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Sparkling music 

Pop goes the festival at Martin Street

Like a kid brother, Sparklefest returns, offering a jangly autumnal pop counterpoint to Sleazefest's end-of-summer garage rock blowout. The nomadic festival, which has seen four venues in five years, started out as a celebration of power pop, much like the International Pop Overthrow festival, but founder Mike Nicholson has recently disowned that handy categorization. "[Power pop] has a bad connotation to a lot of people. I used to like it until someone referred me to a station that said, 'We play all the power pop hits,' and what they were talking about was Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera," leading Nicholson to conclude that "the term is utterly meaningless now."

Nicholson describes the bands as ones that put the songs first, but he hastens to add he's not talking about singer/songwriters, "where you've got this guy with his acoustic guitar and he's sensitive and sincere. I record that stuff all the time. It's fine, but when I go out and have a couple beers, I want to hear something that's pounding and which gets my juices flowing. That just doesn't do it.

"The key to Sparklefest is that it's music that's well-written, well-crafted and can vary from the rootsy side of stuff to kind of punky things with plenty of things in between. But there is focus on the song. It's like, 'Let's construct something catchy that you can sink your teeth into,' and is not just what I call 'greasy kid's stuff,'" he says.

Featuring 29 bands over the course of three nights, Sparklefest draws from both the backyard and places as far away as California and New Jersey, much like Sleazefest, with the bonus that everyone who attends receives a free CD with exclusive tracks by many of the weekend's performers.

"I want to make it something you get that you couldn't get anywhere else," Nicholson says of the CD. "It's $30 for the whole weekend--and I'm not dissing Sleazefest, but it's a whole lot cheaper. And you're getting a free CD. What do those cost these days? Factor that in and you're making out like a bandit."

This year, the event will be held in Raleigh's newest, up and coming venue, Martin Street Music Hall. It replaces the Lincoln Theatre, last year's host, whose miscommunication (like Dubya, let's not call it a mistake) almost scotched the whole event.

"Before we packed up our stuff and took off last year, they said, 'We want you to come back next year. Call me and we'll set the date up and hammer it all down,'" Nicholson recalls. "I made the booking back in January. Firmed up the date. Got everything hunky dory, and then I told them I would call them back in June or July and we'd talk some more.

"I called back in July and they said, 'We forgot about Sparklefest.' They'd already booked these national acts to come in and play," Nicholson says. "I was very close to saying 'bag it,' because there was no place else for me to run. You have to arrange the bands, the budgeting for advertising and sponsorships. It's a big coordination effort for me to have this weekend and I just really couldn't do another weekend.

"My savior [was] Jack Cornell, in Terry Anderson's Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team. He's like, 'You need to do it in Martin Street,'" Nicholson says. "He informed me that the guy--Rob Farris--who runs Martin Street Music Hall comes to every Sparklefest and is totally into it, and would love to have it."

And the rest is history--or will be come this weekend.

"It was weird. Every year there is something unexpected that crops up. I suppose that's the way it always will be 'in the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock,'" Nicholson says cheekily, quoting Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel.

Sparklehorse schedule
Thursday, Oct. 7
The Bleeding Hearts
The Never
The Pink Slips
Sleepsounds
The Rachel Nevadas
Shalini
Poor Valentino
Adam McIntyre
Jane Francis

Friday, Oct. 8
Let's Get Mikey
Kick the Future
Terry Anderson & Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team
International Orange
The Grip Weeds
Tim Lee
Velvet
The Saving Graces
The Slackmates
The Van Deleckies

Saturday, Oct. 9
The Shazam
Chris Stamey Experience
Walter Clevenger & The Dairy Kings
Cliff Hillis
Stratocruiser
Eugene Edwards
The Breaks
Dipsomaniacs
Jeremy
The Hanks

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