YoYo a GoGo 1994 Oral History: 30 Years Later, Part 2

Photo by Brett Sandström

From July 12 to 16, 1994, the original YoYo a GoGo festival happened at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington. It was organized by Yoyo Records’ Pat Maley, Michelle Noel, Kent Oiwa, along with Pat Castaldo, Diana Arens, Sara Lorimer, and others, and there were subsequent YoYos in 1997, 1999 and 2001. Carrying on from the great tradition of pop festivals like the International Pop Underground Convention (1991) and Lotsa Pop Losers (1991), it featured a ridiculous lineup that included superfeminist superstars Team Dresch and Mecca Normal, loud bands, quiet bands, punk bands, pop bands, see a full lineup later in the piece. This part features words and photos from organizers Pat Maley and Pat Castaldo, fan Bryce Edwards and fan/documenter Brett Sandström (special thanks to Jen Sbragia, Pat C and Brett for the images). Please note: not all of the photos below are from 1994 YYaGG.

Read Part 1 here (with Jean Smith (Mecca Normal), Jen Sbragia (The Softies), Lois Maffeo, David Nichols (Blairmailer), Nikki McClure, Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed), and Sara Lund (Unwound).

YoYo punks in the Lakefair Parade. Photo: Pat Castaldo

chickfactor: How did the event come about? What do you remember about putting it together?
Pat Maley: The 1991, I had been running my recording studio (Yoyo) for about nine years, and by that time I had recorded many of the local bands, including lots of bands for K Records. So when I found out that K was putting on the International Pop Underground Convention (IPUC) at the Capitol Theater, I got very excited about the idea of recording all the shows, which happened, and was great fun and an album was made.

A couple years later, I asked my friends at K Records if they were going to do another IPUC; they said no. So I asked how they would feel if I put on something like it, which they must’ve been OK with because they were such a valuable source of information and support about what to do, how to do it, and what not to do. For me, wanting to record a festival was the gateway to wanting to organize one, but the feeling of a pre-Internet summertime party vibe punk rock/punk pop/multi-genre five-day music festival was the high I was seeking.

Michelle Noel. Photo by Pat Castaldo

I can’t remember how I met Michelle Noel, but I do know that asking her to help me organize this festival was the way I got to know her. I still thank my intuition for making that choice, because Michelle was masterful at organization, she was unwaveringly principled, and was able to stay connected with a sense of joy, which is what really made the festival feel alive. And I think that feeling alive-ness is ultimately why our four Yoyo A Go Gos were so successful. I remember that sometimes I would worry at how serious Michelle could become when the work got challenging, but what’s most memorable about her is how absolutely delighted and animated she would become about watching her favorite bands perform. We worked well together, and our musical tastes were complementary in that her tastes were more garage punk, and mine were more pop punk, with plenty of overlap. We don’t see each other often these days, but whenever we do, I know that I feel a great deal of love and admiration for her, and she tells me she feels the same.

In December 1993, I got a call from Calvin Johnson inviting me to go see “a couple of bands from Japan up at Evergreen…” we went to see Copass Grinderz and the Blood Thirsty Butchers, who put on such amazing shows that Calvin and I invited them to record the next day. I called in sick at work and was able to record two songs each. Two of those recordings, one from each band, are on the Periscope studio compilation, and both bands came back to perform at Yoyo A Go Go in 1994. I believe this is in part how I got to know Kent Oiwa who was a student at the Evergreen State College.

Kent Oiwa. Photo: Pat Castaldo (not necessarily from YYaGG)

When I first met Kent Oiwa, he had been working as a live sound engineer for backstage shows at the Capitol Theater. Initially he came to work with Michelle and I as an intern, as part of his learning contract at Evergreen, but quickly, he became the third organizer. I believe that my insecurity and immaturity at the time clouded my ability to see really Kent and his role as an organizer, but in retrospect, I am happy to know how clearly his presence, creativity, talents, contributions, and hard work were absolutely essential to the success of the festival as an artistic expression. Kento-san was for many years: an organizer of subsequent Yoyo festivals; a key to the functioning of the recording studio; he co-founded one of Olympia’s most original and creative musical exports, IQU; and he is still a dear friend. In 1996 invited me to travel to Japan and stay with his family. He took such great care of me on that trip, which is why for me it was trip was so ridiculously rich and memorable. When I think about Kent as a friend, I feel an abundance of gratitude, and some grief that at the time I wasn’t fully able to feel and express that gratitude as much as I feel it now.

Pat Castaldo. Photo courtesy Pat C

I think Michelle Noel first brought Pat Castaldo to my attention when I wondered something like “who’s the skinny kid who’s always enthusiastically working the ticket booth?” He was and is a quick wit, excitable, energetic, and there was something about his East Coast-ness that made me feel at home. Through the four festivals there were hundreds of hard-working, enthusiastic, lovable/adorable volunteers who were not only the heart of, but the cardiovascular system of whatever it was that made these festivals, unique and so enjoyable; and at the risk of using really clunky mixed metaphors, Pat Castaldo was the cream of the volunteers who rose to the top to be an organizer of the festivals after 1994. Which is to say that he was effectively an organizer during those five days in July 1994. For years after, he made the Yoyo recording label possible by being the primary graphics layout artist and worked closely with Tae Won Yu who created most of the artistic imagery for the festivals and live albums. These days, messaging, or getting to visit with Pat makes me very happy because I know that I am in for playfulness, brilliance, connection and warmth.

