Words and photos by Anna Miller
A strange, albeit temporary quiet has settled over the streets of Allentown this week in the wake of the 2011 Buffalo Infringement Festival, as the Infringers that have been a fixture in the neighborhood for nearly two weeks enjoy time at home; the “Wambulance” is noticeably absent from its parking spot in Days Park; and art lovers across the city are left, pleasantly exhausted, wondering why we all don’t Infringe more often.
There is a spirit to the festival that would benefit us all if infused into the other 354 days of the year. It’s a sense of exploration, discovery, creativity, and celebration. It seems during those 11 bustling days that anything is possible – there are no boundaries, no restrictions, and no judgment. It’s a space where art is created organically and with intention, with the support of a strong and organized community.
Infringement is an international phenomenon begun in Montreal that has grown particularly strong roots here in Buffalo, where our version of the festival has grown over its seven years into the biggest, baddest Infringement celebration in the world.
“I’m always amazed because this festival is able to do what we can only dream of,” said Donovan King, who created the original Montreal Infringement Festival as a response to conflicts with the city’s ironically mainstream Fringe Festival. Each year, his theater troupe brings the popular Car Stories, and 2011 produced the new interactive show Infringement Therapy, the highlight of which seems to have been smashing a television set with painted rocks of oppression.
“There’s no adversary here,” King said. “It’s like everyone is saying, ‘Let’s do this and let’s have fun,’ and that’s the way it should be. It’s nice to see a town that’s so unpolluted by corporate interference…You guys have a sort of inoculation, a sort of resistance already, just by the way you’re doing the arts. Buffalo is a role model because you are demonstrating right now, to the whole world, how the arts should be done – and you’re succeeding amazingly.”
The Infringement celebration filled the streets, parks and venues of the city with forms of art as varied as the performers themselves, intended to challenge the way we think about the world around us. Subversive Theatre Collective’s The Guillotine: Heads Will Roll, which showed eight times in Days Park, presented a conversation through the lens of French history and inspirational historical figures, including Gandhi and Mother Teresa, encouraging the audience to challenge our society’s own bourgeoisie and fight for each other’s rights.
From interactive theater to non-stop music to breathtaking puppet shows – Michelle Costa’s Ferdinand was truly a work of beauty, her gentle artistry bringing her puppets and audience to life – the underground art fest pumped out so many performances that it was impossible to see everything. Yet one of the most enjoyable aspects of it was that you didn’t have to rush around and try to catch it all; some of the best times were spent just roaming the streets and discovering what they had to offer around each turn. Catching the sweet sounds of the strings of Ginger James on Sunday, we were passed by and promptly joined the colorfully triumphant Rise Up The Rainbow Over Buffalo! Street Pageant, an amalgamation of people and puppets marching down the streets in celebration of “the riot of colors and diversity of being that is life.”
Following the march down Allen Street led us to the exploratory sounds of Steve Baczkowski, crouched outside The Antique Man spinning avant-garde records which he fused together and wailed over with his tenor saxophone. His was an inspiring and exciting performance that transcends what one would normally find on the streets, which in itself is one of the most exciting elements of Infringement – bringing this form of intelligent, exciting art to everyone.
The dynamic energy of Infringement filled the streets at all hours of every day – musicians played organized shows on the streets outside venues like the French Quarter Cafe and El Buen Amigo by day, and hordes of entertainers filled Allen Street by night, particularly outside Nietzsche’s, spinning fire and hoops and tirelessly turning out jams until they could jam no more. The organic nature of the street art enticed explorations of sound and rhythm that were open to all to contribute to and be a part of – Allen Street felt like it never has been and never should be any other way.
“The buskers in the street really came out and rose up,” said Curt Rotterdam, BIF’s music coordinator. “It was popping every night in the streets, and that’s something that we didn’t program. Artists that may never have played together before saw each other in the streets and came together, including many that didn’t sign up for the official festival. That proves that you can still infringe on Infringement.”
Jason C. McClean, who helped start Montreal Infringement and has performed in Car Stories in six out of seven Buffalo installments, added, “That’s the beauty of Infringement – there are very basic rules, but it just comes down to a matter of community and respect for fellow artists. Other than that, you can interpret it however you want.”
Increasingly evident is the community that builds up over the festival’s 11 days, and in a greater sense over the course of the past seven years. While the bulk of Infringers are Buffalonians, more are hearing of the scene and heading into town on a whim to check it out. Singer/songwriter Lloyd MacHardy came in from Nova Scotia and quickly became a favorite new member of the community, frequenting the open mics in addition to his booked shows. Lazy D and Krusty come up from Cincinnati every year for the whole festival and dive in, Infringement logo tattooed to Lazy D’s chest.
“The best thing is that people keep coming back,” said Rotterdam. “These people are starting to come from all over and come just to see what’s going on. It’s got to be helping people, it’s got to be helping the city, and we do it all with no funding.”
As Infringement continues to grow, it is the strength of the community and the supreme dedication of its organizers that will hold it together, as more acts and more attention demands more space and greater support. Two welcome additions this year were the beautiful gallery Space 224, which served as a hub of activity in hosting poetry slams, art shows, concerts, and an impromptu BBQ and independent film night; while BuffaBlog stepped up to take the reins of the Broadway Market Rooftop Extravaganza. Rotterdam said Infringement will be looking for more relationships like these as the organizers move forward – anyone can host a party or be a venue to help create a space to support the art. A garage party on Plymouth Avenue may have opened the doors for exploration on Connecticut Street, which is brimming with potential and the logical next step in a geographic expansion of BIF’s home base on Allen.
“I think the businesses and the people involved see that this really works and they want to be a part of it,” Rotterdam said. “It’s something that is so open that anyone can do it, and people really like that. It’s like the largest open mic in the world.”
The countdown has already begun for next year’s festival, set for July 26th to August 5th, 2012 – how will you Infringe?