Food trucks, genre-defying local and national musical acts, and educational workshops are all the makings of a great festival. That and more happened at Radio Milwaukee’s Rhythm Lab MicroFest, which commemorated the 10th anniversary of the station’s Rhythm Lab Radio show.
DJ Tarik Moody organized the music for the fest to gather diverse genres on a single stage, just like the show Rhythm Lab Radio he co-created in Minneapolis and brought to Milwaukee in 2007. “Our mash-up includes jazz to hip-hop, electronic to indie and everything in between,” he says.
The MicroFest, a play on Milwaukee’s microbreweries, was meant to convey an experience that is small yet has a refined lineup of acts. The TRUE Skool band and several local artists and DJs kicked off the evening at the station’s still-new studios in Walker’s Point (220 E. Pittsburgh Ave.). TRUE Skool, nonprofit organization that uses the urban arts as a tool to engage youth in social justice, community service and civic engagement, also provided staff to work the event.
TRUE Skool Founder and Executive Director Sarah Dollhausen says their partnership with Radio Milwaukee has grown organically. “We were able to get into teaching the performance aspect once we had the studio to use,” she says. “It’s really coincided nicely with the growth of our music programming.”
I arrived just in time for the local band Dream Attics, whose music I had heard on the station. They played a beautiful set of dreamy, indie-electronic rock. I noticed right away that among the 200 guests, it was the most diverse crowd I’d seen in a long time – both in age and race.
Next up was Taylor McFerrin – an electro-jazz musician, producer, composer, pianist, DJ – and also the son of singer Bobby McFerrin. His captivating set included keys, improvisation and plenty of impressive beat boxing.
Up-and-coming indie darling Natalie Prass, who Moody calls “a cross between Janet Jackson and Dusty Springfield,” was one of the only non-electronic musicians there. And she lived up to Moody’s compliment with her rendition of Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place.”
Legendary producer and founder of Stones Throw Records, Peanut Butter Wolf capped off the night with a video DJ set.
For about 25 MPS and TRUE Skool high school students and alumni, Saturday was the highlight of the fest. The artist workshops included a Q&A session with Peanut Butter Wolf, managing finances as a business owner and musician or “Getting your Bizz On” with DJ Bizzon, and a Taylor McFerrin music showcase.
Students had the opportunity to learn the backstory of McFerrin’s music, view a deconstruction of one of his tracks and witness a hands-on demonstration about how he makes his music. The informal workshop went in-depth into the tools and tricks he uses when producing beats and combining them all together for a live performance.
He also imparted some inspiration: “Music has to be your true passion first and foremost,” “Stick with like-minded people and something good is bound to happen,” “Don’t be afraid to do something bad, especially while you’re young” and “Emulate artists and records you like.” It’s not bad advice for just about anyone in a creative field.