Music News & Reviews

Musical discovery a main focus of the TBD Fest

Through name and venue changes, the TBD (formerly Launch) festival’s musical vision stayed intact.

That vision emerged from a desire to introduce new, often electronic-based acts to Sacramento. Fueling this desire is the music lover’s innate instinct to share – not in the illegal-download sense, but the purer one of wanting others to be as captivated as you.

“People don’t always have 100 hours a day to check out the indie-music blogs and see what is up,” TBD organizer Michael Hargis said. “So we share our tastes that we like, and just try to curate the things we love.”

Hargis, 41, has partnered with Clay Nutting, 37, for the past three years in Launch/TBD. Running Oct. 3-Oct. 5 in West Sacramento, this year’s event showcases acts such as Moby, Empire of the Sun and Blondie.

The pair also operate the midtown restaurants LowBrau and Block Butcher Bar. But the partnership is rooted in music.

Launch festival founder Hargis was in a bind in 2011 after an act he had sold his couch to pay for canceled at the 11th hour. He sought help from Nutting, an acquaintance who helped produce the Sacramento Electronic Music Festival and other events. Nutting helped Hargis book acts to fill the hole.

“One thing I really appreciated with him was the can-do attitude,” Hargis said of Nutting. That, and they’re both music fiends. Hargis leans toward synth pop. Nutting likes indie rock, but holds a healthy appreciation for electronic music.

Booking both the Lou Reed-sounding singer Kurt Vile (playing Oct. 5) and Vile’s former band the War on Drugs (Oct. 4) at the same festival might be the ultimate score for Nutting. But he and Hargis also grow visibly excited as they discuss their good fortune in landing French electronic act Justice as the Oct. 5 headliner.

The average radio listener likely has never heard of these people. Hargis and Nutting aren’t that listener. Though running restaurants cuts into their blog-reading time, they keep abreast of what’s current, and have become a kind of live-event blog equivalent in their determination to keep other Sacramentans aware as well.

LowBrau opened on New Year’s Eve 2012 with a performance by Brooklyn synth-pop act St. Lucia. Nutting and Hargis since have brought acts regularly to the restaurant and to their summer THISMidtown Second Saturday street concerts. Acts like Santa Barbara synth-rock band Gardens & Villa, who play festivals such as San Francisco’s Outside Lands.

Nutting uses “tastemaker” to describe himself and Hargis. That term, though appropriate shorthand for what they do, is too chilly to encompass the passion they bring to doing it. Because they are musical adventurers rather than snobs.

During a joint interview at Block, the pair share their music-listening histories, which entail brushes with 1980s acts not considered as forever-cool as Blondie.

Raised on classic rock, Nutting also listened to “NWA and the Beastie Boys, and some glam rock, like Poison,” he said. “I would go to a Huey Lewis concert and then a ZZ Top concert.”

Chimed in Hargis: “I love ZZ Top.”

Perhaps “tastemaker” is as apt a term as any to describe the visceral experience of appreciating music and the subsequent impulse to share it. What Nutting and Hargis do is the blown-up version of handing your earphones to a friend.

And they seek out other earphones, and ears, closer to what Hargis calls “the ground floor” of new music. Hargis and Nutting enlisted New York music agent Jake Bernstein to help them book TBD. “He gets to be aware of so much more than we are able to be aware (in Sacramento), especially from a live perspective,” Hargis said of Bernstein.

Bernstein is agent to Sister Crayon, the popular one-time Sacramento and now Oakland-based (mostly) electronic act. Sister Crayon will appear at TBD Oct. 4 and has performed at Launch and the Sacramento Electronic Music Festival. Crayon singer Terra Lopez is a big fan of Hargis and Nutting.

“I feel like they are kind of pioneers in what they are doing for Sacramento,” Lopez said. “They are the biggest supporters of Sacramento. Over the years, I have heard so many people bad-mouth Sacramento, but Clay and Michael never wavered. They always believed you can do really great things here.”

Hargis said he and Nutting rarely make money on their live-music endeavors, though bar receipts at LowBrau can offset the cost of bringing in an act.

Even when crowd numbers do not meet expectations, Nutting and Hargis view individual events as building blocks. For example, when they brought in French producer Zimmer for THISMidtown a few weeks ago, “we thought we might have 4,000 people in the street,” Hargis said. “And maybe in other cities we would have. But we had a group of people who were dancing and having fun, and that’s what it is all about.”

Those people will be back, Nutting said. And he and Hargis are patient in their goal of bringing new music to a market in which opening ears and eyes to the unknown sometimes requires a philosophical shift.

“It is a challenge in this community because you are always fighting against people’s comfort with familiarity – ‘Oh, I don’t really want to pay a cover because I don’t know who is playing,’ ” Nutting said. “To me, I see that as a reason pay a cover … an open invitation to discover whatever you can.”

Nutting and Hargis can see headway being made. Launch 2012 and 2013 brought thousands of music fans to Cesar Chavez Plaza. On a smaller scale, Nutting and Hargis helped build a local following for St. Lucia, the sunny synth-pop act that helped open LowBrau.

Nutting and Hargis brought St. Lucia back for Launch last year, and then in February of this year, “Ace of Spades booked (St. Lucia) at Assembly and it sold out” the 500-capacity K Street venue, Hargis said.

“We are starting to see that these festivals help bring awareness to that type of music,” Hargis said.

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