CMJ Music Marathon 2006 | 10.31–11.05.06

Off-key male-female vocals? Check. Odd and interchanging instruments? But of course.


Photo: Christopher Owyoung

New York City

I've been wondering how to spin it. This review, I mean. Next to South by Southwest, held every March in the fabulous Austin, Texas, the CMJ Music Marathon is the place to discover new bands. I don't care that it was founded as a means of bands receiving exposure and college radio airplay; to me, it's a predictive showcase, and one I look forward to.

Something this year was different. The lineup was announced, and we hungrily pored over the showcases. Must-sees? Umm…no. Wanna sees? A handful, sure. The Silversun Pickups. The Honorary Title. The Fall. Margot & the Nuclear So and So's (who we've seen a zillion times before…but, really, who ever gets tired of seeing Margot?). A handful of bands, tops.

Of that wish list, we managed 50 percent…not a bad ratio, perhaps, but compared to 1,500 bands selected for the showcase, it was pretty poor. Oh, sure, there were others we would have loved to have seen: the Cinematics, Kevin Devine, Longwave, Favorite Sons. But it just wasn't in the paltry door counts, apparently.

See, here's the thing. At most festivals, your badge is golden. Your badge means that, unless the show is sold out, you will get in first. At CMJ, not so. Each club has an allotted number of CMJ badges—this year, the magic number seemed to be 75—after which everyone pays the cover charge. And this being New York, the cover charge isn't cheap; for instance, to catch the closing-night 30-minute Margot set, we would have had to pay $15 had tour manager Marshall not intervened. (God bless you, Marshall.) I don't know about you, but a $495 badge should carry more perks than just a two-aisle trade show and some not-always-applicable-to-my-life panels. Or maybe that's just me.

In any case, the CMJ Music Marathon has gotten away from its initial aim of breaking acts into college radio or inspiring major label signings; that much is true. Sure, there are gems to be found, and that's always the bonus of a talked-about festival. But, sadly, this year, I was not the one to discover the jewels.

I saw some bands that were worth my time, but none that really stood out. Mohair was good; O'Death not bad, either, reminiscent of the Boggs (whose CMJ set we also missed). Most of this year's bands, though, seemed all cut from the same fabric: Art school dropouts. Nonconformists. Didn't fit in then, certainly don't want to fit in now. Off-key male-female vocals? Check. Odd and interchanging instruments? But of course. Ah, it was fun for a song or two. But after a set, and a set, and a set…a bit tiring, I must confess.

The highlights of my NYC trip were non-CMJ showcases. The Bigfatcat/September Gurl PR showcase (yes, OK, I had a hand in booking it) totally blew me away, and the full house at Banjo Jim's that witnessed it. Extra Blue Kind was the shit; that much was agreed upon, and KaiserCartel, Jason Michael Thomas, and Geoff Koch were all impressive, as well.

And maybe the bottom line here was this: These musicians were just that: real musicians, playing from the heart. They weren't putting on any pretenses; they weren't trying to be hip or indifferent. They were just performing from the heart-and, in the process, reaching ours, as well. And, really, isn't that what music's all about? | Laura Hamlett



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About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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