Good Times, Bad Art

a one-day music fest at the Pablo for locals, by locals

Eric Christenson

EVERYBODY’S SHOW. FM Down (above) are the minds behind the Bad Art Music Festival, at which three local bands – The Gossips, Ghosts of the Sun, and FM Down themselves – will be releasing new music.
EVERYBODY’S SHOW. FM Down (above) are the minds behind the Bad Art Music Festival, at which three local bands – The Gossips, Ghosts of the Sun, and FM Down themselves – will be releasing new music.

"We are the musicians, the performers, and the appreciators of the Chippewa Valley music scene. And this is our festival.”

That lines comes near the end of a promo video for the upcoming Bad Art Music Festival, which will take place in the Jamf Theatre at the Pablo Center Nov. 23. Of course the “bad art” part is tongue-in-cheek: The art taking place that night will in fact be objectively “good.” But the whole point of the one-night fest is for it to be a musical bill stacked with locals, organized by locals, and championed by the local music scene itself. It’s a pretty iconic team-up from some of the best in the region.

The inaugural Bad Art fest comes from the minds of local rock band FM Down, who plan to release a full-length LP at the show, and they’re not the only ones. As circumstance would have it, two other bands are releasing records that night – The Gossips (a new collaborative project between songwriters Nici Peper and Brian Bethke) and Ghosts of the Sun (an alt-metal super group of sorts featuring members of No Loving Place, More Mortis Machinato, and Orenda Fugue). The full lineup is a good taste of some of the best music happening in town: FM Down, Gash, D. Janakey, The Gossips, Ghosts of the Sun, and Jim Pullman. And artist Steve Bateman is creating a visual “Bad Art” gallery to display at the show as well.

For Will Wall, a member of FM Down and co-organizer of the fest, the Pablo is a picturesque setting for something like this, and he finds it encouraging that independent events like this that are 100 percent ideated and executed by locals can happen there.

“The best way to utilize the room was to have it be not just our show, but everyone’s show,” Wall said. “We have a tremendous amount of talented local musicians and bands in this area, and we figured it’s time to do something to bring us all together in the new arts center, to deliver something unique.”

The FM Down record, Maybe We Could Get Somewhere If We Could Just Be Somewhere Else, tackles themes that the band has made its bread and butter: Getting older, some social commentary, and the unsettling speed at which the world is changing. It’ll also be their first album pressed to vinyl.

“It’s something we all enjoy doing,” Wall said. “And all of us have this itch that can only be scratched by writing, recording, and performing new music.”

Really, the same can be said for each band featured at the fest.

For Peper’s new project The Gossips, the partnership with Bethke came together magically. Both songwriters in their own right, they’ve each been a big part of the music scene for a long time. And their collaboration came about magically.

“It’s that crazy, swept-off-your-feet, ‘Does anyone know where we’re going?’ kind of feeling,” Peper said. “For example, there’s a point in the album where the song literally created itself – it was raining, I started reading while Brian was playing guitar and it was done in 20 minutes. We were wide-eyed. Spooked.”

The Gossips’ record Flagship is eight tracks of musical bliss and a dreamy collaboration. Or as Peper put it, it’s like “if your life were a large banana leaf and you soaked it in nectar and let it dry, then crushed it up, mixed it with pixie dust and then shook it up in a pop bottle.”

That’s the way the scene works sometimes. Musicians that are on their own path team up, and results can be glorious. That’s the nugget of an idea Wall and the gang is working with for the Bad Art fest: that by doing it together, collaborating, and support each other, amazing things can happen.

It’s no secret that incredible music is constantly being created in basements, rooms, and studios all over town. When you combine that energy with that big beautiful arts center on the river, it just might bring us all together in ways we never knew we could. Like a confluence or something.

The Bad Art Music Festival is Nov. 23 in the Jamf Theatre at the Pablo Center on the Confluence featuring FM Down, Gash, D. Janakey, The Gossips, Ghosts of the Sun, and Jim Pullman. Tickets are $10 and you can purchase them online at pablocenter.org. FM Down’s Maybe We Could Get Somewhere If We Could Just Be Somewhere Else will be available on most streaming platforms Nov. 16 and the physical release will be at the Nov. 23 show. The Gossips’ Flagship and the new EP by Ghosts of the Sun will be available at the Bad Art fest.

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