A few years ago Andrew Shelp, Milwaukee Psych Fest curator, lone organizer and the brains behind Moss Folk found himself playing a hippy wedding ceremony in a haunted, overgrown campground thinking to himself “I should do this more often.” Fast forward a few years, past the festival's initial incarnate: the Rockin' Soul and Surf Pow-Wow and last year's “huge success” (in which Shelp managed to make $50) and you have what has become one of the most promising and important DIY festivals in the country. On April 24th through the 28th Bay View's Cactus Club will host the second annual Milwaukee Psych Fest, a four day whirlwind of music and culture who's origins are inextricably tied to an inspiring man who is just as likely to discuss driving a vintage Porsche high on LSD as he is to explain segregations negative influence on our art scene.
With his first child due in July and a Moss Folk tour around the corner Shelp single-handedly pulled together another year of Psych Fest; somehow finding the time to build on last years success while maintaining his affable attitude. Merely a few minutes into my afternoon with Shelp, a man who brims with charisma and wisdom, yet manages to maintain an endearing and child-like infatuation with the world, it is apparent that all the promise and success of this festival comes from his personal philosophy and love of music. “Who ever wants to play should be able to play. If you're into it I want you to be involved. I want people to do this enthusiastically; obviously I want the bands to be good but if you are enthusiastic about playing you should absolutely become involved. ” Apparently this approach is working, because this year the festival has grown from 12 to 20+ bands, including the British psych/shoe-gaze pioneers Loop and an amalgam of visual artists.
Throughout our conversation Shelp maintained his strong emphasis on community interaction and was adamant about exposing Milwaukee's “really strong” punk, doom and garage scenes to things a bit more avant-garde. “The line-up is very intentional. I tried to mix it up. I didn't want to have one day of all stoner rock, one day of all garage rock and one day of all electronic music. I wanted to give people the opportunity to be exposed to a bunch of different types of music.” Further insisting with a self-aware inflection, that anticipated a lot of the flack he could receive, he said: “Milwaukee is a tough town for music. It really is. It's weird because there are tons of great people, it's a great art community, but it's just really segregated and hard to get people into things they are not familiar with.” And while this may seem blasphemous in a city that boasts the world's largest music festival and prides itself on it's arts, Shelp is actually on to something.
In The Atlantic's most recent examination of segregation in the United States Milwaukee, sadly, finished first. As Milwaukeean's this probably doesn't come as too much of a surprise, but what would surprise many of us is how little national recognition we received in similar polls ranking the country's best music cities (go ahead Google it). Maybe it's because of our size, but I don't think many Milwaukeean's feel the city fits within the confines prescribed to us by the nation's cultural hubs when it comes to music and the arts. Then what could it be? Is it really that farfetched to suggest that our segregate nature permeates beyond where we feel comfortable living?
Unfortunately I don't think it is. But with that realization comes an opportunity, one which Shelp is embracing. Psych Fest represents the fertility of our community and the opportunity in Milwaukee to still create something organic and new. Milwaukee has the privilege of being a city that still has a say in what it is going to become and after spending an afternoon with Andrew Shelp I felt more confident that we'll take things in a direction that promotes communication and understanding above all else. Because as Shelp importantly notes: "What may be psychedelic and ethereal to me, might not be to you."
Individual and 4 Day Passes are available HERE
Milwaukee Psych Fest list of sponsors:
Pabst Brewing Company
Sky High Skateboard Shop & Gallery
Classic Slice Pizza