I have always marveled at the artistic vision of Tae Won Yu, who I met in 1991 in New York City. I had just finished playing a set with Lois Maffeo and was breaking down my drums on the stage at CBGB, when Tae handed me a cassette of his band Kicking Giant. Sometime after that, he and Rachel Carns moved to Olympia, and sometime after that, his artwork became the look of the visual introduction to the festival. The posters he made for the festivals were so beautiful and inviting. The poster itself felt to me like a summertime party.

Diana Arens. Photo: Pat Castaldo (not taken at YYaGG)

There are so many people to mention, and so many names I have forgotten. I feel a low level, subconscious grief about the loss of memory of people and their generosity. Here are names of friends who were there and helped in all the ways: Lois Maffeo, Candice Pedersen, Calvin Johnson, Nikki McClure, Sara Lorimer, Diana Arens, Brooks Martin, Sharon Franklin, Shigeki Nishimura.

There’s so much more I could say, so many stories and challenges and moments of joy. It’s also hard for me to convey how meaningful and deeply personal the festivals are, particularly the first one. I still feel so grateful and fortunate that with the help of so many friends, I was able to translate something I loved and felt passionate about into something so beautiful and rewarding.

Several summers ago, I was waiting in line to enter a show on the backstage of the Capitol Theater. It was a beautiful June evening, and I was about to see Jonathan Richman perform after having chatted with him earlier that day. I was thinking about his song “That Summer Feeling” and the line about how… “That summer feeling is going to haunt you one day in your life.” And I started thinking about all the years I’d spent in the theater I was about to walk into, and it definitely haunted me, and as if on cue, from inside the theater, Jonathan start strumming the chords of the song. And it reassured me that there’s magic like that happening all of the time, I just need to notice that it’s there.

Pat Castaldo: So I just showed up and started helping — I honestly didn’t realize at the time how big of an undertaking it was; I’m not even sure Michelle and Pat and Kento really did either. Apart from bands being on time and stuff, the biggest challenge for me front of house was just a sort of pre-screening, light crowd control — overall it’s an amazing and wonderful crowd, but there’s always a handful of folks — like five maybe out of a thousand? — who want to get drunk or cause a ruckus or something.

Being the person “in the lobby” every day, I got to deal with a lot of those folks.

Crabs. Photo: Pat Castaldo

Did you attend YoYo in 1994? In what capacity were you involved?
Pat Castaldo: I did — I went to pretty much everything at the Capitol Theater during the time, mostly as a volunteer. I would have wanted to see the bands already, but to me the community aspect was always the tops — just being in the theater, being part of something bigger than yourself was amazing.

So I showed up to volunteer and quickly ended up, as it was happening, running the front of house during the first Yoyo. Doing errands, managing volunteers and working the door and ticket booth.

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): Crayon and the Softies had stayed at my house when they played a show in Philadelphia that spring, and I think they were the ones who first told me about it. They said that if I could get out to Olympia, I could stay where they were staying—at this guy Aaron’s parents’ house. (Thank you, Aaron! You were so nice and a year later, when I went off to college, sent me a copy of Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.) There must have been 15 people staying there, and I have fond memories of everyone trying out the NordicTrak.

How did it feel different from other festivals at the time?
Pat Castaldo: I had gone to the first Lollapalooza in high school, but otherwise, I don’t think I really had ever gone to a festival before — I had walked by K’s IPU Convention when it was on, but didn’t know anything about it and was like “that looks cool, maybe I’ll go next year.”

I think the big thing that felt crazy and different to me at the time is how far folks were coming for it — people traveling to Olympia as a destination felt foreign to me then (and now, to be honest).

What impact did it have on the city of Olympia?
Pat Castaldo: I think IPU was the first big explosion and then the Yoyos were powerful echos — incredible and their own thing. For me, the literal do-it-yourself nature is what held into other things. To me so much of the Olympia DIY movement was a “we have to do it ourselves or no one else will” and I don’t think if I hadn’t been volunteering at the theater I would have ever learned how important that is.

I think folks moving to Olympia to make even more of a scene definitely happened after the first Yoyo.

Indie bands beget other Indie bands and it’s kinda wonderful.

I just read Kathleen’s memoir and found it an excellent time capsule of the time — and it captured the feeling of how sick people could get of Olympia at times; mostly because the scene was so incredibly small. I never found the “I want to get out of here” feeling, but completely understand how people could. If she hadn’t moved to DC, then Riot Grrrl might not have been brought back, and then that also that means Ladyfest and other even bigger things might not have ever happened.

Photo: Jen Sbragia

What was the Olympia/larger independent pop scene like in 1994 vs. 2024?
Pat Castaldo: I know nothing about the 2024 scene, but do think, that we had a special thing from like ’91-2005 or so, and after that things started to change a bit. How exactly is hard to pin down. I ended up leaving town in 2008 to move, like so many other Olympians did, to Portland.

What performances stand out in your memory?

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): Some Velvet Sidewalk, Lois and surprise Courtney Love reunion, Blairmailer, Kicking Giant, Jad Fair, Team Dresch, Halo Benders, Excuse 17.

