With each successive year, there are more and more music festivals popping up of all shapes and sizes, but the Cropped Out Festival is above and beyond the most bizarre. The festival started in 2010, the brainchild of Ryan Davis, currently of the bands State Champion and Tropical Trash and owner operator of the Sophomore Lounge record label, and James Ardery, of the band Lushes. Ardery went on an indefinite hiatus in 2013, as he’d taken up residence in New York City. Davis has held it down since then.
For Davis, the festival is necessary. He admits, “Aside from the initial creation of Cropped Out as a knee-jerk reaction to the mis-(or un-)representation of ‘our’ kinds of artists within regional spotlight circuits, I don’t really think about or identify with festival culture in general, certainly not ‘cutting through’ other people’s.”
He continues adding, “That’s not to say I have anything against them. I’ve played some incredible DIY events like Pü Fest in St. Louis, or Cataracts in Indianapolis, or The Thing in the Spring in small-town New Hampshire. I’ve had a perfectly fine time at larger ones like Pitchfork or Forecastle. It’s not a competition, there’s not even a whiff of that. If people want to see more of something in their community, they should start their own fest. It’s hard work, but it’s not that hard!”
Paying Tribute to Louisville’s Punk & Indie Music Scene
Davis comes by that DIY approach honestly. Louisville has a long and storied history of punk and indie, a bi-product of a partially isolated art music scene. Sure, plenty of bands come through town to perform, but there has always been something so atypical about Louisville, at least from the inside looking out, that seems to defy ready categorization and any and all attempts at straightforward marketing. With bigger towns around pulling the bigger acts out of our orbit, Louisville has been by and large left to tend to our own. Cropped Out celebrates that history with an emphasis on the weird and otherwise immune to classification.
The focus for the festival is in bringing the weirdest and wildest bands to town, a tribute to the rich and diverse history of Louisville music, although that identifying each as such is certainly a comparative science.
Held primarily at the American Turner’s Club since its inception in 2010, Cropped Out boasts opportunities to play ball with your friends, to camp out overnight, to swim in the pool or river both accessible on campus, and a host of bands. Previous years have seen bands as diverse as Scratch Acid, Bill Callahan, White Reaper, The Endtables, The Sun Ra Arkestra, and Angel Olsen, all of which might seem to have little in common at first blush, but share a common aesthetic.
“I do think there’s an over-arching respect for craft that’s kindred amongst all acts on the bill,” says Davis. “A unique consideration of art and approach, not just in the process of recording and performing, but in the way that his/her/their art is placed into the world. I would describe Cropped Out as a friendly and intimate gathering for the creatively adventurous.”
The Right Line-Up
Picking the right line-up might seem critical to the overall feel of the fest, but it’s just a fantasy draft for Davis and his friends.
“There aren’t any sort of algorithms or specific requirements regarding who gets chosen to play and who doesn’t. It’s a somewhat organic process. When James was still involved, we would bounce ideas off one another throughout the year, via YouTube links or Bandcamp pages, or by just hanging out and listening to records or talking about music at the bar or whatever,” says Davis.
But times are changing. Davis explains of his current process that, “Since it’s only me doing the booking these days, I guess I have an ongoing list of sorts. Some of the artists are more far-fetched ‘dream world’ ideas that may or may not ever happen. Others are friends’ bands who have never had the chance to play at Cropped Out or Kentucky in general. I don’t know. I don’t have one of those giant bulletin boards like they do down at the precinct, where cops are interviewing suspects and crossing off names and circling things with a red sharpie. It always just sort of comes together, honestly.”
Between the festival, his musical projects, and the record label, Davis stays busy. So much so, in fact, that in 2015 Cropped Out took a break, something a little outside of the norm for any recurring event. Everything has its place.
He explains, “The only way I know how, by just waking up and doing those things. I’m 31 years old. I’ve never felt aligned with any path but the one I’m on, and it’s taken a really long time to feel like that is in any way validated. But I define myself by my participations, by my ‘art,’ (by way of whatever project that might be, musical or otherwise) and the people with whom I choose to surround myself, so it’s not a conscious decision to pile on as much shit as I can humanly handle.”
Having hit the pause button last year to pursue the event, Davis is optimistic that there is plenty more to come. He explains, “I think it’s something that people should certainly expect, yes. There is nothing concrete beyond our spirit,” adding of the future, “I see Cropped Out twelve days from now. That’s it at the moment.”
As to now though, Davis has a simple philosophy. Of the 2016 Cropped Out, Davis hopes for folks that, “They should expect to have their fucking heads expanded by the beauty of punk and love! Friends from far and near, and fall weather (we hope). People can camp, yea, if they choose to do so. They can also play basketball. They can do whatever they want, at least until they are told to stop. Just be nice to one another, open your ears, and we’ll all come out of this improved.”
Cropped Out is this Friday, September 23, and Saturday, September 24 at American Turners Club (3124 River Road) with a closing party on Sunday at Kaiju (1004 E. Oak St), and features performances from Pissed Out, Dead C, Bitchin’ Bajas and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Kool Keith among others. For ticket information visit here.