The concept of “making it big” always requires the artist to leave their home town. No act “makes it big” in West Virginia or Ohio. Perhaps, though, the idea of that is truly a misconception. Perhaps, artists can still be accomplished while celebrating and being appreciated for their talent in their own town and state.
Undercurrent, an inaugural music festival is seeking to do just that – rewrite the narrative on what it means to be a successful artist where you are from. Uniting local folk and artists, the festival will showcase not only the artists, but also the local community willing to support them. At the helm of this project is music photographer and owner at Hold the Note, Michelle Waters.
Michelle grew up dating musicians, touring with them, and singing a bit on the side. For a few years, she’s been photographing live music. Through photography, she discovered her love of photographing and interacting with the opening acts, many of which were local to the venue. From there, her love for local and up-and-coming musical acts only grew.
“I’ve long been fascinated with creative processes, and music is a form of communication I’ve never really fully understood. I know when I like something, but the ability to take what you want to say and not only communicate it through words, but through emotion, through sound and tempo and then connect it with strangers in such visceral ways – there’s just nothing else that compares. Not only are local artists often more accessible, but I often feel they’re also underrepresented, and I identify with their struggles to get a break,” Michelle said.
So, from that, the idea for Undercurrent was born. Michelle, like many others, love the idea of the music festival. They are a place to discover new music, meet others with the same tastes and really immerse yourself in an art and the culture that surrounds it.
“I’d never really considered organizing my own music fest until I started getting to know so many of the local musicians through Hold the Note. Several in our community had mentioned there was no music scene here, and other cities, bigger cities, were better if you wanted to make a name for yourself,” she said.
Although Michelle appreciates the music scene from any city, she knew there was so much happening in West Virginia and Ohio. It wasn’t necessary to drive to a big city to find the music people wanted.
“There’s so much talent right here. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if we started to change that narrative. So I decided to hold a showcase for some of the artists that have caught my attention over the years, to show our community there’s great talent right in our backyards,” she said.
What started off as an idea featuring a handful of bands quickly morphed into much more than that. In fact, Michelle said that the selection process became incredibly challenging. Instead of having to search for bands to fill the slots, she found herself having to pare them down for the inaugural event.
Undercurrent is uniting local artists to showcase their talent for local people. A large group of performers live within an hour of the area, so showcasing the diversity of talent was important for the Undercurrent organizers as well. With the diversity comes a diversity of fans. Michelle is hoping that the musicians will bring their fan bases in to see not only a great event, but “to see our charming towns and friendly faces, bringing business and awareness to what is our great downtown Parkersburg.”
At the festival, attendees “can expect to experience some of the nicest, most talented musicians from southeastern Ohio and West Virginia. They can expect some really good food and drinks, to dance a lot, and to look around at the other people there and say ‘Are you hearing this? I can’t believe they’re from right here,’” Michelle said.
The ultimate goal for Undercurrent is to focus on amazing local artists instead of using national acts to sell tickets. They operate on the belief that once people really start to hear what’s happening on the local music scene, they will trust the curation of the acts and be excited to experience more.
The festival also features a mixtape for people to listen to to hear a sampling of the 14 artists participating prior to the event. Acknowledging that a major road block for a majority of artists is just getting people to listen to the music, Michelle decided a mixtape might just be the perfect solution for the event.
“I used to get a music magazine that included a CD of up-and-coming artists. Often, maybe one or two artists on the album were “big names,” while the rest were like Christmas. I always loved listening to those – never knowing what was coming next, and very often falling in love with many of the artists, and becoming lifetime fans of things that sometimes never hit the radio,” she said.
Looking forward to the event, Michelle is starting to build momentum so people realize how exciting the festival is going to be. The goal of the festival is to encourage locals to explore their music scene and really hear and see what is happening around them.
“I hope people make new friends over the shared love of their favorite acts. And I hope people get to experience that feeling of finding a new favorite artist for the very first time, more than once even, at Undercurrent,” Michelle said. “I’m looking forward to talking with people during and after the show, and seeing their faces when they hear some of their new favorite music at Undercurrent.”
The event takes place on May 13th at Point Park Marketplace in downtown Parkersburg. The doors open at 2 p.m., with music starting at 2:30 and going until a little after 10 p.m. Tickets go on sale Friday for $20 per person.