MACRoCK, the music festival held annually in Harrisonburg, Va., usually on the first weekend in April, captures the real spirit of an independent music festival meant to connect bands with fans without all the corporate influence hoopla of a festival like SXSW.
In fact, MACRoCK has a rich history, beginning in 1996 when it was founded by James Madison University’s student-run radio station, WXJM, and booked the likes of Superchunk, Dismemberment Plan, and at the time, the little known Elliot Smith.
MACRoCK then broke ties with the college and the radio station to continue on as an independent nonprofit organization aimed to carry out the mission of showcasing truly independent local music acts from across the country, and keeping fans informed about artists and happenings throughout the independent music scene.
The two-day experience this year ran from afternoon hours to the wee hours of the early morning packed with high-energy rock shows full of enthusiastic college kids who weren’t afraid to get a little touchy feely with some playful pushing. Despite the fact that fans obviously owned the floor at MACRoCK, there was still some room for us older post-college adults and journalistic professionals, which made it feel more like a legitimate festival rather than just a string of college rock shows.
Showcases featured metal blends such as the currently buzzing Iron Reagan from Richmond, Va.; a rainbow of punk genres from pop to post-hardcore/ post-punk; and “listening” rock genres, such as experimental and folksy singer/songwriter storytellers.
Friday night featured a fun run of female-fronted bands with D.C.’s own Merge Records artist Ex Hex as the shining star. Saturday night had dueling headliners — pop punk hooligans Diarrhea Planet at the Blue Nile venue and TY Segall-endorsed Memphis punx Ex-Cult (formerly Sex Cult until they were forced to change the band name with a cease-and-desist from the established New York Label under the same moniker) — at the Clementine.
Other highlights included teenage female duo Skating Polly from Oklahoma, who did not disappoint with a set filled with teen angst and stage antics along with girly indie pop. They might have been stripped down (just vocals, bass, and simple drum lines), but they were still youthful rock at its best.
Some familiar local names you might have known at MACRoCK 2014 included pop-punk alt-rockers Rozwell Kid from Shepherdstown, W.Va., and the Funny/ Not Funny record label who has released albums by locals over the years from the former bands Prison Book Club and Demon Beat, and the current band Bishops from Shepherdstown.
Rozwell Kid, a band that channels the spirit of a “rager” keg party set to a warped Weezer soundtrack — and who are always worth seeing when they play Frederick or Shepherdstown — received many accolades after their bigger-than-life set on Saturday.
So, that’s a wrap on MACRoCK 2014. If you want to get a flavor of SXSW or what SXSW claims to be, skip all the big ticket showcases, massive venue lines, and the airplane flights, and check out MACRoCK next year. All you have to do is take the two-hour highway cruise down to Harrisonburg, Va., and get connected with independent music.
– This story was written by Cassandra Mullinix. Follow her on Twitter @bucket_blogger.