Smile Politely

Dan Blah opens up about IMC Fest

IMC Fest gets geared up for its first spring run this Friday, and it will keep the Independent Media Center rocking all weekend. 30 local bands are scheduled to perform, starting with Megan Johns at 6 p.m. on Friday, and continuing through until Kilborn Alley wraps things up at 10:35 p.m. on Sunday. There will also be art installations, speakers, fire spinners, and tons more stuff going on. Tickets are $20 for the whole weekend, or $10 per day, and they’re available at the door. Proceeds benefit the IMC, and all the excellent organizations that call the IMC home. Want to go for free? Then click this link to find out how.

Dan Blah, reduced to lame-duck status by his impending move to Washington, D.C., is master of ceremonies for the festivities, and he shared some of the festival’s history, as well as a detailed preview of what’s going on this year.

Smile Politely: How many years has IMC Fest been going on? How did it get started? How many of those have you been involved with?

Dan Blah: This will be the fourth known (to me) IMCfest hosted by Urbana-Champaign’s Independent Media Center. I say known to me because IMC members are funny and have been known to do anti-IMCfest parties when they don’t like the way IMCfest is shaping up. These are usually last-minute events where bands, DJs, and sound geeks turn empty parking lots and basements into something awesome … if you count those, then we are probably taking about eight IMCfests.

To my knowledge, the first IMCfest (and it’s respective anti-IMCfest) was held in 2003 on August 30th. I had only been in town for a couple years at this point had unfortunately not yet discovered the IMC. This was hosted at the Canopy Club and The Paper, and along with celebrating three years of independent media in our area, it was a Capitol Campaign fundraising event which helped buy the building the IMC is in today at 202 S. Broadway (the old post office in downtown
Urbana. Fun fact: the U.S. Postal Service actually rents space from the IMC). Along with two feature length independent films, a ‘zine reading, and activist speakers it also had 16 bands, including: MJ Walker, The Zvooks, Joni Laurence, Little Black Spiders, Jason Finkelman, Kate Hathaway Band, Darrin Drda and His Band, The Buzzards, The Hags, Fourth Rotor, Ripley Caine, The Invisible, G. Lee and Friends, Missing the Point, and Buster’s Dream. You can see its press release here. Unfortunately, if I told you anything about the alleged anti-IMCfest event that year, I would have to kill you.

Next, we had IMCfest 2004, which was held at the University YMCA on May Day and Canopy Club May 5th. Along with the U-C IMC, this event was supported by The Canopy Club, WEFT 90.1 FM, and the Hub. I again didn’t have anything to do with this one and had only just caught wind of the IMC as it had become established as a venue friendly to small bands and banging shows. Along with being a celebration of independent media, this was again a Capitol Campaign fundraising event which helped buy the building. Along with speakers and films, the band
list included G. Lee and Jet Blonde, Missing in Action, jigGsaw, DIY, Green Light Go, Water Between Continents, Wanamaker, i:Scintilla, Solips, Nu Orbit Ensemble, The Hags, Joni Laurence, Cynthia G. Mason, Rodeo Girl Collective. You can check out its press release here.

2004 was the last one for a while. The building was purchased, a larger stage was built in the building and people started doing events there fairly regularly. Most of the folks who put in a lot of the time for the first couple festivals either moved away or moved on to other things. I stumbled into the IMC one day in September 2007 (having been tormenting the building for a good year or two at this point) and thought it would be awesome if we there was this festival to celebrate local music, art, and generally just independent media. I was surprised no one had done this before and thought I had the best idea ever! I started looking online to see if other IMC’s around the
world had done IMCfests and then I found out we had done two! I started by contacting all of the bands who had played in 2003 and 2004 and found that a lot of them had moved away or moved on as well. After finding out that some were still in town and other younger performers were interested in doing this, I decided we should have IMCfest 2007 and just randomly picked November 9-11th.

We decided since we already had a building, we would raise money for WRFU 104.5 FM to get a new bigger, taller tower, along with celebrating nearly a decade of independent media in Urbana-Champaign. I got really excited and booked as many performers as I could squeeze into three
days. This was pretty difficult as most folks had no idea who this Dan Blah dude was and had faded memories past IMCfests. Things worked out, some good people put in a lot of time to help, and along with flims, speakers, art, and fire spinning we ended up with 36 performers It was AWESOME… and nuts!

