"Cosmic vibes, man," said the drunk guy, reeling on the sidewalk. "Cosmic vibes!" It was rounding midnight, and there was a feeding frenzy inside the Crossroads Music Festival's largest venue. Hearts of Darkness were funking it up inside Crosstown Station, and the Good Foot was close at the Afro-beat ensemble's heels. After throngs of people coursed through various nooks and corners through the Crossroads' heart all night long, everyone seemed to have the same idea at once. Cue hysteria.
Shoulders bumped; frantic phone calls were made. One guy munched on a panini fresh from Press, upstairs. When a bouncer bumped his shoulder, the panini-muncher copped an attitude. "Excuse me!" said the bouncer sarcastically. "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me!" A security guard patiently explained to a pissed-off girl with her cell phone to her ear, "They didn't anticipate this many people being interested in this show." No shit.
It was the only claustrophobic moment of the night (that is, besides the cloying stench in the Mercy Seat alley; but more on that later). For a festival boasting 26 bands across six stages, the sixth annual Crossroads Music Festival was surprisingly chill.
My night kicked off in a mellow style: cuddling up with the soothing sounds of Katlyn Conroy (also known as the newest member of Lawrence's indie-pop prodigies Cowboy Indian Bear). Conroy played a stripped set at the Brick, consisting of her stark, beautiful voice and keyboards. Nervousness got the better of Conroy's fingers several times, as she unexpectedly stopped, stuttered an apology and began again. She worked into a groove as she dug deeper into her catalog, hitting a high point when she poured out confessional lyrics in a fiery stream at the end of her set. (Conroy also whipped out some charming covers, too, like a beautifully rendered version of "Sentimental Heart.")
Trekking up to the Mercy Seat provided an abrupt switch in the vibe. Biker bouncers stood in front of an alley behind the tattoo shop, where a rank-smelling dumpster blocked off a stage nestled between two brick walls. Kids wound fingers through the chain-link fence behind the alleyway, and show-goers smoked and chatted in the acidic orange light of the streetlights. An eerie blue light illuminated the sunglass-clad visages of the Bleach Bloodz, whose sleazy swagger wasn't deterred by the pungent stink of garbage wafting over the stage. (In fact, it almost added authentic D.I.Y-style grit to the band's set. Or maybe that's just me, delighting in the disgusting.)
It was the first time I'd seen Altantic Fadeout in the flesh, which is the new project of Chris Meck and Abigail Henderson (of the Gaslights and Tiny Horse), Amy Farrand (of American Catastrophe), and Dutch Humpfrey (Elkhart). Henderson -- clad in a black T-shirt and baseball cap -- belted bluesy wails over the band's gnarled, twangy rock songs. (It sounded a bit like the Drive-By Truckers' more rowdy numbers, with a female vocalist.) Press, Crosstown Station's new upstairs venue, seemed like an incredibly pristine location for the low-slung, Southern-rock-tinged songs that Altantic Fadeout threw down. People lounged on low, leather couches with beers, passively absorbing the band's chunky riffs. The verdict? Right band, wrong venue.
I wound down the stairs to find the Columns -- the band of Bill Sundahl, who organized the whole shebang -- pouring out lazy blues with his band in a cloud of smoke. Sundahl's voice had a wonderfully lazy sway on stage; especially when paired with his backup band's strong trumpet serenades, and the striking twang of Lauren Krum (of the Grisly Hand), who joined him onstage for a number or two in the middle of the band's set. (A note to the Columns: Do that again. That was awesome.) The Columns closed its set with a foot-stomping, flamenco-style number, complete with tribal, chanted refrains.
A trip to the Crosstown Station's ladies room revealed a chick who -- after, I imagine, tearing herself away from her Mac screen after a long, grueling day of gaming -- decided to tie up her shirt, Shania Twain-style, and bare her belly and bra at CMF. Two spectacularly drunk cougars tapped random strangers for dances out in the crowd, finally finding a partner in a Hawaiian-shirted gentleman who employed the fishing-reel dance-move technique. As fascinating as this was to watch, when one of the drunk ladies' glass shattered all over the floor, it was high time to migrate.
After hazarding a dash through traffic across Grand, a peek into the Kansas City Café looked a bit too tame (and far too well-lit) for the moment. Instead, a trip to Czar Bar yielded more alt-country -- this time, in the form of Dead Voices - and one too many poorly thought-out rumplemintz shots for me. (Ugh.) The band shares a smattering of sounds from the members' other projects: Brannock Device, Mr. Marco's V7, the Columns and the Afterparty. The band's familiar sound reminded me a bit of contemporary troubadour Langhorne Slim, especially due to David Regnier's lightly nasal delivery. Dead Voices chugged along, keeping the blood flowing as the night waned.After hoofing it over to Crosstown Station, I found a crowd of drunk people (after all, it was after midnight) standing outside the venue. There were those who were waiting in a line that wasn't moving, and there were those who were standing about, bitching, smoking or laughing. (The skillful ones were doing all three.) I watched crowd members trickle down the street towards their cars, and other shows.