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Bluebird, meet Blue Fugue

Or, MOVE has a crush on Joe Pug.

Published Nov. 17, 2008

6:15 p.m. - For a band that's right here in Columbia, you don't hear much about Ptarmigan. The ironic thing is, they're a must hear. The three-piece outfit, which mixes pop rock with a touch of ambience, is worlds away from, say, whatever Wil Reeves band is playing at The Blue Fugue on a given weekend. (Hey, we love Wil. But comparing the sounds of Ptarmigan and Bockman isn't exactly apples and oranges.)

Ptarmigan starts the night off with "Stars on Patrol." And here's the interesting thing about Ptarmigan vocals - take one ounce musical yelp, mix two cups melodic crawl and you've got a distinct sound that takes some settling in but ultimately fits.

7:00 p.m. - Ptarmigan wraps up as Chicago-based singer-songwriter Joe Pug walks into the Fugue. Pug sets down a small box of his Nation of Heat EPs on a nearby booth and sets up his own instruments.

No one seems to notice, because no one seems to recognize him. Shame.

7:15 p.m. - Things are about to get all earnest and folksy up in this bitch.

You may not have heard of Joe Pug just yet (and we'll admit, we didn't know about him until he landed on a Paste Magazine sampler), and don't bother looking him up on Wikipedia to cheat. Guy doesn't even have an entry yet. But with one EP of seven songs, Pug is already amassing comparisons to a young Bob Dylan.

Pug starts off with "Nation of Heat," a heavy harmonica track that demonstrates Pug's wise-beyond-my-years voice. After "I Do My Father's Drugs," a voice from the crowd says, "That's a nice song, Joe."

Joe smirks. "Thanks, dude," he says. "See you back at the hotel room."

8:05 p.m. - Cindy Woolf has a high-pitched, mouse-like voice. But she's endearing in her own way.

"Someone asked me earlier if we were gonna play the Whiskey Song. I said no way," she says to the small crowd.  But anyone would buckle after a few drunken "Aw, c'mon"s from the crowd.

"Oh, all right," she says.

While the redheaded songstress' rendition of the "Whiskey Song" is entertaining, this reporter still can't get over the fact that Joe Pug is texting from three feet away.

Not going to lie, all notes in the Cindy Woolf column of my notebook include "OMG JOE PUG IS TEXTING SOMEONE IN FRONT OF ME OMG OMG OMG."

9:15 p.m. - Power-twang time.

The crowd is finally starting to pass an acceptable musician-to-audience member ratio, and surprisingly this happens for Joe Stickley's Blue Print, not the other Joe (Pug, in case you haven't picked up my particular bias). This is both inexplicable and kind of uncomfortable, as legroom is becoming scarce.

Leg space aside, Joe Stickley's Blue Print is starting off with a mic check that seems to include some amateur beat boxing.

Joe Stickley's Blue Print is easily the loudest and perhaps most literal band of the night. Case in point? "This song is called 'Sitting by the Fire.' And that's what it's about," Stickley says to the crowd.

Hailing from St. Louis, the band masterfully crafts folk-rock with storytelling, garnering Stickley a nod from The Riverfront Times as best songwriter.

And I would've listened to Stickley's lyrics more closely but I was pretty busy trying to figure out what weird piano-looking-kazoo hybrid band member Andrew Weir was rocking. After some post Bluebird-googling, turns out it's a melodica.

Rock that thing, Weir.

10:15 p.m. - Bockman is, arguably, the face of the Columbia music scene. And that's for good reason, because Bockman, for lack of better words, rocks. A lot.

Bockman's particular brand of small-town arena rock marries bouncy pop-rock and the occasional rock ballad, but in a way that has no part in tight pants and wailing guitar solos. In short, Bockman masters the tasteful rock-out.

But then there are ditties like the quiet, subdued "Chasing Dragons" that secure Bockman as one of Columbia's most varied, legitimate acts.

11:15 p.m. - It's the five-hour anniversary of me first sitting in this chair.

11:30 p.m. - Why does every folk band sing about "southbound trains"? I'm not train expert, but what's wrong with northbound trains? Eastbound trains? Westbound trains? Bueller? Bueller?

It must be a folk thing, and The HipNecks would be a great act to ask, given that they're the night's biggest producer of twang with a side of twang.

It seems like a good time to say that Pat Kay, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for The HipNecks, had a big part in directing the festival. "We're celebrating the Midwest and all the culture it has to offer," Kay says.

The six-piece band mixes elements of jazz and funk to create a sound that is distinctly Midwestern. Not surprising for a band that got its name by combining the words "hippie" and "redneck."

My butt hurts. The show's over. It's been a long - but musically fantastic - night. And whoever said the Midwest couldn't rock has clearly not driven far enough into Columbia.

"Drop me off in Columbia, Mo.," Pug says. "It doesn't look like there's going to be a city until you get into the city. I just start thinking, 'What the fuck kind of gig is this?'"

But upon a listen and a visit, the coasts have some competition.

"This is very, very cool," Pug says. "I hope you guys can keep this going."

So do we, Joe.

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