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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Milwaukee Psych Fest Returns for a Crowded Four-Day Weekend

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Though only officially launched last year, the Milwaukee Psych Fest has quickly carved out a rather prominent place on the city’s spring concert calendar, capitalizing on the recent surplus of bands specializing in lysergic sounds, subtle and otherwise, both locally and nationally. Likeminded events, most notably the Austin Psych Fest, are also thriving, but while the timing is certainly right, a big part of the Milwaukee Psych Fest’s rapid success is due to the tireless efforts of founder and curator Andrew Shelp, who’s not only aggressively promoted the festival in the intervening year, but also gone above and beyond to make the second annual event even more eclectic and expansive.

“In 2012, Eric Uecke from Cactus Club had gotten ahold of me to try and put together a 4/20 show, because he knew I was into outsider, weirdo music, and it just kind of morphed into the Milwaukee Psych Fest,” remembers Shelp, admitting even he was surprised by the sort of instant, avid interest the inaugural fest generated. “Last year, I was doing the door and there were a ton of people I’d never seen before, and I go to shows, play shows, put shows together, and I just saw so many new faces. I was like, ‘Where are you the rest of the year?’”

To maintain that momentum, Shelp sought out any sponsor he could to help fund the 2014 festival, mostly signing up local businesses like Sky High Skateboards and Acme Records & Music Emporium, but also landing a certain beer brand infamously eager to identify itself with anything the least bit hip. “Getting the headliners all has to do with sponsorship, and this year Pabst really kind of went all out for me,” says Shelp. “They’re covering a lot of the expenses, which is awesome, it’s really helpful. The more sponsorship money I can get, the bigger my budget is and the bigger bands I can book.”

One of his biggest gets is the spacey proto-shoegaze outfit Loop, who only recently reformed after ending their groundbreaking original run in 1991. “I saw they reunited and reached out to their booking agent, but this was before they were doing any touring or anything and they asked for an astronomical amount of money,” says Shelp, “So I said, ‘Get a hold of me if anything changes,’ and all of a sudden they booked this U.S. tour and were able to do it for, well, still a large amount of money, but it was a big cut for them and something I could actually handle.”

In addition to a slew of other touring acts, this year’s four-day fest also lives up to its name by presenting a plethora of local talent, including newer groups Moon Curse and Space Raft as well as the long-running, but wildly underappreciated, Vocokesh. “They’ve been doing it since the ’90s, put out a bunch of stuff on Drag City, were on a big label and had good distribution, but they’ve never really been recognized in the city of Milwaukee,” marvels Shelp. “I mean, I’m from here, but I moved to Michigan for a few years and that’s when I found out about this great Milwaukee band.”

For now, the festival remains at the Cactus Club, though, given how far it’s come in a single year, it’ll likely need more space soon. “If it keeps growing I anticipate moving to Turner [Hall Ballroom] or the Miramar,” says Shelp, “But taking it outdoors would be ideal; I would love to be able to find some land nearby.” Until then, Shelp’s content to just blow a few new minds. “The emphasis is on getting people involved, getting them motivated to go out and experience something they maybe haven’t seen before,” he says, “I really think there’s something for everyone, people just have to give it a chance and check it out.”

The Milwaukee Psych Fest runs Thursday, April 24 through Sunday, April 27 at the Cactus Club. For complete daily lineups, visit facebook.com/milwaukeepsychfest.