The inaugural Halleluwah Festival of Enthused Arts was epic. Massive to the point of absurdity. Indie-pop kids, noise-heads and music geeks of the hardest core were practically locked into the massive, industrial R.J. Templeton building, former home of Disjecta, for two sweaty, 14-hour days of musical marathon.
There were two stages hosting simultaneous shows nearly the whole time, there were hallways-turned-gallery spaces studded with visual art, there was an ad hoc art mall, a constant string of films being shown in the basement and Rob Walmart bumping tunes from its jam van.
It was one of the best festivals in recent Portland memory. And it was positively overwhelming: No one should have to choose between soundscaper Tara Jane O'Neil and psych-improv sorcerer White Rainbow, or Holy Sons and Valet. And no one should be too terrified of missing something awesome and rare (e.g., local harsh-improv legends Trumans Water) to have a pee, much less a meal.
Not surprisingly, festival co-director Mike McGonigal agrees: "It was just too much," he says over plates of homemade grits and fresh squash. "If you have two people playing at the same time, someone always loses." Laughing, he adds, "We're not Coachella" (Northern California's annual indie hype fest-cum-fashion show).
So McGonigal and co-director Chantelle Hylton—who recently relocated to New York City and, thus, worked on festival bookings from 2,900 miles away—streamlined Halleluwah part deux. This year it's at Holocene, for three days instead of two, but with one stage and far less music. Given the girth of last year's fest, downsizing was certain to be a painful prospect. "We had people contacting us that wanted to perform and it would've been great, but…we just couldn't," regrets McGonigal. Still, the line-up's impressive. Many of the old favorites are back: White Rainbow, Valet, Evolutionary Jass Band…and on and on for three days.
This year also boasts a rare performance by Can's Damo Suzuki, an artist who paved the way for nearly everyone playing the festival—and the fest itself. Halleluwah is the title of one of the German psych/krautrock/everything band's classic songs. And Suzuki will take the stage with a massive crew of local experimentalists, including Adam Forkner, Emil Amos and Yellow Swans. It should be positively earth-shaking. As such, it's hard to believe McGonigal when he says, "This is a gentler, smarter Halleluwah."
Perhaps most importantly, it's one he'll get to enjoy. McGonigal was a stressed-out dude last year, stuck for hours behind a table, worrying about finances, peddling Halleluwah comps and copies of Yeti magazine (which he publishes) two rooms away from the action. "Yeah, I wound up missing a lot," he admits.
It won't be the case this year: Everything goes down in one room, including readings and music-history flicks by Seattle-based art collective Sublime Frequencies. But, still, McGonigal's not one who likes to say no. Regarding the future of Halleluwah, he says (as if thinking aloud): "Maybe we'll do four or five days. We'll see."