Last month I attended a local indie music festival called Oil Region Indie Music Festival, or ORI Fest for short. Actually, allow me to correct that last sentence: I attended the only local indie music festival in this area. That's right, there is only one music festival in this area, and by "this area," I'm talking three counties out, probably more. See, there's not much of a music scene here in the Franklin-Oil City area, and there's a very small amount of people trying to create one. Jerome Wincek is one of those people and the one who started ORI Fest. Before I go into detail about the festival this year, let me share a little interview we did to give you some background on ORI.
When did ORI Fest start and how did you first conceive it? Was it your idea alone or was it a group of you?
Jerome Wincek: I called Joann Wheeler with the idea in February of 2007. I was thinking of moving somewhere warmer, both environmentally and culturally. I had moved back here 5 years prior with the intention of investing all that I had into trying to bring life back to this abandoned, dying region beginning with music. I chose music because that was my career. Although I was encouraged to see Joann Wheeler giving so much effort through the arts revitalization movement into basically the same goal through the visual arts, I felt like I was the only one pushing from the musical side of things. I had a lot of friends give up and move away, and I was feeling pretty hopeless. I thought that if we had some way to showcase the talent that was still here before it all left that maybe the effort might still prove fruitful. I called Joann with the idea of a festival promoting solely original local singer-songwriters as a way to increase awareness of and pride in the ones that stuck around. She latched on to the idea immediately and organized the event in Justus Park in coordination with Tom Huston's celebration of the unveiling of a resident artist's sculptures around Oil City. The turnout wasn't that great, but the songwriters really enjoyed the opportunity.
"This year was well above any of our expectations, and we're excited to think of what could happen next year. It's going to be big."
What's your primary goal with ORI Fest?
JW: The goal of ORI Fest is to raise awareness of and appreciation for the music that has developed in this region. This is not an area that appreciates much besides what they are spoon-fed by popular culture. An independent musician in this area faces an almost impossible challenge when trying to book shows and gain an audience. This festival is intended to help with that.
Do you see a lot of growth in the festival from year to year, or is it more slight?
The festival has always had a lot of performers, just not always an audience. The number of performers has maybe doubled over the years, but the audience has grown by leaps and bounds. Maybe over 500%? We'd like to book maybe 10 more acts next year, and we're in the process of finding venues to sustain that increase.
What are your plans for next year's fest and are you planning any other events leading up to it?
We are showcasing artists throughout the year at different venues this time around with hopes of keeping the festival in people's minds and watching things explode next time around.
Do you think this year's ORI Fest was a success?
This year was well above any of our expectations, and we're excited to think of what could happen next year. It's going to be big.
And finally, do you think we could have a flourishing music scene in this area?
The increasing turnout has started a shift in the local listening base. People are no longer content to go watch mediocre musicians play other people's "hit" songs. They want to hear this area's original perspective and sound. This is a big step toward being able to sustain a local scene. We've got the performers and venues, and now the audience. The only thing we really need for a scene now is a record label or two...
This year's ORI Fest was well above my expectations for sure. It was awesome. I feel bad that I am only getting around to writing about it a month later, but there was so much going on at the festival it was impossible for me to see everything. In order to see every performer, I would've had to be in six places at once the entire time since there were six separate stages running throughout the day. So to get better coverage of the Fest I asked for help from people I knew that were there. I didn't get quite the response I was looking for, but a couple people sent me their stories from ORI via my email and Facebook.
Here's one from Peter John Protivnak, one of the performers:
"This was my first year at the [ORI Fest]. I was asked to play an hour set at Double Play Restaurant and Bar. I played well, and the crowd was awesome. Played five instrumental pieces, sang and played two covers/four originals, and closed the set with Katie Gallagher who sang 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' amazingly with me. Then I headed over to Shamrocks and sang my favorite Hype song with The Hype backing me up on it. I played tambourine with them for most of their set too. Woke up with big welts on my thigh this morning from rockin' the tambourine too hard :-p The crowd was receptive and high energy.
