Saturday, June 28, 2014

Raise Our Fists Up: The 2014 PRFBBQ

My friend Thom came to his first PRFBBQ last weekend. He's heard a few of his friends--mostly members of my two bands--raving about the Chicago getaway that happens once a year during a weekend in late June several times over the years, but i don't think he ever seriously considered attending until this year, when his Seattle band Seminars played. His bandmate James played three of the festivals with his currently slumbering band, Police Teeth, and so Thom (who met James through us after he moved there from Milwaukee--this is important) got dragged along back to the Midwest for this annual collection of Internet nerds that also happens to be the most exhilarating, wall-to-wall excellent DIY festival you'll ever hear about.

"PRF" stands for "Premier Rock Forum," a tongue-in-cheek name based on an old inside joke over on the Electrical Audio Message Board, the online forum for the Chicago recording studio owned by one Mr. Steve Albini (you know him from various things). The forum is populated by musicians and music enthusiasts who talk about everything from poker, politics and pork shoulder to baseball and baritone guitars. And sure, most of them are Shellac fans, but Albini has little to nothing to do with the BBQ--that idea came from one of the forum members, a rabble-rouser named Jonah who started off as a shit-stirring troublemaker and launching discussion threads with titles like "CRAP/NOT CRAP: HOT GIRL ROOMMATE YOU DON'T BANG." One day he got a wild hair up his ass and said "we need to get all of our bands together for a weekend, make food, drink beer, and hang out." This led to the first PRFBBQ in 2009, which took place at the practice space of one of the forum's many represented bands, Bear Claw. It's grown every year, from that basement to a sketchy tattoo parlor/church/art space to various other DIY hangs in Chicago, eventually settling in Borelli's Pizza for the last two years.

Borelli's is the epitome of a DIY space--a low-on-the-radar, family-owned pizza joint that one of the forum members knows and convinced to rent the space for a weekend to a bunch of internet goofs who wanted a place to play for their bands. They do music lessons upstairs, so the whole "rock music" thing wasn't too foreign. For one hot weekend, the main dining room and the rear game room were transformed into performance venues for the likes of Cheer-Accident, White Mystery, the Karl Hendricks Trio, the rutabegaWhalesThe Cell Phones, and about 50 other bands. This year? Some pretty good gets up in this piece. Couch Flambeau. F/i. Dead Rider. HUM. Yup, Hum played in a got-dang pizza place in Ravenswood. You could see them if you were in the first five rows, but you could hear them a block away.

But focusing on the "name" bands is missing the point completely--not that any of the people who bought a $40 three-day, food-and-beer-included pass just to show up for Hum and leave after they played "Stars" (which wasn't the last song in their set and yes, people actually did that) really have any idea what they missed. Which is a shame, because Hum didn't get booked in order to sell tickets or get press or sell advertising or make money for the festival. They got booked because holy shit, wouldn't it be cool if Hum played Borelli's?

If you want to know what the PRFBBQ is about, focus on the so-called "smaller" bands at the festival, although the real truth is that there are no small bands at this festival. Try telling the ladies in Motherfucker that they're not as important as the "bigger" bands on the bill. These three Athens, GA shredders came to Chicago after not being a loud-ass, heavy riff machine for very long, but after getting an immediate "you HAVE to play this thing in Chicago" urging from a PRF'er named Patrick, who got them in touch with the Chicago crew, who then heard them and immediately said "yes, absolutely, 100% in." Which is how this shit works. Tour got booked, Chicago got driven to, faces got melted in the back room, "Count the Motherfucker Shirts" was played the day after their performance as people wondered, "who didn't buy any Motherfucker merch this weekend?" Band of the weekend? Band of the weekend. They absolutely slayed, and more importantly, they hung out all weekend, were up front for everyone else, and made a million friends. Talk about a band that knows what we're here for.

