Jortsfest accessibly showcases local DIY scene

Photo by Monica Jamison

“Always free, always all ages, always accessible” was the rallying cry that once again united musicians, artists and hundreds of supporting fans during last Saturday’s JORTSFEST 2017. As a hybrid of a concert, art crawl and gala, the event showcased a wide variety of talents from across the Georgia DIY scene, from singer-songwriters to graphic novelists. Simultaneously, JORTSFEST promoted an atmosphere of unification and complete accessibility.

The festival, now entering its fifth consecutive year, was initially conceived in Tech’s own DIY music venue, Under The Couch, by then-student Maria Sotnikova.

“Back in the summer of 2013, I was enjoying a warm summer day and jokingly remarked to Michael Leon, then Booking Manager of Under the Couch, that we should have a festival in honor of everyone’s favorite summer attire: Jorts,” said Sotnikova. “He took that joke seriously, and here we are five years later.”

Soon after its founding, JORTSFEST quickly rose in popularity, both in general attendance as well as artist participation.

“While the first three JORTSFESTs were all held at Under the Couch,” Sotnikova continued. “For the last two years we have been at The Mammal Gallery due to needing more space than Under the Couch could offer.”

Since its relocation, the festival has found an ideal partner in The Mammal Gallery. The venue, also founded in the summer of 2013, has proven itself a refuge for the type of free artistic expression and communal inclusivity that JORTSFEST aims to heighten with its annual event. The space is tucked beneath south Broad Street’s network of colorful facades and towering murals, which were added during the ELEVATE art festival to revitalize downtown through the facilitation of public art projects.

The Mammal Gallery contains a wheelchair accessible, zero-step entry concert space on the first floor, which includes a staffed bar, gender-neutral restrooms and ample space for the event’s concertgoers as well as its tabled artists.

Doors to the event opened at 4 p.m., and the musical performances were scheduled to begin at 5:40 p.m. In the interim, attendees were encouraged to explore the space, sample the bite-sized snacks prepared by Atlanta-based vegan and vegetarian chef Raw
Mamacita and learn more about the different artists and groups stationed near the entrance.

Several Georgia-based nonprofits, including Georgia ADAPT, Southern Fried Queer Pride and Georgia Artists For Progress, were represented alongside local artists such as Cat Powers, Rayne Garnett and Lawson Thomas Chambers.

The music portion of the festival began with an exciting performance from local singer, songwriter, producer and community activist TAYLOR
ALXNDR. ALXNDR, a cofounder of the queer and trans arts advocacy group Southern Fried Queer Pride, performed a set of electronically backed pop songs from their debut EP “Noise,” which was released on Jul. 27.

Following ALXNDR, Yukons, a DIY rock group from Atlanta, played a set of fuzzy, memorable and occasionally bilingual tracks. Yukons is composed of Danielle Dollar on drums, Hannah Lenkey on bass and José Joaquín Izaguirre on guitar and lead vocals.

Chelsea Shag, the third performer of the night, opted for a more intimate experience. The accomplished singer and guitar player scaled back her typically electric blend of funk, pop, jazz and blues to nothing more than her voice and acoustic guitar. She invited the audience to sing along.

Shag was followed by Lunar Vacation who, despite their relatively young age, have already pioneered the emerging genre of “pool rock” while simultaneously cementing themselves as a staple of the local DIY rock and pop scene.

Athens hip-hop artist and self described “lunatic lady rapper” Lingua Franca gave an outstanding performance as the fifth act in the lineup, accompanied for the show by DJ Reindeer Games and Wesdaruler.

Nana Grizol, the Athens-based indie folk outfit with connections to Elf Power and Neutral Milk Hotel, followed. They showcased several songs from their album “Ursa Minor,” released earlier this year by famed Athens label Orange Twin Records.

Atlanta’s own purveyors of “fun rock,” BABY BABY delivered their usual brand of high energy enjoyment as the night’s penultimate act. LONER, the experimental post rock and jazz group, closed the night out with a set of hauntingly beautiful tracks, many of which can be heard on their most recent project “In The Tides Of Time.”

In light of the successful fifth JORTSFEST festival, the future of the event appears promising. Sotnikova and the JORTSFEST team have impressive plans for expanding the event.

“This year we ran a Kickstarter campaign to pay for JORTSFEST 2017 production costs, paying performers and paying fees associated with incorporating as a 501c3 nonprofit,” Sotnikova said. “By becoming a 501c3 nonprofit, we hope to work with institutional powers, like local governments to foster intentional inclusivity in music and art communities, and we look forward to applying for grants to fund this mission.”

For those who missed the festival this year but wish to stay informed until next summer’s event, they can learn more on the JORTSFEST Facebook page.