October begins, and with it not only Halloween, but also another gaudy and outré seasonal observance known as the O-Positive (O+) Festival. Now into double-digit years, O+ is Kingston’s weekend-long music, art and wellness street bazaar in which artists exchange their gifts for health services, from the most essential – dentistry, for example, often a ship-sinking concern among independent “creatives” (Yuck. Did I just call them that? That’s the corporate-approved term that, along with the dismissive and belittling generality “content,” was used to devalue art as a commodity, to funnel all proceeds to the channel-owners and to exploit the very real truth that we’d probably do it even if you don’t pay us, so shame on me) – or, if your teeth are okay, perhaps a luxurious gong bath or a chair massage before your set.
O+’s smart people always suggest a different thematic overlay, something that might, in a loose way, unify the season’s hip circus of cool offerings. This year they seized on the ambiguities of the symbol “X,” a reference to the venerable festival’s tenth anniversary and to the resonance and volatility of X in the gender wars, among other things. I can’t help seeing X, additionally, as a thing that happens to uninsured people. Of course, bands kind of know their tunes already and will have a harder (though not impossible) time of responding to a thematic suggestion from one festival. Where the chosen theme really gets its play is with the visual art and street-level action, and O+ is traditionally a muralists’ watershed, the yield of which makes Kingston infinitely more interesting year-round, with acknowledgments granted to the grumblings of the few who prefer the fading-paint brands of late-19th-century furniture stores on brick façades: a perfectly defensible aesthetic.
X or not (and no, John, Exene and Billy are not reuniting in Kingston), this year’s music lineup is an absolute bear. It was already strong before the late addition of headliner Dave Longstreth, whose main project, Dirty Projectors, may be the most challenging and musically substantive rock band of the last two decades – love or hate, and they do pose a rather binary proposition. There’s early DP: Longstreth’s insane AD(I)H(Y)D bedroom epics. There’s peak period DP: the skittish rock masterpiece Bitte Orca, the high-concept EP collaboration with Bjork called Mt. Wittenberg Orca and the lovely and awkward Swing Lo Magellan, all of which share in Longstreth’s oblique and dense environmentalist critique. And then there’s recent DP: the self-titled sad cowboy comeback record of 2016 and 2018’s return to form, Lamp Lit Prose. Dave Longstreth’s likeness should be on the Mount Rushmore of “Interesting,” perhaps next to Harry Partch. I am shocked how easily some smart people dismiss him just because his basic musical setting is “discomfiting” and rather brainy.
Another headliner and big score !!! (Chk Chk Chk), the California, now New York band is often described as “dance-punk,” and, man, is that apt. Wicked-but-earthy electro grooves, smart punk snot and lots of dead-on and witty social critique: They literally sound like an ideal fusion of the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite, with a lot of other coolness interceding. Experimentalist songwriter Elvis Perkins tops the banner as well: an artist who oversees a very successful and organic integration of retro folk/rock songwriting and pure sound.
Other notable scores includes Brooklyn-scene mainstay guitarist, songwriter and producer Sam Cohen (Yellowbirds et cetera), the Mystical Arts of Tibet (at UPAC, which is, like so much of Broadway now, in on O+), the Aron Dyer (Buke and Gase) -led Dronechoir and more than I could possibly list (over 40 acts) in the space left to me here. O+’s website is, as ever, a model of elegant and accessible webcraft. Use it to study the lineup and plot your own course through the madness. If you have never been to an O+ before, be prepared for a revelation, a brief interval of civic transformation that will make you proud to be from around here. Three-day passes cost a flat $50, available online and on-site. It’s a ridiculous deal.