We waited a whole year for Audiofeed Festival to come back around again (last year set a high standard), and last week it finally happened. I wanted to put together a piece about the overall experience of Audiofeed as a festival-goer. I was able to attend the fest this year for two out of the three days, and get a taste of what the event is all about. Tl;dr: the variety of artists and attendees make this festival worth your time.
The bulk of the music I was excited for happened on Thursday, July 4 (check out the daily schedule here). There were several stages/tents hosting performers over the weekend, and my personal musical preferences frequently took me to the Radon Lounge. The Radon Lounge had a fair amount of diversity in the bookings.
One of the standouts from Thursday for me was V8 Vast Change, a hip-hop artist from Bloomington IL. V8 Vast Change has a J. Cole-inspired sound, and kept the crowd’s attention throughout his set with a steady even flow over backing tracks. Hip-hop and rap can be tricky in live performance, in my show-going experience. The styles require a huge amount of precision to translate well in a live setting, and the rapper has to be hugely impactful, because often they lack the dynamism and energy of a full band behind them. V8 Vast Change did not disappoint.
Like I mentioned in the Audiofeed preview last week, I was excited to see Audiofeed-regular Timbre slated to perform. The Nashville-based musician has classically-trained voice that is so emotive that it’s hard to turn your attention to anything else. Luckily, she also plays an enormous harp, which besides sounding cool is visually impactful. It’s an unusual instrument to see on a festival stage, and gives her whole sound a lovely, ethereal edge.
A few Friday notables were Audrey Assad, who was performing live for the first time. Her vocals were at once strong and lilting, smoothly blending with the keyboard to make for a super listenable set. Late night brought the delightfully theatrical Insomniac Folklore, a treasure of a band from Oregon. Part steampunk, part cabaret, part fairytale, Insomniac Folklore looked like a band of troubadours from a fantasy novel came to life and plopped down on the Burningtown stage. The band came with their signature energy, and rocked hard.
I ventured over to see a few of the hardcore bands that the festival is so well known for, too. I am never not impressed by the dedication and sheer energy that good metal bands carry with them to performances. Even through the heat, bands like Ghost Key and Distinguisher ripped up the Black Sheep Stage in fine form. I’m starting to think that my anxiety level during a show is a solid litmus test for how good metal bands are. I’m inherently alarmed by loud sounds and aggressive tones, which are hallmarks of the genre. Still, watching these bands I had the same understanding of why this genre is cathartic as I did when I saw Neckbeard Deathcamp back in May. Scream therapy is a real thing, and the hardcore scene offers such a good opportunity for creativity, both in the music and in the visual representation of the genre. Audiofeed gave people the chance to turn out in style. The clothes were cool. The makeup was cool. The boots were really cool. The hair was usually my favorite part. I’m here for the good that metal can do in C-U.
For me, the most interesting part of Audiofeed wasn’t any one particular performance, but the overall experience as a direct result of the key similarities and differences that exist between this festival and others. The similarities are easy to pick out. Several stages supporting several genres across several days. Good, greasy fair food. Convenient camping near to the music. Audofeed has the same benefits you expect from any music festival, with the added bonus that the whole event is run by passionate, compassionate people.
Two related things differentiate Audiofeed from other music festivals that folks are generally more used to attending: this festival was originally founded as a continuation of the Cornerstone Music Festival, and as such is (Christian) faith-centered. In keeping with that genesis, Audiofeed is entirely drug and alcohol free. Being a Christian is not a requirement for attending or enjoying the music, and is not a requirement for artists, as the festival's website states:
“Some of our artists are expressly Christian. Many are not, but write music influenced by their faith journey. Some are expressly not Christian, but share our values of love and community and are working all of that out in the best way they can figure out.”
Still, if you attend Audiofeed, you’ll notice that many of the workshops and talks offered are faith-based, the presence of the Sanctuary stage, where worship events join bands in the lineup, and the Urbana Theological Seminary space.
There is no denying that a religiously-centered festival might dissuade people from attending; there is a natural discomfort in being surrounded by an ethos you don’t share. I am here to tell you that I myself would fall into the “expressly not Christian, but share our values of love and community” category of people mentioned in the above quote, and that truly, Audiofeed holds space for every type of person. I got that sense first when I spoke with Jim Eisenmenger for our preview, as I listened to him enthusiastically describe how much he appreciated the range of attendees; Audiofeed draws goths and metalheads and your unassuming neighbors. It draws families and older folks and children and all of the inbetweeners.
The lack of drinking and drug use centers the festival more specifically around the music, and the experience of being with your community in appreciation of that music. I’m by no means condemning more traditional festival experiences, I’ve heartily enjoyed my share. But I think it’s important to think critically about how mainstream culture has positioned music festivals: they are about the full experience, being submerged in a parallel universe of music and revelry. I’d like to put forth that it’s possible to widen that lens to include a radical pleasure in different types of immersion. Being present with fellow music-lovers unaltered by any substance can feel overwhelming. But maybe it’s good to be overwhelmed by our own humanity sometimes. Audiofeed offers a safe space to explore that, while never neglecting their excellent lineup.
Photos by Eric Frahm