Last year, the Fresno Urban Sound Experience had a milestone year with a record number of bands and venues involved in the downtown Fresno all-local music festival to celebrate its fifth anniversary.
This year, FUSE organizers decided to turn things down a notch. They hope to make the annual showcase of Valley-bred musicians more intimate and to attract more Fresnans outside of the "normal crowd" that are already fans of the homegrown tunes.
"We felt we were spreading things out too much the past couple years, so this year we pulled it back in just a little," says Mike Seay, festival organizer and local music lover.
Despite the more than 1,000 people that flooded the Fulton Mall for the Catacomb Party in July, the all-volunteer crew of FUSE Fest organizers believe they have to start small in order to meet their true goal of sparking an interest in the Fresno music scene.
Local musician, festival veteran and organizer Blake Jones says FUSE Fest needs a buy-in from the greater public.
"Right now we have a select amount of people, a tribe that really collects for these events," Jones says. "But we need to see Fresno very proud of the music scene it has; to have Fresnans very aware of the music scene."
So they condensed this year's FUSE Fest from three days to two, selected venues within less than three blocks from each other on a stretch of Fulton Avenue and lowered the cost of a festival pass from $20 to $15 (although for $25 you're also given a FUSE Fest shirt and Fresno Covers Fresno CD filled with the best picks in local music).
Overall, the festival will feature 33 bands at four venues.
Stages will be set up at Fulton 55, handling tonight's bill, and Tokyo Garden, Warnors Theatre complex, including Frank's Place, and Peeve's Public House, hosting the rest of the bands on Saturday.
Like always, the festival sticks to its tradition of half-hour set times for everybody. There are no headliners and the point is to walk from venue to venue, discovering new music you never knew existed in the confines of Fresno County. This year's festival also will feature a special edition beer from Tioga Sequoia Brewing to commemorate the festival, Seay says. Keep an eye on the taps as it'll be available at some of the venues down Fulton.
Parking is free on weekends along the downtown streets.
Fellow organizer Abe Lopez calls the Valley a "treasure trove in local talent," and assures festival goers that this year's lineup won't let you down.
Tonight's lineup at Fulton 55 kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with blues rockers Copper and Glass on the main stage and Boxcar Figaro starting at 8 p.m. in the upstairs lounge. While the music at Fulton 55 may start off soothing and soulful, that will change up with rapper Cockamamie Jamie and Collecto, the electronic-producing robot, closing out the main stage.
A first-time FUSE Fest performer, Cockamamie Jamie is a rapper whose inclusion of snack-time treats and blood at the Catacomb Party earned him enough street cred to land a spot on the festival's bill.
And he's excited for it, saying festival goers can "expect story-time raps, maniacal energy and blood."
FUSE Fest also will connect worldwide for the PechaKucha Global Night via a nonstop 24-hour Google Hangout online video stream at 9 p.m. in the upstairs lounge. A series of PechaKucha 20x20 (20 images, 20 seconds) presentations will take place in one of the half-hour slots.
On Saturday, things gets hotter with acts ranging from the all-female Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries, the heavy-hitting Werebear, rapper and Living Legend Black Aesop, and American rock band Sparklejet. Also making a return are indie rockers The Sleepover Disaster, who reunited this summer after a hiatus of almost four years.
Seay puts it best: "You don't have to go out of town to hear good music. You just have to leave your house."
Five acts to see
Mike Seay of TheFresnan.com recommends these bands:
Sparklejet: "They have an amazing sound and blow new-to-see-them people away."
Sleepover Disaster: "This will be an exciting one. They called it quits a few years ago at FUSE Fest and now are 100% back."
123Death: "It will be cool as it's the first time they will play live in Fresno."
Farooq: "It'll be fun because most people aren't exposed to their style of music because they mostly play venues only the younger crowd go to."
Cockamamie Jamie: "He puts on a hell of a show and never fails to entertain."
Sea of SoundGayle and the BowtiesArt By NumbersFUSE lineup
Friday at Fulton 55 (see map)
Main stage: 7:30 p.m. Copper and Glass, 8:30 p.m. Sea of Sound, 9:30 p.m. Richfield, 10:30 p.m. Cockamamie Jamie, 11:30 p.m. Collecto.
Upstairs: 8 p.m. Boxcar Figaro, 9 p.m. Pecha Kucha Global Night, 10 p.m. Tommy Marquez, 11 p.m. Restaurnaut.
Saturday (see map)
Warnors Mezzanine: 6:30 p.m. Murder Park, 7:30 p.m. Farooq, 8:30 p.m. Black Aesop, 9:30 p.m. Hell08s.
Warnors Fish Bowl: 7 p.m. Macondo, 8 p.m. Werebear, 9 p.m. Twisted Capz, 10 p.m. Kooleidoscope.
Warnors Stage: 7 p.m. Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries, 8 p.m. Le Wolves, 9 p.m. It'll Grow Back, 10 p.m. Greener By Color
Warnors Frank's Place: 7:30 p.m. Sunburns, 8:30 p.m. The Dirty Limbs, 9:30 p.m. The Sleepover Disaster, 10:30 p.m. Sparklejet.
Peeve's Public House: 6:30 p.m. Clatterbox, 7:30 p.m. Francis Ward, 8:30 p.m. Style Like Revelators, 9:30 p.m. Sci-Fi Caper
Tokyo Garden: 10 p.m. Blake Jones and the Trike Shop, 11 p.m. Isosceles Trio, 12 a.m. Actress, 1 a.m. 123 Death. An after party is also scheduled to close the festival.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6165 or email@example.com.