Steampunk World’s Fair, exausted summary

I had such plans today, guys. Okay, so most of those plans involved napping (LOTS of napping), but there were totally other plans. I was supposed to have the house to myself until around 6 pm, on my recovery day before heading back to work tomorrow, but NOOO. Roomie’s had a minor car issue and now I have to listen to his TV all day.

SO, those big plans to work on the poetry album recordings: thwarted again.

Instead, then, I’ll get back to that promise to talk more about this year’s Steampunk World’s Fair. This post is going to be gigantic; it’s the first year I attended all three days, so there’s a lot of data to cover, and some bands I’ll say more about than others. I still missed some of it, but that’s how it goes. I had planned to see some smaller acts Sunday, but it was just too darn cold, so I ended up watching multiple sets of my favorites instead.

The full photo album can be found on facebook: here. I’ll be posting one photo for each band here, but if you want to see all of the photos, use the link.

To give you an idea of what the Steampunk World’s Fair is like, I’ll talk about my breakfast for the 3 days of festival.

Day 1: Eggs & Toast.

Day 2: 12 oz Coffee and an egg salad sandwich (while driving).

Day 3: 16 oz Coffee and Fritos.

By the way, I don’t even like coffee. I only drink it when energy matters are dire. I’m not sure it even helps. Mostly I just pretend it does because it makes me feel like I’ve taken steps to ease my transition from Blanket Monster to Functioning Human Being.

SO, I’m going to try to be not entirely all over the map about this, but by day 3, my brain was clearly turning into a puddle of goo. This is the only reasoning I can use to explain why I thought coffee and fritos counted as a reasonable breakfast choice.

And, here’s the point where I look back at the last 3 days of posts so I can give you something resembling a coherent run-down:

1. JEFF MACH: I have been attending this event since before it was at it’s current location (I think the first year I went it was at the Doubletree?), and I have missed his set every single year, in spite of efforts to the contrary. It was like I was being conspired against. Either it was opposite something I absolutely was no-way-in-hell going to miss, or it ended up cancelled and I missed it for that reason. So, this year, when I looked at the schedule and had to debate between what to see and what to miss, I decided this was the best place to start. Besides, I saw ‘Steam Accountant’ on facebook a while back and it makes me laugh, so I wanted to check it out.

I also thought that the event creator’s set seemed like a really great starting point for the event.

Jeff Mach is also the creator of the steampunk musical, Absinthe Heroes, which I hear is awesome. Go see it if you have the chance, and I’ll live vicariously through you until I can afford both to see the show AND support the vendors at the fair – a position I just wasn’t in this year.

I’m not sure if he has any of his music for sale anywhere. (I would totally buy ‘Steam Accountant’, at the least, if I could. Instead, I will have to settle for watching it 1000x on Youtube). If anyone knows, tell me and I’ll update this post with a link.

Jeff Mach (left) with Nathaniel Johnstone (right).

2.MANSARA: I missed Mansara last year. I remember wanting to check her out, but vetoing it because it was in the same time slot as something else I wasn’t missing no matter what. It was most likely Frenchy & the Punk. …it’s usually Frenchy & the Punk. lol.

ANYWAY, Mansara is French, with a voice the likes of which will make you forget to breathe for a second when you first hear it. Seriously. Wow. I’d checked her out on youtube ahead of time, and I was still not prepared at all for what an awesome voice she has.


3. THE NATHANIEL JOHNSTONE BAND: I’m going to admit some guilt on this one. When they were announced for SPWF I didn’t really get why everyone was so riled up. I had zero context for why this was a big deal, and checking them out online I just sort of felt indifferent.

Maybe I’d check it out. Maybe I wouldn’t. (an aside to put things into context, I’m not easy to outwardly excite.)

Anyway, all the years bleed together. I’m not quite sure when this was at a glance, and at first wanted to say last year, but that’s absolutely not possible, once I put together what I do remember: the midway stage was under a tent, which it has not been in 2-3 years, and that they were on before, I believe, Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, who I think had just released ‘For the Weak and the Weary’. That means this had to be about 3 years ago. I happened to catch the tail end of their set, and found myself surprised because I hadn’t been particularly enthusiastic.

Fast forward in time and for…you know, reasons, I still hadn’t caught their set.  This year I decided to make sure to do so at some point, which is a lot easier when you have 3 days to make the scheduling work, and am now the owner of my first album (which is, okay, their most recent album. I’ll work my way backwards. That’s the norm for me anyway.).

