Chive Fest: Stalking the Great American Bro in his natural habitat

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Chive Fest-8529

Taxonomic classification of specimen: Brosephus americanus
Location: Seattle Center, around International Fountain
Date spotted: 7/12/2014
Description of encounter: (see below)

Does the world need another summer music festival, much less four? On the other hand, if that festival attracts a very specific, boisterously drunken breed, is it actually doing the rest of the world a favor by temporarily corralling them with their own kind? This is the question I set out to explore.

The legendary American Bro was out in all his collective glory at Seattle Center on Saturday for Chive Fest. The festival’s 8-band, 2-stage lineup boasted acts like Washed Out and Girl Talk, but there were several points I found myself wondering if this was actually a novelty t-shirt and beer convention with music on the side. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those who have avoided it, theCHIVE [sic] is ostensibly a comedy photo and video site. In practice, that means plenty of cleavage, hot girls, and fratty type dude jokes. Think Buzzfeed as filtered through Maxim Magazine. Chive Fest is a new 4-stop musical festival with dates in Chicago, Seattle, Denver, and Dallas (apparently cities that have high theCHIVE readership).

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Saturday was Seattle’s turn to host theCHIVE’s biggest fans. And let me tell you, it is a fairly specific tribe apparently dedicated to a certain code. From my roughly seven hours of direct, embedded observation, I would say that core set of shared values and beliefs among Brosephus americanus can be summed up thusly:

Chive Fest-93311) Shirts are by no means required, but if you’re going to wear a shirt, it’d better have no sleeves (tank top), or have something epic printed on it, bro. Epicness is judged by common repetition among the tribe; the more, the better.

2) Examples of epic t-shirts include: a) “Keep Calm and Chive On” (plus all KCCO and its variants) b) Bill Murray (including but not limited to Bill Murray in a tux, golfing Bill Murray, Bill Murray as Uncle Sam, Bill Murray ad infinitum–Murray is apparently rabidly popular with this set) or c) Shirts about drinking (including the popular “Fuck It Let’s Drink” and its variants “Welcome To The Shit Show” and “Surprise I’m Drunk”).

3) Alcohol is to be consumed in mass quantities. The event was prominently sponsored by Wild Turkey American Honey whiskey, which was copiously available in VIP, plus plenty of beer tents serving Bud Light, KCCO brews, and others. B. americanus displayed increasing signs of alcohol intoxication throughout the sweltering day, including stumbling steps, glazed eyes, and ever louder voices.

4) High fives, bro.

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Lest this observation address only the male of the species, allow me to expound for a moment on the women in attendance. The event proudly proclaimed that “Chivettes” would be on hand. And indeed, there they were, in school girl knee socks and tight white shirts displaying their particular sets of augmented realities. But these were just the professionals. While the crowd felt overwhelmingly male in demeanor and display, there were in fact plenty of women out and about. Likely not in equal number to the bros, but there were plenty of females adhering to all the aforementioned tenants of theCHIVE bro-dom. Still, I honestly wondered what woman would feel comfortable in this crowd. More on that later.

Chive Fest-8438I attend music festivals for, well, the music. Throughout the day, my festival partner and I found ourselves wondering if that was true for the majority of the crowd. To be fair, it was a blazing hot day in a city that rarely reaches temperatures in the 90s. But for most of the fest, audiences at both of the stages were tepid at best. Much of the action was in the shade, at the beer tent, and in the fountain.

I was drawn to Chive Fest because I thought it to have a somewhat varied, solid lineup with indie and alternative, electro pop, and hip hop/dance music. But up until the final 2 acts of the night, songs would end and the crowd might as well have remained silent for all the enthusiasm they showed for cheering, much less dancing during the music. Except for that one guy in a horse head mask; he danced wildly for every set and was rad.

I managed to catch six of the festival’s 8 acts. Surfer Blood on the main stage was fun, though I preferred studio tracks I listened to before the fest to the live iteration. The full-sun crowd was thin at this point in the day, and lie-down tooth-played solos seemed unnecessary, though fun. Still, this is one of the bands I had not seen before that I would be interested in possibly checking out again.

Next up on the second stage, Moon Taxi had potential, but sounded as though they were struggling to find a cohesive sound. They wobbled from pop to rock to jam to something else in between, but sounded best when they went aggressive with a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up”. This was immediately followed by a poppier synth heavy number and somewhat melodramatic singing. But for a far greater dose of melodrama, we headed to the following act.

