PREVIEW: Levitation

Ben Graham is not only attending the upcoming Austin fest as an aficionado of all things Texan and psychedelic, but he'll be there to talk about his new book on those very subjects, A Gathering Of Promises. Before that, he takes a look at this year's line-up, and scroll down for details of how you can crowdfund his trip to the States

Just a couple of weeks away now, Levitation 2015 in Austin, Texas looks set to kick off the festival season in grand style, with headlining sets from The Jesus And Mary Chain, Tame Impala and the reunion that no one thought they’d ever see: the 13th Floor Elevators, playing a 50th anniversary set with all the surviving original members.

Levitation takes place at Carson Creek Ranch, just a few miles from downtown Austin, from May 8 to 10. Formerly the Austin Psych Fest, the rebranding was in honour of hometown heroes the Elevators, and their famous song of the same name. "You can’t really touch the 13th Floor Elevators," Black Angels frontman and Psych Fest co-founder Alex Maas told me when I interviewed him for the Quietus last year. "I hear a lot of bands now that I’m like, man, that really sounds like the 13th Floor Elevators, it’s really good. But it’s like saying someone’s as good as The Beatles, you know, it’s not ever going to happen."

Maas and Black Angels guitarist Christian Bland founded the Reverberation Appreciation Society with Oswald James and Rob Fitzpatrick in 2007, and staged the first Austin Psych Fest the following year. Since then the festival has gone from strength to strength, expanding considerably from its humble beginnings as a South By Southwest offshoot to a three-day camping festival, with three stages in a stunning outdoor ranch setting on the banks of the Colorado River. And just as the 13th Floor Elevators were the first band to describe their music as psychedelic, so the Austin event has become the granddaddy and inspiration for all the other psych fests – such as Liverpool – now enjoying great success all over the world.

Following warm-up club shows in Austin on the Thursday (headlined this year by Ariel Pink and The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Joel Gion), on Friday night at Levitation, Tame Impala will be joined by Spiritualized, Lightning Bolt, The Soft Moon, METZ, White Fence, Ringo Deathstarr, Indian Jewelry, The Holydrug Couple, Holy Wave and White Manna among others. Saturday sees a Jesus & Mary Chain/Primal Scream double-header (will Bobby Gillespie join the Reid brothers onstage for their Psychocandy-focussed set?), plus Earth, Thee Oh Sees, Health, Tamaryn, Night Beats, Ryley Walker and more. And Sunday sees Eternal Tapestry, Mugstar, Follakzoid, The Fat White Family, A Place To Bury Strangers, Melody’s Echo Chamber, The Black Angels and The Flaming Lips building up to that eagerly anticipated 13th Floor Elevators reunion.

Apparently rehearsals for the Elevators have been going well, with original drummer John Ike Walton and their longest standing bassist, Ronnie Leatherman (who replaced the late Benny Thurman to play on their classic debut album) joining singer Roky Erickson and, perhaps least likely of all, jug player, lyric writer and band mastermind Tommy Hall on stage. Genius guitarist Stacy Sutherland tragically died in 1978, but his place will apparently be taken by Fred Mitchim from Elevators tribute band the Tommy Hall Schedule.

Hall himself has spent the last forty years living in a San Francisco hotel working on his grand unifying theory of everything, encompassing higher mathematics, philosophy, science, art and religion, though he has apparently yet to write anything down. For decades he refused to even talk about the Elevators, claiming he was never a musician and had long since moved on from the band, which was an imperfect vehicle for his message. "A year ago, Tommy would not have wanted to attend at all, but he’s become excited about it recently," his ex-wife (and Elevators co-conspirator) Clementine Hall told me in an e-mail. "He even had a good friend buy him a jug (right size and weight) for the occasion." 

I’ve spent the last couple of years researching and writing an extensive book on the Texan psychedelic music of the 1960s, which is finally being published by Zero Books on June 26. Titled A Gathering Of Promises: The Battle For Texas’s Psychedelic Music, From The 13th Floor Elevators To The Black Angels And Beyond, the book attempts to answer the question of how Texas, a state with a prevailing social ethos of Christian conservatism and the strictest drug laws in America, produced such a wealth of influential and important psychedelic rock bands. As well as the Elevators, bands like Red Crayola, The Moving Sidewalks, Bubble Puppy, Fever Tree, The Golden Dawn, The Lost And Found, Cold Sun, Shiva’s Headband, Zakary Thaks, The Children, The Wig, Endle St. Cloud and many more made up a loose, interrelated family of bands that never got the success or the credit they deserved, but produced some incredible, mind-blowing music that still resonates today.

With the kind support of the Reverberation Appreciation Society I’m going to be promoting A Gathering of Promises at Levitation 2015. I’ll be paying for this entirely from my own pocket and through the generosity of friends and strangers, so if any Quietus readers would like to help me get there, then there’s still time to support my crowdfunding efforts at my Indiegogo page. Weekend tickets for Levitation 2015 cost $187.06 with tax included, and are still available from the festival’s website. Add a camping pass for $86.72 or upgrade to deluxe status for another $114.59.

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