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Around Hear

Omega Fest, Onward Crispin Glover, and the Pirate House

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Tales of wild times at the annual Omega Fest used to greet KU freshmen with their arrival on campus, providing yet another reason to look past fall and winter to those glorious days in late spring. "I stayed up for three days on ..." the stories always began before the author would indicate what kind of hallucinogens were ingested over that turbulent weekend.

But a few years ago, the stories abruptly stopped with the festival. Sure, there were those village historians on the eight-year plan who could relate the epics of years past, but fresh fables ceased to exist. Even with Omega's rejoining the realm of outdoor festivals over the past two years, there seemed to be very little of the fire left in the event that was at one time the annual "Woodstock of the Midwest." But all that may be about to change.

"We've sold almost 3,000 advance tickets to out-of-staters alone," says the festival's tireless promoter, Chuck Baker, who has maintained a hand in Omega since its inception in 1970. "I've been going to all the Phish and Widespread (Panic) shows since last year when Omega was over and passing out handbills."

And while these guerrilla-style tactics have paid off with the advance ticket sales, it's a safe bet that most of the out-of-towners would not have been as interested if the festival were dominated by Lawrence's hometown favorites, as has been the case in the past. "People didn't want to see just local bands anymore," explains Baker. "Every year it's evolved, and every year it's different. I try something, it doesn't work, I go on to something else. So I guess I'm finally starting to listen to the people that go to these things now."

Though plenty of locals will be scattered throughout the affair, this year's three-night bill includes headlining sets by cosmic-noodle crowd favorites The Schwag (Thursday), Ekoostik Hookah (Friday), and The Big Wu (Saturday). And there will be a host of other attributes festivalgoers might consider "kind." "The only two 'nos' are 'no glass' and 'no unkind people,'" says Baker. "There are no cops this year. I hired some people from Kansas City who do the Blues and Jazz Festival, and they're going to be really, really nice." He notes that even with the sheriff's walk-throughs last year there were no problems.

But last year there weren't 3,000 tickets sold in advance, and with the embarrassing events that took place at Woodstock '99, people recognize now more than ever the dangers of putting a lot of people in cramped quarters and charging, say, $4 for water. However, because there won't be any pyrotechnics or Limp Bizkits to rev this crowd up, Baker will nip any potential vending problems in the bud -- so to speak.

"I'm creating a Shakedown Street down there, right where the bonfire will be. Once you pay to get in, there will be completely free and open vending. The camping is separate, so if anyone wants to sleep, they can. But, of course, the park is going to let us rage all night long," says Baker, claiming that the raging will begin each morning at 12:30, following the headliner's encore and a fireworks show.

So maybe there will be some pyrotechnics and some all-nighters, which is getting to sound more and more like what the corporate sponsors wanted from those Woodstocks. Even though there are no corporate sponsorships here (Baker raised all the money himself) and there's hardly been a fistfight in the festival's 30 years, Baker knows why the event is getting coverage from publications like Rolling Stone, High Times, and Relix.

"I sent them all passes, and they were way interested in this, especially because of all the free shit I'm giving with the low ticket prices. But the reason that they're all on it is because of what happened out at Woodstock this year, and this is a total 180-degree flip-flop from that."

It will also be sort of a flip-flop from past Omegas where concertgoers were forced to navigate farmland in which mud and cow became one. "It's more organized. It's better land management because now it's in a state park and there is beautiful grass, showers, trails, everything. We didn't have to build a road and tear up a farmer's field or get sued because some farmer 10 miles down the road decided his cows didn't produce enough milk that day."

With worries about lactose-reluctant bovine aside, the thousands of others who will attend Baker's magnum opus seem determined to make sure that this year's Omega will not live up to its Greek translation but will once again become an annual event for all who are kind. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 on the day of the show and are available through Ticketmaster, the Phil Zone, and Alley Cat in Lawrence, and Illusions in Topeka, and they come with a free T-shirt while they last.