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St. Lucia was up next on the main stage. South African born, Brooklyn based, and called Jean-Philip Grobler on his passport, St. Lucia is a heavily 80s influenced synth popper with an excellent hair flip move. Much of the set sounded and even looked like a direct throwback to New Wave glory days. But it was when Grobler spoke of his Johannesburg upbringing and played with the sounds of Paul Simon’s Graceland, Vampire Weekend, and even perhaps a dash of fun. that my ears really perked up. What can I say, I’m a sucker for that electro world sound.

The heat got the better of us at this point, and we spent The Birds of Satan’s set hiding from the sun, hydrating, and, of course, people watching. It was during this break that we went to check out the lauded “Nostalgia Tent”, that included large size board games such as Connect Four and a decidedly sexist version of Operation (“Double D’s required, 2 Preferred”).

St. Lucia-8911The Birds of Satan-9179

In line at the beer tent, my festival companion questioned whether she really wanted another drink. The sleeveless bro behind us perked up and shouted “Oh no, you want a beer. Everyone will have a better time if you have another beer!” As she turned away to get a glass of water, this bro gave me double finger guns and enthusiastically, though silently mouthed “I got ya, bro!” as he nodded knowingly, secure in the knowledge that we were all in this together to get the girlies as wasted as possible. Gross.

At this point we started to really notice portions of the crowd begin to stumble. I expected the audience to pick up for Washed Out, who has enjoyed quite a bit of indie electronic success. You know that one song, the Portlandia theme song, and he’s had a number of other near-breakthroughs. But Ernest Greene wasn’t getting much response from the crowd, calling out “Come on guys, you can move around a bit out there. Let’s have a good time!” and, “Let’s pick it up, Chive Fest!” before launching into another lush and dreamy number. The sound and stage production was spot on for the entire fest, I must say.

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At this point I found myself a bit frustrated by the crowd of drunken bros, who were loud everywhere except where it counted, when it came time to actually give the artists some appreciation. Washed Out is one of my favorites, and the last time I saw him at The Neptune, the response was enthusiastic. But here, the heat and beer and malaise got the better of everyone.

Around this time I grumpily wrote in my notes, “This fest has no soul. No, not exactly true. But its soul is a bland-when-sober drunk, stumbling, shouting, white American bro.” Brosephus americanus was getting under my skin, and the glazed eyed wasteoid precariously leaning over the VIP fence shouting, “FAGGOT” over and over to no one and everyone in particular wasn’t helping anything.

Still, all was not lost. By far the biggest and most engaged crowd of the day so far was gathered for Steel Panther on the second stage. This 80s style comedy hair metal band is sort of the perfect match for this crowd, but I found myself worrying that the parody was lost in translation. After encouraging a girl to flash the crowd (and failing in this case), lead singer Michael Starr shouted, “when she farts for the next couple of weeks it’s gonna smell like sperm. She was backstage before the show!”

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Calling out some of the only non-whites at the entire festival, who happened to be in the front row, Starr said, “The only reason a black dude comes to a heavy metal show is to fuck white pussy!” Call me a bleeding heart knee-jerk PC liberal, but this made me uncomfortable. Still, what did I expect from this cock rock? The crowd was eating it up, pumping fists and raising girls onto shoulders for songs that went “Asian hooker / you’re a dirty little cock sucker.” It was fun, silly, stupid, and offensive. That could pretty much describe the whole scene that day.

Finally up on the main stage, as the sun mercifully set and the day finally cooled, was Girl Talk, mashup producer extraordinaire. This bass heavy dance music drew from hip hop, EDM, indie, rock, and more. It was like aural Trivial Pursuit, as you tried to guess the samples rapidly barreling out of the speakers. There was a solid crowd gathered for this, though even at the height of excitement it would not have been hard to push up to the front. I never got official attendance figures for Chive Fest, but I would guess it was less than they were hoping for. There was always plenty of space.

Girl Talk had a great stage setup of enormous inflatable shoes and hands, making it look like he was playing on top of a toppled schoolyard giant. There were toilet paper streamer cannons and air mist cannons, and other delightful distractions. This was a good choice for a headliner and managed to get people dancing (those who could still stand) and partying properly.

Overall, this was a drunken, fratty dude fest, and the crowd was at times grating. The sound was good and the grounds well organized, though there were very limited food options. No re-entry was a bummer, as I’d planned to go into the armory for a much needed dose of air conditioning. Other than lots of beer and the massive t-shirt and merch tent (plus the board games tent), there were little in the way of non-musical diversions. Personally, I would not choose to attend again should Chive Fest return. But if you love bros, tits, high fives, beer, novelty t-shirts, shouting, and could take or leave the live music on stage, then this just might be the event for you.

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Photos by Phil Johnson

About Isaac Kaplan-Woolner