Eight hours of wildly eclectic acts -- and perhaps a giant flute or two -- at this Sunday's fifth annual Switchboard Music Festival
MUSIC There is just no easy way to define longtime Oakland band, Faun Fables. But here goes: send a classically-trained dark folk duo into the brush and bramble of a snow-tipped forest as part of a nefarious fairy tale, then ask them to sing for their supper. See? It's difficult.
That's precisely why the band (Dawn McCarthy and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's Nils Frykdahl) was chosen as one of the headliners for the fifth annual Switchboard Music Festival — the eight-hour-long marathon of fearless composers and bands making music that doesn't fit neatly anywhere elsewhere in the Bay. "The idea with the programming is that a lot of this music doesn't really have a home because it doesn't fall easily into one genre or another, so Switchboard is trying to be that home for these groups," explains co-organizer Ryan Brown.
The day will include 13 dizzying sets: some at just 15 minutes, most at 30 minutes, and two headliners at 45 minutes. Along with Faun Fables, the other headliner is Volti, an a capella chamber choir. "They do this incredible modern music for choir with all these extended vocal techniques and different sounds from around the world," says Brown. "We'll have them together on stage [with Faun Fables] for a song or two as well — that's what I'm really looking forward to."
Other acts this year include Dominique Leon, Cornelius Boots, Ramon and Jessica, Mercury Falls, Jeff Anderle, Beep, the Hurd Ensemble, and Grains. The SF Conservatory Guitar Ensemble will play a piece composed by Brown on six classical guitars, electric guitar, electric bass, and percussion.
"The sets are short enough that... you hear things back to back and you can sort of start to make these connections between different genres and styles that you might not otherwise make if you were exploring on your own," says Brown.
Now completing their PhDs in music composition at Princeton, Brown and pal Jonathan Russell first came up with the Switchboard concept shortly after receiving their masters from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The two hung around the school after graduating — teaching and working in the box office — and routinely ate lunch together, which is where they discussed a desire to showcase the musicians they'd met. Jeff Anderle, a clarinetist at the school, came in to the discussion and the three came up with Switchboard.
"We wanted to do something that brought together all the amazing musicians, different scenes, and genre-blending zeitgeist that that seemed to be happening in the city," says Brown. "Genre lines were being deliberately broken down, things were being mixed in strange ways."
That first year the three organizers just made a list of people they knew who were breaking down those barriers and programmed the event. The first three years the event was held at the Dance Mission Theater, capacity 135, and last year it jumped to Brava Theater, which can house around 350 people. "The sound there is incredible, it's just a really cool space and size," Brown says.
And in that space there will be nearly 100 musicians milling about, both in the proper concert room where bands will be playing, and out in the lobby, where there will be merch, food and drink, and a projection of the live music. Attendees will be given wristbands, so they may also mill about during the eight-hour stretch.
As in years past, nearly every band playing the festival is from the Bay Area. It's been a deliberate choice, as Brown and his co-organizers feel the region doesn't get the attention it deserves for having such an innovative music scene. And, they feel like they're filling a niche in that scene.