Tehee: Downtown Fresno music success makes us want more

The Fresno BeeJuly 24, 2013 

Even before the finalized lineup went public, you knew last weekend's Catacomb Party had the makings of something magical. Even if Mathr de León saw this year's event as a test of the concept.

As one of the event's organizers, he's allowed to be cautiously optimistic, I guess.

He didn't need to be.

As a concept, the Catacomb Party is solid. It's a day's worth of the hippest local and touring bands. It was open to all ages, but it offered beer for the elders. There was a huge amount of buy-in from the city's music and artistic communities.

In practice, there were things that could go wrong. There were multiple stages and 40-plus bands to manage. It was an outdoor event in Fresno in July.

The event was hot, but people didn't seem to complain. There were sound issues, and organizers had trouble keeping the whole thing on schedule. At one point, each of the four stages was at least a half-hour behind schedule.

Rapper Cockamamie Jamie, in particular, was affected by both the sound and schedule issues, but he managed to pull it off with aplomb and delivered a stellar performance. A good chunk of the audience probably thought it was part of the show. (Sorry if I ruined the secret, Jamie.)

I mention these things knowing none of them mattered.

A shoulder-to-shoulder crowd a thousand people deep turned out to watch Fashawn on the Fulton Mall after dark.

Other signs that none of it mattered:

-- Fresno Brewing Company sold out of every keg and bottle and can in its cooler.

-- The shelves at the CVS were laid bare.

-- I Bike Fresno's bike valet parked 150 bicycles.

-- Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were flooded with gushing testimonials and pictures — and the pictures were awe-inspiring.

It was not just hipsters. There were punks and hip-hop heads, skaters and artists, parents with children, downtown dwellers and those just looking to see some music and have a good time.

This time next year, they will remember the general feeling of the festival more than any specific complaints.

The general feeling was pretty darn great.

At several moments during the night, I was stopped by the sheer number of people in attendance and had to remind myself that this wasn't happening on some street in some other city. This was happening in my hometown, within walking distance of where I live. That's something to envy — something that goes a long way to cut loose some of the self-esteem issues that too many in Fresno continue to hold.

A thousand-plus people just tapped directly into the local scene. They got that jolt and they like it.

Here is the part where people wonder out loud why stuff like this can't happen all the time.

Those people have never organized a large-scale event, obviously, and fail to realize even the hardest partier couldn't survive a music festival every weekend.

But what they really want is that feeling.

So they need to take responsibility for finding it. Yes, the festival may happen once a year, but stuff like this does happen all the time.

The bands that played Catacomb? Most have played Fresno before. Many are playing this weekend or next, or the one after that.

Ditto for the artists and food trucks.

The Catacomb Party didn't come out of nowhere, either. Years ago, a group of local music-lovers (myself included) sat down to discuss the possibility of a Fresno music festival, a free, all-ages block party that was heavy on hip bands.

It should all sound familiar.

We weren't able to do it at the time. We started the Fresno Urban Sound Experience instead. That event's sixth year will be Sept. 20-21.

For us, Catacomb was a bit like that mayonnaise jar you just can't open. Someone else always picks it up and the lid pops right off. At least you loosened it up, right?

Now the lid is off.

What will you do?

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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