Greensboro Fest changes hands again

by Ryan Snyder

On one hand, with a list of stewards that continues to grow entering its 12 th year, Greensboro Fest has become the hot potato of independent music festivals. Maintaining the free, not-for-profit primer to the city’s musical offerings for newcomers and collegians has undoubtedly been a labor of love, but a labor nonetheless. On the other, it speaks volumes about its value to the city’s cultural scene that so many — it will have had three different organizers over its last three years when it takes place next weekend — would step up.

The latest to answer the call is Sam Martin, a 23-year-old show promoter and performance artist whose own nervous energy and unwavering do-it-yourself principles are a practically the spirit of Greensboro Fest incarnate. A self-described “lone wolf,” Martin’s austere vision has manifested most recently through his solo avant-garde dance project the Three Brained Robot, while his promotions occur most visibly at New York Pizza on Tate Street. He’s a mensch of the city’s house-show and alternative-venue circuit, however, and as Greensboro Fest’s lack of constancy has led it to take on the characteristics of its shepherds, the emphasis this year is cast toward some of its forgotten and defunct treasures.

Y!W: Taking on production of a free, three-day festival with zero profit incentive by yourself likely presents a lot of challenges, right?

SM: The hardest part about doing it myself is that if I get lazy, there’s no one to pick up my slack. I do so much already, that’s it’s very easy for me to lose focus and be like, “Oh well I’ve also booked these other shows that I’m going to promote very hard.”All of a sudden, I realize that it’s been almost a week since I’ve updated the Greensboro Fest page or responded to any e-mails associated with it. If anything goes wrong, I can only blame myself, but that also makes me work harder.

Y!W: Greensboro Fest’s history becomes sketchier every time leadership changes hands, so it’s up to those organizing it to leave their mark. What will yours be?

SM: My mark is that I want to acknowledge where I came from, because I definitely feel like I started at the bottom. The first few shows I started doing around here, the attendance was my siblings, my parents and maybe two friends. Now I’m at the point where I could book a show at my house, put one local on and have three touring bands and know that there’s going to be at least 20 people there.

Y!W: You could also add bringing comedy into it this year for the first time.

SM: That goes back to 2010 when Chris Fox, who was in a band called Crimson Spectre, and I, mainly Chris at first, started booking something called Comics and Chords all over North Carolina. Back then it was three comedians and two bands. He did a ton of those and I booked a couple and then played a ton of those. They were special to my heart and a great concept.

Y!W: The show at Legit Biz has a $5 cover, which is almost unheard of as Greensboro Fest has always been free across the board.

SM: Greensboro Fest was handed to me so last minute that the Biz and New York Pizza both already had shows on the days I wanted to do Greensboro Fest. I included the two touring bands and the locals that were already going to play New York Pizza and those bands are being paid out of budget. The Biz booked the Windhand show back in July, so that’s been there for a minute. Instead of trying to alter it and force it to fit my criteria, I just decided to let it be.

Y!W: You’re closing out Greensboro Fest with a Three Brained Robot set. I could relay how the organizer of Phuzz Phest feels about playing his own festival at the same time he’s trying to run it.

SM: I know I might be making a huge mistake but I’m going to do it anyways. I put myself on the end just to know that if I go last, I’m the last person I have to please. 3BR set is very adrenaline-based anyway. Even if something goes wrong, or if something bad happens, or if something good happens, my set is just an explosion of energy from how I feel, and I’m going to let it all out.

Y!W: There’s at least one venue with shows in tribute to defunct performance spaces — Square One, Seven Day Weekend, My Favorite Things, Gate City Noise. What connection are you making?

SM: I went to Gate City Noise as a kid and had no appreciation for what it was. Then I started DJing at WUAG, almost every old CD I pulled out and played on the radio had some kind of connection to it. “This band played there,” or, “This CD came from Gate City Noise,” or, “This place is great, you should go there.” It disappeared when I was in high school, and now I appreciate it because it holds a lot of history in this town. Other than an article in YES! Weekly that talked about it [A scene grows up” by Eric Ginsburg; Dec. 12, 2012], I feel like it’s largely been forgotten.

Y!W: How are you relating these places to people who will likely have no frame of reference to them?

SM: What I wanted to do is have a projection of old flyers of those venues at each show, or some sort of artifact. Jackson Lee who used to run My Favorite Things has a bunch from his store. I was going to put those up at the show, or have somebody talk about the venues. Just some sort of tip of the hat. If anything, it will pique the interests of the people going to these shows in the history, and pique their interests in creating a history.

Greensboro Fest runs Thursday, Oct. 17 through Sunday, Oct. 20. Visit for the full schedule.