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A Current Affair

October 12, 2007

Last weekend, at the same time that the Fells Point Fun Festival was taking over one side of the harbor, there was another, much smaller fest happening downtown. Current Gallery is an anomalously artsy little venue on Calvert Street that’s been around for almost three years now, despite living in the shadow of obsolescence: Current’s building is set for eventual demolition. And it seems that it decided to finally celebrate its temporary existence by throwing the two day Current Canyon Festival.

Surprisingly, coming to the Current Canyon Festival on Saturday straight from Fells, the only real difference between the two events was size. Instead of blocking off whole streets, the Current folks had one small alley—presumably the “canyon” in question—next to the venue, Water Street, to themselves, with a big blue tarp overhead providing shade and shelter from any possible rain, which thankfully never materialized. It was pretty much your standard street festival shrunk down . . . and really indie: homemade arts and crafts were on sale at various tables, and a food vendor sold veggie falafels.

Arriving on Saturday afternoon during a lull between the 16 bands that played on the indoor stage over the course of the weekend, we enjoyed the weather out in the alleyway for a while, until one of the festival’s many performance-art projects started up. A woman who’d been setting up a karaoke machine on the sidewalk stripped down to a bathing suit, and then changed into a turtle costume. In the performance, billed as “Underwater Adventure 2007 (Karaoke Style),” Virginia Warwick delivered a frenzied monologue in character as a sea turtle whose heart had been broken by a dolphin, or something like that. And then she sang deliberately shrill, over-the-top karaoke versions of pop songs like “Since U Been Gone” and “She Will Be Loved,” peppered with outbursts about that cruel dolphin. It was painful art-school kid nonsense, and her off-key shrieking might’ve been the least painful thing about it.

Thankfully, around that time, one of the bands was getting started inside. Noise quartet Wzt Hearts might not be common knowledge to every music fan in Baltimore, but the band’s laptop manipulator, Jason Urick, would probably be a familiar face to a good amount of them, either from selling them records at Once Twice Sound and the Sound Garden, or organizing various festivals and events, like the club-music warehouse parties DJ’d by K-Swift. On Saturday, Wzt Hearts were pleasantly dull, a mix of whirring atmospherics and slapdash drum punctuation.

That the next band, Small Sur, could also be described as pleasantly dull seems more excusable, since that’s at least closer to what they’re going for than Wzt Hearts. The whispy, folky sounds made by the trio—with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, an electric bass and boy/girl harmonies–weren’t unlike those of their labelmates, Private Eleanor. It was the perfect soundtrack for such a low-key event, where most of the listeners in attendance were seated Indian-style on the floor. It’s unlikely that the Current Canyon Festival will become an annual institution, or even if its venue will still exist a year from now, but it was nice while it lasted.