Music scene veteran launches W.Va. Independent Music Festival

Photo: Wendy Bolsom

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Daniel Johnson, longtime drummer for area hardcore band Let The Guilty Hang (and now drummer for Tim Browning and the Widowmakers) decided late last year to put together a music festival in his hometown that featured some of West Virginia’s more notable acts. The result is the West Virginia Independent Music Festival in Logan on Saturday.

The Gazz caught up with Johnson over the phone to talk about everything that goes into organizing and pulling off such a huge endeavor.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

GAZZ: A lot of people would love to book their own festival. What’s it like to actually do that?

Daniel Johnson: “The thing for me is I have an unwavering dedication to this scene and have for many years, so I’m lucky enough to be able to call a lot of these guys in these bands my true friends.

“The tough thing is to convince a band like Sasha Colette and the Magnolias to get on the same bill as a band like Bobaflex or vice versa. It’s very rare in today's music scene, be it in West Virginia or anywhere, to find a multi-genre festival.

“These bands are all from completely different genres. There are a couple bands who are close, but a lot of these bands would never share a bill on a typical club gig. Going into it, there were no genre boundaries. I just wanted to book the bands that I was into.”

GAZZ: When did you get the idea to do this?

Johnson: “I helped out with a festival here in Logan called Rocktoberfest for a few years. That was the jumping off point for me to see that I could do this. I said late last year, ‘OK, well, I’ll do my own. I’ll make my own festival.’”

GAZZ: Has being in bands give helped you organize the festival?

Johnson: “It’s essentially the exact same thing as booking a show for one of my bands, except it just grows exponentially. This has taken on a life of its own. There’s stuff you wouldn’t have to deal with in normal day-to-day: food, parking and just the things that come that with having hundreds of people in one place.

“For me, without the experience of being a musician and seeing how the machine works -- dealing with promoters, going to lots of shows -- I don’t think I would’ve been able to do all this. And I’m still learning and figuring it out as I go along. You can’t download a PDF file on how to put on a festival.”

GAZZ: Paste Magazine recently wrote a blog post, “10 West Virginia Bands You Should Listen to Now.” With this festival, are you hoping to accomplish something like that, to expose these acts to a wider audience?

Johnson: “I think it’s cute that Paste put up the little blog that said ‘Top 10 bands in West Virginia you should check out.’ I think there are a hundred bands you should check out. It is the cancer of being a musician in this state -- there is no exposure on a national level.

“It’s sad that location matters, and you’re immediately not even a blip on the radar screen. There are lots of great bands from this state. For my money, American Minor, the Huntington band Bud Carroll from AC30 was in, put out a few of the greatest records I’ve ever heard.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a general blind eye turned on our state. It’s happened for years. Byzantine has made a few of the greatest heavy metal records I’ve ever heard, and they've completely gone under the radar.

“On a national level, they don’t give you breaks, man. I don’t know what to chalk it up to. It’s these mountains, I guess.”

GAZZ: What are your feelings going into the festival?

Johnson: “Since I’m one of the only people involved, I’ve set things so there’s only one person to point fingers at if this fails, so it’s a great amount of stress, but I’ve signed up for it. I am extremely stressed. I am extremely excited. I’m nervous as hell. I’m looking forward to it being over, but dreading it ending. It’s a whole big mess of emotions.

“If I had to bring it down to one statement, I would just say I want people to hear songs that matter as much to them as much as they do to me. And I want them to hear something new that maybe they wouldn’t if they were just a Byzantine fan. Maybe they’ll hear The Demon Beat and say, ‘Holy s--- these guys are great.’

“The goal is for people to walk away with a piece of merch from a local band they’ve never heard of. That’s my goal: that it goes well and people leave having a new band to like.”

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