The 70-band-strong North vs. South Festival brings Minnesota and Texas home to the Midwest

The North vs. South Festival is one of our region’s largest annual music events, yet it remains relatively unknown.

While Wakarusa gets all the headlines, skrilla and emaciated festivarians, North vs. South plugs away in relative obscurity, supported primarily by in-the-know music fans excited by the prospect of seeing, say, former Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart.

The brainchild of longtime Kansas City musician Mike McCoy (who moved to Austin, Texas, last September) and Minneapolis songwriter Baby Grant Johnson, North vs. South takes place entirely in KC this year after four years in Lawrence. With approximately 70 bands scheduled to perform at five venues over three loaded nights, it could be a breakout year for a festival that has been largely a labor of love.

“The bands represented here are of a kindred, DIY spirit,” says McCoy, a songwriter whose projects include the Service Industry, Cher U.K., Wood Roses and Black Rabbits. “I should qualify that’s the old kind of DIY, not the newer, remanufactured, cable-TV version one might find at a big, polished, megacorporate event. We’re basically a corridor-specific regional occurrence with an emphasis on fun.”

Still primarily a showcase for Minneapolis and Austin bands, this year’s festival includes a bully collection of local acts. Navigating the scattered venues presents a challenge, but with a bit of planning, we can all do our part to ensure that the South doesn’t rise again.

Here’s an hour-by-hour guide. Review the whole schedule at

Thursday, August 21

Honeywagen, 10 p.m. at Davey’s Uptown

Despite the unfortunate moniker derived from a slang term for a sanitation truck, KC’s Honeywagen ignites a firestorm of ’70s-rooted pop-rock each time it takes the stage in the appropriated trousers of Big Star and Paul Weller.

Oliver Future, 11 p.m. at the Record Bar

“1 in 24” by Oliver Future, live in Brooklyn, NY:

Originally from Austin, these Los Angeles swingers bring a smartly dressed sound that leapfrogs from pysch-pop to showboat rock with doses of soulful swagger. The band’s 2007 album, Pax Futura, was a charming sleeper.

Before Dawn, midnight at the Brick

“You’re Not Too Cool To Dance” by Before Dawn, from Beats for Heat (self-released):

The sole electro act at this year’s festival is a male-female laptop duo that shamelessly indulges in booty-bass beats and playful raps. Like fellow Austinites Ghostland Observatory, it’s sweaty fun for goof troops.

The Bitter Spills, 1 a.m. at Big Al’s Speakeasy

Baby Grant Johnson teamed up with former Ol’ Yeller frontman Rich Mattson to form this traveling folkways duo. Packing resonator and 12-string guitars, the Spills mine the vaults of Leadbelly and various dead blues singers whose names start with “Blind” and also purvey a bevy of old-school originals.

Friday, August 22

The Service Industry, 9 p.m. at the Record Bar

“Now Wake up and Die” by the Service Industry, from Limited Coverage (Sauspop Records):

McCoy’s current project is his best yet. Founded with the intent of penning disgruntled restaurant-worker anthems, the group has already churned out two solid albums of acerbic pub rock and is prepping a third for release in October.

The Melismatics, 10 p.m. at the Record Bar

Perhaps the most buzzed-about band at this year’s festival, the Melismatics earned a vote-in slot at this year’s Lollapalooza. The group’s energetic, postpunk-informed rock tunes alternate male and female leads that occasionally hook up for impregnating harmonies.

The Tisdales, midnight at the Brick

Rich Mattson formed the Tisdales when his previous band, Ol’ Yeller, lost interest in driving 200 miles to his new home in Sparta, Minnesota, for band practice. The quartet picks up where Ol’ Yeller left off — smartly arranged roots-rock with pop sense.

The Hickoids, 1 a.m. at Big Al’s Speakeasy

If the Dead Milkmen composed a soundtrack for Deliverance, it might sound like Hickoids. The cowpunk band’s last area performance was at the Grand Emporium in the early ’90s, and the group is rumored to have improved substantially since then. Mike McCoy promises that this show “will make fat white men take off their shirts.”

Saturday, August 23

F for Fake, 8 p.m. at Harling’s Upstairs

Songwriter Charlie Roadman’s latest scholastically inclined LP tells the story of the Peloponnesian War, which might be suspect if he hadn’t already demonstrated a knack for hilarity on tracks such as “Ride the Bus” (Not everyone who rides the bus is crazy/But when a crazy person has to go somewhere, they take the bus). Musically, F for Fake backs that ass up with sparse yet tasteful twangy folk.

Beaten by Them, 10 p.m. at the Record Bar

Thrill Jockey picked up the debut album from Beaten by Them, a mainly instrumental ensemble that composes cinematic post-rock tunes that incorporate cello and electronic programming. With half the group’s members residing in Australia, this show presents a rare chance to catch the band on the heels of a residency at New York’s Knitting Factory.

Brothers and Sisters, 11 p.m. at Big Al’s Speakeasy

“You’re Gone” by Brothers and Sisters, from Fortunately (Calla Lily):

A late addition to the festival, Austin’s Brothers and Sisters rush the stage with eight members and the sunny sensibilities of the Jayhawks and the Thrills. Spotlighting the harmonies of siblings Will and Lily Courtney, the group takes assured strides on its new LP, Fortunately.

I Love Math, midnight at Harling’s Upstairs

John Dufilho breaks from his power-pop past in the Deathray Davies with I Love Math, a mellower outfit that matches him with Old 97’s drummer Philip Peebles and a couple of other studs. The on-and-off Dallas band lays claim to an endearing brand of country-tinged pop that even the Everly Brothers could admire.

Categories: Music