What was the vibe in general?

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): Maybe people who were older and wiser at the time saw a more complicated dynamic, but to me as a teenager, it was glorious. The lineup was ridiculous and people were just giddy with excitement. The Olympians were really generous to the out-of-towners—even though I kind of stumbled in, people fed me, let me sleep on their floor, took me swimming and berry-picking, etc. I babysat Stella Marrs and Al Larsen’s child even though they had never met me before. It was hard to be a starry-eyed fan and try to play it cool when suddenly you were surrounded by all these people whose music you loved so much. I definitely failed.

What other memories do you have? 

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): The organizers gave out yoyos and everyone rose to the occasion; I have all these photos of people trying to learn tricks. There was competition to win giant stuffed animals at the Lakefair carnival and gift them to other people who would then have to carry them around. Am I remembering correctly that it was very hot? I didn’t go to the parade, which I deeply regretted, and I think it was because the only clean shirt I had left was a thermal and I couldn’t take being outside in it. Later Tae Won Yu loaned me some shorts he’d worn as a child. David Nichols from the Cannanes and Blairmailer offered to walk me back to Aaron’s house after a party because “I bet there are some Australian drinking songs you don’t know.” But it was miles away, so instead Beck gave me a ride and we got lost in a housing development. It was totally surreal. I was in love with like 10 different people.

Pat Castaldo: It’s funny because it’s been so long ago, the album we made is the strongest musical memory I have left. Triple Vinyl! Tae and I did the cover together! I always regret how “red” people’s faces are on the back — it was one of my first every full-color albums, all the K stuff at the time was just two-color, and my crappy Mac monitor wasn’t up to the task.

But just reading the track listing I can smell the theater. I can picture Becca, Carrie and CJ (Excuse 17)  playing their set and just being blown away. I remember Corin Tucker (Heavens to Betsy) standing there so strong and playing Ax Men and thinking, “woah, that’s the girl who works at the camera shop in the mall!” To this day those two albums and those live shows are some of my favorite music from Olympia at the time.

I remember wondering “how is there this crazy Japanese band playing?” when Bloodthirsty Butchers came on (and later staying at one of their apartments when I went to Tokyo).

I remember Mikey being Mikey and just bringing so much energy to the Fitz of Depression set.

I remember Mary Lou Lord playing during the afternoon and being dumbstruck that it’s the same person I saw a few years before busking in a Boston subway. Just memorized how small of a world it was.

Lara Cohen (Runt zine) and Beck at Calvin’s house. Photo: Jen Sbragia

I remember giving Beck and his buddy Mario yo-yos that Pat had got and all of us trying to do tricks in the lobby (there’s a pic of this on my flickr).

I remember thinking Codeine was sublime and how had I never heard them before?

I remember loving to get to see Long Hind Legs followed by Some Velvet Sidewalk, and just basking in the glorious sonic diversity that was our tiny town.

And then, of course, Lois playing Strumpet — basically the unofficial anthem of everyone in town. We all kinda walked around like we owned it — because we did.

Hannah and Jen. Photo: Jen Sbragia

Brett Sandström (fan): Thinking about Bratmobile’s “Queenie”, I know it was a bit cliché how I found out about Yoyo-A-Gogo. I was flipping through the pages of my teenage girlfriend’s Sassy magazine. I ripped out the little advert/article and asked my parents for a check to mail off along with a passport photo a friend made me that same afternoon.

Summer now, and I was nervous about trying to find a way there. Luckily, I convinced a friend to drive the hour south in his 1969 emerald green Cadillac hearse. He dropped me off at Sylvester Park with my skateboard, a backpack with some clothes, and $100 cash. I was alone, and like a kid in a candy store, I immediately spent too much money on records at Positively 4th Street. Full from the excitement, I stowed everything away in a Greyhound locker.

It was noon on July 11 when I learned that the main events didn’t start until the next day. I keep myself busy skateboarding, loitering in the park, meeting new people, I even took in an action flick at the State Theatre, where I’m certain that Kathi Wilcox gave me a free pop! I also saw the documentary film The Band That Would Be King. I learned of a show later that night in the Back Stage called the Midnight-a-Gogo; it turned out to be Dub Narcotic Sound System. I danced and I met a woman there who invited me to stay in her hotel room.

Lakefair parade. Photo: Pat Castaldo

I was wearing contacts then and I woke up with some sort of allergic reaction where the light was blindingly bright. Even though I couldn’t really see, I managed to stumble my way past the Ribeye into downtown where I sat in front of the Capitol Theater to wait for the festivities to start. I stayed hours with my back against the beige walls of the theater, knees bent and my eyes buried in my lap. A woman named Brooke asked me if I was OK, and after telling her my woes, she invited me to hang out with her gang.

6PM – July 12– the shows started. I was truly excited to see all these bands I only knew from records, but I was thrilled that Tattle Tale was playing the first night. I had seen this amazing duo play dozens of times in the Seattle area, but this was on a big stage and I was excited for them. The Brentwoods were a hoot and Unwound’s bassy rumble to finish their set is something that still reverberates in my soul today.

