Most of the history of Phuzz Phest is written on the stages, in musical moments that are gone in an instant but remain vivid for all who were there.
I remember seeing T0W3RS play in I think the back outdoor area of Single Brothers two years ago or three years ago. It was a late-night show, [and] it was the last show of the whole evening, so it was late. He was spectacular and had this entire gravel area with the tables, everybody was dancing. It was just as exciting as what was going on in any club. It was this whole other level of excitement that was going on at just this moment and it was just great. that’s this very vivid memory.
That was a good one…. That was definitely a crazy, fun time. And that was one of [T0W3RS’] first shows with the kind of the new iteration of that record. For a long time he did that solo. The first time with the karaoke version of his own work. It was really high energy, a high performance. That was one of the first times that that format was performed.
Trans Am at Krankies — just breaking in that new stage, actually managing to get them all the way over to the East Coast was really cool.
Last year I remember seeing Trans Am play at Krankies. Trans Am are sort of a ’90s sort of hard-rock, a little bit electronic band and it involves very technical drumming. When I got there instead of them being this sort of technically competent, very loud rock band they were like the most amazing electronic dance band I could’ve imagined. It was such a switch I imagined from how they could be live, with this like driving dance beat that had everyone at Krankies kind of swirled into this dance club. I remember seeing Anthony Petrovic from Reanimator in the corner dancing, and I remember thinking, Holy moly this band has Anthony Petrovic dancing in public in front of everyone.
Seeing Hamilton Leithauser. I think he’s incredible. It was a small venue [Krankies] and we were kinda like, man, there were less than 50 people there because it was raining on a Sunday night. Being able to see him and talk to him afterwards was really cool. I don’t even think I said that much. In 2014, seeing Jessica Lea Mayfield was really awesome. I remember I had listened to her for a few years… she changed into this ’90s grunge or like bright blonde with a bunch of Lisa Frank stickers on her guitar and glitter everywhere.
I remember I suggested her to Philip to book and I remember when he booked her I was really excited about it. It was a sold-out show.
I thought she would definitely draw a good crowd and definitely draw in some people like me who might be intimidated by Phuzz Phest who didn’t know what to expect or who wouldn’t go to Phuzz Phest normally. That was when I had just joined the Phuzz Phest volunteer group. Everyone was trying to make a point to bring in more people. She was someone who I really thought would bring in different people.
Burglar F***er — not that you have to print this — they played one of the last shows at the Garage one year. And yeah, it was just wild. It is cool coming to the end of a festival like that and everyone’s been through the gauntlet together and everyone’s kind of like ready to send it off, you know? It’s a fun vibe.
I saw photo evidence of Burglar F***er playing a show — I have no recollection of this show actually happening. I kind of thought there was 10 people there and I saw pics later and the whole Garage was packed — I guess it was fun… rumor had it.
Last year Protomartyr played, who are one of my favorite bands of the last decade, let’s say. And that we were able to have Protomartyr play here at a time that Protomartyr were becoming famous as an international band was really special that we had them play here. They played the Garage and it was packed and super sweaty… meeting people who had driven from Raleigh or Chapel Hill or Atlanta who had driven to see Protomartyr or the host of other bands that were here.
Last year was the first year that Boulevards played. Boulevards is returning this year and headlining at the Garage for his new album. Just spectacular sort of Prince and Chic inspired. He puts on this amazing show that’s just essentially a one-man performance…. it was super lively and he was super engaging with the crowd and it was awesome.
The year before that No Age played, who were amazing, just really powerful garage rock, like amazing sort of loud, pounding rock at Krankies. It was just packed with pogo-ing kids and adults watching this band sort of roar through songs and it was just amazing.
Kool Keith was a pretty big score.
I watched two bands from the same town meet each other in [the Garage] and fall in love with each other here and became mutually beneficial for both their careers in their hometown — All Them Witches and Diarrhea Planet from Nashville, Tennessee.
And so it was the drummer of Diarrhea Planet — they were headlining here, they had heard about All Them Witches, but Phuzz Phest had booked them.
