Move over, livestreams: New Elf City is an imaginary music festival on the moon

Joel Oliphint
New Elf City takes place during the Harvest Moon on Thursday, Oct. 1, when real bands will imagine playing music on the moon.

Ever since he was a kid, Chris Till has been mesmerized by the Harvest Moon. It always seems to hang lower in the sky and shine brighter than a typical full moon. And it looks huge — “like the moon on steroids,” Till said.

For the 2020 Harvest Moon, which will occur on Thursday, Oct. 1, Till will again stare at the giant, silvery orb in the night sky, but this time he'll have a specific goal in mind. The musician, who’s part of Yellow Springs music and art collective Toadstool Shadow, organized a free festival he dubbed New Elf City, featuring 10 bands from Ohio and around the country. Of course, it’s not possible for a bunch of bands and fans to gather in one place for music in the COVID era. But rather than organizing a socially distant or virtual concert alternative, Till instead opted to do away with reality all together.

“The goal is to look up at the full moon and just imagine a bunch of bands playing up there,” Till said, even specifying a particular lunar location: The Sea of Tranquility, near where NASA astronauts have walked. “You can go out to your yard or look out your apartment window or look out the bars of your jail cell, if you have a view of the moon, and just imagine being there.”

To clarify: The bands will not livestream their sets. They will imagine performing songs on the moon.

“I definitely got some eye rolls when I was pitching it to various bands. People thought I was teasing them,” Till said. “It's surrealist. It's conceptualist. Conceptualist art is based on an idea, and the idea itself is the work of art. … I love the idea of free festivals from the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in 1967 and '68, where they were truly free festivals. There weren't people selling T-shirts. It wasn't an excuse for some promoter to make a bunch of money. ... And I love the moon. And I know a bunch of bands that don't have gigs.”

Get real news and real entertainment delivered to your inbox while imagining that Alive is still in print and locally owned: Sign up for our daily newsletter

A few benefits of an imaginary festival on the moon: No gate-crashing. No tech issues with lighting or sound. No portable toilets. No rain delays. No heat advisories. No sweaty, overly inebriated, tone-deaf close-talkers. “Apparently there’s great acoustics there, too,” Till said. “I have a high school friend who works for NASA, and I was trying to get him to be the science adviser for this. That didn't work out.”

As you may have already guessed, most of the bands taking part in New Elf City have an undercurrent of psychedelia in their music, including Columbus pysch-rock act Mas Bagua, Yellow Springs band Speaking Suns and Toadstool Shadow, a collective that is no stranger to surrealism. “Toadstool Shadow itself is a conceptual art project based on the idea that there are bands of fairies and elves hiding in the bushes and in the back alleys all around us," Till said. "They hide because they're leery of Americans. They're hiding in these bushes playing music to try to re-enchant the world.”

Toadstool Shadow is at work on a three-part, 36-song fairy-tale opera, and on Thursday it plans to imagine performing part two of the project, Folk Songs of the American Wood Elf. The band will also debut a new (real) video for the song "Sombra del Hongo" while projecting other videos on the side of a building in downtown Yellow Springs.

Other bands have also timed releases to New Elf City. Mas Bagua, for instance, will host a listening party for new album U.S. Rot Cult the same night, and bands such as Elf Freedom (Los Angeles), William R. Crocker (Cleveland) and others have new music and video releases timed to the fest. Vendors are also getting in on the imagination action. "Talismana Designs [near] Portland — they're a serious West Coast vendor that does handmade stuff, and they're gonna be imagining being on the moon vending," Till said. "And then I've got these healers from Northern California, and they're going to be imagining setting up a healing booth with pillows and crystals."

While the main goal is to stir up everyone’s imagination, Till also has an ancillary hope. “What if somebody in Duluth, Minnesota, imagines it and goes to bed at night and actually has a dream of being on a festival on the moon? … Maybe it'll really capture somebody's imagination and they’ll have a nocturnal vision of it,” he said.

In these precarious, unprecedented times, Till did issue a word of caution to fest-goers. “We really want to be careful that people don't actually go to the moon, because I studied this, and the moon has pretty terrible weather. It goes from negative 250 to 250 degrees,” Till said. “But if this one is successful, there's talk about doing New Elf City 2 in the Mariana Trench.”

Columbus psych-rock act Mas Bagua