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FRF Staff Picks: Phil

The pre-festival party on Thursday night is notable for several constants. Ostensibly thrown as a kind of thank-you to the Naeba community, it's gratis--anyone who happens to be there can attend, though the festivities are limited to the two food courts. The locals set up a bon odori platform, around which people dance to traditional music, and the evening is usually climaxed by a brief eruption of fireworks. And then there's the bands at the Red Marquee...

From what I understand the organizers solicit bands who happen to already be on site to see whether or not they'd like to do a set at the pre-fest party, usually about a half hour. Over the years, some of the best music I've seen at the festival has been at these mini-rave-ups in the Red Marquee (which didn't make its debut until 2000. It wasn't there the first year at Naeba. The Levi New Stage occupied that piece of real estate, with the Virgin Dance Tent--talk about suggestive naming!--filling in for what the Red Marquee would eventually offer after midnight). Though I can't rightly remember the exact years, some exceptional pre-fest sets by Electric 6, Shonen Knife (who showed up just to play the pre-fest party), Ratatat, and others linger in my mind. The pre-fest party is stoked by anticipation, and anybody who plays feeds off that anticipation in a big way. Being in the Red Marquee on Thursday night is just a pure adrenalin high, no matter who's playing.

I dug out this diary entry, later printed as part of the Japan Times' Fuji wrap-up in 2003. It describes pretty accurately that vibe. Danko Jones was an artist I knew nothing about beforehand, and heard nothing about afterwards, but for that single night he was the greatest thing I'd ever seen...

"Danko Jones, a blues-rock singer from Toronto built like a bullet and with a stage persona to match, is blowing away a near-capacity crowd in the Red Marquee, the only venue hosting bands on this, the night before the festival officially begins. An estimated 18,000 people, or roughly half the maximum who could buy tickets for a given day, are here; which is both a record and a clear indication of what the festival has become. Seventy percent of total ticket sales were three-day tickets, and Saturday was completely sold out. Jones--hyper, super-focused, and previously unknown to these people--has a lock on their attention right now and he connects in an elemental way. The audience reacts as if they'd discovered oil. But maybe it's the excitement of just being here that fires them up so much. The Counterfeit Beatles, a covers band who played before Jones did, are the most predictable act on the whole roster, but they also blew the crowd away. There was even a mosh pit."


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