I’ll start with the same question I asked Phil Pucci, head honcho behind Reverb Fest. This is the seventh year of God Save the Queen City, so clearly you have a bunch of experience organizing festivals. What are the biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenge for me personally is trying to stay on top of everything. There are lots of moving pieces to manage. Usually every year by the time we get to a lineup announcement, I already feel that we are a hair behind schedule, because I know the amount of work that has to happen to get to the finish line. This is a part time gig for me, but for at least six weeks it really becomes a second full time job. So personally, it's really trying to stay on top of all aspects of the event, while not falling behind with work and life. I usually walk in Mondays feeling behind, and leave Fridays feeling caught up. But after seven years, there is somewhat of a natural order that has been established. So you kind of just have to keep reminding yourself of the end game and the moves you've leaned on in the past. Having a solid team is a big help too!
I’ve been to a lot of them over the seven years, and the thing that always jumps out at me is the varying format GSTQC takes each year. Is that by design or necessity? It seems like you’ve always been open to experimenting with it. What have you learned about what works and what doesn’t?
Yeah. Totally. I think some of it was adapting to circumstances - like losing our home venue - and some of it has been intentional - like the residency at Snug Harbor last year. I think switching [the format] up keeps it fresh. Some of the changes have been more intentional, like trying to scale back daytime sets over the years. Also, last year we learned free shows (or suggested donation shows) can be a big success. Also a full month of them can be a bit much. Haha. So it's a lot of figuring out what you think works. I feel like this year has a healthy balance of everything. Lots of evening shows. Super affordable across the board. We have more suggested donation shows. Centralized location with lots of options. It is still five shows [each night], which is a lot, but doesn't spread out across 31 days.
Of all the great local bands Charlotte has to offer, our best and brightest is Benji Hughes. And one constant of GSTQC is that you always seem to get Benji. He’s eccentric, elusive, notoriously hard to pin down. He only played a handful of shows to support his last album (a Merge Records debut!), and from where I sit, it looks like he only does a couple of gigs a year (and this includes the night he sang the National Anthem at the Durham Bulls game earlier this year). What is your secret to booking him?
I think it’s fair to say a lot of the success of this event can be credited to Benji. He's the only artist to have played all seven years. That first year [in 2011] he had been away from Charlotte for a couple years after releasing A Love Extreme and was living in Los Angeles. I think a big part of what brought a lot of folks out that first year was that it was Benji’s first Charlotte show since he had gotten back in town.
I’m not sure there is a secret to booking him really. If there is, I am not sure that I have it. I feel lucky that he digs our vibe enough to keep coming back. That’s the big thing I guess. I've also gotten close with him and his band over the years. I have done some work with them and even road-tripped to Wilmington to see them on a three-night run. I’m a big fan, and I feel we are super lucky to have had him all these years. He brings the party.
The other local act I’m most excited about is Faye. I saw them open for Gun Outfit at The Station last year and was blown away. As far as I can tell, they haven’t played a ton of Charlotte shows this year either. Can you talk about their inclusion in the lineup and what they bring to this year’s fest?
Yeah. I really like what they have going on. I had heard the buzz last year and think it was just after we had set the lineup, but finally got to see them play in the fall of last year. And like you – I thought it was tight, refreshing, and awesome. I've known Susan for a while (her old band Hello Handshake played the second year of the festival) and she mentioned to me last year that she really wanted to play with Daddy Issues. I made sure to include them once we locked in the Infinity Cat gang for the August 25th show. I’m excited to see them.
You’ve partnered with a lot of local organizations this year. Can you talk about the work you’re doing with Time Out Youth? How will GSTQC be engaging with this important group?
Each year we are lucky to have amazing support from a lot of our business partners. There is really no way we could do what we do without the sponsors. So I'm thankful again to have such awesome brands and clients step up and help us make this possible.
As for the charity beneficiary, that was sort of an idea that came about last year with the Save The Milestone campaign. We took suggested donations at Snug Harbor and raised close to $3,000 on $2 donations, which was pretty sweet. I wanted to try and do something more geared towards a non-profit this year, and think Time Out Youth was a great choice. Obviously, the amount of negative energy directed towards the LGTBQ community on the local political level has impacts and they are an organization that helps to offset those energies. It is very important work that they are doing, and even more so with the current political climate both at the state and federal levels. All of the brewery shows are free, but we'll have folks on hand from Time Out Youth accepting donations and hopefully educating folks on their initiatives. One dollar from each ticket sale to The Neighborhood Theatre shows will be donated to them too, and we'll have volunteers on the 25th and 26th accepting donations as well. An unplanned coincidence I recently figured out is that our main two-nights fall on Pride weekend this year, so that was cool to figure out.
Another interesting element to this year’s festival is the Beer Release Weekend. What’s that all about?
I’m very excited about this piece this year. We've done a beer for the past two years with Heist, and had a band play the release party both years. Both releases were big fun. This year we decided to do a three-brewery collaboration (with Heist, Free Range and Salud Cerveceria) and go a bit bigger on the beer release.
I’m a big fan of all of these guys and they are all friends. As for the beer, the last two years we did heavier porter/brown ales, so we decided to shift it up and do an easier drinking summer IPA. They settled on a Belgian IPA brewed with local blackberries and dry hopped with local blueberries. I think it will be a great beer. I actually got up super early with them recently to hang while they brewed. It was cool to learn a few things and fun to watch them work their magic. To celebrate, we've got some fun shows planned at each brewery. All will be free but with suggested donations to Time Out Youth.
You’ve told me before that the “save” part of the God Save the Queen City is the most important part. What about Charlotte’s music scene needs saving? I think our music community is vital and has an identity that is distinctly Charlottean. Do you agree?
For sure. The last thing I ever want is to come across as is the pretentious type that bashes Charlotte, or be the type of person that says we don't have anything going on as a scene. We absolutely have a great scene. It’s why this event exists. So 'Save' is more of a protecting thing. I'm of the mind that as a city we don't always do an amazing job creating or protecting what's great about our creative identity and history. It's still being shaped too, and with the influx of folks moving to town, I feel like the most important piece is to make sure we aren't standing on the sidelines watching while the real, gritty and cool things about this city get washed over. We've seen Double Door, Tremont and Chop Shop close within the past couple of years, and that is discouraging. Those were authentic spots. Condos and "Concepts" seem to pop up daily, which to me can run counter. However, there's a lot of “old good” left, and some cool new things brewing. I think it’s worth encouraging folks to celebrate that creative community aspect of Charlotte.