What [ORI Fest] represents is local musicians living in an economically rough part of the country (the rust belt) finding creativity within themselves and bringing the beauty of artistic expression to a struggling part of the nation. We didn't create these circumstances, but every June, we deal with these circumstances using guitars, mics, drums, basses, violins, banjos, and pianos as our mediums to bring pride and joy to our community."
Protivnak singing with The Hype
Here's Kelly Parks sharing her thoughts on friend and performer, Rand Hubiak:
"Rand Hubiak and I graduated together and he was sweet enough to post on facebook a birthday song for me so I must say some kind and funny words about him. First of all, the piano at the Mosaic Cafe was up against the wall. Rand still turned to make eye contact at the crowd all the while describing to us what the song was about and perhaps what inspired him to write it. It was a nice touch. One song was called 'Memoirs of a Man Whore' where he unabashedly breaks out in the chorus line - 'I'm happy to be your whooore!' Quite brave and unique he is. He spoke of the arrangements of his CD. Has a beautiful voice with quite a range and vibrato. Goes by Random Hubiak. Was real happy to catch him live (not be his whore haha)."
These were the only two responses I got, but don't worry, I've got plenty of videos and photos from the festival to share. First I'll talk a little bit about some of the acts I watched. I did see part of Rand Hubiak's set and was very impressed by his singing and piano playing, I must of missed "Memoirs of a Man Whore" though, which I regret. He was a very passionate performer and like Kelly said, he didn't let the fact that he was playing with his back to the audience prevent him from connecting with the crowd.
I also really enjoyed my friend Lauren Joyce's solo set of her songs from Lauren & The Hurt Animals. I am more impressed with her every time she performs and the crowd really got into her set. Performing after her at the Mosaic Cafe was her very talented friend Seth Brewster, who I would have to say was my personal favorite performer. He performed solo, but used a loop pedal to create awesome compositions around his songs. He would play some fiddle, loop it, pluck the fiddle, loop it, play some guitar over that, loop it, create basslines with his gutiar, loop it, and even layer his own singing which was powerful and smooth. He's got a killer falsetto too. Brewster was followed by Tyler Smilo another very talented singer-songwriter from this area who rocked with his acoustic guitar and harmonica combo.
Seth Brewster and Lauren Joyce
One of the first acts I saw at the fest was Jerome Wincek, doing a surprise performance with a friend at one of the local bars. It's always a treat to see him play. Unfortunately, I didn't get to catch him performing with his band, The Old Hats, this year, but I have in the past and they are always a treat to listen to. They sing rowdy folk tunes with Wincek doing lead vocals while his bandmates provide awesome drumming, upright bass, and electric guitar to back it all up. Wincek's got an awesome singing voice.
Wincek performing with Big Jack Earl
There was a great performance on the street stage by Remora Deign who have been a mainstay in this area for many years. Their post-rock, sometimes post-hardcore-leaning sound has never been my thing personally, but damn are they talented musicians. Their drummer kicks ass. There was also Shady Ave, a pop-punk band from Clarion, PA that really tore it up in Billy's bar late in the night.
I missed spoken word artist William James' set, but I can say from past experience he is an awesome poet who just keeps getting better. I also missed my friend Ryan Thompson doing his stand-up comedy routine, but I've heard good things about it, and I already know he's a talented guy from his band Me & You. Check out the awesome collaborative song William James and Me & You did last year for the anniversary of 9/11 here.
I could talk a lot more about the many awesome musicians and performers at this year's ORI Fest, but instead I'll just let you watch the coverage of the fest by Jim Ru below, along with a promo for a documentary about this year's ORI Fest that is currently being put together by local filmmaker Matt Croyle. Also check out official photos from the fest via the ORI Fest Facebook page here.
Connect with Oil Region Indie Music Festival: Facebook event page | Oil Region Indie Facebook
ORI Fest 2012 Coverage Part 1
ORI Fest 2012 Coverage Part 2
ORI Fest 2012 Coverage Part 3