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Lauren Ciallella

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By Lauren Ciallella
City Times

Donning a scarlet burlesque, can-can dress (one of many costumes changes), an enthused Laura Jane (LJ) cruised the main stage while emceeing San Diego’s third Indie Music Festival on March 3.

Tripling in size since 2004, the event’s increased volume made it necessary to move from The Abbey (2825 5th Ave.), which housed this So Cal ‘happening’ during its first two years (flowing into Kung Foods the second year). North Park was a natural fit when it came to relocating – a freshly renovated Birch Theater, a bounty of independent business owners and a newly expanding community that still operated on a ‘mom and pop’ wavelength.

It was exactly what co-creators Danielle Lopresti and Alicia Champion were looking for to express what this festival was all about – the little guy, the underdog – the independent.

“We wanted to utilize this neighborhood that represented so much of what the festival was about and have them partner with us and show people that independent music is supporting independent business,” said Lopresti.

University Ave. (Utah St. to Ray St.) was wedged with culture or entertainment (sometimes both) in every nook and cranny, spanning the neighborhood with seven stages- opera, acoustic, rock, spoken word and, “just about every genre of music that you can think of,” Champion proudly admitted.

“Diversity is huge to us,” noted Lopresti, explaining that indie music includes all music that’s not under a major label.

Bringing along their brood of hardworking talent – LJ as ‘queen bee’ emcee each year, Karen Bowen (first year) and Esta Browning (past two years) – this small infrastructure of women leaned on each other to create this unique event with little outside help. Built from the inside out, the three presenting sponsors of this grass roots movement were Lopresti’s Say it Records, Champion’s Champ Records and their co-owned production company, Buddha Sound.

“A big part of the whole event is advocating teamwork. As independents we don’t have the billions of dollars that big corporations do, but we do have an endless, limitless, powerful resource in each other,” said Champion.

Lopresti also had strong feelings about her indie loyalties upon “getting shafted” by a major record label. After working for two years on ‘The Nutty Professor’ soundtrack and ending up with two songs in the movie, Lopresti found out in the eleventh hour that she would only receive royalties from video play in foreign counup with Champion in late 2003 at a San Diego music festival, the two recognized their professional chemistry and began working on several projects together. One idea developed after Champion mentioned an event she did back in Boston for Women’s History Month (March). “We decided to produce our own vision out here on the west coast,” said Lopresti and by March 2004 they had spun a female festival booking all women bands, vendors and speakers.

“After we finished that event, we felt so inspired by what we had been able to create together. One of us said, ‘I’ve always had a dream of creating a huge festival that’s all about independent music’,” remembered Lopresti.

Working tirelessly (for free), the women composed the first San Diego Indie Music Festival in November 2004. They did a repeat of both events the following year and decided in 2006 to combine the two. 2007 marked the first year that joined Women’s History Month and Indie Music Fest in an event together, imparting an entire slew of unknown talent on the crowd. “Most people have never heard of these bands before. Most of them are not getting any radio play at all and I just think this is really important.”

Bands like Audible Mainframe, a Boston-bred blend now calling Long Beach home, offered up a richly roasted form of Old R&B, with hints of “Bobby Caldwell/ Bill Withers” mixed with some ‘Rage Against the Machine’ nuances. Trumpet and sax wailed as DJ Mutt (aka Dr. Claw) spun and front man, Exposition spat (rhymes). DJ Mutt described their sound as, “Revolutionary classic hip hop funk.”

“It’s great to be around different musicians and like minded people to get tips and advice,” added Exposition. “It really shows the spirit of community. It’s different than a concert. People walking by can stop and listen and don’t have to pay.”

Roaming from stage to stage made it easy to give every sound a chance and experience the palpable shift in mood by just walking a couple of feet. From Audible Mainframe rocking the main stage to operatic lullabies rocking infants to sleep, this wasn’t a vanilla mix of instrumentals – and that was the point.

“The concept of independent is so much bigger than just itself. It’s not just about music and art. It’s about everything in our media and how we live our lives,” Lopresti observed. “It’s an activist festival masquerading as a music festival.”

To learn more or how to become a sponsor for next year, go to www.sdindiemusicfest.com

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Without labels (major ones anyway)