This is the year I lost my lust for ComFest.
Maybe it was the mediocre music schedule, though I am loathe to spend too much time criticizing the entertainment committee's tireless work. Lord knows I have sympathy for their scrutiny after enduring yearly bitching about Alive's Bands to Watch.
Maybe it was the early closing time. The most memorable moments at ComFest always seem to come in the dark of night, and barely a peep was piped through the P.A. systems after dusk this time out.
Maybe I've been spoiled by the smattering of newer, smaller fests that have popped up lately in Columbus - Independents' Day, Parking Lot Blowout, Go West, etc. - which seem better suited to this era of niche interests and short attention spans.
Maybe I was offended that corndogs now cost $4.
Whatever the reason, last weekend fell flat for me. I've never cared all that much about the politics behind ComFest, and while I like that the event has become more inclusive, I've grown more weary than impressed by the sheer size of a festival where you can chill by the pond with juggalos, chow on a fish boat alongside local radio personalities and run into a bizarre diaspora of friends new and old.
That leaves the music, and only one act all weekend blew my mind. An expanded Shin Tower Music lineup transformed the Offramp Stage into a futuristic flurry of light and sound, like some cocaine-powered space disco out of "The Fifth Element." At the eye of the storm, Tristan Seufert conducted the heaving surge with blinding enthusiasm.
There were other positives, of course. Seufert's partner in crime, John Hastings, debuted a new project called India Paws earlier Friday at the Live Arts Stage that combined chilled-out experimental electronics with live graffiti to pretty rad effect.
Angela Perley was another pleasant surprise, bopping her way through sassy saloon ramblers and an exotic ballad or two with her crack band the Howlin' Moons.
Punk refugees Exwhites and noise-pop troupe Obviouslies, two new bands comprised of veteran musicians, made stirring ComFest debuts, translating nervous energy into explosive anger and pep-rally gusto, respectively.
I was also duly impressed with some old favorites. Phantods' marvelous set Friday afternoon validated our choice to feature them on the cover of Alive last week. Flotation Walls continued to do "everything but the kitchen sink" art-pop epics better than any band within city limits.
And Paper Airplane proved their enduring power to craft powerful pop-rock arrangements with a mere four players; it's a shame drummer Antonio Garza is moving away for law school this fall.
Pretty much everything else I saw just made me shrug, though, even from bands that normally delight me. Super Desserts' 27-strong twee brigade didn't strike me from the Bozo Stage the way they do in tight spaces like Wholly Craft.
The Bozo swallowed up The Main Street Gospel too, even with Bob Starker's sax powers in play. Couch Forts' set suffered Sunday afternoon after being banished to the sonic Bermuda Triangle known as the Solar Stage.
Most of the newer groups that peppered the bill were almost completely unmemorable. I applaud ComFest's initiative to bring in some fresh faces, but let's just say searching for diamonds can get pretty rough.
I should admit that after gutting out a marathon 10-hour session on Friday, I wasn't at Goodale Park as frequently for the rest of the weekend. For instance, because I covered Saturday night's Crew game, I didn't witness Nick Tolford and Company's already legendary rendition of Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You" nor the concurrent Mount Carmel performance that had another wave of friends telling me I was wrong about calling the ascendant blues rockers "underwhelming" in the paper last year.
I'm sure I missed a few more flashes of brilliance - no one can see everything on six stages over three days - but based on what I observed, I would have had to wade through a lot of mediocrity for those few moments of bliss. Sometimes such a slog seems worth it, but sometimes you have to work the percentages, people.