Photo: Pat Castaldo

The rest of the week went by in a flash and so did the memories. I switched hands a couple more times. I was starstruck every few moments. Jean Smith walking through the crowd with everyone singing along, I walk alone! Seeing Tim Armstrong busk outside with Mary Lou Lord. Meeting my earliest teenage idol, Ian MacKaye. CALVIN! Seeing Beck play a whole different set than my suburban friends saw the next evening in Seattle. Lync, Slant 6, Kicking Giant… It was all too much!

In 1994, Yoyo-A-Gogo, for me, was an adventure – meeting so many new friends and seeing so many wonderful bands, it was a punk summer camp. And, what was it, like $50 bucks?! What a time!!!

Bryce Edwards (fan): Such a blur since it was 30 years ago but one thing I remember is sitting in The Apples in Stereo / Neutral Milk Hotel van with the bands (who I knew from Colorado) and the Apples were super psyched because someone cancelled and they ended up getting to play last minute. Robert and Hilarie from the Apples played as the NMH band along with Lisa from Secret Square on bass. I made zines at the time and handed out about 100 of them over the weekend. A few weeks before the festival, I met a skater lesbian on the street in NYC and she ended up road tripping with me back to Colorado and then to Olympia for the festival. I’m not even sure if she had a pass or not but we spent 2 months together on the road. Ahh youth.

Parade – Photo: Pat Castaldo
Via Lois Maffeo

YoYo a GoGo 1994 Oral History: 30 Years Later, Part 1

Glorious design work by the wonderful artist Tae Won Yu

From July 12 to 16, 1994, the original YoYo a GoGo festival happened at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington. It was organized by Yoyo Records’ Pat Maley, Michelle Noel, Kent Oiwa, along with Pat Castaldo, Diana Arens, Sara Lorimer, and others, and there were subsequent YoYos in 1997, 1999 and 2001. Carrying on from the great tradition of pop festivals like the International Pop Underground Convention (1991) and Lotsa Pop Losers (1991), it featured a ridiculous lineup that included superfeminist superstars Team Dresch and Mecca Normal, loud bands, quiet bands, punk bands, pop bands, see a full lineup later in the piece. We asked some folks who played, attended and organized it to share memories including Jean Smith (Mecca Normal), Jen Sbragia (The Softies), Lois Maffeo, David Nichols (Blairmailer), Nikki McClure, Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed), and Sara Lund (Unwound).

Tae Won Yu design / Courtesy Lois Maffeo

Chickfactor: Did you attend YoYo in 1994? What made you want to go?

Jen Sbragia (The Softies): Yes! I’d never been to a festival like that and was very excited to be included and see a lot of bands.

Nikki McClure: Yes. It was across the street from where I lived.

Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed): Yes, I attended and played that year. The lineup was a dream come true and I can’t imagine any self-described indie rocker wouldn’t do whatever it took to be at this special event.

Gail CF: I sure did. I think I built my summer vacation around it, in the days when people had such a thing as paid vacation at their jobs.

Rose and Al – Photo: Jen Sbragia

In what capacity were you involved with YoYo a GoGo 1994?

Sara Lund (Unwound):  I played at YoYo a Go-go in 1994 with Unwound. I had been in the band for about 2 years and we had released our 2nd record (with me) New Plastic Ideas that spring. We did a lot of touring that year – I think we went on our longest ever tour. 10 weeks all over the US. I’m pretty sure the YoYo show we played front stage at the Capitol Theater was the biggest crowd we had played to at that point.

I had attended the 1991 International Pop Underground festival my first week in Olympia, before I knew anyone. This festival felt very different to me as I was now a 3-year resident of Olympia as well as being in one of the relatively better known bands in town.

Sara Lund / Photo: Pat Castaldo

It most definitely felt like the town was suddenly overrun with looky-loos, coming to see what all the buzz was about. It was so weird that Beck came and played! He had had a huge hit with “Loser” and it was like cognitive dissonance to have a pop star wandering around this very anti mainstream, major label pro DIY scene.

I also feel like this festival made a TON of people move to Olympia. People got the impression from the festival that Olympia was this super fun, hip playground all the time. What most people discovered when they moved there was that Olympia was just a small town with not a lot going on and locals that weren’t particularly welcoming to a rush of young hipsters, polluting the scene. That was not true for everyone, but I know a lot of people moved there and did not last long once they realized daily life was nothing like YoYo a GoGo.

Rose and Beck in Calvin’s backyard. Photo: Jen Sbragia

Jen: The Softies and Go Sailor were invited to play.

Nikki: I think I named it? I remember suggesting the name to Pat Maley. I also maybe led a Nature Punk Walk? Where we caught the #81 bus to some park? Maybe what is now Squaxin Park? I hope someone out there remembers this! My memory was more focused on the making of burritos and selling them outside the theater. I was down to my last $100 and spent it on burrito making supplies supplemented with greens and nasturtium flowers from my garden patch. I’d make the burritos and then run across the street to sell them then run back to make more. I wore a kids cowboy hat and strapped a small suitcase to me, open and full off “Burritos a Go Go”. Thankfully I keep a briefly noted calendar. I made $68 the first day, $24 the next due to the nature walk. $72 the next day. And somehow figured that I came out ahead? Fed myself and some others at $2 a burrito! I took Ian MacKaye to my garden to pick more greens for the Friday burritos. I also was the Punk Rock Janitor for the theater and would clean up the stage area and bathrooms…the things one does for free movies! It was a time of scraping by and making fun out of it!

