Heavy Rebels

by Brian Clarey

Elvis Presley was a badass.

Yeah, he may have ended his reign as King as a bloated mass, dead on the toilet, but when Elvis was coming up, man, he had the stuff.

Ducktail. Sideburns. Tight pants.

He took that trashy hillbilly music, set it to a strong backbeat and just let those hips swing in a way that made people… downright uncomfortable.

That’s the climate in which rock and roll was born. It was rebellious. It was subversive. It was raw and rude and, dammit, people just loved it.

Ever seen footage of Buddy Holly fans going crazy after a set?

Buddy Holly? You kidding me? Total badass. That immortal combo of guitar, simple drum kit and upright bass. His geeky glasses and primal roar. That six-string jangle.

Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly… who else? Throw in Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Waylon Jennings, Jim Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis. Ronnie Van Zandt because he went down on tour. Otis Redding for the same reason. Stevie Ray Vaughan because he threw down. Little Richard because he was freaky.

These were the guys Mike Martin and Dave Quick had in mind when they conceived Winston-Salem’s Heavy Rebel Weekender back in 2001.

“Heavy Rebel,” Quick said on a cold January night behind the Millennium Center. “Like the heaviest rebels of rock and roll.”

A concept was born that night that has evolved into a three-day bacchanal celebrating all that’s wild about rock “n’ roll.

Rock “n’ roll was built upon the wild men and women who took it from its infancy and merged it with electric guitars, tattoos, bourbon, cars, Zippo lighters, Mohawks and black leather to form its many-hued offspring: rockabilly, punk, metal, alt-country and every little thing in between.

The Heavy Rebel Weekender doesn’t discriminate. Among the 60 or so musical acts there are names like Rev. D-Ray and the Shockers, the F’n A-Holes, American Speedway, Sasquatch & the Sickabillies, the Big Bad, Deadneks and Locke & Load. They fill three stages in the Millennium Center: the main stage upstairs and the subterranean Jailhouse and Underground rooms, nestled in a warren of chambers that are very poorly lit.

Interspersed between the acts, there are bass and guitar contests, a beer drink-off, a wet wifebeater contest and a chance to prove how much ‘nanner pudding you can suck down in a minute. And a procession of hot rods and choppers lines Trade Street the entire time.

It’s a magnificent mess, and I was fortunate enough last year to spend three days bouncing around the festival, swilling PBRs, wandering into shows and connecting with outlaws of every stripe. My personal festival highlights were watching Hick’ry Hawkins jam in a hotel room as the sun rose and a blistering set by Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival down in the Jailhouse.

I learned to keep a beer in my pocket and to bring as many cigarettes as I could carry. Here’s a short list of other things I learned, and a few gleaned from my friends in the Loserville chat room, that may serve you well at this year’s Heavy Rebel Weekender:

• Don’t be afraid to sweat. Sweat happens when you spend your days drinking beer in dark rooms filled with people. And sweat is very much a part of Heavy Rebel Weekender.

• The staff – particularly Quick and Martin – will handle things coolly and calmly without benefit of clipboards or earpieces, or to quote Divine Misfortune in Loserville, “Dave Quick’s hair will look perfect, even as he’s running by like a chicken with its head cut off.”

• Red clay mud doesn’t come out in the wash.

• A wet wifebeater contest is not as demeaning towards women as you might think.

• Chances are good you’ll meet someone with whom you’ll communicate by e-mail and phone until you see him again at the next Heavy Rebel Weekender.

• Wear boots. Or shoes you don’t care about.

• When they throw beer cans at you, it means they like you.

• Sleep is kind of a waste of time, but a necessary one.

• You may think you’ve seen cool tattoos before. You haven’t.

• Buy that T-shirt/hat/picture/button/sticker/piece of jewelry you’re debating about – you won’t see the likes of it again.

• Bring sunglasses, if only for the walk home.

• The description “white trash” is not necessarily a bad thing and in some cases is a desirable appellation.

• You don’t have to hold in your stomach at Heavy Rebel Weekender. Push-up bras are another story.

• Overalls without shirts = fashion

• Bring a Zippo. And lots of socks.

• You will meet some of the friendliest freaks on the planet, see some of the most exciting bands around, marvel at the things people do to their cars and eat very little. Hope you like beef jerky.

• There are reasons people come from all over the world for this festival. And there are as many reasons as there are people.

That should do ya for your first Heavy Rebel Weekender. Look for me down in the Jailhouse, dripping with sweat and flinging beer cans at the bands I love most.

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