Two great moments
Daddy Issues, the ’60s-style girl group-surf-punk outfit from Greensboro, fittingly ended their opening set at Bailey Park on Friday with a cover of the Pleasure Seekers’ garage-rock classic “What a Way to Die.” “Well I may not live past 21, but, wow, what a way to die,” Lauren Holt sang, punctuated by a siren as an ambulance cruised past on East Fifth Street.
Alex Cameron and Texas Pete
A portrait in disillusion and persistence, the Sydney, Australia deliveryman, clerk and musician Alex Cameron saw his record rejected by no less than eight labels but decided to forge ahead and release it himself. “Let’s just say between you and me I been around the block,” he says in his official bio. “I know how the music biz works inside out. I seen the people on the inside and the poor suckers on the outside. I know the whole friggen plotline through and through.”
So imagine how he must have felt coming to Winston-Salem and opening Saturday’s run at the Millennium Center only to have the red outfitted and masked Texas Pete mascot (representing one of the festival sponsors) dancing like a goofball in front of the stage. But Cameron turned the tables, cutting off the instrumental track and demanding that Pete get up on stage and dance.
Odds and ends (lost time is not found again)
Should I stay or should I go?
With roughly four venues going at any given time and each venue’s hourly sets staggered by about 15 minutes, you could theoretically catch about half of the 60 bands on the bill. To effectively maximize the number of sets, you really had to bolt midway, letting go when things were just getting good. Several times, I ended up leaving late into the set, slogging through the rain to get to another venue and catching only the last song or two at the next show.
If you hung out at one venue for the entire night, you risked falling into a rut. If you were determined to see as many sets as humanly possible you risked becoming consumed by consulting the field guide and checking your cell phone for the time while forgetting to enjoy the music. It was like trading up lovers and getting jilted by them all.
Having completed its fifth year, Phuzz Phest has earned respect as a solidly programmed festival that showcases exciting national acts side by side with budding local talent — all for an affordable price. And yet for all its cultural cache, Phuzz has yet to fully leverage the demographic of an urban region with upwards of 600,000 people and more than a dozen colleges.
Kelly Fahey, who leads the band Echo Courts (and a former Triad City Beat intern) remarked on the difference between Phuzz Phest and Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, where festivalgoers are a conspicuous presence on the streets and every bar seems to be advertising drink specials to the fans. With roughly 1,500 spread over the weekend for Phuzz Phest you might see small knots of people walking between venues, but on Sunday when rain dampened attendance the empty streets could make the city could feel like a ghost town.
Part of the challenge is getting people in Greensboro to support the festival. It probably didn’t help that the hosts at WUAG, the campus station at UNCG, were talking up Ex Hex’s free concert in Greensboro two days after their set at Bailey Park in Winston-Salem instead of promoting Phuzz Phest. A few Greensboro fans here and there could be seen in the venues at Phuzz on Saturday and Sunday. Kudos to them.
Part of the appeal of a festival with multiple locations is how — like a marathon or a bicycle race — it showcases a city.
The three-act set on Friday night with Daddy Issues and Mac McCaughan opening for Ex Hex inaugurated Bailey Park, a fantastic new public space — it’s grand opening was only a week earlier — that ties together Wake Forest Innovation Quarter with the artist bloc anchored by Krankies between Third and Fourth streets. The area in front of the bandshell provides an iconic view of the city’s skyline, with a prominent vista of the Reynolds American building.
The spatial design of the park can only be described as wonderful, with a diagonal fairway running from the entrance past a food-truck lot past a facilities/storage/bathroom building and then in front of the stage. Meanwhile, terraced café-style deck seating mimics similar accommodations across Fifth Street below BioTech Place. And below the bandshell and café, an undulating green that imitates the natural contours of the land rolls out to the south. Bailey Park is every bit the equal of Greensboro’s admired Center City Park, albeit off center by a good three blocks and surrounded by aging tobacco works in the midst of redevelopment.
Also worth noting, Krankies has completed renovations, having ripped out a wall previously separating the bar area and the main room. The stage has been moved to a spot along the length of the room instead of at the end. Opening the space is a vast improvement, and concert experiences feel much less claustrophobic.
And Luna Lounge & Tiki Bar is a great addition to the city [See Barstool on page 23]. Significantly dressed up from its former incarnation as Elliott’s Revue, the lounge’s convivial atmosphere only enhanced the quirky psychedelia of Brooklyn-based Las Rosas, who played a midnight set on Friday. Almost miniature, the bar felt like a welcome harbor with old friends popping up at the end of a night of musical reconnaissance.
Mitch Easter is everywhere
Mitch Easter, the erstwhile frontman of the legendary North Carolina jangle-pop outfit Let’s Active who has gone on to greater success as a producer at his recording studio the Fidelitorium, was a conspicuous presence at the festival.
An éminence grise of the scene, he was putting together rock bands in Winston-Salem in the early ’70s, and he’s still checking out new music today. He could be seen appreciatively soaking in 1970s Film Stock’s set at Reanimator on Friday, and later checking out Ex Hex, whose new album he recorded last year. Among the acts performing at this year’s Phuzz Phest, Celestogramme and Jeffrey Dean Foster have albums produced by Easter, and Estrangers, the Tills and Caleb Caudle recently recorded at the Fidelitorium. I must be forgetting someone.