After the nostalgia, HFStival turns focus to indie-rock

After a four-year hiatus, the HFStival, one of the largest rock festivals on the East Coast in the '90s and early 2000s, returned last September with a lineup of forgotten '90s alt-heroes such as Third Eye Blind, Lit and Everclear. The festival's return was a bigger deal than its time capsule of a concert, but this year's HFStival — with headliners the Avett Brothers and its focus on indie-rock over nostalgia — should put the focus back on the music. It's another step of bringing HFS, which returned to airwaves at 97.5 FM last month, back into the conversation of alternative-rock relevance in Maryland.

Besides the Avett Brothers and their brand of Carolina folk-rock, Flogging Molly, Dr. Dog and many other acts will take the festival's three stages. Which are worth checking out? We've picked five lesser-known acts that might make you a fan by day's end:

Diane Birch: This 28-year-old singer-songwriter and self-described "old soul" has a smoky voice beyond her years. She's been compared to Norah Jones, but there's a little more dirt under Birch's fingernails, and her piano-driven, confessional songs are better for it.

Lionize: If you ever wished there was reggae that connected with the darker corners of your mind, check out Lionize, a four-piece band that works for laid-back stoners and lightweights who get paranoid after one hit. Without warning, the band's laid-back vibe can come alive like chugging back-to-back Red Bulls.

Middle Distance Runner: Singer Stephen Kilroy's voice sounds a lot like Arcade Fire's Win Butler, which is a good thing, as there are worse frontmen to be compared to. The D.C. band works loud-to-soft dynamics with powerful results, and its intensity has been a calling card of its live shows.

Minus the Bear: It's the 10-year vets you may have heard of but never checked out. The Seattle five-piece band's sound has evolved from technical math-rock to stadium-ready heaviness, but the trademark, slippery guitar parts remain its most potent weapons.

Tennis System: This D.C. quartet builds its songs around its amplifiers, typically turned up to max. The songs are part-drone and part-shoegaze, but the melodies never suffer. Expect an onslaught of loud guitars.

If you go

The HFStival, featuring the Avett Brothers, Dr. Dog and many more, takes place Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Doors open at 10 a.m. Tickets are $35 and $50. Call 877-435-9849 or go to

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