On the posters and postcards for CrucialFest 5, a green swarm of band names surrounds a sick illustration of a magpie, a doe, a deer, a goat dude and ... a beehive? Yeeeeeeaaaaah! Horns Antennae up, Utah! Salt Lake City represent!
OK, a beehive isn't the most metal icon—nor is the deer, though the magpie looks mean as hell—but it symbolizes the Utah state motto: Industry. And CrucialFest founder Jarom Bischoff is a busy bee.
Clad in shorts and a Raunch Records T-shirt, Bischoff looks remarkably calm for a guy who is eight days from the start of his three-day, two-venue, 49-band festival. Especially since Bischoff and his wife, Tiffany, are handling all of the pre-festival duties, like booking bands, courting sponsors, reviewing merchandise proofs, doing press, recruiting emcees and posting those posters and postcards. Bischoff asks for permission to leave a stack of the latter on a newsstand at the Sugar House Beans & Brews, before he sits down for our interview.
While drumming for local math rockers Loom in 2010, Bischoff realized that his life had "diverged" from the band. "I was in school and doing other things, and we went our separate ways," he says. Bischoff wasn't done with music, but he also didn't know his next step: "I loved touring, and I loved being in that band, but I thought, 'What can I do here [in Salt Lake City]?' I knew I'd always play music, but I was done touring my life away—for the time being."
His busy schedule always kept him from attending music festivals like Roadburn in The Netherlands and the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival in Worcester, Mass. "I [don't think] I'll be able to do that more than once in my life," Bischoff says. Instead, he elected to start his own fest, which would acknowledge hardworking local bands striving to be more than drones in the hive. "Knowing the music scene here and how good it is, I just thought starting off with a local festival would be a good thing to try," he says.
So Bischoff—along with a few friends—pulled off the Crucial Fest 1 in 2011. He estimates the lineup was "85 to 90 percent local bands and a handful of touring bands," like Sleeping In Gethsemane and Microtia, whom he'd befriended while touring with Loom. "It was just a smaller festival with a really cheap ticket."
The idea, though, was to become like Austin's South by Southwest festival, which involves scores of venues and hundreds of bands. To that end, with subsequent CrucialFests, Bischoff tried to diversify, to involve more cells from the local and national music scene. While heavy music is his forte—and what he originally wanted his festival to be about—Bischoff endeavored to incorporate hip-hop, indie rock and singer-songwriter genres. "We would experiment a little bit," he says. "I had the idea to bring the music community together and cross-promote or whatever."
The tests didn't produce the intended result: "I feel like we're diverse, but we're in a very specific genre tree, and that is heavy-metal rock and varieties: doom, stoner, experimental, post-hardcore, stuff like that."
Crucial Fest did expand, and at its largest comprised eight venues, but, this year, there are just two. "That's simplified things, Bischoff says, although he'd originally envisioned something more like SXSW, "where everyone buys a pass, and it's a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing."
For now, though, Bischoff says the Salt Lake City music scene can't accommodate that, "at least not at this point, so we've gone toward centralizing it." Future fests may be consolidated into a single venue, preferably somewhere like the Gallivan Center where all ages can attend, but beer may be served.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, CrucialFest 5 will consist of a day showcase on two stages—one for ages 18 and up and another for the over-21 fans—at Area 51. The 18-and-up ticket-holders won't completely miss out; they'll be able to see the over-21 stage through a large window, and at least hear them through the wall. There will also be an over-21 evening showcase each day—Thursday at Area 51 and Friday-Saturday at the Urban Lounge. Fans can purchase tickets for specific shows for $5-10, or a three-day pass. The over-21 pass goes for $55; the 18-and-over pass is $20. It's a great price for that much music. And on Sunday at The Music Garage, there will be "Crucial Rest," a free showcase featuring local bands not on the main bill.
As the buzz grows, Bischoff intends to hold true to Crucial Fest's founding priority: lots of local music. "We've had a lot more success reaching out to booking agents and bands, and a lot more interest. But I want the festival to land at a 50 percent local, 50 percent out-of-town [balance]," he says. "It's pretty close this year. Because the whole point of CrucialFest is to promote Salt Lake City music."
The goal is to get national acts to recognize the industrious, talented musicians here. "A lot of bands skip Salt Lake [City] on their tours because it's smaller, and they think we're a backward Mormon town or whatever. They don't realize the quality of music that comes out of Salt Lake City is really awesome."
What's Crucial: City Weekly's picks for CF5
The Crucial Fest 5 lineup is so quality-dense that it's tough to narrow it down to just a few picks. But what the hell? All we can do is try.
Thursday, June 18: Royal Thunder
Why: Because Mlny Parsonz is one of the most compelling voices we've heard in a long time—part Ann Wilson, part Grace Slick. Plus, Royal Thunder's psych-prog take on hard rock has made the ostensibly moldy old sound interesting again.
With: Wild Throne, Settle Down, Top Dead Celebrity
Where: Area 51, 21+ stage (night)
Friday, June 19: Cult Leader
Why: The remaining members of Gaza, having risen from adversity, really throw down—and "You Are Not My Blood," from the brand-new Useless Animal EP, is a powerful tune that shows the band's growth.
With: Rosetta, Ides of Gemini, Norska, Dethrone the Sovereign, Disforia
Where: Area 51, 18+ stage (day)
Friday, June 19: Dead Meadow
Why: Dead Meadow is one of the coolest psych-stoner rock bands around. You'll swear they induce acute synesthesia, but it could be a contact high. Anyway, enjoy the pretty colors and prettier sounds.
With: Black Pussy, Dark Seas, DØNe
Where: Urban Lounge, 21+ stage (night)
Saturday, June 20: SubRosa, Captured! By Robots
Why: SubRosa is unique, deep and badass. And we're not just saying that because Rebecca Vernon used to work here at City Weekly. Seriously, if you want to see something truly original—SubRosa. Captured! by Robots? It's one guy getting bitch-slapped by his robot bandmates. And the music's pretty cool, too.
With: Kowloon Walled City, Giant Squid, Worst Friends, Anthems, Stickfigures
Saturday, June 20: Goatsnake, Eagle Twin
Why: Because Goatsnake's bluesy stoner rock rules all over the road, and they've got new music (Black Age Blues on Southern Lord) after 15 years. As for Eagle Twin, it's fuggin' Eagle Twin. Come on, Salt Lake City metal fans, you know these guys!
With: Uzala, Turbo Chugg
Where: Urban Lounge, 21+ stage (night)