Happy Heavy Rebel Weekend, y’all!
Featured photo by Jenelle Southwell
By: Katei Cranford
Heavy Rebel Weekender, Winston’s own “townie Xmas,” is a wild-ride amped with car shows, sideshows, and wiggle-rooms that will erupt over a three-day slew of doughnut-binging, PBR, and bands galore from Friday to Sunday in downtown Winston-Salem.
HRW is delightfully trashy, with a musical slant toward the rougher ends of the Americana spectrum, where “thrash and psychobilly meld like never before.”
Where good red-blooded folks sing sweaty songs about bad things (and worse people).
Where dudes like Bob Fleming invoke pleas of social justice and perils of heartbreak masked in whiskey lyrics and cigarette smoke.
The 18th year for Heavy Rebel marks the second-year appearance for Fleming, a roving Carolina working man’s musician, who finds it easier to quote Frank Turner than pinpoint a hometown.
Originally a solo-act, Fleming’s been truckin’ “sad songs for happy people” with twang and several degrees of volume for a few years now. “Sometimes I play quietly on an acoustic, sometimes I crank up a tube amp as loud as it goes,” he said of his duality.
Fleming’s got plans for a louder set with his latest incarnation, the Cambria Iron Company, who’ll play the HRW Main Stage Sunday evening.
With a few “road-tested” releases under his belt and a sound landing between John Moreland and Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, Fleming developed his craft with phases (and various names) along the way.
“They’re a way for me to translate my songs into different styles, from folk, to rock ‘n’ roll, and everywhere in between,” Fleming reckoned of the band’s prior names. “Dawn had just started singing with me and she made a joke about her being a ‘Drunk Girl Chorus.’ So we ran with that as a duo for a while.”
“The Cambria Iron Company was a steel mill in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. My grandfather worked there until the day it shut down,” Fleming said. “We changed names to reflect the direction we were taking with a full band.”
Dawn Williams, Fleming’s pint-sized partner on-stage and off, “is 100 percent the machine that keeps this dream rolling. Not many people would quit their job and go on tour forever, but she’s been there every step of the way,” Fleming beamed. “Honestly, it’s the best life I could imagine.“
Best doesn’t always mean easiest. And Fleming’s body has hit some bumpy roads. “I ran into a bunch of diabetes issues last year, so we decided to stop touring for a while, to focus on my health and the new record. The day after we finished recording guitar, I shattered my wrist. It was wild,” Fleming said. “Bum luck,” he shrugged, “I couldn’t play guitar for three months, but it allowed me to focus on just writing. It was different but good.”
Personal injuries aside, Fleming continues to record with concerns larger than himself.
“I feel music, in general, has a social responsibility. If you aren’t using your voice to lift people up and fight for social justice, it feels like time wasted,” Fleming said. “I’m just trying to teach the kids, and write songs Joe Strummer would be proud of.”
“We put out a split on Bandcamp with W.T Newton, called ‘Not Today Devil,’ all of the proceeds go directly to Planned Parenthood,” Fleming said. “The Triad is kind of a hotspot of artists wanting to help other people.”
“When I started writing, I was in a particularly low place. As I move through life, my songs tend to reflect that. I don’t write happy songs, even though I am happy a lot of the time,” Fleming said of the disparity between his personality and artistic output. “I attribute my happiness to being able to express my depression through writing.”
“And today, especially, it’s hard not to incorporate injustice into a song.”
“‘Mother Mary’ has a completely different sound than anything I’ve done previously,” Fleming said of the new album. “It should feel just as at-home next to a Hot Water Music record as it does one from Townes Van Zandt.”
Fleming intends a full-band Cambria Iron Company tour to follow the release in early 2019.
“In the meantime, I’ll be doing a short solo-run at the end of August with Matthew Paul Butler and Jon Charles Dwyer,“ he said of his post-Heavy Rebel plans.
Heavy Rebel Weekender starts Friday in downtown Winston-Salem. Bob Fleming and the Cambria Iron Company play the Main Stage on Sunday at 6 p.m., Hickry Hawkins follows. That man is a nut.
Katei Cranford is a GSO rock ‘n’ roller who digs alotta the bands at Heavy Rebel this year. …especially Dex Romweber (who plays Friday.) She also hosts Mostly Local Monday, a radio show that runs like a mixtape of bands touring NC the following week, every Monday 5-7pm on WUAG 103.1fm.