13 bands kick off the Founders Festival on Friday the 13th

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Borrowed Beams of Light shine with talent, borrowed from other local bands, in the form of a pop-rock, super-group. (Photo by Sam German)

Charlottesville has its fair share of arts festivals, from the Virginia Film Festival and the Festival of the Book to the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph. Paul Beyer wants to add to that list. This Saturday will see the launch of the cutely named Tom Tom Founders Festival, a month-long series of events bookended by a block party on Founder’s Day, April 13, and a two-day festival on May 12 and 13.

Music plays no small part in Beyer’s vision. While Charlottesville’s larger venues like the Jefferson and the Pavilion regularly host cultishly followed jam ensembles, Pitchfork-approved buzz bands, and still-touring legends of yesteryear—and smaller bands stop by the Tea Bazaar or the Southern on their way to Austin’s infamous SXSW—the Tom Tom Founders Festival represents, among other things, one of the largest gatherings of medium-to-high-profile music acts to grace our fair city in recent memory. Like nearby Nelson County’s Festy Experience (which celebrated its second annual event last October and is hosting a spring concert Downtown, also on May 12), it’s a chance for local music fans to hear several big names in one weekend: The Tom Tom Festival features headlining performances by The Walkmen, Josh Ritter, and Here We Go Magic. Dozens of local bands, artists, and organizers will join in, and the full line-up includes over 30 musical acts.

If this large event seems to have suddenly sprung up out of nowhere, it also comes as something of a surprise to the Festival organizers themselves. “When we first started talking about this, it was 2012 being a soft roll out.” Beyer explained. “A test, really; something to get the message out, and see how people respond. Of course, it’s turned into a pretty major roll out. But the impulse is the same, get the idea planted in people’s minds, a music festival about more than music, and let it really blossom in 2013.”

As the Festival’s inaugural event approaches, the final list of bands and venues has yet to be announced, and although a lengthy list of musicians and venues is available, attendees purchasing the $50 all access passes to the Festival weekend don’t know exactly who will be performing where and when. This last-second ironing-out of details seems to be a result of the Festival’s organic, crowd-sourced approach to curation. In addition to booking nationally recognized headlining acts with the help of Richmond promoter Tom Beals, Beyer invited a number of local artists and organizations to participate in filling out the Festival’s schedule.

Under the tripartite banner of “Music, Arts and Innovation,” the month also includes several non-musical events, such as a kite flying picnic, a film screening, a poetry contest, and even a latte art competition (a full listing of events is available on the Tom Tom website www.tomtomfest.com). Beyer noted, “music has this ability to draw people together, and hopefully give more prominence to other conversations going on in the community.”

The Festival begins with an opening gala block party at McGuffey Art Center, featuring 13 bands. Unlike the headlining events that conclude the Festival, the kick-off is all free and all local.

The event will be something of a reunion for the well-established local rock powerhouse Invisible Hand, whose members are currently pursuing a variety of other projects following a successful string of shows and sessions for a new EP. One of those other projects is Hand drummer Adam Brock’s pop-rock super-group Borrowed Beams of Light, whose star power may be eclipsing the various groups from which its members originated.

The gala’s line-up also includes the acoustic jazz of Hot Twang! as well as the Olivarez Trio, which has been entertaining Django Reinhardt fans for several years now with its Tuesday night gigs at the C&O.

Infinite Jets are a newer name in town, but its roots in Charlottesville rock are deep, as each of its members played in other short-lived bands over the years; in fact, newcomers Dwight Howard Johnson also share some of the same band members.

With the addition of the international rhythms of Beleza Brazil and Chihamba, the funky jams of the Downbeat Project and the Eames Coleman Trio, the gala may prove to be the most musically diverse event of the Festival, thanks in no small part to the rich musical culture that has already been present in Charlottesville for years.

The event will begin at 5pm on the front steps of McGuffey, and will also feature street food vendors, children’s activities, and visual art. Time will tell how the Tom Tom Founders Festival shapes up, and what it will develop into, but Friday’s event seems to be about as strong a beginning as any local music enthusiast could ask for.

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