by Carmen Belasco
In the ruins of defunct steel factories and in the burgeoning artist colonies of Bethlehem, PA, MusikFest opened up various stages to bring music to the masses for a week this August. To musically culminate the festivities, Heart and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood took center stage during the final weekend. While Underwood received top billing and charged a fee to see her perform based on one season's worth of exposure by singing cover songs for Simon Cowell, other less glamorized and unsigned artists took to side stages to play for free.
While Underwood opened up her set, Mingo Fishtrap simultaneously opened up at 6:30 pm, Saturday night on a side stage with much less adulation. At the onset of the performance, the eight piece band from Austin, Texas began their first song to a slightly disinterested crowd before a half empty venue. By the end of their performance, however, every seat was taken and people packed into the periphery to hear the band's brand of funk, soul and rock. While the band initially received polite applause, by show's end Mingo Fishtrap had people dancing in the front of the stage to their sizzling horn arrangements and closed to standing ovations. Indeed, the cashier at the concession stand complained that the credit card machine broke because the band sold so many CDs.
The band clearly showed why they have been named Best Jam Band and Best Funk Band at the Austin Music Awards. After their rousing performance, I spoke to frontman Roger Blevins, Jr. (vocals, guitar), trombonist 'Speedy' Gonzales and bassist and father of the band, literally, Roger Blevins, Sr.
Blevins, Sr., who can speak from vastly more experience than the younger generation in Mingo Fishtrap, enjoys the new environment of the indie scene that has been enabled by new media. While many bands were previously relegated to playing cover songs in bars, unsigned musicians now have the ability to record and produce their own albums using programs like Cool Edit Pro and Pro Tools, market themselves on the internet, book gigs via email and sell CDs on sites like CDBaby.
Able to break loose of singing other people's stuff, Mingo Fishtrap, unlike Underwood who had to homogenize her sound and abandon originality, works to define their niche in the indie scene. Blevins, Jr. who has the soulful crossover vocal appeal of Elvis, Mick Jagger or Joss Stone enjoys the band's ability to write their own songs. They cater their songs to each band member's strengths and limitations. The result is a unique blend of blues, soul, salsa, funk and rock that gets the audience out of their seats and grooving along with the band. While he was pleased to hear how many CDs the band sold during their kicking performance, Blevins, Jr. says that the group aspires to play great music rather than sell CDs.
While I can't say how Underwood performed in on the main stage in the infancy of her career as a musical "idol," I can say that an unsuspecting crowd enjoyed a phenomenal show by Mingo Fishtrap. These indie veterans have put out four CDs and journeyed from coast to coast in a modest van for a decade. Their act is polished like a shiny penny and their new found fans at MusikFest certainly agreed that Mingo Fishtrap achieved their goal of playing great music.