Heavy Rebel Weekender like a month-long binge

by Brian Clarey

There is a bar on lower Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans known as the Abbey. It’s a bit of a shithole, not to put too fine a point on it, fashioned from beer-soaked wood (I think) and carrying a vaguely monastic motif, populated by leather-clad bourbon drinkers, tattooed women, landed gutter punks and guys who braid their facial hair. The jukebox plays a steady stream of raw country, rockabilly and metal, and, when I used to go there in the late ’90s, a bartendress named Genevieve would often decide to mix drinks stark naked.

I haven’t had a drink at the Abbey in years, but I sure do miss it.

That’s why my wife and I are going to the Heavy Rebel Weekender that runs July 6-8 at the Millennium Center in Winston-Salem. It’s gonna be like a month-long binge at the Abbey crammed into three days. Kind of like our courtship.

It’s a real scene, man – the Millennium Center is converted into three chambers, each with its own stage and bar, and more than 70 bands, ranging from punk to rock to punk rock to rockabilly to psychobilly to honky tonk to ska to… did I say rock?… will throw down… throw down… until the wee hours, or at least until the after parties start.

You like hot rods? There’s gonna be a car and bike show (No muscle cars!). There’s gonna be art and T-shirts and spiked leather wristbands.

You like action? There are six contests as a part of this year’s weekender, for slap-off bass, crossroads guitar, ‘nanner puddin’ eating, mud rasslin, wet wifebeater wearing and another where the prize – $100 in drink tickets – goes to the dude or lady who can drink the most beer in a minute.

Did I mention that Pabst Blue Ribbon is one of the sponsors?


The event has come a long way since 2001, when it started as the brainchild of Winston-Salem mechanic Mike Martin and came to fruition with six months of planning and “less money than a decent used Honda would cost.”

“It was scheduled to be two days and twenty-four bands and we added the car show and tattto artists and vendors,” Martin says. “We got such a great response we made it into three days and forty-five bands, and we did it on a shoestring. It’s always been an out-of-pocket event – bands played knowing they wouldn’t get much money, if any. They were super supportive and they showed up to play. There wasn’t any money in it, but that’s not why we were doing it. We wanted an event that was ours, we could book the music and expose people to new types of music.”

That first weekender hosted 45 bands and saw about 650 attendees, and the thing gained momentum each year, adding sponsors and weird, new dimensions with each iteration – sideshows!… weddings!… burlesque!… psychobilly networking!

This year the festival should see a couple thousand folks.

There’s bands with names like Reverend D-Day & the Shockers, Flat Tires, Face Down Presley, Hearts & Daggers and Reach Around Rodeo Clowns. There’s T-shirts by Hot Rod Thugs and dangerous, angular art by a guy named Squindo.

There’s gonna be porkpie hats and overalls, tattooed chicks and pompadours, flame jobs and upright bass. Mutton chops. Fishnets. Canned beer. Bowling shirts.

You get the picture.

Martin, who now lives in south Florida, can’t wait to get back in town.

“I can honestly say this year I’m looking forward to the event itself this year,” he says. “I’m wanting to see all these bands I haven’t seen in a year or so.”

We’re looking forwards to it as well.

My wife and I may never make it back to the Abbey – it’s pretty far away, and our kids probably wouldn’t like it – but that’s cool with us, as long as we can hit the Heavy Rebel Weekender for a couple days each summer.

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