The weird get weirder
Festival has new name - again - but same sense of adventure
Just in case you were worried that the Whitehaus Family Record’s summer music and performance bash was in danger of becoming too easily recognizable and established, you can rest easy. It won’t be Bonnaroo anytime soon.
In the latest tweak to what is becoming something of a tradition amid the Greater Boston underground music community (or, perhaps more accurately, communities), the annual multi-artist gathering originally dubbed “Weirdstock’’ has, for the third straight year, been given a name and format makeover. That has become a kind of ritual in and of itself. “We Are Guest Talk, Free: $10’’ is the improbable title that marks this Sunday’s event at the YMCA Theatre in Cambridge.
“The first year  was ‘Weirdstock’, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, and then last year we did ‘Weird Stalk, Too’,’’ explains the Whitehaus artist known as Arkm Foam (real first name: Adam; last name a mystery), who put together this year’s smorgasbord of performers. “This year we wanted to further abstract the name. So, ‘We Are Guest Talk, Free’ is meant to sound like ‘Weirdstock Three.’ We also wanted to eradicate ‘weird’ from the title. But then, the title became weird itself.’’
Foam sounds pleased about the resiliency and irrepressibility of, well, the festival’s weirdness factor. And as for the “free’’ in the revamped title (which the event, in fact, isn’t): “It’s to indicate that we’ll set you free, at a cost,’’ Foam says. “Ten dollars.’’
That 10 bucks brings quite a bang, much of it wild, woolly, and yes, quite weird. This Sunday, from 2 until 10 p.m., more than 30 artists - many of them local, but a handful, like Kansas City’s Unicorns in the Snow, Oakland’s Horaflora, and Cincinnati’s Solace Media Corporation Tourist, are traveling longer distances - will converge on the YMCA for a succession of individual performances that will last anywhere from five to 15 minutes, round-robin style.
At around 6 p.m., longer performances of between 20 and 30 minutes will be the order of the evening. (Go to www.whitehausfamilyrecord.com for a complete schedule of artists, links, music, and video downloads.).
“We wanted to get a lot of people there early, with the idea that the five-minute round is really going to be a spectacle,’’ Foam says. “It goes beyond what any of the artists could have done themselves, because it’s going to be an hour of totally different things. And everyone’s going to bring their A-game for those five minutes.’’
This novel approach reflects a shift from the 50-plus band, three-day marathon of 2009’s inaugural Weirdstock, and last year’s sundown-to-sunup event, which was moved to the Temple on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, adjacent to the Whitehaus Family Record’s physical home and headquarters.
In a bit of symmetry meant to underscore the contiguous nature of the ongoing series, Boston’s Metal and Glass Ensemble, an improvisational group that uses bowed cymbals, assorted metal objects, and drinking glasses tuned to a 23-note octave, will open the festival with an hourlong drone. The group closed last year’s event at sunrise.
If there is one established tradition of these Whitehaus-curated showcases, it’s the enthusiastic embrace of nontraditional, nonmainstream notions of music and performance art. Consider, for instance, Nautical Almanac, a Baltimore outfit that generates sound not from electricity or computers, but rather plastic, leather, wire, and rubber. Or, the rather oddly named Fat Worm of Error, a Northampton ensemble that employs homemade costumes and titles its experimental noise pieces things like “Court of the Pleasing Fungus Scarab’’ and “Six Foot Squid.’’
Pushing, or speeding past, the boundaries of what’s commonly considered good taste or socially acceptable behavior is also a key element of each year’s event. At the first Weirdstock, Vermont performer Son of Salami (who’s on this Sunday’s bill) ranted and raved about unrequited love over a cringe-worthy cassette mix of sludgy sounds, while lurching around the stage in a wheelchair he didn’t need.
“Definitely, part of the idea is to have an assortment of take-home concepts to grapple with for the weeks to come,’’ says Foam. “There’s definitely some [performers] that might get most people to walk out of a room. As close to that edge as we can get is good for Weirdstock.’’
Has Foam ever been tempted to vacate the premises during an artist’s set?
“Oh, yeah - you go, ‘I don’t know if I can really even handle this,’ ’’ he says with a hearty chuckle. “And we’ve invited those people back every year.’’
Jonathan Perry can be reached at email@example.com.