ’04 on vocals.
Sophomore Ari Joseph’s saxophone complemented the tight rhythms of drummer Matt Coons ’04 and the funky keyboard playing of Samuel Stevenson ’05.
Finishing up with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Shari Poons next gave the stage to punk group, The Royal We. A blend of emo and ska, The Royal We came complete with a “Super Mario Brothers 2″-styled banner hung in back of them.
Frontman Daniel Roda ’04 howled out the lyrics while drummer David Tierney ’04 thrashed away on the drums, reinforcing the group’s high energy.
Penelope was up next, playing their usual gorgeous melodies, with sophomore Andrew Bishop’s stunning vocals mixing wonderfully with the chiming guitars and dual keyboards of Matthew Longo ’04 and Michael Rimoin ’05, while Ryan Abernathey’s ’04 drumming remained top-notch.
Middlebury College alums Hijack the Disco were the final band to perform, headlining the student section. Now based out of California, the trio played a catchy collection of blistering rock that still sounded slick enough for radio exposure.
With eight bands performing to highly receptive crowds in a little under 24 hours, 2003′s Sepomana was a smashing success.