By Meredith Schneider
Taking a page from the psychedelic rock and grunge from the ‘60s and ‘70s, new bands have enjoyed a resurgence of interest in psych sounds, offering a modern approach to the nostalgic genre. Bands, such as The Black Angels or Tame Impala, which identify with elements of this music, are popping up everywhere, sprinkling themselves among well knowns and headliners in the upcoming music festival season. With enough demand typically comes more supply, and now there are specific psych fests popping up all over the continental US. Austin Psych Fest is now in its sixth year, Los Angeles Psych Fest is heading into its second, and the inaugural Milwaukee Psych Fest—the apple of our euphonious eye—just came to a close.
Psychedelic rock, at its inception in the ‘60s, was heavily influenced by the use of hallucinogenic drugs, which likely contributed to the novel sounds the movement inspired. Droned guitars, elaborate studio effects, and ethereal sounds found in older Grateful Dead, Beatles, and Pink Floyd albums are characteristic of this genre. The particular variety of sounds and tones lent itself to the creation of other specific sub-genres within the category, including psych punk and psych pop among others. Which means any particular psych festival likely also offers a broad array of different psych acts.
So, what does the now annual Milwaukee Psych Fest entail? Two evenings of non-stop music from local and national psych rock acts were strung together and held April 19-21 by Counter Culture Club at Milwaukee’s Cactus Club. Artists such as The Warlocks, Secret Colours, and Sleepcomesdown made the event a success, giving the Great Lakes region an extra dose of rock to kick start concert season.
“I have always loved communal happenings,” Milwaukee Psych Fest Curator Andrew Shelp says. “Especially ones of the artistic variety. I have put together other shows, and last year I put together a musical festival with 13 bands for my birthday, so it all kind of just makes sense. I love music.” Shelp is seasoned in the psych genre, having founded the Milwaukee psych rock band Moss Folk, which is heavily involved in the local music scene, in 2006.
“It was actually incredibly easy,” admits Shelp in regards to putting together Psych Fest. “It was almost all friends and everyone really wanted to participate and contribute in some capacity. The sponsors were really excited to get involved too. Everyone just really wanted to make it a great event for the city of Milwaukee and to represent the city in the best possible light.”
Milwaukee Psych Fest almost completely skipped social media promotion to get people interested in the lineup, instead reverting to a more traditional form of spreading the word. “Putting up flyers around town [was what turned out to be the best option],” Shelp says. “Talking to all of the record store owners/clerks, word of mouth, the old fashioned way. You have to be genuine; People can see through the BS. You have to care about what you’re doing and take care of the people and artists that give so much of their time and effort to make a happening like this successful. Take care of the people that take care of you.”
As for choosing that particular weekend to work with, it all happened by pure luck that so many amazing bands were willing to make a stop in Wisconsin before playing Austin Psych Fest the following week. Because of this year’s success, Shelp has high hopes for the coming years. “It’s only going to get bigger and better from this point on!” he exclaims, happy to have a new platform for camaraderie. “It was amazing! It was everything that I envisioned it to be! It was perfect! Community y’all. If one of us succeeds, we all succeed.”