The Nathaniel Johnstone Band

(see also: Dogwood)

The Nathaniel Johnstone Band

4. Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings: I’ve talked about these guys before. I think I first discovered them with the ‘to the Weak and the Weary’ album, but I’ve also mentioned the album ‘Let this House Burn Slowly’ is one of the most visually attractive CDs I’ve ever seen. (Seriously, even without talking about the music, it’s super-pretty).

So, of course I was going to have to see at least one Eli August set this weekend, so I saw the set at the courtyard stage, which I think had the least number of people on an Eli August show I’ve ever seen. haha. The first time I ever saw them, the stage was so cramped it was a wonder nobody got elbowed in the face. Actually, I wasn’t going to see this set, because I knew I’d be finishing the weekend off with their set at the midway, which is usually the best one (acoustically speaking), but the Humanwine set at the midway was cancelled due to unforseen circumstances.

Anyway, lo and behold, they ALSO were debuting a new album this weekend, so I grabbed that, as well as a shorter album that wasn’t in my collection yet.

Then, come Sunday, at the midway…omg, guys, it was COLD. I almost decided to skip this set in part due to just…exhaustion, and in part due to the fact that the wind, even in a jacket (that is not as warm as it looks) I could almost feel my teeth chattering. The wind chill dropped the “feels like” temperature under 50. And then it started to rain.

Stiiilllll, I braved it, because yeah…

and since it doesn’t look like their shop is up and running at the moment, here’s the bandcamp, too.

Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings (well, some of them. there are like…2 and 2 half people cut off in this shot)

5. Ingimar Oddsson: I always try to prioritize the foreign musicians if I’m in a time slot where there are a few possible things to see. The logic is simple: local musicians, or at least local to this country, are more likely to make the trip back to New Jersey again eventually. And, when it’s a foreign performer against a foreign performer, I’m going to choose the one I haven’t seen before. I have rules to make navigating a busy schedule less overwhelming. That made Ingimar Oddsson, who is from Iceland, a no-brainer to me. That was absolutely the set I was going to check out.

Apparently not everyone feels the same way though, and this poor guy go two of the WORST possible time slots, not even one bad one, and one that sucked. Literally, he had two genuinely horrible time slots to perform in. I’m not entirely sure, because I sat pretty close to the front, but I may have been an audience of one. Two other people sat down for a few minutes, but didn’t stay. I don’t know what was going on towards the back of the room. Either way, when you’re not even sure if there are other people in the audience, it’s pretty easy to say the turnout was horrible.

It’s not his fault. Frankly, I’m choosing to blame This Way to Egress. They were the other band playing at the same time, and they’re so popular among the SPWF crowd, that he stood very little chance against that. And, his only other set was at 10 in the morning. I hope that one worked out better for him, but the fair is usually virtually a ghost town until 11. Only those of us truly dedicated to geekiness and music tend to haul our ass out for a show that starts at 10. And, you know, the insomniacs.

I’m gonna be honest, even if the set was horrible, I’d have stayed anchored to my seat as a matter of course. But, he was good, so I made sure to buy his album on site.  Festivals are really the only time I opt for physical CDs, for two reasons:

Firstly, so the performers can see that you appreciate what they’re doing. There’s something more immediate about an exchange of currency and product than a random number on the internet that says ‘look, some faceless entity inside the computer bought a thing you did’.

Secondly, for more budgetary reasons: musicians often offer deals at festivals. So if I save a dollar or two on this person’s album, that’s a dollar or two I have to maybe support another artist I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise – maybe if I save $2 at this booth, and another $2 at that booth, then I’ll be able to buy a single, or a download card, or throw a few bucks at one of the buskers. Or…buy a piece of chocolate. You know, whichever. The point is, what money I save of the money I budgeted for the event is money that goes to someone else at the event that I wouldn’t have had to give if I was paying full price. That doesn’t mean there aren’t artists I wait and download at home on, but it does mean I choose who to buy from on site, and that guy who had the saddest turnout you’ve ever seen by fault of having a horrible time slot? Yeah, he’s the one you buy from on site. Every time.

Ingimar Oddsson

Ingimar Oddsson

6. The Men that Will Not be Blamed for Nothing: The last time these guys came to SPWF, it was only half the band, due to health issues. They did a comedy/acoustic set, and I bought both of their CDs at some ungodly hour of a Saturday night. So, when I heard they’d be back again this year with the full band, I had two thoughts at just about the same time: ‘YES!’ and ‘I’m buying a t-shirt.’