Tracy: My band Dahlia Seed was scheduled to play, but a month before, the rest of the members told me they couldn’t afford to fly out, leaving me to scramble to find a way to play without them. Michelle Noel convinced me I needed to still play so I promised her I would. I am infamously terrible at playing guitar and singing at the same time, so my co-worker Michael from C/Z records AKA Snackboy stepped in at the last minute to help me out. I taught him how to play all the Dahlia Seed songs I had written on guitar, and we played together as a duo with me singing beside him on electric guitar.

Gail CF: I went as a fan, a zine editor, photographer, documenter.

Jean Smith (Mecca Normal): Mecca Normal performed. We were around for most of the festival and went to lots of shows.

Nikki McClure / photo: Pat Castaldo

How did it feel different from other festivals at the time?

Nikki: Scrappily ambitious. Yet also low-key and not ambitious at all. Now looking back and thinking of the paths everyone has gone on since then, it was a nurturing garden in full flower and then the seedpods all popped open and scattered far, really far. I also remember the mix of bands being selected on some mysterious connections that weren’t based on musical likeness. It was really a mix of everything from quiet whispers to loudest possible electric noise. Polished and raw all a jumble.

Jen: I’d never been to one! I was still in transition from hair metal to normal music to indie pop when the IPU happened.

Tracy: I was 22 and had not been to too many festivals before – other than giant things like Amnesty International events. In some ways it set me up for a lot of future disappointment. This event was so friendly, so easy to attend and play, that it would be a shock to learn how most other music would struggle to have that kind of talent pool, that kind of welcoming atmosphere, and such wonderful support from the folks running it. I remember walking around, a very new person to the northwest (I has just moved to Seattle) and feeling overwhelmed by how friendly attendees and other band people were. Everyone was sharing addresses and phone numbers to stay in touch like the last day of summer camp or high school. I was so nervous to play without my regular band members and so many people went out of their way to make sure I felt good/proud of the performance. And wow, the food and drinks were affordable, like starving artist affordable, something I can’t say about many other fests.

Gail CF: Most festivals at that time were kinda gross and mainstream, like Lollapalooza, corporate, dorky. Not as outrageously priced as today but more expensive than something like YoYo, which was very accessible. I am guessing these bands didn’t get flown in for this, but probably appreciated the exposure at the time. Looking back, festivals like IPU and YoYo were influential on the small fests CF has set up, but again, it is ever harder to make a profit in 2024 since tech platforms are siphoning off everything they can and extracting pennies they did nothing to earn.

Mecca Normal. Photo: Pat Blashill

Jean: Mecca Normal toured at least once in Europe that year, playing the Fast Forward Festival in Nijmegen, Holland with Smog, Dump, Sebadoh and other specifically lo-fi bands. Even though that was a small festival, it felt very formal in terms of being accommodated at a hotel somewhere else in the city and arriving at the venue in advance of our set. I don’t think we went to shows other than the one we played. Other festivals we’ve played on tour we basically just do a one-day stop with shows on either side of it in other towns. Sometimes, as a band, you wouldn’t necessarily notice you’re playing a festival. You arrive, do the show and leave.

Festivals in Olympia were special because so many of the performers were there for more than their show day, seeing a lot of bands over the duration of the event, which also meant that various bands were meeting each other, and fans were bumping into band members at other shows and in the street. There were so many opportunities to engage and form new connections. Having said that, it was sort of nerve wracking to be so noticeable and approachable any time we were out and about.

There were so many participants, both band and audience members, downtown that we’d see people we knew all over the place. I’d say that proximity and a very small downtown core were key factors that helped to extend Olympia festivals beyond the venues to restaurants and accommodation.

YoYo Festival was, by location and association, related to the IPU 3 years prior, so expectations and comparisons were palpable. For me, there was no way it came close to the wow factor of the IPU, but it definitely had its own excellent vibe. For those who missed the IPU, they likely experienced the same thrill factor of the IPU when the town was once again filled with idiosyncratic fans and bands who, in essence, expanded even the broadest description of punk.

Being a small city, distances between everything are short. For a touring band, Olympia is a very easy town to deal with in terms of navigating, getting parking, having everything you basically need close by. It wouldn’t be the first or best place you’d think of putting on a music festival though. The IPU provided a blueprint for YoYo. That Candice Pedersen, co-founder of K Records, was able to put the IPU together and pull it off, was an astounding feat. For Pat Maley, following a similar path would likely have been somewhat daunting, but he had a lot of things working for him, including the fact that his recording studio was in the Capitol Theater.

People in front of the Capitol Theater / Photo: Pat Castaldo

What impact did YoYo have on the city of Olympia?

Nikki: I always welcomed the focus on the Capitol Theater as the epicenter of life, instead of my town being overrun by the carnival festival of Lakefair. It was a cultural exchange: Japan! New York! DC! LA! Anacortes! The impact was of connections between all the people and places that continues today. Olympia finally has a city-owned arts center that is developing places for performances. The city also is able to fund events now with a sale tax levy. People seem creative and ambitious again. Punk Theater! Community Print! And there are plenty of show flyers in the window of Rainy Day Records. AND the Capitol Theater is turning 100 years old this year.

What did it feel like to play YoYo?

