XFest started in 2008 with Walter Wright at 119 Gallery in Lowell MA. Initially a reaction against local festivals that failed to include local talent, the event developed out of a community of performers who knew each other by reputation, but had no opportunities to experiment with each other. It is now an annual 3-day festival in Massachusetts, with semi-annual partner events.
Participants using sound, movement, and video are grouped in small ensembles for two nights of improvisational performances. Along with these public performances, the festival hosts public workshops, and a day dedicated to showcasing participants’ bands and artist curated projects. The event is held at the end of February/start of March when few other New England festivals are planned due to winter weather.
XFest MA has been hosted at 119 Gallery, UnchARTed Gallery, LTC and UTEC in Lowell MA; Gateway City Arts and City Hall in Holyoke MA; Block City Arts in Greenfield MA; Easthampton City Arts in Easthampton MA; Dorchester Art Project in Dorchester MA; and Firehouse in Worchester MA. XFest International locations include Edale UK and Mazotos Cyprus.
The event is organized and funded by volunteers. Organizers for XFestMA are Stephanie Marie Germaine, Tara Toms (DarkSoft), and Dei Xhrist.
XFest can occur anywhere and be organized by anyone, following the basic premise of challenging improvisers by grouping them in different configurations.
More information: xfestma @ gmail.com
An open letter from Dei Xhrist
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.