This is also part budget-consciousness. I’m not sure if I can buy a t-shirt from them online, but I do know quite well what shipping between the US and UK costs, and it’s enough to bring you to tears. Ergo,buying a t-shirt was literally my #1 purchasing priority…besides, I already own all the albums. I was looking really forward to seeing what a set would look like with the full band, and they certainly have a lot of fun with it. I think there were parts of their sets where they spent more energy trying to make each other laugh than worrying much about what the audience was up to, and that’s really fun, even though I didn’t always catch the joke through the laughing.

I wasn’t sure I was going to go to the Sunday set at the Embassy Stage after seeing the Midway set, since there was other stuff that might have been cool to see, too. I mean, I already know The men that Will Not be Blamed for Nothing are awesome. But, I don’t know if that other thing is also awesome. So, I waited until the last minute to decide…but guys, did I mention yesterday was fucking cold? So yeah, I went to both sets. (The Embassy stage is the bane of my photo-taking existence, btw. I have to take like 6 photos for every one that kinda-sorta comes out not a blurry mess, so here’s a mediocre shot from the Midway stage.)

The Men that Will Not be Blamed for Nothing

The Men that Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing – Bandcamp

7. Lenino: This is another one of those performers that I miss every year due to scheduling conflicts, and the internet doesn’t provide me with very much information on him, but I can tell you he’s a renaissance man of sorts. He’s a game designer-slash-singer/songwriter, and plays piano. It looks like a first album is in process, but not released. My favorite of this set was a song about a grumpy old witch. I forgot the name of it, though.


Lenino (as noted above. Embassy stage sucks for taking photos. Yes, this is actually the clearest photo I got of this set. Yeesh.)

8. Frenchy and the Punk:  Guys, do you really need me to talk more about this group? You already know how much I like them, right?

But, I’ll combine and say that this year Scott Helland (the Punk) also got some solo sets which are vastly instrumental guitar stuff. Last year, I bought his solo albums ‘Earthbound’ and ‘Brocade’. This year when I walked by their booth I didn’t see anything I didn’t already own (though I know that I don’t own the oldest of Scott’s solo albums, and they exist somewhere in the universe).

Frankly, as someone who can’t wear tshirts to work, until my current F&P tee starts to get haggard, I can’t really justify buying another one, and I buy their albums digitally, so there was actually nothing new and shiny for me to purchase this year. It’s the first year I haven’t bought something from their booth. I feel almost guilty.  But, I think since they’re getting my money one way or the other, whether they get it on SPWF weekend or when their albums happen to release is probably pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Frenchy & the Punk

Scott Helland

Frenchy & the Punk
Scott Helland (solo) …and I like this picture because he’s drumming with a Sharpie. lol.

9. Sharon Knight & Winter: I basically ran from The Frenchy and the Punk set to this one. It was something new and shiny, happening only once the entire weekend, so I wanted to see what it was. Mostly the set felt more Renaissance than Steampunk, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Steampunk is what you make it, after all. There was definitely a Celtic sort of vibe, though.   This set made me realize that I don’t make out lyrics as well at high pitches as I do at low pitches, which I never noticed before.  So, I’m going to have to revisit this before I know if I just like it, or like it enough to own it. My ears need to give the tracks another go and get used to the high notes before I have a solid opinion.

Sharon Knight and Winter

10. Humanwine: Their first set at the main stage was unfortunately cancelled due to them still being stuck in traffic, but I was able to see their second set …even if I chose the worst possible seat for taking photos.

I’m used to seeing Humanwine with guitars, and the latest album set is keys and electronics. While that’s not acoustically bad, I do admit that in terms of just watching the set, I miss the guitars. They just make for a more animated, mobile sort of set than when they’re sort of stuck behind their respective boxes.  That doesn’t mean the set was bad; there’s no such thing as a bad Humanwine set, but it was different.

The world we’re living in now is so tech savvy that laptops on stages is becoming pretty normal. It’s not as much fun to look at and take pictures of, though.



