A little more than a week ago, a weekend-long colorful and creative universe nestled into the top level of a Baltimore warehouse space. Though music was Soft Fest’s main purpose, setting the mood seemed to be the strongest established priority. Just crossing the threshold from the marked-up, florescent entrance stairwell into the venue saw a significant transformation.
The space was cavernous, lit softly by diffused colorful spotlights. Different walls and alcoves were decorated to create a certain atmosphere — one intimate alcove area for respite had a ceiling of Christmas lights mingling with delicate lace. Of the two performance spaces, the larger one was covered from floor-to-ceiling with multi-colored afghans neatly woven with lights. Closer to the front, the second space was much darker and gave off an organic feeling with its collection of house plants. Both spaces had a collection of bedding for the audience’s use, from blankets to pillows to mattresses.
It may have been small for the connotation of a festival, but Soft Fest definitely had the dedication, stamina and integrity of a much larger affair. The two-night event started at 8 p.m. and carried on throughout the early hours of the morning. Most attendees lived in Baltimore — performers or friends of bands on the lineup. Leading up to the festival, the event was quite “hush-hush,” as there was worry that publicity prior to might attract too large of a crowd. Last year’s event apparently went over capacity and resulted in turning people away. While the web tends to be the mode du jour for disseminating event details, Soft Fest coordinators decided to against convention and instead made physical invitations a la Willy Wonka: chocolate bars wrapped in golden tickets, complete with pertinent event information.
The musical acts were impressive. Dustin Wong’s highly anticipated performance the first night left the crowd in awe. Wong, an original member of what was Ponytail, branched off into his solo project this past year and just released Infinite Love. The album cover depicts a seated Wong tweaking a series of pedals, visually realistic to his live sets. Wong may not move during his live performances, but he creates an incredibly kinetic sound with the use of multiple loops and effect pedals.
Philip’s Glasses was a pun in name toward the minimal composer, but the group put together a short tribute, performing his composition “Closing” with the diverse instrumentation of marimbas, string instruments and keyboards. The members of the group did other performances as well. Britton Powell from the D.C. band Hume shared the arrangements of his Fat Daughter String Quartet, which included cellist Janel Leppin, a strong figure in Avant Fairfax and Sonic Circuits. Amanda and Rod from Avocado Happy Hour also performed during “Closing” and later put on a delicate set of ethereal singing, accompanied by vibes and keyboards.
Soft Fest consisted of all things soft and served as a reminder that peaceful environments and creativity are possible with effort. It was difficult to imagine a second night of music and atmosphere, especially after the gentle overload of folk music by bands such as Lands and Peoples and trance-induced acts like Zomes, but it carried on. Only in Baltimore and in our imaginations can events like Soft Fest exist.