Jantopia and the Utopiugly

The past week has felt like five years. I’m just now getting to write about Utopiugly Production’s most recent event, Jantopia, the winter sister of Junetopia.

A three-day event, starting on Friday at Daytrotter and ending on Sunday at Rozz Tox, I can’t detail each of the dozens of bands that performed. Instead, I’ll focus on what, to me, was the most meaningful performance.

Friday, January 20 – the first day of Jantopia, and the day Freddy Leatherface became our nation’s figurehead. Overcast and misting, it felt like a national day of mourning, and I didn’t really feel like going out and trying to have fun that evening.

I’m glad I sucked it up, though, because it was a great show. Jeremie of Condor and Jaybird hooked up with half of The Golden Fleece and performed a sweaty, spacey set under the name Golden Jaybird.

It was… GOLDEN.

Harakiri, another favorite, closed out the night. I enjoyed World Maps, who played energetically with lots of tumbling on the part of this guy:

It was hard to get a clear picture of him. If he weren’t a guitarist, he’d be on the Olympic gymnastics team.

This is just a sampling. The stand-out performance of the evening, however, was CRASHprez from Wisconsin.

The man himself says it best (from the CRASHprez Facebook page): “CRASHprez is an art project by Michael Penn II. The mission is to dispose of the boundaries of what can be classified as hip-hop, while interrogating and frolicking in humanity from the perspective of a suburban Black boy in the United States of America who finds the world so beautiful and so evil at the same time.”


CRASHprez is involved with Black Lives Matter in his home state of Wisconsin and performs across the nation. I support BLM, though I must admit I’ve been ignorant of their activities as of late. My excuse is that I’m female. We have our own problems.

A reminder like CRASHprez was most welcome – even though he totally called me out on stage for fucking up his audience callbacks. Example:

“40 more ounces / 28 hours / No one hand should have all that coward”

Mishearing – or, rather, thinking I’d misheard – I replaced “coward” with “power.” This may appear to be a minor mistake, but it’s really, really not. To clarify, let me break down the callback piece by piece.

40 more ounces: this refers to pouring one out, which, unless you’ve lived in a cave on Pluto for the past thirty years, should be a familiar concept.

28 hours: every 28 hours, a black American is killed by an authority or vigilante figure. This number does not include black victims of other forms of violence.

No one hand should have all that coward: no, not power. The power is false. The actions are cowardly.

We – meaning society – supply our authority figures with a certain level of power in exchange for the promise that they will use that power to serve and protect. To abuse such power is a cowardly act. A badge is sometimes called a shield. A warrior uses a shield as protection against blows inflicted by an enemy in active battle. A warrior does not cower behind a shield, expecting others to fight on his behalf while he hides.

Some people seem to take issue with the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” I’m not exactly sure why. Like any rallying cry, it’s shorthand for a much larger and more meaningful statement. In this case, we say, “Black Lives Matter” because it’s faster than saying, “According to statistics and our own personal experiences, it seems like black lives are not valued as highly by our society as, say, white lives.” It’s faster than saying, “Black Americans feel marginalized in their own homeland. Black Americans feel that their fellow citizens do not identify them as equals. Black Americans are human beings and deserve the same rights, respect, and opportunities as other human beings.”

Yes, all lives matter. But some lives seem to matter more than others, which is what makes people angry.

CRASHprez is angry. He’s also loving. Toward the end of his set, he asked the audience to join him on the floor. We all stood around him as he spoke to us, on equal footing.

It’s worth pointing out at this time that the majority of Daytrotter’s audience is white. It’s in Iowa. We’re a very pasty state, heavily populated by the progeny of Scandinavian and German immigrants. We tend not to dance much unless there’s a sprightly tempo and some obscure stringed instrument involved.

CRASHprez has patience. He coaxed us into audience participation – two words that usually precede a mass exodus – and for a few glorious, shining minutes, we forgot our notorious Iowa standoffishness that inspired Meredith Wilson to write The Music Man. I even put my hands in the air. Like I just didn’t care. Even though I do.

Utopiugly Productions makes an effort to book performers who are talented and passionate. UP wants to give audience members an experience that will move them and that they will talk about for weeks and months to come. Jantopia was a smashing success in this arena. I look forward to this year’s Junetopia for more like experiences.

As for CRASHprez, he’s inspired me to redouble my efforts to pay attention. Though I’m horrified by the deliberate aggression with our country’s third largest trade partner, Mexico – and, by extension, many more of our Southern neighbors who stand with Mexico – and by the refreshed oppression of women, not to mention the blacklisting of refugees from predominantly Muslim nations, these most recent changes in policy have served to overshadow other battles for civil rights.

Progress is so very, very slow. Regression is on the rise. There’s a lot to be angry about. If it’s true that all lives matter, then let’s get there already. My life matters. Yours does, too. So does your neighbor’s, and your mail carrier’s, and your first grade teacher’s. All the people you’ve never met – their lives matter, too. Even Captain Tiny Hands’ life matters.

At Utopiugly Productions, they believe lives matter. That’s why they donated all proceeds from Jantopia – which came to about $2,000 – to Kings Harvest Ministries, their no-kill animal shelter, Humility of Mary Shelter, Inc., and Humility of Mary Housing, Inc.

Because all lives do matter – even the ones you don’t think about often. Or maybe don’t think are all that great. I’m looking at you, Mr. Always Constipated.

PanFace: “Seriously, man. I know you’re afraid of smart people, but you should reeeeaally go see a doctor.”

More photos from the show:






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