11. A Halo Called Fred:  I missed most of this set. I got my butt out of bed. I bought a “healthy” breakfast of coffee and fritos as a matter of expedience. I was set to arrive with about 15 minutes to spare. …and then the police, for reasons unknown, shut down, basically half of the town of Piscataway. My GPS kept driving me around in circles. (Note to tech-heads. A GPS app that, after it tells you to make a turn, and you don’t make it, two or three times in a row, that asks if you want an alternate route, would be awesome. Obviously if you’ve told me to make a turn 3 times and I didn’t make it, it’s time for a new fucking plan!)  Eventually, my only recourse was to drive in a straight line far enough past where I wanted to be that I would be behind the site in question, and navigate to the Raddison instead of the Embassy, choosing the longest possible route from the menu, to force it to take me in from the other end, I arrived in time to see the last two or three songs.  It’s not quite the same as seeing the full set, especially since it was “Barry the Steampunk Monster the Improv Musical” which sounded like it had the potential to be hilarious in the most third grade sort of way possible, but better than missing it entirely, I suppose.

At least Halo is relatively local; which means if they would just stop only having gigs on days I’m stuck at birthday parties that I can’t get out of, I will have other opportunities to catch them. (Seriously, their last two or three sets all fell on someone’s birthday. Clearly, I need less friends, or at least friends who are less important.)

Anyway, I’ve talked about Halo before, so I don’t think I need to say much here. They’re just one of those bands that awakens your inner 12 year old and invites it out to play. It’s a bit like…hm…shall I call them the Peter Pan of Steampunk? They bring some much-needed levity into the world.

They’ve also just released a new album (which you can snag via bandcamp):

A Halo Called Fred – Bandcamp

A Halo Called Fred – Website

12. Psyche Corp:  Once again, this is a group that I miss over and over again because they’re always opposite someone else. I’d have missed them this year, too, for the same reason, but I’d seen the other band’s set the day before so decided to give it a shot. I survived half of it. It wasn’t that they were bad. It was that I was freezing, and I knew a band I always enjoy was playing somewhere inside, and theoretically, by virtue of being out of the wind, warmer. I missed several things I’d planned to see Sunday due to the weather being less than thrilling (even with a jacket), but I sat through this set as long as I could. Their costumes were no help to my cold bug. I was in a jacket and hat. They were bare armed and legged. I just kept watching them, thinking ‘they have to be freezing’…this only made me colder. But, I saw enough of them to get an idea of what I’ve been missing every year at least. It’s a bit more tecnhopop (??) to be to my taste, but that doesn’t make it not good, if that’s a genre you enjoy. I would have sat through the full set if I wasn’t so cold, which I think says something from someone who doesn’t particularly care for this genre of music in general.

Psyche Corporation

Psyche Corp

13. This Way to Egress: Here’s another band that, by sheer chance of scheduling conflicts I’ve never seen in spite of them being on the schedule every year.

(Preface: remember going into these comments that this is Sunday afternoon after 3 days of festival, and that I’m a very tired introvert fueling myself on chips, coffee, and fruit snacks at this point due to being too fricking worn out to even make a normal breakfast…in other words, my reaction on Friday afternoon might have been quite different.)

I discovered really quickly that, like Steam Powered Giraffe, they have really fricking annoying, overly-energetic fans.  I get that’s what bands want. I do. Really. But I also don’t want them on top of me being all…bubbly and energetic in my personal space. I’m not claustrophobic, but that is the shit that claustrophobia is made of.

At the end of a Sunday, I just…couldn’t people anymore. And that many of them, that giddy, and that close…it didn’t take me long before my brain snapped ‘fuck these people’ and I got up out of my seat for a strategic retreat. I retreated, at first, to the back of the room. I thought further back, where maybe no one or very few people were sitting, I could stretch out a little, kind of take it all in in a more low intensity sort of way. I just needed some breathing room. Then, I realized they were dancing in some kind of psychotic daisy chain up and down the isles. Argh.

As a result, I really wasn’t able to give the band a fair chance. They seemed good. They did. I want to make that clear. And, I will look them up again from the safety of the internet, or maybe early in the festival, when my tolerance for socialization is higher, but I will not be going to any end-of-fair shows of theirs ever again, because I just don’t have the energy level to keep up with that much happening at once, that close to me, when I’m tired and looking as forward to the shows being over as I am looking forward to the shows themselves.

This Way to Egress

This Way to Egress

I did the only thing that made sense. I retreated about halfway into the set for a sandwich and some open air.

…cold as it was, and finished off the festival with the Eli August set at the midway, which was more or less the plan to begin with. Most of my plan for Sunday, once I got there, became ‘where is it warm? That’s where I’m going to be.’

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