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Prepare for Phuzz Phest: A music festival designed to make Winston-Salem proud

by John Adamian

Sometimes a name makes all the difference.

When Philip Pledger and a friend were booking some bands back in 2011 they ended up with four shows packed tightly together on the calendar. They weren’t sure local crowds would be thick enough so they did some quick thinking and made a smart branding tweek.

“We were kind of stressed out about the turnout so we decided to call it a festival,” says Pledger. That was the inaugural Phuzz Phestival, and the event has only grown in terms of lineups, profile, crowds, sponsors, grants and community involvement.

“That kind of gave us the idea to imagine what a festival might be like in Winston-Salem,” says Pledger, who is the founder and director of the festival, which recently announced its schedule for the 2016 iteration of the event.

The mix of acts reflects what Pledger describes as a loose formula that helps keep a healthy balance of local, regional and national talent.

“It’s really important for us to do our part to nurture the Winston-Salem music community,” he says.

Pledger says a guiding principle, when planning the event — which begins probably about nine months before the event itself — is to have the lineup be made up of equal parts local acts (from the Winston-Salem, High Point, Greensboro area), acts from other parts of North Carolina, and national artists.

For 2016, that means high-profile national acts like Neon Indian, whose warped lo-fi sample-heavy synth pop has been mixing nostalgia, pastiche and trippy narratives since his 2009 solo debut. Much-blogged-about and photographed Brooklyn band Sunflower Bean are also playing. If you’ve not heard of them, you will soon. Sunflower Bean play dreamy reverb-heavy pop music that evokes bands like the Cocteau Twins.

Other noteworthy acts include White Denim, from Texas, a band that can be jubilant, soulful, swinging and anthemic, touching on an eclectic range of classic and garage rock bases. Chairlift, like Sunflower Bean, are from Brooklyn and routinely featured in fashion spreads. They’ve evolved a bit on their recent record, Moth, which is a little more experimental than the duo’s previous records, with aggressively sliced and diced beats and a Stereolab-ish fondness for low end. London’s Yuck and L.A.’s Thee Oh Sees will provide some pleasing psychtinged garage rock, with hints of Pavement and related ’90s attitude. Tow3rs, the project of Raleigh’s Derek Torres, is definitely worth keeping an ear out for, with suave and ambitious beat-centric songs that can bring to mind LCD Soundsystem or the National. The rap-funk of Boulevards, also from Raleigh, is worthy of the Prince and Sugarhill Gang comparisons that he elicits. Whether they’re channeling Half Japanese or the Stones, the post-punk soulful slink of Baltimore’s Drag Sound is another band worth penciling in on your dance card. Detroit’s Paik will bring some ominous and abrasive drones to town. From Winston-Salem — just to pick three — there’s the old-time-tinged Americana of Cashavelly Morrison, the textured ambient electronic music of Make Light, and the dark layered loops of Must Be the Holy Ghost. There’s a lot more really good music packed into the weekend.

“Our goal is to present an event that Winston-Salem is really proud of,” says Pledger.

The festival has a maximal appeal for 2016, with 50 bands over the course of two days, Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16. That’s a critical mass of music, and for a limited time wristbands for the festival can be purchased for $50 plus tax, which will get fans into all of the shows at the nine venues, which are essentially walkable. (Venues are Bailey Park, The Garage, Krankies, Luna Lounge, The Millennium Center, Reanimator Records, Single Brothers Bar, Small Batch Beer Co., and West End Mill Works.) That’s quite a live-music bargain, and considering that the festival features acts that are certain to be attracting a lot of media attention with 2016 releases, it’s worth making the weekend into a marathon of music.

Other bigger events have the potential of inducing indie-rock fatigue — if you’ve ever been to South By Southwest, you know that your ears will be craving the comfort of Brian Eno or J.S. Bach, and your feet will be searching for a recliner before the festivities are halfway done. And your liver is a whole other concern. And outdoor summer festivals present the whole vortex of portapotties and sunburn and bacchic overdrive. Phuzz Phest, by com parison, seems perfectly sized, smartly curated and humane.

Pledger, 28, also helps run a record label, Phuzz Records, which releases music by a few of the artists featured in the festival, and he worked for a time as the events coordinator at Krankies Coffee, which gave him the benefit of being plugged into regional acts and to the tastes of the community. He also books the free summer “Sunset Thursdays” concert series downtown. And, like many of the people who are invested in seeing Winston-Salem grow as a center of culture, Pledger thinks that live music — like good food, a walkable downtown, diversity, respected public schools, desirable housing and the other core elements that make a city thrive — plays an important role, and he wanted to help nurture it.

“I think music is important for a vibrant downtown culture,” says Pledger. !

WANNA go?

Phuzz Phest runs April 15 & 16 in Winston-Salem. For more information visit phuzzphest.com.

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