You wanna know what the PRFBBQ is about? It's about a bunch of people knowing their strengths and putting them to use for the group to put together a baller-ass time. It's about seeing guys like Rich from Bear Claw and Matt from about a dozen Chicago bands and guest appearances, who are not sound guys by trade, run the PA like champions and hand off to other folks who knew the deal, like our boy Dovey who came from fucking Australia to work the faders for some of his favorite bands. It's about seeing Russell from the crushing Tyranny is Tyranny play a symphony of powerful, AmRep-styled post-hardcore and then head to the kitchen the next day with fellow PRF thang-doers like Rosa and Kate Rev and throw together the brisket-or-veggie burritos that saved our collective asses Sunday afternoon. Hell, it's about my amazing fiancee using her day job experience working at music venues to organize a merch table that sold records, t-shirts, stickers and friggin' pint glasses (Motherfucker again) for 50-some bands and hummed like a well-oiled machine all weekend. Everyone using their strengths for the greater good. Everything for everyone, and nothing for ourselves. It was written on a banner all weekend, so i guess it's officially a credo. Dirty commies, that's us.

You wanna know what the PRFBBQ is about? Ask Casey, the bassist from Thom's band Seminars, who got on mic during their set and shared with the group. "I've been watching (Police Teeth bassist TallChris, who played before Seminars with his new stripped-down post-punk machine Burn Permits) play in bands since i was 15, and when James asked me to be in this band, i took it as a challenge. This is my first trip to the Midwest and my first PRF thing, and i just wanna say thanks to everyone for being nice to me." Real tears from me, hearing that. After Casey thrashed her way through the Seminars set with the rest of her bandmates, i made my way over to Thom and hi-fived him, saying "welcome to the family." I don't think either of those two stopped glowing all weekend, although it may have been the booze.

You wanna know what the PRFBBQ is about? Every year we hold a raffle to raise money to hopefully not just pay for expenses, but to donate to someone or something worthwhile, which this year was a school's music program down the street from Borelli's, and the wife of a friend of the PRF, who is sick with that fucking scourge cancer. After a giveaway including a rare Die Kreuzen 7", a signed copy of Real Men: According to Jim by Jim Belushi, $50 at the merch table, three goddamn brand new electric grills, and tons more, over $5000 was split up between the two causes. But really, the whole raffle was worth it to see Julia from The Columbines, who has spent tireless hours busting her ass on every BBQ since 2009, have her name pulled for this year's EGC Aluminum guitar grand prize. Kevin's donated one the last three years and every time, the winner is celebrated with cheers, chants, and raucous jubilation. Real tears.

But fine. Ya wanna talk about Hum? Let's talk about Hum. Hum were fucking awesome. Matt Talbott brought a shitload of Coors Light and a beer bong, and slammed one before feeding one to the master of Premier Rock Food, Jeff Fox, then launched his band into a 45-minute set of classics while standing about three feet away from my damn face. Borelli's was packed to the gills and bristling with ecstatic energy as people sang along with uniformly shit-eating grins. They hung out afterward too, continuing to distribute cheap beers and ridiculous methods for ingesting them at maximum rate and minimum taste. Bet you didn't know that Hum can fuggin' party.

And yeah, it was a little disappointing to see a bunch of folks show up out of nowhere just to see Hum, but don't mistake that minor bummer as a "keep the outsiders off our turf" lament. No, the real tragedy is that those people didn't stick around too see what this whole party was about. Had they come back on Sunday they would have seen the heartbreakingly gorgeous Songs of the Pawner's Society; the blistering Wipers-brand punk of NYC's We Ride On; the pedal-drenched feedback of Ontario's Reverb Bomb; or the debut of Louisville's Dead Halos, who knocked the room on its collective ass with riffs that would have made Malcolm Young pay attention.

Dead Halos' first show!