Jen: I was always terribly nervous.

Tracy: Dahlia Seed was still a relatively new band, on top of being my first serious band, so I had never played something so big before. I WAS TERRIFIED. To soften the blow of what Snackboy and I were certain would be a disastrous performance, we went to the Oly brewery and got these little beer cookies to throw out into the crowd. We spent an alarmingly long time throwing out cookies before we played, but it seemed like people were wildly excited about them. It was a nice way to ease into our less than perfect set as a brand new two piece trying to play the songs of what was typically a well practiced 5-piece band. We played the day that bands like Built To Spill, Lois, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lync, Halo Benders, and Versus played, so needless to say, as a kid who was buried up to their ears in an obsession with DIY/underground music, this was one of the best days of my young life. I will never forget the sound of a theater filled with people clapping after we played the first song. I had dreaded that moment for so many months because I was so new to performing. The anxiety leading up to our performance was all consuming. After we completed that first song, even with all its flaws, the audience gifted us the support to feel not just really heard, but appreciated.

It was great to be on a giant stage in front of a big audience of people who were probably going to like us well enough. Because our friends were putting on the event, we felt supported in all ways. So having to assert ourselves as we likely would in regular clubs wasn’t an issue. Battling with typical soundmen in clubs tended to be tiresome after a long day of driving.

It was an honour to be included and, considering Olympia was like a second home to us, it was somewhat emotional to play a big show there. We’d already been around for 10 years at that point, so we wanted to represent our reason for becoming a band in terms of songs that meant something to people as well as playing new material.

I often think we give slightly better performances where there’s a sense of opposition, whereas, in a setting like YoYo, it may have seemed just slightly too friendly. Also, because I tend to look directly at people in the audience, I’m sure I would have been a bit distracted by seeing people I knew who I didn’t know would be there. While singing about various social injustices, seeing someone I like in the audience might set off a series of reactions in me that might not essentially fortify the performance. Wanting to jump off stage and hug someone was contrary to an angry song about a woman’s right to walk alone.

Jeff Cashvan and Richard Baluyut (Versus): Photo by Gail O‘Hara

What YoYo performances stand out in your memory?

Jen: I really remember seeing Unwound the most. I was right in the front with Linton from Go Sailor. I also loved KARP.

Lois: Versus sang “Frog.” My favorite band. My favorite song.

Nikki: Slant 6, Bloodthirsty Butchers, Had Fair, Gravel, Versus, Copass Grinderz, Mecca Normal

Tracy: I recall watching Built to Spill and being in absolute awe of how someone could ROCK but also be so vulnerable and tender at the same time. I was a massive Treepeople fan and Dug was so important to me. I seriously moved to Seattle to work at C/Z because I was such a big Treepeople fan. I didn’t think Dug’s new band would ever possibly be as good, and their Yoyo performance proved otherwise. I wonder if this is how Minor Threat fans felt when they saw Rites of Spring for the first time?

Gail CF: Team Dresch, Lois, The Softies, Heavens to Betsy, Spinanes, Mary Lou Lord, Excuse 17, Slant 6, Neutral Milk Hotel, Halo Benders…

New artists discovered?

Tracy: It wasn’t so much about discovering any artist for me. It was about seeing a lot of artists play live for the first time and out of those bands, Karp absolutely blew my mind. They were so tight and had the humor and energy I always wanted from The Melvins, but never quite got from their live shows during that time period.

Nikki: Copass Grinderz

Big Girl wall zine by Lois Maffeo and Margaret Doherty. Photos: Gail O’Hara

What was the vibe like at YoYo in general?

Jen: I felt like I was included in a beautiful weird secret.

Jean Smith: There can be a weird sort of alienation playing regular rock clubs in towns where you don’t know anyone, when you don’t actually know the other bands on the bill. In those cases, there may be an intensity of performance due to that anonymity. YoYo was the opposite of that.

Some Velvet Sidewalk / Photo: Pat Castaldo

Did Yo-Yo a Go-Go get national attention?
Tracy: I think because there were bands from so many other states performing, the DIY world who was connected through radio, zines, penpal packages, and record stores all seemed in the know. Does that count as national attention?

Jean Smith: This appeared in Rolling Stone. It seems like it’s a snippet from a longer piece: “Such innocence and enthusiasm are the guiding principles of the Olympia genre called love rock. At Yo Yo, bands throw candy to the audience, and the festival organizers hand out yo-yos. Homemade and vintage instruments proliferate, as do two-and three-piece groups, a minimalism exemplified by the Saturday night performances of Mecca Normal and Spinanes.” – Evelyn McDonnell, Rolling Stone

Love Evelyn, of course, but, in the mid-90s, I’m actually not sure if it would have been published in Rolling Stone if she’d reported that a number of bands performed songs about women’s rights etc.

When national media mentioned various scenes and festivals we participated in, I usually had the impression that the individual journalists may have been compelled to report differently, but maybe their editors dictated a requirement for content that wasn’t confrontational, possibly even especially about women in music.

Mainstream mentions were usually a bit cringe. We were amazed when anything from our ilk made it to a national level. It seemed a bit suspicious. One of the few times Rolling Stone wrote about us, they said we were Vancouver Washington (as opposed to Canada). I took everything they said about anyone with a few grains of salt.

