Beyond that, though, I have my doubts. Most importantly, NXNW just seems like a good excuse for rich A&R people from other cities to come here and get drunk. First, as we all know, Portlanders don't need a goddamn music festival to waste ourselves into oblivion--why should people from the music industry?
Oh yeah, NXNW. The whole idea goes against my sensibilities; it's exclusionary, not just because of the number of bands who are rejected (which, granted, is the nature of music festivals). It's because:
1. One must have money to participate.
If you opt not to buy a $25-30 wristband, the cover charges for individual shows range from $5-15. So you could be paying $15 to see bands that are only getting paid from $30¯125, according to several participating acts. In comparison, this year's Bumbershoot cost $44 for a four-day pass and featured many national acts like Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Common, Elliot Smith, and Jonathan Richman. Not to mention that paying money to see a band play in a cramped makeshift venue like Rocco's (a pizza joint) or Union Jacks (a strip club) is just fucking ridiculous.
The bands themselves have a choice as their compensation goes: they're offered either the aforementioned pittance, or a packet of wristbands for each band member and one all-access pass that allows them to get into those intriguing panel discussions. NXNW offers the same compensation for both local and touring bands. Unless they've got substantial label backing or a trust fund, I'm betting out-of-town bands often use the cash for such frivolities as putting gas in the van.
So, with these inflated prices and staff largely comprised of volunteers, where's the money going?
2. Every year, there's an open call for bands to send in their demos and press kits to be considered for NXNW. Brent Grulke, the festival's Creative Director, estimates they received over 2000 entries this year. So how do they judge who gets in?
"We primarily do a lot of listening," says Grulke. "We listen to everything several times, and take into consideration the seriousness of the band, what sort of commitment they have to a career in music." According to Grulke, that commitment is gauged "by whether or not [the bands] have CDs for sale, say, or whether they're performing on a regular basis; whether they're touring."
As my knowledge of the inner workings of being a musician goes, touring and releasing CDs takes an origin of revenue, often generated by label backing. So, not only is NXNW choosing bands based on a subjective opinion, but their opinion is swayed by whether or not the bands have the money to press CDs and pay for tours.
Grulke says, "The point is to get like-minded people togethermusic people, people who are filmmakers or work in new media with a musical element to what they do, and get them together to meet and potentially be able to perform creative or business alliances together."
Again, I'm excited to see a lot of bands in town that normally don't come through here. I just fucking hate knowing that the money doesn't go straight to the musicians; instead, we're supporting the engorged Jabba that is NXNW.