Undeterred, Lawrence guitarist Mike McCoy pitted them against each other using an unlikely impetus: Confederate raider William Quantrill's pillaging of Lawrence on August 21, 1863. Arranging a weekend festival around that anniversary, McCoy staged last year's North Versus South, with seven bands from Austin and seven groups from Minneapolis dueling on local stages.
Given that nearly 200 Lawrence residents died during Quantrill's attack, history buffs might imagine that the fateful date would be marked with solemn vigils rather than upbeat entertainment from out-of-town acts. But McCoy claims that his brainchild hasn't stirred controversy.
"We are a unifying force rather than a divisive one," McCoy says. "Furthermore, I suspect any evolved social critics worth their salt would be more preoccupied with the slaughter in the streets of Kansas City this summer."
In addition to its soaring homicide rate, Kansas City is known for its competitive concerts, especially the elaborate Club Wars. Spectators looking for Austin and Minneapolis delegates to spar with re-creationist zeal -- or at least sneer at each other like old-school America's Pub Battle of the Bands opponents -- might be disappointed to learn that this isn't a real skirmish. "North Versus South isn't a pissing contest," McCoy says. "It's a way for some like-minded musicians to get together and share laughs at the utter insanity that has become today's music world."
North Versus South II nearly doubles last year's haul, with 27 acts. Former Husker Du drummer and songwriter Grant Hart repeats as the biggest name on the bill, which also includes Ol' Yeller, Grand Champeen and a roster of regional talent culled by scouts Hunter Darby (Austin) and Baby Grant Johnson (Minneapolis).
"Last year, many of the names were unknown to some folks around here, but the performers really won them over," McCoy says. "If you've ever seen Charlie Parr, for example, you'd know what I'm talking about. This stuff has to be seen live to experience that great emotive connection to the artist at the barroom level."
Parr, a country-blues artist with quick-picking fingers and a gritty voice, hails from Austin, Minnesota. "I usually have to specify that I'm not from the other Austin," he tells the Pitch. "Remaining neutral is probably the best bet for me. My biggest influences are Southern artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton, but my songwriting is definitely a product of the North."
McCoy says he plans to expand the format to include even more genres and locales. Potential big-name invitees include Babes in Toyland, Alejandro Escovedo and Spoon. But McCoy will pass on one marquee attraction whose members, he says, would come running if they thought the South's honor was at stake.
"One of my first dates with my wife was a Lynyrd Skynyrd taping at Austin City Limits, and having seen that, I can say that, no, I am not interested in bringing that horseshit to Lawrence," McCoy says.
We suggested another angle: pitting Lawrence itself against alleged music mecca Omaha, Nebraska. "I'm afraid that wouldn't be much of a challenge, since one Conor Oberst does not a scene make," McCoy says.
Sounds like fightin' words.