Anyone who has journeyed to one of the nation’s bigger music festivals almost certainly has never seen Karl, but they’ve surely heard of him — or, more specifically, they’ve heard folks calling out for the mysterious, missing Rothbury-goer. The brief disappearance of an acid-adventuring fan named Carl (Karl?) during the first year of Michigan's Rothbury (now called Electric Forest) and the resulting hordes of music fans hollering out his name have become the best-known inside joke of the festival scene.
Now Karl is also half the namesake of a new two-day music and arts festival in Dallas called Karl Fest. The inaugural Karl Fest happens Saturday and Sunday at Deep Ellum Art Co., with 26 acts performing on inside and outside stages from 1:30 p.m. to 1:45 a.m. Saturday and 3 to 10 p.m. Sunday, plus an artists’ market, live painting, food trucks, a crawfish buffet on Saturday, and more festival-style surprises.
Hosting Art Co.’s first in-house festival, which organizers hope will become an annual event, are venue owners John and Kari LaRue.
Which brings us to the other half of the festival’s namesake: another inside joke, well-known but on a much smaller scale. John LaRue says the Art Co. staff frequently hears him ribbing his wife, teasingly calling out for her with a “HEY, KARL!”
“I made so much fun of Kari because one year she bought herself a birthday present — this necklace that has her name on it,” John says, laughing. “But the 'I' on her cursive necklace looks like an 'L,' and I started teasing her, calling her Karl. It just sorta stuck.”
Sunday happens to be “Karl’s” (Kari’s) birthday, so deciding on a name for this weekend’s festival was pretty easy, John said.
Headlining Karl Fest are several internationally acclaimed, outside-the-box acts like the Emmy-nominated, Billboard-topping banjos-and-rap act Ganstagrass on Sunday night, and visual artist, MC, producer and hip-hop standout Chali 2na performing Saturday night with the iconoclastic New Orleans jazz-funk sextet Naughty Professor.
Getting fans warmed up before those sets are 15 local acts ranging from Americana singer-songwriters to alt-pop and indie rock, from jambands and funk-rock to Grateful Dead and Phish tributes.
"Nobody does this art because they get paid a lot. They do it because it’s fucking cool." — John LaRue
John says Karl Fest embodies the couple’s love for more than just music. It’s the magic of the whole festival scene, the visual artistry on display at every stage, around every bend and in every patch of trees.
“At all these festivals like Wakarusa and Electric Forest, you see the lights and maps and art projected into the trees, just details inside the details,” he told the Observer this week. “Nobody does this art because they get paid a lot. They do it because it’s fucking cool; it’s a lot of work just to give people a thrill and connect with them. Those are very personal connections between the festival-goer and the artist, when a person stops in their tracks and gazes in wonderment at some part of the artistic production elements.”
The lights on the trees on Art Co.’s patio, for example, don’t help the venue make money. If anything, he notes, they can be a hassle sometimes.
“But those lights, like the visual artwork at a festival, make people feel like something was done for them before they even got here,” LaRue says. “It’s welcoming, and it makes people know we were waiting on them. We want people to come here and always feel that sense of wonderment.”
With the rotating art gallery indoors and the lights in the trees and the frequently changing art walls outside, Art Co. has expanded on the jam band niche in Dallas’ music scene. And continuing the LaRues’ support for the local scene, 15 local acts, including some established bands as well as a few brand-new ones, will provide the soundtrack for this weekend’s jamboree vibe.
Among them are Mahoganie, a new trio that LaRue says he discovered through Art Co.’s open mic night; Electrik Ants, which Kari stumbled upon in 2016 when she walked by their set at the now-defunct Drug Store Cowboy; Groove Contingency, featuring a rich, world-music sound and led by SMU graduate and Art Co. sound engineer Jackson Butt; and established Denton hip-hop/funk band The Boombachs, now making a comeback in the Dallas music scene since landing several gigs at Art Co.
Other artists scheduled to perform are Dallas electronica-tinged jam band TryMore MOJO, Henry + The Invisibles, Zoofunkyou, Bandolero, Koodookoo, Guerrilla Funk, idoljob, Jay Sustain & Friends, Tauvy Thomasson, Ryan Berg, Josh Pearson doing Phish, and “KooDEADKoo,” or Koodookoo doing Grateful Dead.
Tickets for Karl Fest are $60 for both days, or $36 for a single day, and are online at deepellumart.co.