Photo by Ryan Snyder
Phuzz Phest, Winston-Salem’s homegrown music festival, has passed into the annals of the Triad music scene’s history after five years of rocking the Camel City.
Phuzz Phest founder Philip Pledger cited “the changing atmosphere of venues and the work associated with [the] single-weekend event” as deciding factors in the festival’s demise.
The downtown festival found its home in places as diverse as the Millennium Center and the newly constructed Bailey Park to familiar haunts like Krankies Coffee and, of course, the Garage.
Bands and musicians both in Winston-Salem and outside city limits bemoaned the loss.
“Phuzz has become a sign of spring — you expect it as a part of the calendar and look forward to it,” said vocalist Rachel Endsley, who has performed at the festival with both Make Light and Judy Barnes. “It’s been a great opportunity to reconnect with people after a long hibernation and present all of winter’s slow, solitary creative work.”
Eddie Garcia, who played Phuzz both with now-defunct band Jews & Catholics and solo as 1970s Film Stock, said the news was “disappointing, but somewhat expected” in an interview.
“I know that the festival was always trying to get more backing from the arts council and from the city, and wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t get the funding they were looking for,” Garcia added.
Pledger stated that Phuzz Records will receive a slice of support from the $50,000 Creative Ventures Fund established by the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County last fall. Instead of devoting these funds to a single festival, the label has scheduled a series of concerts through the spring and summer as a continuation of the festival’s spirit.
“The Phuzz Records events are the exact sorts of things that the festival would do, just spread out over time,” Pledger said.
Regardless of any perceptions of support, Pledger looked back on the experience positively.
“I’ve met some truly incredible musicians, and was happy to be able to bring world-class talent to Winston-Salem to perform in some unusually intimate spaces when these acts likely wouldn’t have come here otherwise,” Pledger said.
Pledger rattled off a dozen favorite acts from all the years past: Hiss Golden Messenger on the porch of Krankies in 2012, William Tyler at Reanimator in 2013, Mount Moriah at the Garage in 2014, Ex Hex at Bailey Park in 2015, Neon Indian at the Millennium Center in 2016.
“2016 really was an incredible year for us on all levels, but there are fun memories from every year,” Pledger concluded. “It was especially cool to watch some artists’ careers grow over the course of the festival.”
Asheville band the Tills, who record under Pledger’s Phuzz Records label, exemplifies that idea. Through bassist Tom Peters, the group extended graciousness on behalf of the Tills.
“Phuzz Phest gave us some of the biggest crowds we’ve ever played for, thanks in part to Phuzz putting out our record,” Peters said in an interview.
Peters also mentioned meeting “Texas Pete” — sponsor of Phuzz Phest 2014 — as one of his fondest memories.
Endsley mentioned her favorite shows occurred at Reanimator Records, the similarly extinct record store and hangout near Krankies.
“The intimacy and immediacy of that small space amplified any energy by 1000,” Endsley said.
For his part, Garcia cited two favorite shows from Phuzz’s history. The first that came to mind: No Age at Krankies in 2014. Jews & Catholics shared the bill with the Los Angeles-based noise-rock duo.
“I got to meet and interview those guys twice — one for WFDD, once for Pedal Fuzz — [and] hang out at their sound check,” Garcia said, referring to his day job at the public radio station as well as a music website he recently launched.
Garcia stated his belief that 2014 was the breakout year for Phuzz Phest.
“I felt the city was really alive and the ‘phuzz’ was in the air,” Garcia said. “I felt the sky was the limit with this thing.”
However, Garcia believed the best band the festival ever featured was probably Trans Am in 2015, also at Krankies.
“The entire crowd was going absolutely insane,” Garcia said. “I’m usually reserved at shows, [but] I went bonkers, pounding the stage, going nuts with friends all around me. It was beautiful.”
Phuzz Phest’s absence leaves both a vacuum and something to be desired for Winston-Salem.
“If someone tried the same thing in Winston, it probably wouldn’t have the same scope of what Phuzz pulled off, from the shows at Bailey Park and the Millennium Center to the bands playing on the sidewalk in the daylight — RIP Reanimator,” Peters said, referring to the city’s now-defunct record store and hangout near Krankies.
Garcia remained optimistic, but spared room for more pointed criticism.
“I would love to see [Phuzz] or something like it again,” he said. “But the city needs to support it, take a chance. We can tout the strong arts scene here all we want, but until we get city and public buy-in on the same level of a Durham or Raleigh, we’ll always be second-tier.”
Still, concerning support from Winston-Salem, Pledger continued Garcia’s argument without assigning blame.
“It feels good, healthy and constructive to work towards making music — current, excellent modern music — more of a focus for Winston-Salem,” Pledger said. “If we’re calling ourselves the City of Arts & Innovation, we simply have got to create spaces and opportunities for cutting-edge musical performance to take place.”
UPDATE: Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County Director of Major Gifts Devon Mackay was reached for comment on the council’s support of Phuzz Phest.
“The Arts Council recognizes the value that Phuzz Phest has added to our city over these past few years, which is why [Phuzz Records was] chosen to be among a select few organizations to be in our Creative Ventures Fund piloted this year,” Mackay stated in an interview after the print version of this issue went to the press. “Our staff and board have supported the grant panel’s increased funding of Phuzz Phest for the past four years, and we also hope to continue supporting Phuzz Phest as they transition from a festival into another vehicle for elevating our alternative music scene.”