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If someone yells out “Free Bird” at a computer screen, does it still make a sound? In the Internet era, rock tours are coming to homes (and offices) near you; this summer’s websites range from glorified souvenir programs to on air concerts. The latter concept remains in the developmental stage, but certain traditions remain: Even online you can buy an overpriced T-shirt.

The most ambitious sites create a new kind of surf rock that literally brings it all back home. During the Intel New Music Festival, held July 15-18 at clubs around the city, anyone with a Web browser and the right plug-ins could connect (at no extra charge) to www.intelfest.com and view live streaming-video broadcasts of 300-plus bands over four nights.

In my office, I scrolled the cursor to one night spot, and there, on the unfortunately small scree, was the belching punk of REO Speedealer, complete with herky-jerky video delay. Tired of their throbbing gristle, I clicked to a handful of other clubs and, in doing so, viewed a wide range of nonmainstream rock, from Deni Bonet’s electric-fiddle hoedown to the fuzz-guitar blast of Benjamin Wagner Deluxe. Between sets, I had the choice of watching roadies change gear, perusing band chat rooms, or downloading a new Jesus and Mary Chain track recorded the night before. And if I stayed up long enough, I wouldv’e seen “special guest” Debbie Harry take the stage at 1 a.m.

If this was the “Woodstock of the Web” (Intel’s words), did I have to be wary of the brown acid? Yep: Over the course of two nights, my PC crashed three times, the video occassionally stuttered, and some venues broadcast audio only. But the sound was generally sharp (Ron Sexsmith’s twig-delicate ballads sounded as crystalline as on his CDs), and the music was varied enough to make the fest seem like the world’s coolest listening booth — with visual.

Entertainment Weekly (New York, NY)