The Hum-only crowd especially shit the bed by missing Kalamazoo/DC's Minutes. Minutes have been a PRF favorite for as long as they've been a band, but aside from a set a few years back at a PRF Auktoberfest event at Klas Restaurant in Cicero, they hadn't had a large presence at these things. So as they launched into "Stolen Wallet," the breakout jam from this year's Roland LP, the room was maybe as packed as it was for Hum the night before, but with a lot more audience participation. Hands clapped, bodies bounced, and people sang at top volume along to a blistering set of Dischord-informed power pop (guitarist/drummer Ryan Nelson spent time in the Beauty Pill, if that's a thing that will make you take notice). But it was when Ike Turner slung his six-string back on for a loudly-demanded encore that shit got real. "I wrote this during a very hopeful time during the last election," he explained as he played the opening chords to "Raise Our Fists Up," the exhilarating anthem that cemented Roland as my favorite album of 2014 when i first heard it in December of 2013.
The crowd for Minutes. Full house.

You know how it is when a whole weekend of food, fun and positive vibes is simmering for about 72 hours, slowly building with a few laughs here, some crazy veggie dogs there, some hilarious stories told on the roof, and band after band after fucking band of consistently excellent music? We're talking a couple hundred people all buzzing with "this is why we're alive" energy, and suddenly they're all in the same room, and everyone's favorite band is singing

We're responsible, 
to keep our heads up, 
to raise our fists up, 
and take this freedom back

And everyone is raising a fist in the air and grinning at each other and feeling like, for one weekend, the world is a magical place and if you find your place in it along with loyal friends who share common goals, you can accomplish anything. The phrase "life-affirming" was used more than once to describe the Minutes set, and it could could have aptly described so many other moments over the weekend. The rutabega dragging a bunch of us on stage (me included) to sing their soaring, 12-minute epic "Turn on the Summer," then guitarist Josh flailing into the crowd later that night while singing Nirvana's "Oh, the Guilt" during the live band Touch 'N' Go Records tribute karaoke set (with which i was honored to play drums for half the set). Jilly from We Are Hex sitting nervously in her chair, saying "i hope they like us" during the aforementioned raffle, then leading the charge as her band dazzled the faithful with the slinkiest, creepiest set i've seen them play as validation was roared back at her. Yeah, Jilly, i think they liked you. I think they liked you a lot.

Thom said his goodbyes after the Hex set, as he was finally, blissfully wiped out. When i told him that i hoped he enjoyed himself, there was no hesitation. "Oh yeah. I finally get it." At some point on Saturday he had lamented "i wish you guys would have smacked some sense into me earlier. Thom! You're blowing it! Come to this!" I just smiled and explained to him that no one really gets it until they show up. Because it sounds like just another festival, just another DIY party thing. Hell, to some it sounds like a cult. And shit, maybe it is. After all, as soon as we were mobile on Monday, this is how my lady and i wrapped up the weekend:

Which, fine, a couple overly-excited PRFers got some ink. But then consider that Erika, Motherfucker's drummer, went and got a tat based on the PRF "Don't Quit" sticker designed by Forum Member Jodi Ess, and ok, maybe that would be a little eerie, if it weren't totally fucking rad.

But if you want to call it a cult, fine. If "cult" means a genuine community of people all coming together, everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves, serving the greater cause of art, music, and rock and fucking roll, then cool. We're a cult and if the ATF ever knocks on our door, they'll have to cleanse us with fire to bring us down.

We can all roam free, 
and never fall. 
We can make a point, 
to establish a law. 
We can all roam free, 
and never fall, 
from this moment of peace, 
and tranquility. 
Let's hold our hands up, 
and believe in something. 

The next PRF event is the third annual THUNDERSNOW, February 20-22, 2015, at the Terrace Bay Inn & Suites in Gladstone, MI. I'll see you there. Pretty sure i'll see Thom there too.


1) Photos in this post were taken by a shitload of different people and i didn't keep track of who took what. Thanks to everyone who documented the weekend, and if you see your photo here and don't want it up, let me know!

2) Please click on the links and check out the bands mentioned in this post. They could seriously be your life.

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