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Spa City shakedown 

Valley of the Vapors music festival returns.

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When Bill Solledor and Shea Childs, longtime partners and arbiters of Hot Springs' burgeoning arts scene, found themselves bored with their town's hackneyed musical offerings of cover bands and worn out country singers, a glint of inspiration turned into an impromptu burst of phone calls and e-mails.

“We were starved for original live music,” Childs remembers. “We knew our friend, Nora O'Connor, who sings with Neko Case and Andrew Bird, was coming through on her way to SXSW, so Bill's wheels started turning; he contacted all the booking agents he knew and, in three weeks, managed to pull off five nights of shows.”

And as simple as that, the Valley of the Vapors Festival was born. Now in its sixth year, the five-day miniature musical bazaar offers 40 bands, most down South for Austin's SXSW festival and all bringing music firmly grounded in the outskirts of normalcy.

Local acts like Mother Hug (7:15 p.m., Thursday, Low Key Arts), a rangy skronk outfit, play alongside Fang Island (8:30 p.m., Thursday, Low Key Arts), which just garnered a “Best New Music” badge from trendsetting website Pitchfork Media. Then there's The Chinese Stars (9:15 p.m., Thursday, Low Key Arts), a dance-noise coterie with a vast, bona fide cult following; Th' Legendary Shack Shakers (10:15 p.m., Thursday, Low Key Arts), a much in-demand group of psychotic Southern gothic Kentuckians; Uzuhi (9:15 p.m., Friday, Low Key Arts), a pop-punk act from Japan, and James Husband (10 p.m., Sunday, Low Key Arts), a synth-pop maestro and ex-Of Montreal member.

In spite of coverage from the aforementioned Pitchfork and its ilk, VOV retains the defiant, DIY spirit of its hometown with no plans on cashing in on its hush-hush, underground renown for a stab at expansive popularity.

“We aren't interested in ever becoming a giant festival,” says Childs. “We believe seeing a band on the rise at a 200-person capacity club like Low Key is much more powerful an experience for the crowd than a massive arena or outdoor fest where there's 100,000 trying to hear, much less see the band. There's something indescribably unifying about dancing with a relatively small group of people when you can reach out and touch the performers.”

However, their intent with the festival is far more than auditory. If VOV is, as it bills itself, “America's most humble rock festival,” thanks to Solledor and Childs, it may be the most big-hearted, to boot. VOV is a non-profit organization that operates year-long. “We see our expansion coming in the form of education: workshops about writing and recording music, how to book your own tour, how to publicize yourself,” Childs says. “We do this to inspire the kids in our town to create.”

Valley of the Vapors

Independent Music Festival
March 17-21
Low Key Arts Building and Maxine's, Hot Springs

$52 for a festival pass; most nightly shows are $5 at the door

Check Rock Candy for daily festival previews.

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