Marching as if one
A lot of great rock bands have hailed from Kansas City over the years, but none among these shooting stars has ever had the audacity to lay claim as the greatest rock band on the face of the earth -- until now. Onward Crispin Glover, a band with perhaps the greatest name on the face of the earth, has some people claiming just that. Actually, those people are the band's "people" -- the group's press liaisons and the only people allowed to disseminate information to the general public because of the group's hectic schedule of celebrity-related events and rock star parties.

"It's the greatest rock and roll you will ever hear, sort of a superstar band like a Damn Yankees," explains the group's American publicist, Gustav Svenson. "Basically, there were a bunch of people in different bands that all started fizzling away, so being that they are the greatest musicians in the world, they found each other."

Just in the nick of time too. In today's popular music market, in which self-effacing acts like the Backstreet Boys and Sisqio quietly dominate radio, it's rather refreshing to find a group that, through its people, is willing to come right out and reveal such inflated egos from the get-go. Of course, we all remember what happened to the pop act Oasis last time someone laid claim to this title.

"Oasis would be eating out of (OCG's) hands," Svenson claims with a confidence that belies his country's reputation for neutrality. "And since The Beatles are gone, we won't speak ill of them."

Respectful of the dead and disdainful of Oasis, maybe this is the greatest rock band ever, or maybe, like most boy groups with catchy names out there, this is just another marketing gem cranked out by a Svengali-like manager. Not so, says Svenson.

"The talent came from lots of painstaking hard work, and mostly by lots of whippings by people who didn't let up on them. This took place at a music camp in a secret location that only professionals are hand-chosen to attend -- like the Golden Child."

This is the first of many secrets one will encounter when cracking the seemingly impenetrable shell of Onward Crispin Glover, an outfit that is on a path to becoming as enigmatic as its namesake. After I requested a photo, Svenson snorted, "Janet Reno couldn't get a picture of these guys out of my house."

The members' previous band affiliations are classified, as is information about their childhood. The recording is being done at a secret location in Ottawa, Kan., and the production is being supervised by a top-secret producer -- a figure Svenson assures is not needed.

"That guy doesn't have to do a damn thing, but I guess he comes with the studio or is some friend of theirs or something. He just turns a few knobs and does exactly what they tell him because they know exactly what they want.... They're seasoned professionals."

But even the most seasoned professionals can have egos clashing once they get together in the studio -- just ask those Damn Yankees, or any other supergroup from Blind Faith to Temple of the Dog. Apparently, belonging to the most elite group of rockers in the world prevents such rifts from developing, a skill cultivated at rock and roll band camp, Svenson says, and honed by watching other road-weary rock groups bite the dust.

"Van Halen has been writing the band letters asking them how they do such a good job keeping it together in the studio, but I really think they want some of (OCG's) guys in the band." And what if Eddie and his minions try to take the KC band's lead singer to replace Gary Cherone? "Apparently, the band Trixter has been writing them letters too, and their lead singer is looking for work, so we would just connect the two. You might call it networking."

Or I might call it living up to the group's most tangible goal: complete world domination, according to Svenson -- which might explain why the world's greatest rock group came to live in America's beer belly. "A central location makes their goals more accessible," Svenson says before noting that three of OCG's members (Kristen, Byron, and Billy) own homes throughout the world, "except for Brad, who lives in a big underground tunnel type of thing."

Between networking with has-beens and jet-setting around the world to their respective homes and tunnels, the members of Onward Crispin Glover have been working on a full-length feature film, which, like the album on which it will be based, is a secret. But since the album reportedly has a production budget of $1.5 million, expect similar largesse on the silver screen.

Until the film's release (classified), the best opportunities to catch the world's greatest rock band will come on Friday, May 5, at The Hurricane and Monday, May 8, at Grand Emporium, which raises one last issue: why venues like this when this group could surely sell out Sandstone or Kemper? The answer, says Svenson, is simple.