I was watching the drummer from Diarrhea Planet Instagramming All Them Witches and typing how great they were. This is the band that’s opening for you and you’re writing about how great they are. They live two miles from each other and they never met.
We figured we’d put them up before Diarrhea Planet so people could see Kool Keith and get back for Diarrhea Planet — and it worked.
The scene kids — my people were running from Ziggy’s to here because they wanted to see Kool Keith and Diarrhea Planet in the same night. How weird is that? A rapper with a Shakespearean vocabulary and a punk band from Nashville called Diarrhea Planet. The kids were sprinting and sweating to get here in time for Diarrhea Planet.
Beautiful. Beautiful. And from 10,000 feet it’s what we hope might happen, but how do you make people run? Well, you book the right f***ing band. You book the right bands, people show up.
This year there are a few of the bands that I haven’t heard of before like Lera Lynn that I’m really excited about. She’s a singer songwriter that has this song “Shape Shifter” that’s so catchy. Per usual I’m excited for T0W3RS, and he’s moved to Atlanta. I’m excited for Body Games, they’re an electronic act. They played at Phuzz Phest in 2014 at Ziggy’s, I think, and they had a really awesome slide show, I think one of them was The Lion King.
Last year I had never listened to or heard of Boulevards but oh my gosh, I was so blown away. He has such a good stage performance… I’m really excited for him to come back this year.
Last year we didn’t have a single act cancel, which was incredible because we had 64 bands play. Just statistically thinking — you always assume you’ll have at least a couple cancellations. There’s always just the wonder of, are people gonna show up and respond to this in a positive way? Are people gonna spend their money on it in the age of Netflix and Spotify and distractions? There’s always that underlying question of, is the public gonna support local arts?
For the most part, you know, most of the acts I’ve dealt with have been very gracious and cool, very well accommodating in comparison to other festivals I do. Coming to Winston-Salem maybe isn’t as luxurious as some of these other fests but you get treated pretty well when you’re here — nationally we’re known for our hospitality, and that makes people want to play here.
In its sixth year, Phuzz Phest has gone from a serendipitous overbooking to a full-fledged urban music festival, with plans in place for growth.
Kind of the goal has been to create a festival that the reach is far beyond Winston and that we can bring international acts and really big bands from across the country, but we want it to be something that Winston can be part of and that — it’s cool that we’re building something here with our neighbors. Even the sponsor money is local.
We just get it done. I think that everybody expects us to be some wild and crazy rock-and-roll outfit — if I had anything to say I’d want to smash any misconceptions. It’s not a hobby; it’s not a joke or a game. We’re not here for money or fame. It’s hard to take criticism because we’re not really doing it for that. We do it for the people and we price it fairly and it’s what it takes to get the festival done — it’s starting to stand on its own. We just book the best up-and-coming talent we can and the best known bands we can get, promote the s*** out of them and, when it comes club time, we tune them up and put on the best f***ing show we know how.
At the Garage, you know, we do this every weekend. When Phuzz is around, the talent takes a jump in the right direction.
People don’t understand how expensive it is. It’s tough. I feel like sometimes Winston does an awesome job of supporting the fine arts and not as good a job of supporting the kind of lowbrow arts. That’s a bummer. That’s not directed at anyone in particular. It’s just kind of the way it is right now. Winston doesn’t always do a great job of supporting opportunities and programming for young people. And it’s not just Winston. It’s a challenge to continue to raise money in a highly competitive — not as far as music goes — but there’s a lot of organizations competing for grants and things like that. It’s just extremely stressful and extremely tiring.
Its very hard to do this. Normally you have a large staff, and then you can have interns and whatever. Phil doesn’t make any money off of this — this year I think the tickets are cheaper. Every year he’s done a great job of getting more and more sponsors, but you have to put all that money down to make a quality thing. If you don’t, then people will laugh at it. I have no problem saying that we all work really f***ing hard to do this thing.
I think Philip is like 20 years older than I am at this point. Look at him on the final Sunday of Phuzz Phest. He looks like Bernie Sanders.
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