Legitimate festival: Greensboro Fest turns 10

by Ryan Snyder

Pinche Gringo is one of many local musicians taking part in the 10 th annual Greensboro Fest. (courtesy photo)

It started on Mayflower Street as a plan to introduce newcomers to the Greensboro music scene at the start of every school year, but Greensboro Fest has developed into something that’s much more important. Headed into its 10th year this weekend, the free four-day festival embodies the do-it-yourself ethos that defines the Greensboro music scene as a whole arguably as well or better than any other yearly event. Everyone volunteers, no one really makes any money but everyone has fun. It’s had thousands of visitors, hosted hundreds of bands, seen dozens of venues and experienced a handful of leadership changes, but the idea that Zach Mull and John Rash had years ago has persisted through it all.

There’s no doubt it’s growing, however gradually. It existed without a website until this year when Keith Warther purchased the domain and launched to serve as a living archive and promotional tool. Chuck Johnson and YES! Weekly creative assistant Jordan Grace Owens designed the festival’s first T-shirts. A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to ensure its small operating expenses are met, but the challenges of a free festival persist, however. Legitimate Business, the venue that’s served as the festival’s heart and soul in recent years was shut down last week by fire marshals after an array of code concerns were brought to light. The relatively short-lived but much-loved venue has long needed a new roof, but issues with exits, restroom facilities and parking also came about. Not being a for-profit music venture, the collective of musicians who run the venue — and will continue to use it as a recording and practice space — had no choice but to close it to the public.

“Hearing that it had to close was a total shock to us. They did everything right by their DIY ethos, but it’s one of those things,” said coorganizer Mike Wallace. We’re pretty sad about it, but luckily the Blind Tiger and Melodi Fentress stepped up and agreed to host more shows.”

Last year’s festival closed out to a cold, drizzly Sunday cookout outside Legitimate Business with the Subterranean Bums and Mama Got Saved among others providing the soundtrack, but organizers are erecting a stage outside of the Blind Tiger to host the final evening of music in its stead. The festival will open early Thursday evening at Glenwood Coffee & Books with a performance by lo-fi pop band Serious Bangs, and will also be hosted by the Flatiron, the Green Bean, Studio B and the new Empire Books location.

Who to see at Greensboro Fest (note: set times approximate)

The Leeves, Thursday 6 p.m. — Glenwood Coffee & Books: The Leeves seem to have little ambition to go anywhere with their soulful brand of garage rock, but that doesn’t mean their legend hasn’t been etched in stone. Their songs are well rendered and executed, but its their familiarity that makes them resonate. FYI: Glenwood Coffee & Books is this year’s only BYOB venue.

Decoration Ghost, Thursday 9 p.m. — the Flatiron: Brother, can you spare an art director? YES! Weekly aesthetician and Decoration Ghost guitarist Devender Sellars is headed off to work for the Charleston City Paper, heralding the penultimate show by one of Greensboro’s best indie rock acts. They’ll be given a viking’s funeral at the Flatiron, at least until they arise to wreak vengeance in October a la that old slasher flick Berserker.

Eugene Chadbourne, Saturday 6 p.m. — Empire Books: If there’s such thing as a guitar hero around these parts, it’s free-jazz provocateur Eugene Chadbourne. He’s big in Japan, Europe and essentially everywhere else they like it a little unconventional.

“Gate City Getdown,” Saturday 11 p.m. — the Blind Tiger: UNCG’s recent staff culling claimed one of the music scene’s prime movers when Jack Bonney’s position as general manager of WUAG was eliminated. He’s also a helluva DJ who spins deep funk and soul, and this installment of the “Gate City Getdown” with DJ Prez might very well be his last.

Bird Names, Sunday 5 p.m. — the Blind Tiger: If you chopped and screwed early ‘60s pop, the end result would have to be the Athens, Ga. quintet Bird Names. Their music traipses along like an LSD tracer with all the kitsch and whimsy of a street circus, yet with an indefinably sinister vibe.