Consider this a warning, denizens of Murfreesboro: For one Saturday, your city is going to be taken over by hundreds of scruffy-looking punk rock college kids on bicycles. Bouncing from the square to the opposite edge of MTSU and back, the third-annual Tour de Fun will look more like a scene from Mad Max than a music festival — but that's only because the scene has been so quiet since the city's golden era that locals may have forgotten what live music on a grand scale looks like.
It wasn't that long ago when Spongebath Records — the small-town record collective turned local legend that saw the rise of bands like Self and Fluid Ounces — reigned supreme. Or when the Red Rose Cafe was the destination for up-and-coming indie acts like Of Montreal and Deerhoof. Or when Grand Palace held down a record store, a print house, a recording studio and a venue under a single roof.
But in a college town, 10 years is an eternity, and the 1990s may as well have been populated by Cro-Magnon ape-men. The only proper surviving band from the Spongebath dynasty is The Features, the Red Rose was demolished after a protracted revival effort failed nearly a year ago, and Grand Palace has been scattered to the four winds.
To say that Bucket City's music community could use a bit of rejuvenation would be putting it lightly. And that's where Tour de Fun, a free daylong music festival celebrating Murfreesboro's diverse music scene, comes in.
"Right now, I would not even lie, it's definitely in a low point," Tour de Fun founder Tyler Walker tells the Scene from the patio at 3 Crow Bar. "It's a college town; it goes in waves. Every three years, it comes in and has a weak year, then builds itself back up with a new group of kids. Since it's a college town, there's always going to be someone stepping in and taking control — I just think it's lacking that right now."
Though he doesn't volunteer himself as the kind of workhorse that Murfreesboro needs to regain its footing as a legitimate music scene, Walker's work with Tour de Fun is a major step toward solidifying a scene that is by nature disparate. The lack of 18-and-up music venues and rotating cast of musicians and house-show facilitators makes for a music community that is so fluid it can be difficult to pin down.
Sprawled across eight houses, three bars, a couple of retail stores, a deli and one lone music venue, Tour de Fun is effectively a deconstructed music festival. The ride starts at Murfreesboro Outdoor and Bicycle (MOAB) on the square with performances by 'Boro bands like Creature Comfort and Mantra Mantra Mantra before the hundreds of expected participants swarm the roads to the next house on the itinerary in a kind of rock 'n' roll-crazed phalanx. Each house, with names like "The Fortress of Solid Dudes" and "Hausu," hosts two or three bands, along with work by local artists. When the bands are finished with their 10-minute sets, everyone picks up their bikes and hurtles toward the next destination.
In total, more than 40 bands are scheduled to perform at this year's Tour de Fun. In keeping with the spirit of the 'Boro's diverse, eclectic scene, the lineup is a bizarre genre hodgepodge with everything from '80s-inspired synth pop (Hanzelle) and chiptune music played with Game Boys (Fake Brad) to bluesy garage rock (Mom and Dad) and hardcore punk (Guide). In truth, Tour de Fun is less like a typical music gathering and more like a breakneck crash course in what's going on in the 'Boro music and art scenes.
The house-show circuit lasts until sunset, when the swarm diverts its route back to the square for an all-night rager. That is, of course, assuming that the various levels of 'Boro police don't bust up the festivities first, like they tried to do during last year's tour.
"Cops hate people having fun," Walker half-jokes. He spent an hour detained on a curb last year when police tried to shut the festival down. "That's why I do 10-minute bands, two bands at each house. Usually if the cops get called because of noise, I'm like, 'Dude, you know what? We're leaving, so see you later.' By the time they get there, we're already heading to the next house."
Seeing bands in strangers' basements? Running from the cops? Drinking beer and partying like you have no responsibilities? The only way Tour de Fun could possibly embody the college experience more is if someone vainly tried to teach you physics while you barely kept your eyes open. Maybe Walker will find a way to include that next year.
See tourdefun.net for a full schedule.
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