Seattle label Freakout Records throws its sixth annual, genre-crossing festival at eight Ballard venues Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17.
Like most good ideas — democracy, combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bells — it came to Freakout Records co-founder Guy Keltner and his friends while they were getting high and drinking beer. Instead of doing their usual Capitol Hill house-party thing, they thought, maybe one of these weekends they should move their beer-fueled gatherings to the neighborhood’s bars and venues, inviting some of their out-of-town friends’ bands to play.
“We were trying to hook up bands from L.A., Portland and San Francisco with a decent show in Seattle, rather than doing, like, the High Dive on a Monday night,” says Keltner, co-founder of Freakout Festival and frontman for Seattle/NYC garage rockers Acid Tongue.
Granted, Freakout is no divine blueprint for a corruptible system of governance, but six-plus years since that beery light bulb lit up in their heads, it’s grown into an annual two-day bash with a legit budget, with nearly 60 bands performing in more than eight Ballard venues this Friday and Saturday (Nov. 16 and 17). It even spawned the offshoot Freakout label, which has released records from Keltner’s Acid Tongue and others playing the fest. A few years ago, the fest migrated off the Hill to the comparatively low-key ‘hood, where Keltner hopes it will remain, as Ballard has better embraced them and locking down the venues is easier, he says.
Although there’s always been a strong psych-rock element to the club fest, initially launched as Psychedelic Holiday Freakout Festival, the lineups have been fairly eclectic; these days a handful of guest curators (Vera Project, San Francisco’s Sea Witch Productions) help with the booking. It’s still heavy on Seattle and West Coast bands, but this year KEXP’s alternative Latin program El Sonido booked several Mexican bands, which will hold down the Sunset Tavern on Friday, with the Consulate of Mexico in Seattle springing for their travel expenses.
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While a few bigger-name locals — such as the ubiquitous Stas thee Boss, SassyBlack and Gifted Gab’s B.A.G. team-up with Bay Area rapper Blimes — dot the bill, Keltner prefers to focus on acts that might otherwise fly under a lot of people’s radars. “It’s not like going to Bumbershoot or Capitol Hill Block Party and checking off a list of your favorite bands,” he says, “and we’re also not trying to do the self-congratulatory, ‘We booked all the best Seattle bands’ thing either. We’re just trying to book stuff we like.”
Indeed, there’s a lot to like about this year’s diverse roster, heavily dosed with psych/garage rockers and hip-hop luminaries. We’ve told you about stormy post-punks Tres Leches (9 p.m. Saturday, Caffe Umbria), whirling electro-R&B singer JusMoni (9 p.m. Saturday, Tractor Tavern) and the perpetually amped Kung Foo Grip (6:30 p.m. Saturday, Lagunitas) in the past, but here are a handful of other acts to watch this weekend.
Death Valley Girls
L.A. proto-punks with a taste for the occult raise copious amounts of hell on their well-received “Darkness Rains” LP, issued this year through Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records. Stuffed with Sabbath-esque roars and bona fide fist-pumpers that are indebted to the New York Dolls and the Stooges (one of their videos is literally Iggy Pop eating a burger for four minutes), it’s high-wattage rock ‘n‘ roll destined to make basement lights flicker through blown fuses or exorcised spirits. 10 p.m. Friday, Tractor Tavern.
Jenny Don’t & the Spurs
What happens when a gaggle of punk vets embrace their love of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and classic country? Pure throwback magic, turns out. Portland’s sweet singin’ Jenny Don’t and her band, which includes members of Pierced Arrows and Northwest punk legends Wipers, croon and twang through dusty outlaw and spaghetti Western tunes that make you want to chase bank robbers through a canyon — or at least buy a belt buckle and drink $5 tallboys. 10:30 p.m. Friday, Conor Byrne.
Good things started happening for these let-loose garage rockers when they decided to take their gigs a little more seriously, easing off the sauce during their sets. The Mexico City quartet graduated from local house parties to hometown TV appearances, eventually landing a Coachella slot last year. Amiable pop-punky vocals come carefully wrapped in radiant guitars as warm and comforting as a fleece blanket in November, making their Freakout appearance a well-timed cultural import. Midnight Friday, Sunset Tavern, and 7 p.m. Saturday, Caffe Umbria.
These local scuzz-punks have been thrashing around stages all year, erecting pissed-off walls of discord only to tear ’em down with barbed riffs in a shrapnel-spraying frenzy. With hints of noise rock, hard-core and post-punk, the trio’s sonic assault falls somewhere between Metz and Mudhoney, making their obliterating live sets an adrenaline rush. 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Conor Byrne.
Arguably Seattle’s smoothest MC, Porter Ray’s had a somewhat quiet year after dropping his cerebral Sub Pop debut — which, frankly, didn’t get the national love it deserved — in early 2017. Ray brings his fluid bars to the Tractor Tavern, where he and his Black Constellation mates anchor a Saturday lineup stacked with local hip-hop notables. 10 p.m. Saturday, Tractor Tavern.
Freakout Festival. Nov. 16-17, various Ballard locations, $35 one night, $60 two-night pass, $20 single-venue pass, the-freakout.com