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Small But Mighty: Bellarmine’s Outsized Influence Music Festival

Bellarmine University, the small Catholic college in the Highlands that boasts an undergraduate student body of just over 2,500, has produced a deep bench of bands and musical acts over the last two decades for a school of its size. The influence of the music department’s jazz program can be felt in scene veterans like The Java Men, while the next generation includes folk/jazz/popsters Small Time Napoleon and indie rockers The Foxery, whose debut album “Unless” is due out Sept. 9 from Seattle’s Spartan Records.Former Wax Fang drummer and producer extraordinaire Kevin “LaLa Land” Ratterman has a Bellarmine transcript; so does Christopher Guetig, former drummer of My Morning Jacket, now a Los Angeles-based actor and filmmaker. Just to name a few.The campus celebrates its musical roots and future with its new Outsized Influence Festival, an all-day outdoors show Saturday, 3-10 p.m., in the Quad (access near Norris Place). The festival, which includes three stages, is free. Food trucks will be on hand to feed the crowd.“Americana, jazz, we’ve got indie rock, we’ve got singer-songwriter, we’ve got African folk music played on traditional African instruments, it runs the gamut," said Bellarmine alumnus Todd Hildreth, who now teaches jazz and pop culture in the university’s music department and is one of the festival organizers, along with student Will Ford. "[The festival] doesn’t focus on any one kind of music, but just the source, which is some kind of connection to Bellarmine."“[Ford] was aware of a lot of the ones presently and I’ve been aware for years people out in the local scene and beyond who have come through Bellarmine, either as music majors or as people who majored in something else but kept close to the music scene that goes on here at the college,” said Hildreth.One of those legacy acts is Americana band Fire the Saddle, whose membership is 4/5ths Bellarmine alumni. Outsized Influence will be Fire the Saddle’s first show together in nearly eight years.“We just started to brainstorm on something that could be done to highlight this and show it in a way that went beyond the Bellarmine community, to the local community at large, to say hey, look, this is what this college has produced, and it’s an interesting array of artists and folks trying to do a whole lot of different music and doing it at a very high level,” said Hildreth.Bellarmine’s small size is a strength when it comes to cultivating musical talent, Hildreth said, especially in the music department, where the faculty encourages students to follow their own interests. It worked for him and his confederates in The Java Men (Ray Rizzo and Craig Wagner,who performs in the festival with his current trio), who met on campus back in their day.“We have the people who are studying jazz, but they came to jazz from rock, and so what they’re doing is they’re taking what they’re learning in the institution about jazz and even classical, and coming back and looking at their roots and thinking what can be done here?” said Hildreth.  Some of that scene is built around the music department, Hildreth said, but some projects are simply the by-product of a tight-knit, collaborative campus.“It’s a smaller place, so it lends itself almost immediately to a community-minded atmosphere,” he said.  Here's the full line-up:

  • Fire The Saddle
  • Craig Wagner Trio
  • Small Time Napoleon
  • Dr. Dundiff & Friends
  • Lauren Zoeller Band
  • The Foxery
  • In Lightning
  • Ed Monk
  • Zim Marim
  • The Formalities
  • Wilder Stallions
  • Kabelo Chirwa
  • Olivia Reed
  • Cheating Paisly

(Note: Erin Keane is a 1998 graduate of Bellarmine College, but she was never in a band.)