Catacomb Party pushes boundaries of local music festivals

The Fresno BeeJune 12, 2013 

Fashawn will scheduled to perform at the 2013 Catacomb Party on the Fulton Mall in Downtown Fresno. He is also involved in the Grizzly Fest.

WALLIS PHOTO LLC — The Fresno Bee

The Catacomb Party isn't until the 20th of next month and the organizers just released the official band lineup, but I already feel the need to tell them "job well done."

The event, a spin-off of last year's album-release show for the band Fierce Creatures, is a free, all-ages concert on Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno. Last year's party was such a success — both in terms of attendance and social-media hype — that organizers decided to run with the idea and keep the name, even though the band has stopped playing.

They also expanded the event into a daylong festival, with two stages and more than 20 local and national touring acts playing from noon to midnight.

I'll withhold final judgments until the party is over, but at first look, it seems Catacomb is pushing the boundaries of what fans can expect from a local music festival.

Fresno has no shortage of music festivals. In the last year, we've seen:

-- Grizzly Fest, the underground hip-hop festival spearheaded by Fresno rapper Fashawn.

-- The Hmong Music Festival, a multi-genre showcase of Hmong musicians that is in its second year.

-- The Nickfest, which honors music enthusiast Nick Henebury and features mostly indie-rock bands.

-- The Fresno Urban Sound Experience (FUSE), which hosts 30-plus local performers each year and celebrates its sixth anniversary Sept. 20-21.

-- The Spanspek Music and Arts Festival in Orosi, which is known for highlighting Fresno's hippest up-and-comers. This year's event is Oct. 4.

-- Fauxchella, a two-day mix of local rock bands and national headliners, including '90s industrial rockers Orgy.

-- The Father's Day Blues Festival, which hosts its fourth year this weekend.

-- The San Joaquin Valley, Central Valley, Valley, North Fresno Rotary and City Jazz festivals. (The Central Valley Jazz Festival is Saturday at the Pioneer Village in Selma.)

These festivals are important for more than any entertainment or monetary value. They go a long way toward creating a sense of place and pride. Each caters to a certain scene and offers a different view of local music culture. Each is authentically Fresno.

The best single show can't compete with the energy created by having 1,000 or so hipster kids in tight jeans jumping around on the Fulton Mall at the first Catacomb Party. Or, you could hit five clubs on any Saturday night and not see the diversity of the 30-plus bands that play the FUSE fest each year.

Yes, it's all relative. The Catacomb Party is no Coachella or Lollapalooza or Outside Lands. Sir Paul McCartney won't be headlining a festival in Fresno any time soon.

But Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen will. Allen has been playing since the 1960s and is a legend in the genre. He co-headlines the Catacomb Party with Fashawn, who is a hometown hero and is sure to draw a crowd.

Those are legitimate acts and a big step forward from last year's party (with no offense to Fierce Creatures, last year's headliners).

It wasn't that long ago that former Bee reporter and columnist Mike Osegueda used his column (on these very pages) to lament the fact that Fresno didn't have it own music festival. At that time, I wrote about the topic, saying that I thought it had something to do with Fresno being a city with a major inferiority complex and a bad case of sprawl. I said that "we're so busy talking about what we aren't that we forget who we are. Or, at the very least, who we could be."

I'm not sure any of that has changed much, but now we have the Catacomb Party, and it's just one of several festivals that music fans should get excited about.

There's competition now and that means a better end product for local music fans. That is a sure sign of how far we've come.

You wanted a Fresno music festival, Mike.

Well, now you have your pick.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @JoshuaTehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com

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