Phuzz Phest announces 2014 lineup

by Ryan Snyder

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan

Phuzz Phest, Winston-Salem’s resilient indie rock weekender, bucked a recent music festival trend and released its initial lineup without a whole lot of ado on Jan. 31. In an age where lineup sleuthing has practically become a winter sport and clue dangling is almost expected leading up to drop day, Phuzz Phest founder Philip Pledger shared a video of LA noise rock duo No Age’s recent “Late Show with David Letterman” performance on Facebook around midnight on Thursday. On Friday, he published a poster for the April 4-6 festival with an initial lineup of 50 bands, No Age appearing second in the assumed order of billing right between the ultra-prolific garage scene flag bearer White Fence and hip-hop legend Kool Keith.

The lack of buildup isn’t so much a function of Phuzz Phest’s organization being the solo job that it has in the past, but rather a symptom of Pledger’s worrisome predisposition. He pondered announcing a couple of acts in advance, but would that dilute the big announcement? What if the bands he teased garnered no response in the first place? Would anyone even care about the rest of the festival? Trivial concerns in the grand scheme, particularly contrasted against those in the past that could have undermined future Phuzz Phests altogether.

Opening day of Phuzz Phest 2013 was supposed to herald the growing up of a once inwardly-focused scene study; Durham alt-country group Mount Moriah at the time had been racking up national accolades for its record Miracle Temple and its Thursday performance at SECCA represented the festival’s most important get.

Instead of a packed theater waiting to hear the best record from the first quarter of 2013, the band was greeted by a freak April ice storm and a smallish, but enthusiastic room, a designation that could have summed up the crowd for the rest of the weekend as weather remained spotty.

Mount Moriah are getting a do-over this year, as they’re one of a handful of bands returning amidst Phuzz Phest’s largest lineup yet. Also returning are hook-y Raleigh psych-pop outfit 12,000 Armies, whose forthcoming album, Tiger Beat, will be the second release on Phuzz Sounds, the label Pledger started to release his own band Estrangers. SECCA won’t be hosting this year due to a prior commitment to the RiverRun Film Festival, but as Phuzz Phest converts to a true music festival format, the venues hosting it this year will be more centrally located in downtown Winston-Salem, easily walkable for the most part (after-party spot Hoots Roller Bar is likely the only location to require alternate transport). That’s important, because rather than brave the logistical challenges of only having one show at a time at any given venue, Phuzz Phest will be going to overlapping sets for the first time.

“It was a matter of time before it happened,” Pledger said. “That format is very limiting and there are a lot of issues that can arise from that, mostly time related. If someone overplays or if it gets started late at all, it’s only going to have a negative snowball effect. I’ve done my best to avoid that in the past and sometimes it just happens.”

In the new format, bands who might have been limited to a 30-minute set in the past will get longer sets with a little more breathing room for set-up, which should in turn lead to higher quality sets for their audiences. That’s of particular importance for a festival like Phuzz Phest, which takes pride in an adventurous booking philosophy — regardless of how esoteric a band might be to someone, the more time they get to spend with them, the more profound of an impression they are able to make. When it comes to the first name on the poster, Pledger believes it will be a positive one.

“There’s the reality that some of these bands are probably really obscure to the average person and some people may not feel very adventurous,” he said. “I love White Fence and I think people who know them love them, but I also might be facing an uphill battle in getting people to come see them even though they’re incredible. But maybe by promoting them more, maybe that in and of itself will raise awareness of them.”

Phuzz Phest is expanding its own palate this year as well by delving deeper into hip-hop than it previously has. Miss Eaves, the hiphop/electro-pop alias of Winston-Salem native Shanthony Exum, returns to the undercard, and Durham duo Toon & the Real Laww play their first Winston-Salem set, but arguably Phuzz Phest’s biggest catch is Kool Keith, founder of legendary hip-hop crew Ultramagnetic MCs and a legitimizing force in a corner in which Pledger says he’s still building connections.

Phuzz Phest’s growth isn’t limited to music, however. It’s embracing the daytime diversion format (though there will be daytime sets) of larger festivals. In addition to bringing back the Krankies Alleycat Bike Race,there will be a coffee conference that includes direct trade innovators 1000 Faces Coffee and Carrboro Coffee Roasters. More goings-on are expected to be added to Phuzz Phest in the coming weeks, including about a half-dozen more artists when the schedule is released. Just don’t them to make a huge deal about it when it happens. !

See the full lineup at