Ask anyone who regularly writes about Chicago bands, and they'll tell you it often seems as if two out of three groups here have some connection to Columbia College.
There's AEMMP Records, of course, the student-run label that's part of the school's Arts, Entertainment & Media Management Program (hence the acronym), designed to prepare people for a career as a performer, manager, publicist or (that increasingly rare gig), a record company exec. (AEMMP recently released this year's project, a compilation album featuring 30 songs from bands such as the Office, Maps and Atlases, Bob Nanna, Owen, Walter Meego, David Costa and others.)
Even more impressive, though, is the musical component of Columbia's annual Manifest Urban Arts Festival, the college's annual spring celebration of student creativity. This year nearly 200 bands applied to perform on the two outdoor stages at today's [Friday, May 15] festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the heart of the South Loop campus. The student programming board eventually winnowed down the many contenders to 17 of the best local groups and DJs.
"Manifest has been taking place since 2001, but it's morphed each and every year," says program coordinator Sharod Smith. "This is the first time we're featuring this many students. Typically, we'd have half students and half bigger acts--last year we had OK-Go. [Other performers have included Common, Lupe Fiasco and Ozomotli.] This year it's all Columbia bands, with at least one or two students in the band."
Why does Columbia seem to produce so many adventurous musicians? It isn't only the music programs, Smith says. "A lot of people will come to Columbia and meet other people with different majors that might play guitar or drums, and they have a chance to really network and build something." That includes connecting with other students whose passion may be photography, fashion, Web and graphic design or audio engineering. "It's synergy at its finest."
"Two years ago, we had [R&B singer and Columbia grad] Matthew Santos up there onstage," Smith adds. "Since then, he's done a worldwide turn with Lupe Fiasco and he's been on MTV. I'd say Manifest is a chance to see--I'm not sure which one--but a band that might be on B96 or Q101 within the next few years."
Manifest is free and open to the public, and other elements of the festival include student film screenings, gallery exhibitions, Webcasts, radio and television broadcasts and performance art; visit www2.colum.edu/manifest/ for more information. Meanwhile, here is an overview of this year's musical contributions.
Band Stage (Balbo & Wabash)
Amanda Kraft, 11 a.m.
Sophisticated, piano-playing singer and songwriter of the Tori Amos school. (www.myspace.com/amandakraftwashere)
Choycez, 11:30 a.m.
Smooth R&B sister act featuring 20-year-old Angela and 21-year-old Latasha; think Beyonce with double vision. (www.myspace.com/Choycez)
Fly Phoenix, 12:30 p.m.
Genre-blurring jam quintet, a bit slick on record, but hopefully grittier live. (www.myspace.com/flyphoenixmusic)
Nikki Nikita, 1 p.m.
Soulful singer and songwriter with a lot of promise. (www.myspace.com/nikkinikita02)
Mr. Gray, 1:30 p.m.
A rousing punk quartet with a familiar sound but a refreshing energy. (www.myspace.com/mrgrayband)
The Window Theater, 2 p.m.
Genteel indie-rockers and sensitive souls. (www.myspace.com/thewindowtheatre)
Remedy, 2:30 p.m.
A true rarity in 2009: a band without a MySpace page or any music online!
Hawkward, 3 p.m.
Cinematic/ambient post-rock in the Tortoise tradition. (www.myspace.com/hawkward)
The Company, 3:30 p.m.
Chooglin' blues-rock quintet. (www.myspace.com/lesterjayandcompany)
Scattered Trees, 4:15 p.m.
Tuneful indie-rock quintet struggling to find its identity. (www.myspace.com/scatteredtreesmusic)
Sidewalk Chalk, 4:45 p.m.
Jazz/reggae/R&B fusion. (www.myspace.com/sidewalkchalkishere)
Soft Speaker, 5:15
Drum-drenched psychedelia, and my favorite discovery amid this year's offerings. (www.myspace.com/softspeaker)
Snakeosaurus Rex, 5:45
Jazzy indie-rock quartet, and the worst band name of this year's offerings. (Really, kids, consider another moniker!) (www.myspace.com/snakeosaurusrex)
Shortstop From Tokyo, 6:15
Third- (or maybe fourth-) wave ska revivalists. Bring your porkpie hat. (www.myspace.com/shortstopfromtokyo)
Worlds Fair, 7:45
Winner for the most Columbia students, this seven-piece ork-pop band revolves around gorgeous female vocals. (www.myspace.com/worldsfair)
Love in October, 8:15
Swedish-influenced dance-rock. (www.myspace.com/loveinoctober)
Mos Scocious, 8:45
Post-Primus freak-funk. (www.myspace.com/mosscocious)
Fluid Minds, 9:15
Wonderfully moody ambient/electronic trio. (www.myspace.com/fluidminds)
DJ Stage, 835 S. Wabash
Trance Armstrong, 11 a.m.
Mop Top of the Starter DJs, 12:15 p.m.
Pr3frosh, 1:30 p.m. (www.myspace.com/crumb412)
Zebo, 2:45 p.m. (www.myspace.com/djzebo)
DJ Continental, 4 p.m. (www.myspace.com/djcontinental)
Yello Fever, 5:15 p.m. (www.myspace.com/iwantyellofever )
Black Holes, 6:30 p.m. (www.myspace.com/weareblackholes)
DJ Scenery, 7:45 p.m.