Gail CF: I was an editor at a big rock mag then but all the bands I interviewed ended up in our zine.

Jason Traeger, Calvin Johnson and Beck. Photo: Jen Sbragia

What was the Olympia/larger independent pop scene like in 1994 vs. 2024?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been helping put together another Olympia-centric summer festival called Northern Sky happening in early September. I think there is still a spirit in Olympia to find a fun spot and a great reason to bring people together and just try to pull it off. There is absolutely no danger of any Olympia festival becoming like Coachella or Primavera. Go through the list! IPUC, Yoyo A Go Go, Homo A Go Go, Ladyfest, Helsing Junction Sleepover: all just homemade events. No sponsors, just DIY labor and love.

Gail CF: The 1990s were the last decade where we could live in the moment. No one had smartphones and no one held things up in front of other people or looked at phones while watching shows. You were just there for the show. Sure, people could be rude and talk over the bands but probably not here. The absence of constant device fondling made people more social I think? Also people bought albums/paid for music; not every independent label was paying out properly but there was more potential for bands to earn a living from touring and selling albums.

Tracy: It is so hard to answer this question as a middle-aged person. I would love to believe versions of this event are happening all over the place today, but I also know that in today’s climate, booking a festival is more complicated and expensive than ever. Renting spaces is no easy task (insurance, rental fees, and so on), booking talent is a nightmare since so many artists (especially those with booking agents) charge 10x their normal fee when the word festival is attached to it. I think social media also inherently puts pressure on events to be so much more than just great music and so many events get lost in the weeds trying to be all the things. In turn I think the fans have changed. I grew up having zero expectations from a fest other than music, and fans now are expecting a mini Coachella from every multi-day music event with all the bells and whistles. The closest thing I can think to Yoyo isn’t so much an indie pop thing, but Goner is an example of an event that I go to almost annually that reminds me of the same genuine spirit. For me the perfect fest is 40% about the music (thoughtfully curated) and 40% about the people (fans/musicians) I will be able to spend time with in person, and 20% a city I like (and can afford to spend a few days in).

What other memories do you have about YoYo?

Lois: Yoyo coincided with Lakefair, the Olympia town carnival that had (still has!) all the clichéd accoutrements of such things: pageant queens, outdoor concerts with 70s cover bands and a parade with marching bands and floats from other small towns in Washington featuring their pageant queens, waving. Yoyo staff put in the paperwork to have an entry in the parade and so many festival-goers showed up to march through downtown behind a spray painted Yoyo A Go Go banner! The crowds that lined the streets didn’t know what to make of it and hardly anyone cheered for this ragtag bunch. But one old guy sitting in a lawn chair along the parade route yelled out, “There go the future welfare rats of America!” (A photo of Nikki, Tae and Calvin in the parade adorns the back cover of the “yoyo a go go” LP.)

I ran up to Christina Billotte after Slant 6 tore through a furious set and said to her, “Great set! It was epic!” To which she replied, “It wasn’t great at all.  We played terrible. That’s the trouble with you Olympia people. You’ll clap for anything.” In my mind, that has become the best description of the Olympia music scene and the spirit that drives it. We’ll clap for anything! Thanks, Christina. (And btw, the set truly was great. What a band!)

Jen: If I knew his name, I can’t remember now what it was. Even though it was warm summer weather, he wore a ladies’ navy blue cardigan sweater, buttoned up to the top, with tight pants, low tops and a wide white belt. He had that short hair with the bangs cut straight across. I remember his nails painted with white out or white nail polish. Very emo. Before EMO existed. He didn’t say much and I liked that. I saw him every day at the festival. Eventually we spoke enough that I asked him to go for a walk around the block with me, and we briefly held hands. He wasn’t into me. I never saw him again.

Jean: We stayed at Calvin’s house. I think Dave slept in the basement in the recording studio and I slept in the backyard where I recall chit-chatting with Beck while I set up my tent.

I forget which festival it was when we bumped into each other, Gail. I also forget who you were walking with and what we all talked about briefly, but I think the conversation was in the actual street as opposed to on the sidewalk you’d just stepped off and we were aiming for. That is to say; it’s a very quiet town!

Tracy: Street busking! I think I saw Mary Lou Lord and the dude from Rancid perform like 3 other times, ha! I know I should be focusing on the bands that played, but my strongest memory is talking to so many different people from all over the country and making friends with people that I still know to this day.

David Nichols (Blairmailer): Pat Maley and Sara Lorimer came to Australia on holiday in I guess 1993. I was finishing my Arts degree at the University of Sydney but very occasionally making records with Michael under the name Blairmailer. Pat and Sara came to see Blairmailer play at the Richmond Club hotel in Melbourne. It was a well-attended show. I can’t remember who was in the band aside from Michael and me at that time, maybe it was just the two of us. Pat either got in touch later to say he was doing YoYo A Go Go or he was thinking and talking about it even while he was in Australia. Michael was very keen, I’m fairly sure that we recruited Bart and Andrew purely for the sake of the US tour, I mean aside from the fact that they were our friends and we liked them. We played a show in Melbourne with Stinky Fire Engine, The Cats Miaow were also on the bill.

