Fomofest filled with sound of Memphis
Music event provides broad sampling of local scene
FOMO, an acronym for “fear of missing out,” is a peculiar side-effect of the internet-enabled modern world. Studied by psychiatrists, sociologists and marketers, it is an anxiety, especially prevalent among young people, in which despite being connected to the world more than ever before, they are still going to miss out on some event or some experience somewhere.
It is, in short, the reason the guy in the next row at the movie theater keeps obsessively checking his phone.
“FOMO” is also part of the name of a local music festival that returns for its sophomore staging this Saturday at the Levitt Shell. But rather than promote the fear of missing out, Fomofest looks to sate it. Functioning almost like a live music sampler, the event pulls together more than a dozen local acts of different genres on one stage to give its audience a sense of the Memphis music scene today.
Among the acts slated to perform are top local names such as post-punk outfit Ex-cult, garagerock veteran Jack Oblivian and hip-hop duo Artistik Approach, alongside lesser-known performers such as University of Memphis-trained adult contemporary singer Joshua Payne, emo comer Frenchie (formerly of 7$ Sox), and the young jazzpop band Syrrup.
It is, admittedly, a slanted depiction of Memphis music today, emanating from one man, Fomofest founder and chief organizer James Sposto.
“It’s my festival; it’s what I like,” Sposto says with a chuckle. “What I wanted to do was curate a show and take all my favorites, the things that I like that I’ve experienced, and put them all on one stage on one day and make a showcase. To say, look, Memphis is creating fantastic music right now. We’re not just a place of music’s history. We’re a place of music’s future.”
Sposto isn’t the most likely candidate to play ambassador for Memphis’ music scene. Originally from California, his background is in film and video and interactive design. He came to Memphis 13 years ago for a prospective job. He lost the gig, but gained an appreciation for the city.
Lured by the culture and the low cost of living, he started his “digital creative agency,” Sposto Interactive, here in 1996. The company relocated to Pennsylvania in 2000, but Sposto, missing Memphis, moved back in 2007.
“I call myself a Memphian by choice,” says Sposto, who telecommutes for his job. “I don’t have to live here. I can live anywhere, but I choose to live in Memphis. I like the size of it. I like that I can go anywhere and know almost everyone that I see. There’s just easy living here. It’s comfortable. It’s friendly. I guess I found my tribe here.”
More accurately, Sposto found his tribe in the late-night music venues of Memphis where he quickly became a regular presence.
“James is the ultimate Memphis music advocate,” says Louisianareared Memphis chanteuse Marcella Simien, who first met Sposto when he began haunting her regular gigs at the Mollie Fontaine Lounge. “He supports artists at all levels, whether it’s younger musicians just starting out or more established artists. He’s a transplant and has eclectic taste, which helps because he has a fresh approach to presenting music. His vibe
is just so Memphis in that he takes in everything the city has to offer. He’s got the appetite for it, and his mind is open. If he likes a band, he’ll come and see them frequently, and he really listens.”
One of those to whom he listened was bassist Daniel Mckee, who provided the initial inspiration for Fomofest through a Facebook post. It was early last year, and Mckee, whose many bands include the soulblues act Southern Avenue, logged on to vent casually that he had never played the Levitt Shell at Overton Park.
“And I just said, ‘Cool, I’ll make a festival, and you can play,’” Sposto says.
With the same nonchalance, Sposto, who had never organized anything like a festival before, began putting together the pieces for the first Fomofest, leaning on friends and volunteers to help pull off the logistical undertaking. By May, he had announced the inaugural Fomofest, scheduled for late August.
The actual event did not go off without some hiccups, though they were mostly naturemade; an early rainstorm hampered attendance to around 500. But those who did attend were pleased with the results, with food trucks and art vendors adding to a loose family vibe that inspired a lot of cross-collaboration on stage.
“It was well organized, had a diverse lineup, and was exciting for all of the performers,” says Simien, who along with funky alternative rockers Zigadoo Moneyclips is one of the only carry-overs to this year’s festival. “It was our band’s first performance on the Levitt Shell stage. In addition to the bands, there were also art vendors. I had a booth with my artwork and merch. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a sampling of what was/is happening in the arts in Memphis. All ages, young and old, getting exposed to new music. Everyone is hanging out and basking in this rich and diverse music community. It’s a great festival to be a part of.”
Marcella & Her Lovers, who played the inaugural Fomofest, are back for this year’s event.