H.O.R.D.E. Comes To Life

1998 Festival Kicks Off in Wisconsin

It's the day before the H.O.R.D.E. Festival kicks off its 1998 summer tour season and, surprisingly, all is quite copacetic.

The approximately 14 buses and 12 trucks hauling the equipment and people involved in the tour began rolling into Alpine Valley Music Center in East Troy, Wis., late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. Members of the festival's core 69-person traveling crew spent all day Thursday tuning instruments, hanging backdrops, constructing lighting towers and checking sound. Many of the bands who were supposed to show up Thursday were delayed in other parts of the country tending to various commitments, so techies took their places during the full day of sound checks.

Atop the large hill at Alpine, the H.O.R.D.E's vast concourse -- comprising two smaller stages, a "future" technology area and numerous vending tents, including an Aware Records CD store featuring music from all the acts on this year's tour -- was busy being assembled. And backstage, the tour's organizers made sure all ran smoothly.

The beginning of any festival appears a little chaotic, but the H.O.R.D.E. -- now in its seventh season -- has been in the works for nearly 10 months, Heidi Kelso, the festival's tour director, told JAMTV backstage between production meetings.Although the bulk of the planning kicked in during the last five months, today is when all the magic takes form.

"It gets progressively busier from February on," Kelso said. "It's been really hectic in a lot of ways, but everything does fall into place. It always does."

H.O.R.D.E. has run more or less the same since its inception in 1992, but little things change from year to year. And with each season, new lessons are learned. "We don't have any real blueprint for this other than what does and doesn't work from our experiences," Kelso said. "We'll go in every year and do things a little differently, but musically our basic philosophy has always been the same: If the bands are good live, people are going to come out and see a good show."

And 1998 is no exception to that rule. This year's bill definitely fits the tour's moniker -- Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere. The first couple of years the H.O.R.D.E. hit the road, many of the bands fell into the grass roots hippie arena. In 1998, however, the lineup crosses many musical lines -- from rock (Smashing Pumpkins) and alternative (Fastball) to jam (Gov't Mule) and pop (Barenaked Ladies). In 1998, it's unlikely a H.O.R.D.E. goer won't find something to suit them.

The tour's organizers aren't worried if ticket sales aren't high prior to a show. "We have 42 shows and we can't tell by looking at the ticket counts what our day-of-show sales will be," Kelso admitted. "We have a really big walk-up crowd. A lot of our fans know they're going to the show, but they don't necessarily run out and buy their tickets. A lot of the reason why is our concourse -- fans know they can buy lawn tickets and run back and forth [between the main stage] all day."

This year's concourse stages will feature artists like Chris Stills, David Garza, Galactic, Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise and Marcy Playground. Beginning July 11, Spin Doctors' frontman Chris Barron will host the "workshop stage" throughout the remainder of the tour.

"Chris will assemble jam sessions with the various musicians out on tour," Kenny Deranleau, the festival's main stage production manager, said while sifting through a stack of memos and faxes backstage. "He'll also gather local people from any given city he may know who are aware of the festival and may want to play on the workshop stage. It's all really a creative outlet."

In the past, the workshop stage has acted as a sort of free-for-all gathering where big-name musicians like Neil Young and John Popper could randomly show up and play for a crowd of 50 lucky people. This year, Barron will make sure it's no different.

"We'll have guest musicians from time to time -- maybe some festival alumni -- but we'll see who shows up," Kelso said. "People should just come check it out. It really is a fun day and a fun show."

The H.O.R.D.E. kicks off today (July 10) and runs for 42 dates through Sept. 5 in Portland, Ore.