Bart and Andrew were with the band for the rest of its existence, it didn’t last much longer. They were our two bass players, we had them play half a show each, which was probably about 5 songs apiece. They sat in the audience together and I think they saw almost everything and kept notes. At some time, before or after the actual Yo Yo show, we recorded an EP with Pat.

Blairmailer had two albums out by that stage, one was a cassette the other was an LP released on IMP records of Portland, a terrific label. Our show went pretty smoothly. We played a couple of other shows at the same time, one with Mocket, one with New Bad Things, both incredible.

YoYo Records’ Pat Maley / Photo: Pat Castaldo

The best shows I remember seeing were Versus, who I’d already seen elsewhere and who are one of my favourite bands, Copass Grinderz, Halo Benders, but I know there heaps more, of course. It’s a long time ago. Some Velvet Sidewalk were going through a really classic period, the Whirlpool album period. Don from SVS asked Bart, Michael and Andrew, kind of tentatively, ‘do you guys like… drinking beer?’ They did.

Meeting Beck and Ian MacKaye was a real privilege and we all walked together somewhere, sometime, after Blairmailer played.

The Stinkypuffs show was something everyone felt was a historic moment, I mean apart from being very touching. I recall being told at the time that Fred Astaire had performed at the Capitol theatre but I imagine everybody has.

I remember sitting in the audience with Rebecca Gates and Gilmore Tamny and Rebecca making some kind of joke, or observation, that included telling a young man ‘I knew your mom in high school’. None of us could have even been thirty by that stage.

I think this was the time I was in Olympia and there was some kind of parade in town? Am I wrong? Is that what’s on the back cover of the LP? If so, then this was the time when I saw a group of Olympia music people in the parade, and a woman asked a policeman who they were, and he said sardonically ‘the future welfare recipients of America’.

Pat Maley used to have a slight chip on his shoulder that he was shunned by the punks of Olympia somewhat, as a hippy, and it wasn’t until Calvin embraced him that he became really ‘acceptable’ to the more pretentious or fickle Olympia types. So I imagine that there was something a little bittersweet for him in running Yo Yo a Go Go but I am certainly glad he, Diana, Aaron and Sara put it on. He has tapes of everything, I remember him saying that one day a long time into the future he’d find a way to release it all, I guess the time is not yet ripe. 

Gail CF: We started our zine out of love for the East Coast (and UK) pop scene in the early ’90s. Yo-Yo was like a grand introduction to West Coast culture for me. I loved the supportive and slightly earnest West Coast people, meeting people like Stella Marrs and Nikki McClure and seeing the DIY ecosystem and “let’s create our own fun” style of putting together an event. It was world-shifting in a good way. One more memory was that Vicky Wheeler was supposed to pick me up and give me a ride to SeaTac but overslept so I missed my flight, spent the night in the Holiday Inn SeaTac but then got upgraded to first class flying home; Dave Grohl and Elliott Smith were on my flight.


Nikki’s calendar, July 1994

Vern Rumsey remembered

Photograph by Pat Castaldo

By Pat Castaldo

When I got the text, like so many of my friends, I didn’t actually believe it.

I was instantly back in my apartment above Drees, hearing him call up, “Pat! Pat!” to the open window, holding a 12-pack of whatever was on sale at Safeway. “I’ll come down and open the door, just a minute.”

“Oh, you brought us beer,” I say to him, smiling, as I push open the heavy glass door open and let him in.

He looks at me, sheepishly and fully Vern-ly, with that smile he had where his jaw would clench a little and his cheek lift, “oh, um, this is just for me.”

Vern meant so much to so many people, and as I think now about never seeing him again, I realize completely how much me meant to me.

I am crying, playing the Long Hind Legs self-titled, thinking about how easy he was to just sit next to for hours. How good of a dude he was. How we could keep pace drinking cheap beers and working on album covers, talking about the everything and the nothing of our lives.

I think about seeing him play music a million times.

I think about visiting him out on the farm, pulling up in the dart after following his directions and wondering “where the hell am I?”

I think about my own thoughts about him over the years, “wait, why isn’t Unwound the biggest band in America right now?” and “man, Vern smells like cigarettes right now, I’m gonna crack a window,” and even, “I would kill for another Long Hind Legs album. So, so under appreciated.”

I think about the life he lived and all the people who’s lives he touched. I feel for the ones who loved him more and closer than I was ever able to.

Vern wasn’t without faults, he’d be the first to admit it, but that was the Olympia in him — that is that bit of Olympia in all of us who were there.

We were an incredible cast of misfits and outcasts, living under the constant grey clouds of the ’90s. Living with a constant drizzle and dampness of the same three square blocks that circled from the Reef, to the Capitol Theater, to our walk-up apartments or punk-named houses.

The magic of Olympia was never the place — it was the people we knew then. It didn’t matter if you were friends or enemies or eventually both; all of us where an alchemy for each other, something that permanently touched and changed each and every one of us; that turned us from teenagers to adults, with a lot of stops and starts in-between.

I can feel it in me, the Olympia, even twelve years after I moved away.

Part of that Olympia is Vern.

We lost a part of Olympia today. Vern took it with him.

Vern Rumsey was best known for being the bassist in the Tumwater, Washington post-hardcore (we still called it grunge back then) band Unwound. He passed away August 2020. Proud to call him a friend, I helped do several album covers of bands he was in. He will be missed.

This was originally published on Pat’s Medium page.