Josh Bis

What makes a festival feel like a festival? Some, like Capitol Hill Block Party and Bumbershoot, are defined by clear temporal and geographic boundaries—they happen in one place for x number of days. Others, like Decibel Festival or Escalator Festival (which was this past weekend), sprawl further, into various venues across the city, but represent a particular musical style or scene (electronic music for Decibel, psych for Escalator). Then there was last week's inaugural edition of Heineken Fest (we've been asked to call it the "Heineken City Arts Festival," but I'm just going to abbreviate it here).

Sponsored by the beer company and the monthly magazine, and with booking from Steven Severin of Neumos, Heineken Fest spanned four days, roping in acts both local and international, and offering enough simultaneous programming that your experience of the fest would almost certainly be colored by an acute sense of what you didn't manage to see—that is, if you were aware of the festival at all. At Neumos on Friday, waiting for the Vaselines to go on, a friend who had been looking forward to the show asked, at the mention of the fest, "What festival? Is there a festival?" The next day, one of the club's employees asked, "So what is City Arts, anyway?" (Nobody asked what Heineken was.) Maybe this is how the first year of a fest is supposed to go, and just getting people to ask those questions is a degree of success.

Individual shows certainly went well. Bookending the fest were marquee appearances from Scottish indie popsters Belle & Sebastian and OutKast MC Big Boi (either of which might have toured through town with or without the festival). Both acts pulled a dozen or so ladies onstage to dance—Belle & Sebastian for "There's Too Much Love" and "The Boy with the Arab Strap," their selected girls uniformly mousy and cute in cardigans and glasses and skirts, dancing in demure shuffles; Big Boi for "I Like the Way You Move" and "Tangerine," the girls considerably looser in both their dance moves and sartorial choices. (Belle & Sebastian, notably, never demanded that the crowd "make some more noise.")

Both shows were outstanding. Big Boi's performance was a rapid-fire medley of his verses and the choruses of OutKast classics (a damn impressive catalog, backed by music videos stretching back to when he was a baby-faced teenager) buffering songs from his new solo album, a highlight of which was the pimp-ride-of-the-Valkyries opera-rap bombast of "General Patton." Belle & Sebastian's show was relatively quiet and polite, typified by spotless musicianship, but broken up with waggish banter, dancing in the aisles, and bandleader Stuart Murdoch at one point waving the flag of Washington State (of calamity, hey?) across the stage. Even the new songs were, for the most part, totally swoonworthy.

On one hand, Heineken Fest was ambitious and diverse (wish I hadn't missed the Soliloquy or Hiphop Church events); on the other, it seemed scattered, less like a curated festival with a coherent identity than a branding campaign with as much stuff thrown against the wall as possible. We'll see what, if anything, sticks. recommended