"Every other great band goes to play these great big venues, but where are they now? Headlining arenas is something most bands shoot for, but not these guys. They want to take it directly to the people, like 10 or 20 at a time. That ends up being better for world domination through that grassroots effect, and that way you don't end up on VH-1."

Land ho
Claims of belonging to the greatest rock band ever will likely never be heard out of the tenants in Lawrence's Pirate House, a rental home-turned-impromptu venue on 14th Street between Kentucky and Tennessee. Though some of the house's residents play in local bands, such as JBK, and the two-story structure is perhaps the only home in Lawrence that regularly hosts concerts twice a month, this is punk rock, and there are certain things that just aren't done.

What the members of this house will do is stage about two shows a month, with May's festivities occurring Friday, May 19 (Derailer, The Short Bus Kids, JBK, and Short Dancer), and Saturday, May 27, with a group from Canada called Submission Hold. This does make one wonder how a band of Canadians could get wind of a venue few in Lawrence and Kansas City are aware of.

"One of our roommates stayed with them, and then they wanted to go on tour and had heard about us through magazines and stuff, so they decided to come down and play," says the unofficial spokesmodel for the Pirate House, Lowell Fletcher, to whom foreign visitors come as no surprise. "We've had a number of bands come through from all over, and a band from Sweden is coming in July. But mostly they hear about us through punk magazines, or they're people we stayed with when we go out of town for political stuff or punk-fests."

That political stuff actually led to the May 19 show's becoming a benefit for one of the members of the house who'll participate this summer in Bike Aid (www.bikeaid.org). He'll cycle from Lawrence to Washington, D.C., to raise money for a group that benefits certain grassroots organizations. This activism also led most of the house's residents to travel to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank protests this year.

"Our whole house was in D.C. and in Seattle too," says Fletcher. "But D.C. was crazy in a different sort of way since it was really like living in a police state. In Seattle, we sort of surprised them, but in D.C. everything was under crazy state control."

This sort of activities goes against the mainstream press' notion of punk rock, one that was founded on the drug-addled corpses of people like Sid and Nancy. While these straight-edge punks might not look kinder and gentler, they are certainly more socially responsible. Unfortunately, a reporter who visited the house recently for a short piece in the Lawrence Journal-World's entertainment pull-out, The Mag, came in with some preconceived notions about what "punks" do, and some of those made it into the story.

"They came in with this idea that punks were these dirty kids that did drugs and beat each other up and stuff," says Fletcher, "which is completely wrong. So they just took whatever they could use."

What they used, say residents at the Pirate House, ranged from the trivial ("He said there were 'skinheads' playing Connect Four -- which was kind of funny since there were just some punk kids with shaved heads playing a game") to the improbable ("He claimed some lady was smoking marijuana in our house, which is crazy because we don't allow that kind of stuff"). But it sure made good copy. And though Fletcher wishes that the author would have informed him of something illegal going on before he printed the piece, the story made the Pirate House a bit more popular because nothing smacks of punk cred more than getting negative treatment in a spineless daily like the Journal-World.

"We've had a few weird people show up at our house," recalls Fletcher. "One or two people have showed up on days when there weren't shows, and I would have to tell them, 'Sorry, there's nothing going on today.' But I guess I've had quite a few bands show up and drop off demo tapes (since then) too."

With this increasing popularity and most tenants remaining at the house for another year, ensuring it will remain a venue too, might they have to move to a larger space? "I can't imagine that," Fletcher asserts, though by the tone of his voice he is trying to imagine it. "If there were that many people, that would mean that punk was suddenly huge again, and that would be awesome. So if there were too many people, we would come up with something."

Bands interested in pushing the capacity limits at the Pirate House can contact Fletcher at 785-331-4435.

Send local music information to Robert Bishop or J.J. Hensley at thenote@excite.com.

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