XFest started in 2008 with Walter Wright and 119 Gallery in Lowell Mass. The idea was to pair local and visiting movement, video and sound artists in small ensembles for two nights of improvisational performances. Along with these public performance, the festival hosts public workshops hosted by artists as well as a day dedicated to showcasing local and visiting bands and artist curated projects. Always held during the last weekend in February.
In addition to 119 Gallery, XFest has been hosted at Uncharted Gallery in Lowell MA, LTC in Lowell MA, Gateway City Arts in Holyoke MA, Block City Arts in Greenfield MA, Easthampton City Arts in Easthampton MA, Holyoke City Hall in Holyoke MA and Dorchester Art Project in Dorchester MA.
The event is organized and funded by volunteers. Organizers are Stephanie Marie Germaine, Tara Toms (DarkSoft), and Dei Xhrist.
More information: xfestma @ gmail.com
What is it about Boston and improvisation? Even though there’s a far-reaching DIY scene amid the classical, jazz, and formal musical schools, some days it can seem a bit lonely and sparse, and winter isn’t doing anyone any favors. It wasn’t until I started touring, and performing in classical jazz circles, that I learned that some musicians don’t have the warm affinity to improvisation that I do. Some find it too academic, some too unstructured and intimidating, and really, how do you “break in to it”? I had the good luck to be mentored and encouraged by the many people I’ve met, and I’m happy to be part of this annual fest that is devoted to challenge improvisation, with a particularly Bostonian feel; get yr gear & get in to it.
Participants are placed in randomized groupings where they quickly need to assess others’ tonal qualities, and adapt their own output to create a cohesive sonic experience. Wherever it’s going to go - achromatic, tonal, ambient, minimal, psych – the performers have to listen to each other as they play, louder/softer, faster/slower, more space/in unison. Dancers and videographers round out the mix, responding and layering their work on top of the musicians. The collaborations at XFest have run from cathartic to corny, ethereal to exuberant. Things have been beautiful, things have been challenging, sometimes someone is drowned out, or struggles to contribute. It’s improvisation: failure is an acceptable outcome. It helps you become a better musician – and daresay a better audience - when you understand it’s ok to take risks, to experiment… to play.