Photo credit: Shervin Lainez
This Saturday, Brooklyn-based indie-pop outfit Rubblebucket will return to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, MA, for their third annual Dream Picnic, which has grown from a DIY show in Queens to a full-on (still somewhat DIY) festival offering. This year’s Picnic will feature music from the host band along with STRFKR, And the Kids, Guerrilla Toss and more, plus the side projects of Rubblebucket’s singer-songwriter duo of Alex Toth and Kalmia Traver, Tōth and Kalbells.
Dream Picnic 2019 is a culmination of sorts for the album and touring cycle following Rubblebucket’s 2018 album, Sun Machine, which deftly captured the emotional turmoil following the breakup of Toth and Traver’s romantic relationship and subsequent strengthening of their efforts as bandmates (read more about that in this Relix feature from early this year. Toth took some time to chat about Dream Picnic’s growth and the band’s excitement for this year’s gathering, along with Rubblebucket’s plan to take a break in the next year to give more space for other projects, and his own experiences with the intersection of sobriety, meditation and inspiration.
Let’s start with the upcoming Dream Picnic, which is in its third year and second at this location. What solidified the decision to return there and to expand the gathering to more bands?
It was about six years ago when we decided that, for all of our Western Mass. shows, instead of going through the typical avenues in that area, we were gonna go through an independent [promoter], a smaller crew, what we felt was a sweeter organization as far as people that were throwing shows. There’s another company in that region that sort of has a monopoly on all of the venues there, and we didn’t like the way they were treating artists so we boycotted them and decided to start working with Signature Sounds. We started doing shows with them a little bit outside of town for a year and just immediately felt the difference with the love connection. The whole thing felt like a human exchange and there’s more TLC involved. We’ve been doing our New Year’s Eve shows in that region and it’s just sort of like one of our biggest homes, because we started in Burlington, Vermont, and then we were in Boston. Kal and I have been in Brooklyn mostly [in the years since] but we still have so many roots in the New England area. Western Mass. just became one of the main hubs for Rubblebucket, so it made sense and felt like a more open space than New York City to build a festival.
Going from the first year, which was in Queens, to the second year in Western Mass., immediately it was like, “Whoa.” Everything was smoother and we had all these local vendors and multiple stages; it was like, “Wow, this is a real festival.” And we felt so amazing, so good about it. It really was a dream come true, and we didn’t realize it until we were there. When you’re in a band, you’re like, “Yeah, maybe someday we’ll make our own festival.” It’s something really far in the future. It almost feels like we accidentally stumbled into it, because the first year was almost an experiment, and the second year at Gateway City Arts with the Signature Sounds folks, combining our history with them with the rapport we built over the years, they immediately got us. We felt like the work they were doing to help us build it was an extension of who we are. So, without even realizing it, that the idea we had of, “Yeah, someday we’ll do our own festival,” is happening now, and it just keeps growing. I’m really proud of it.
Can you talk about the specific highlights of this year’s Picnic?
So this year we’ve got bigger acts, like STRFKR, which is a band we’ve admired from afar for many years—there’s definitely something kindred about their live-show. We’ve got our longtime buddies Guerilla Toss on there—they’re such a wild band. The drummer, Pete [Negroponte], went to University of Vermont with Kal and I before he went off to the conservatory, so Kal and I got roots with that crew. And The Kids are a band that we fell in love with many years ago and we play shows with them basically every year. They’re just total kindred bands so it’s really great to have them on this year at the Dream Picnic.
And then we have some other really cool acts like Sidney Gish and Sun Parade, and then Kal and my other projects, Kalbells and Tōth, and that’s all on the main stage. One way that the festival’s grown is that there’s bigger acts on the main stage—called Outerspace—and then local programming on the Innerspace stage. The local bands are so strong. Then there’s the Be Here Now Village, where our bass player’s friend Samer [Ghadry] is gonna do sound healing stuff in there during the day, which was one of my favorite parts last year, going in there and just lying down.
Then, from 5 p.m. through the evening, we’re doing something new this year with Gateway City Arts, this experimental music thing happening ‘til very late. So, overall, the festival’s going later, there’s more local vendors, we’re doing the thrift shop again, and our lighting-slash-party-facilitator-genius guy, Neil [Fridd], a.k.a. Terror Pigeon, will be here this year. He’s just a maniac, brings tons of extra energy as far as projections and balloon creatures and stuff like that. And also this year we’ve got our full Sun Machine show—we have these set designs with silhouettes of us dancing and there’s projections happening and the full thing. It’s definitely a growth and an upgrade.
I remember when I went to the first Dream Picnic in Queens before you guys played, Kal was running a food stand, and I think her mom was there. Is there any of that still going on?
That was one really cool thing—but also one really insane thing—about the first year, which is that Kal and Kal’s mom attempted to have their own food stand. I could see that coming back in future years. She has this dream, called Misery Busters, and it’s a concept for a café, so that was really special about that Knockdown Center show, that she executed on the Misery Busters thing and then she also had the local co-op that she worked shifts at, they also had a vendor there. That was amazing, but I can’t even tell you how insane it was to pull off. But I think as the festival grows, that can be more feasible. It’s just about having more infrastructure and help doing that stuff.
Looking forward, are there any thoughts about how you might want to grow the festival next year, if there will be a next year of course.
I’m sure there will be a next year. With the flow and organic evolution that has happened thus far, I’m sure it will continue to do that. I feel like there’s a number of ways that it can expand, such as expanding to more than one day and, if that type of thing happens, then there’s always extra antics, like a lot of extra infrastructure we could do as far as art installation stuff. We are doing one art installation this year, but having more of that is a really exciting possibility, furthur collaborations using three-dimensional space in an interactive way, both with installations and with performers. I remember being at High Sierra Music Festival years ago and being “attacked” by weird performance artists with crazy costumes, on mushrooms, like, “What the hell? Amazing.” I feel like there’s like little brass bands that can happen. We have very vivid imaginations, and I think we’re building it in a very organic way, with so much local community chipping in and working together for a symbiotic thing. I think we can just keep building on that.