DeKalb music scene flourishes during Corn Fest

Hi-Infidelity puts on an electric light show Saturday as they play classic hits at Corn Fest.

By Carl Nadig

Just as classes were beginning last week, DeKalb’s history of maize and music ripened for the 36th annual Corn Fest.

With vendors and tents outside tied down to anchors, bracing for the worst, the festival began Friday. Midwestern weather brought severe thunderstorms, but local music lovers flocked into the House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, to watch the beginning acts. Local garage punk bands like Nobelium 102, Davey Dynamite and The Stockyards screeched with the thunderclaps of the torrent outside. Yet, it wasn’t until later in the night when Lester the Fink, vocalist of The Phantom Scars, took the stage and propelled the punk crowd in wailing in harmony with the severe weather.

“I guess it’s kind of ironic,” said Lester the Fink. “It’s the first year back downtown and they started off with a punk and heavy rock show. So, I guess it’s only fitting that it rained, but we still got a pretty good crowd.”

Saturday started as an appropriate beginning for the festival’s second day of electric folk, acoustic Hawaiian and honky-tonk bluegrass. Hosted on the First Street Community Stage by DeKalb’s B95 94.9 FM radio station, acts like We’ll Be Each Other’s Mothers and The Wacky Keys eased the tension by playing a dalliance of family-friendly music.

“I went to one last year at the airport, but only for a little bit, so this is the first time I’ve actually been to Corn Fest downtown,” said Frank Hogue, 26, of Waterman. “I think it offers a lot of spice and flavor to the whole time. You gotta have a mixture and different aspects of all types of music. It’s always important to have that.”

By the early afternoon, there wasn’t a venue, stage or corner in the downtown area where a musician wasn’t playing. Locals, exploring the food and business tents on Lincoln Highway, had the opportunity to walk into any business and listen to full lineups of live musical acts. Otto’s, 118 E. Lincoln Highway, became the centerpiece for a psychobilly-punk paradise for The Riverbilly Cousin Touchers and front-man Pat Clap. O’Leary’s Restaurant and Pub, 260 E. Lincoln Highway, was stuffed with pedestrians looking for a place to eat and listening to The Menagerie after the musical group performed on the

intersection on East Locust and Second Street.

“The most important thing, to me anyway, is just for everybody to have a release and have a good time,” said Fink. “When it comes down to it, I don’t think it’s about money or having any agendas. All the bands are there to support each other and the people come out to see the shows. There’s really nothing more to it than that. It’s the most perfect thing there is.”

Northern Star: Is this the first year you’ve played at Corn Fest?

The Fink: We played last year right around Corn Fest, but Corn Fest was out at the airport so I don’t really count it. As far as I’m concerned, Corn Fest was dead for a few years…Corn Fest was in the wrong spot.

NS: During your set with The Phantom Scars, you referred to Corn Fest being downtown for the first time in years by shouting to the audience, ‘F*** the f***in’ airport!’ Can you elaborate on that?

The Fink: (laughs) Is that really what I said? Yeah, well that’s pretty much my feelings. It’s back downtown. It’s where it belongs. It’s back.

Regardless of the festival’s location, the afternoon heated up again when newly formed band Prichard Harter made a greasy transition for the anticipated fast-paced music of the night. But the town was taken by surprise when The Great Influence Machine assembled near First Street, tuned their multi-instrumental ensemble of alto saxophones, trumpets and drums, and began a parade heading down Lincoln Highway, ending with a zestful performance before a babble-inducing climax on the House Cafe stage. Jacob Kruse, second-year soil science graduate student, heard the music from a nearby location.

“I was in my friend’s apartment and we heard something coming from the streets,” said Kruse. “It sounded like Bourbon Street. It sounded like New Orleans. This band [The Great Influence Machine] really blew me away. I was dancing like a fool.”

The Great Influence Machine, with a diverse range of musical influences, represented the spirit of the festival by playing songs rooted in genres like ska, Dixieland jazz and cloyingly dirty Memphis blues. As the sun went down on Corn Fest’s second night, the musical sizzled up on Fourth Street and reduced the listening audience to inarticulate hand gestures and clapping for the brass ensemble like gorillas, restively

applauding for an encore that was never given.