A Heavy Rebel weekend and a legend passes
In the basement of Winston-Salem’s Millennium Center, a guitarist kicks it into gear.
Jangly riffs, powerful chords, muscular licks. There’s a bass player on a lime-green stand-up, slapping it out. A drummer slams his kit. And the frontman – shaved head, goatee – screams with aplomb. It’s the first set of the night here in the room known as the Jailhouse, and it’s already starting to get real hot down here. But the beer cans have not yet begun to fly.
And this is what the Heavy Rebel Weekender is all about: hard music, good times, sweat. And eventually, flying beer cans.
The band is Mean Mean Man & the Brass Knuckle Band, and while they play a kid from the audience puts his foot on the stage, bangs his head a bit. The Heavy Rebel is something of an interactive event. With more than 60 bands on the docket, a good portion of the attendees will see some stage time and many others will participate in the car show, the beer drink-off, the ‘nanner pudding eating contest or the wet wife-beater pageant.
There are hundreds of them, with mohawks and pompadours, tight black T-shirts and cuffed Levi’s, cowboy boots and print dresses, Elvis shades and earlobe plugs, trucker hats and overalls. And lots and lots of tattoos.
“These are people that usually don’t get decent treatment elsewhere,” Dave Quick says between puffs of a cigar on the center’s porch.
Quick, who along with Mike Martin is the festival organizer, is as cool as it gets, even amid all the hoopla of this annual summertime rite. He and Martin don’t carry clipboards or wear earpieces. They don’t run around like crazy people. They don’t have a slew of interns, and security pretty much takes care of itself. And even though there’s an imminent crisis – someone’s apparently tried to counterfeit the beer tickets – Quick and Martin shrug it off, deal with the problem and get back to business.
“You gotta have something go wrong,” Martin says.
The cars have lined Trade Street all day: hot rods with flame jobs, antique muscle cars, resurrected jalopies with carefully cultivated patinas of rust. The cars are a part of it, as are the hairdos and clothes, the tattoos and the PBR. But mainly it’s about the music, which ranges from punk to rockabilly with everything in between.
At 8 p.m. on the main stage, Asheville’s Mad Tea Party lay into a more subdued set. A duo on guitar and ukulele, with lilting vocals and the barest hint of raw electric power, they fit neatly into the pantheon of artists represented here.
“Everybody looks so fabulous,” singer Ami Worthen says from the stage. “Everybody don’t look so fabulous everywhere we go.”
It’s their first time at Heavy Rebel, but will likely not be their last.
“People asked for us,” Worthen says later. “It’s been great.”
Later on, down in the Underground, Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival reprises their set after making a big splash last year. Brother Ed pounds on his homemade drum kit – cardboard cylinders, a busted cymbal, a metal milk crate – and coaxes the crowd toward some form of salvation.
“The Devil is a nappy-headed ho,” he says before breaking into a trash-rock anthem, “Teabaggin’ the Devil.”
And by now, the empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans are flying.
A quick word on Clay Felker, who passed last week and is the subject of this issue’s Ten Best (page 5).
Felker was the most famous and innovative editor in the history of magazines. He more or less invented the modern city magazine with New York back when it was a Sunday insert in the New York Herald Tribune. New York still prints every week, still wins a slew of national magazine awards every year, and has inspired hundreds of knock-offs in nearly every city in the nation.
He collected writers like Tom Wolfe and Gloria Steinem, encouraged them to write unconventional journalism that changed the way non-fiction was purveyed. He touched thousands and inspired millions, even in his passing.
The so-called “New Journalism,” which these days is not so new, would have foundered in its infancy had not Felker believed in its value and nurtured its practitioners. When I first discovered the form in college I knew that there was no other way I wanted to write.
When I was simply a writer, I always wanted an editor like Clay Felker. When I became an editor I looked to his example constantly. I still do.
I always wanted to meet him, and I figured I’d eventually get a chance. I guess I’m out of luck.
But if you want to learn more about the man, read Tom Wolfe’s The New Journalism or The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight by Marc Weingarten. I challenge you not to be inspired by his example.
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at email@example.com.