US musician chooses Free Festival over £12-a-night Fringe venue

New York musician Lach: opted for free-fringe venue. Picture: Greg Macvean
New York musician Lach: opted for free-fringe venue. Picture: Greg Macvean
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FREE shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have a high-profile new champion after cult New York musician Lach decided to quit one of the biggest four venues this year.

Just months after relocating his family from the Big Apple to Edinburgh, he will be running his legendary Antihoot open mic night from above the Pear Tree pub this summer instead of at the Gilded Balloon.

It is the biggest coup yet for the free festivals movement, which grew to more than 600 shows in last year’s Fringe, out of a total of 2,542 in the official programme. No tickets are issued for shows, with performers paid by donations from audience members, and venues relying on bar takings to meet their costs.

Lach has joined the Free Festival for his two-hour Antihoot show every night of the Fringe at the Counting House venue. He has pledged to give a platform to musicians, poets and cabaret performers from Edinburgh’s “excellent” underground scene, who he says find themselves pushed aside during the Fringe.

Credited with triggering New York’s celebrated “anti-folk” scene, he is said to have helped unearth the likes of Suzanne Vega, Beck and Regina Spektor.

For the past two years he appeared at the Gilded Balloon, but said he was uncomfortable with people being charged £12 a ticket.

Lach told The Scotsman: “This will be my third year at the Fringe and I’ve been doing my best to avoid standing on any toes. I’ve been stepping gingerly around the various camps as there does seem to be a lot of politics involved.

“Although £12 was probably a good price for a night out at Antihoot at the Gilded Balloon, it was off-putting to local musicians to come along and play and that’s the scene that I want to help nurture.

“At the moment a lot of local artists are pushed to one side when the festival arrives, but I want Antihoot to be a place for them to hang out, as well as a place for bands who are in town to pop in for a drink at the end of the night and maybe perform.”

A spokesman for the Free Festival said: “Lach’s Antihoot is a loose, anarchic night of artistic freedom for the performers, anything from comedy to songwriting to magic to spoken word happens on any given night.

“In addition to being the hotspot for Fringe stars to try stuff out late at night, it is also the main outlet for Edinburgh talent during the Fringe at no cost. With its move to Free Fringe Lach’s Antihoot now doubles as the Fringe’s see and be seen after-midnight gathering place.”

Gilded Balloon artistic director Karen Koren said: “Lach is an absolutely lovely guy and his ideas are commendable, but things didn’t really work out here.

“The Free Festival is good at what it does, but it’s only making money from a hat being passed around at the end of the show.”

Highlights of the fringe so far

• Fascinating AIDA, Spank, Greg Proops, Josh Widdicombe, Mark Little and Stewart Lee are among the Fringe favourites returning to this year’s event.

• The Blanks, the a capella group from the hit TV series Scrubs; a dance production inspired by German philosopher Nietzsche and a show inspired by a disastrous musical version of Desperately Seeking Susan will all be in Edinburgh this August.

• The EICC will feature Jason Byrne, Alan Davies, Jimeoin and Daniel Sloss.

• Tickets have also gone on sale for the gala concert in aid of HIV charity Waverley Care, on 23 August.