There wasn’t an IMCfest in 2008 because we decided it would be best to do it in the spring rather than the fall. Since we didn’t have the energy to start planning right away, we took a break. Then 2009 rolled around and remembered what we decided and started planning. Things were different this year. Both performers and people remembered 2007. As soon as we started contacting people, more people started contacting us. I couldn’t believe how much and how many bands wanted to volunteer their time to help support the IMC. On the day we chose line-ups, ten of us had 30 slots to fill with nearly 50 performers and have had to unfortunately turn down almost a band a day since. The result is a pretty diverse line-up of the following performers: Megan Johns, Morgan Orion and the Constellations, Kate & James Hathaway, The Love Language, Headlights, Sunset Stallion, Common Loon, Santa, JigGsaw, Dance Party w/DJ Belly & Wildcard, Oceans, Mordechai in the Mirror, Curb Service, Agent Mos & Text w/DJ Belly, Organic Flow, World’s First Flying Machine, New Ruins, We Landed on the Moon, Elsinore, The Ruckus Dance Party, The Diamond Stretch, We Must Dismantle All This!, Clarabelle, Mars, Yossarian, Post-Historic, Casados, Michael Kammin, Duke of Uke, and Kilborn Alley. On top of all that, we will have tons of art, speakers, and other performances in between sets!

SP: Has it been part of the Boneyard Arts Festival before? How do you think that will affect the festivities?

DB: Nope, this will be the first. I am pretty excited about it. Boneyard folks have been awesome to work with. The Urbana Boneyard group decided to use IMCfest as one of the Urbana evening spotlight events, decided to put the Boneyard Info both on the IMC’s front steps, and have been generally very supportive. Along with having more art in the space than in past, I am hoping that teaming up with Boneyard will bring a more diverse crowd. The art! I haven’t talked enough about
the art! There’s going to be art! We are going to be showing tons of art from over 30 artists all throughout the space highlighting some of our resident artists, artists who are currently in prison, who are homeless, progressive, political, controversial, and internationally known. You can come check out the art for free during the day and then in the evening will be asked to pay for the music.

Speaking of which, it’s going to be $10 a day (about a $1 a band). You can pay $20 on Friday (save $10) for the whole weekend and $15 on Saturday (save $5) for Saturday and Sunday.

SP: How does the number of bands compare to past years? Are you confident that you booked every band in C-U this year?

DB: Oh man, I wish I could say that. We actually cut back this year to 30. 2007 had 36, 2004 had 14, and 2003 had 16. The lower number this year is mostly due to closing the doors around 2 a.m., rather than booking more DJs and waiting for the sun to come up like we did in 2007. Like I said, we have unfortunately been turning down bands daily. This is awesome, too, though. We have already been talking about either trying to do a two-weekend festival and/or using multiple venues for next year. I have dreams of future IMCfests mating with the recent successful
IMC Film Fest and Boneyard to produce a crazy circus of film, art, hundreds of performances of all kinds that span more than just weekend and infiltrate the multiple progressive and independent venues in town. We nearly decided to book the Red Herring this year but didn’t,
due to it all being last minute. Next year… oh next year!

SP: What sort of refreshments will be available at the show?

DB: Being an all ages show, we will definitely be serving up lots of non-alcoholic drinks (pop, water, juice, etc.) along with pizza and cookies. Between you, me, and all of SP’s readers… the beer situation is looking shaky. We had a pretty hard time finding a caterer this year … anyone know of someone who wants to sell beer? If nothing ties up, keep a look out for a BYOB announcement, one of IMC’s buried infamous policies 😉

SP: What’s been your favorite memory(ies) of past IMC Fests?

DB: Definitely the Fireflies last show in 2007 on April 9th. Those dudes were always doing stuff at the IMC, whether they were volunteering, doing shows at the IMC, on the radio in WRFU, or just kicking it around the space. People were off the chain … crying and hollering. I hear we should be looking out for new stuff from some of the old members. That night in general was a good night. jigGsaw played before the Fireflies and really brought in the energy like they do. Then The Living Blue closed the night out with one of their last sets in town. To me, it was just one of those nights that really define how awesome our local music scene can be in this town.

Another fun memory was from 2007 on Sunday. We had Kilborn Alley and Candy Foster open for Shirley King (B.B. King’s Daughter… ask me how we pulled that one off another time) followed by the local Broke Rappers Coalition/U-C Hip Hop folks … those blues and jazz fans had no idea what they were getting into! Duckman started things off right with lots of energy and next thing you know you have old and young all bopping their heads. It was cool.

SP: When is the fire spinning? Has that been part of past IMC Fests?

DB: This will be going on in between sets, most likely before/after the larger bands. Yep yep, we did it in 2007 too.

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