The crowd piled in along the narrow bar at Westerwood Tavern, forming a semicircle around the small, ground-level stage. All eyes watched as the Old One-Two’s guitarist, Chadd Myers, knelt beside his guitar running a slide along the strings and beating the neck with a drumstick. Hawke Kelley — lead singer of the wild, lo-fi, bluesy trio — stood on a chair and stretched his arms out over the crowds as his soulfully rugged voice belted out the lyrics. The crowd was alive in a way that doesn’t always surface at a normal show. That’s because this was Day 3 of GSO Fest, and the excitement had been building for days.
“It’s like a holiday,” festival attendee Donna Smith said. “You just go to shows all day, take a break for dinner or something, and then go back because the party is still going on.”
The show at Westerwood Tavern marked the opening shows for the final day of the resurrected fest. The music festival had been gone for three years and showed no hope of revival as organizational frustrations piled up. After making its mark on the Triad when Mike Wallace, a member of Drag Sounds, got the idea of the festival off its feet, the torch was passed among various hands through 10 years of shows. Sam Martin of Greensboro-based Three-Brained Robot was the last organizer of the event before he moved out of state and the festival went on hiatus in 2014.
Not until the Kneads’ drummer Joe Garrigan sent a few emails this past winter did the idea of bringing the festival back from the dead really take form.
“This new incarnation was literally born out of Joe emailing us over the winter and everyone really missing getting together over a weekend explosion of Greensboro music,” festival organizer Katei Cranford said in an email to Triad City Beat. “A couple of years will turn frustration into nostalgia and we’re hoping to turn that into a lot of fun.”
Spread over three days, GSO Fest is less of a “festival,” in the more traditional sense, and more so a weekend party and snapshot of local bands who are around and a part of the scene at the time, performing at myriad local venues. Through the years, festival-goers have seen these different pockets of Greensboro bands and venues change over time.
This year, the music festival hosted 24 bands at eight separate venues, spreading out from neighborhood dive bars to downtown stages. While the festival opened on April 20 with ambient and indie acts such as Transport 77 and Modern Robot at Geeksboro, April 21 saw an abundant crowd for a late-night line-up of Greensboro metal favorites, Torch Runner, Night Sweats and Dreaded at New York Pizza.
“It’s amazing that it’s finally come back,” Kelley of the Old One-Two said. “I think we’ve played almost every GSO Fest in the past and it was sad to see it go. But this is awesome. It’s just great to be a part of it.”
The beauty of this music festival is that — since its inception by Mike Wallace, who at the time was still in high school — the organization has changed hands and more people have become a part of making it come to life. Showcasing some of the best bands in the Triad in variety of genres from indie to thrash metal, GSO Fest brought out a collage of fans who all came to the free shows not only for the music, but for the camaraderie among friends and for the chance to be a part of an important movement in the Triad music scene. What makes this festival unique is its focus on Greensboro music. No national headliners or touring bands stopping off to join the festival, but all the music came from the heart of the Triad, illuminating the deep well of talent which resounds in the local scene.
While the festival was well organized and it was apparent that much thought went into venues and line-ups, the struggle for festival-goers was the commute necessary to catch all of the shows. Most of the venues were within a few minutes’ drive of each other, but this only makes for an encumbrance when rushing to try and catch the next act with little or no time to spare. The block schedule of GSO Fest aided in easing this caroming from club to club, though it could perhaps become a little smoother in coming years.
“It was just so loud and beautiful,” Randy Seals, owner and producer at On Pop of the World Studios said about hosting shows at his studio on April 21. “So many people came out and the line-up was so different, but just perfect.”