Recess Fest co-founders Casey Malone and Zach Reader peel back the curtains, Part 2 of 2
Talk about your exponential growth. In just its first four iterations, Charlotte’s Recess Fest has grown from a one-day, 14-act event to a four-day, 70-plus act multiple-venue beast. Just last summer the third annual fest was a three-day affair with 35 bands; even the math-impaired can see that’s it’s doubled in size in just one year, and that’s impressive growth, people. This weekend, buoyed by Saturday night’s Archers of Loaf headlining show at Tremont Music Hall, Recess Fest is leaving an increasingly impressive, largely homegrown footprint in the region.
Founders Casey Malone and Zach Reader, both 24, were roommates when they conceived the idea. They were inspired by the notion of a summer break, re-capture-your-inner-kid fun fest filled performing arts, random fun and music. With some help from local venue owners and their own booking experiences at local house shows, as well as contacts made in their own bands — they both play in the dark soul-pop Blossoms, and Malone also plays in the free music sextet Great Architect —they decided to give it a whirl.
Shuffle’s John Schacht forwarded these local music scene heroes some questions, and their lengthy and reflective answers show their commitment. After all, despite being the biggest metropolis in both Carolinas, Charlotte’s always lagged behind the Triangle and, in recent years, been surpassed by Asheville, as a touring stop for up-and-coming hip acts and veterans of the indie scene. Rather than lament their status and kvetch about it, Malone and Reader have started a ground-up festival that, perhaps down the road, may wind up drawing in those acts on a regular basis. A well-regarded local scene – musically, it’s been here – known out there in the rest of America is one way to accomplish that.
After talking about the origins of Recess Fest in yesterday’s installment, Malone and Reader offer a glimpse at their booking methods.
When do you start putting the lineup together typically? How long does that process go on and when is the cut-off date?
CM: I think the lineup is always being put together, some things are sort of a waiting game. For instance, we have been trying to get Archers and BCNC for the last two years, and since we are always on a tight budget sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting a year or two until something seems a bit more reasonable. Generally I think we always try to finalize it a good two months or so before we start promoting but schedules always change, folks always get dates mixed up and have to cancel. I think some of the best additions we have had, in the past, have been last-minute ones, though. The process is a lot about fitting bills and venues, too. So sometimes different things occur after solidifying a schedule that sort of changes the scheme of things.
ZR: I’m basically never not thinking about what bands I’d like to have at the next Recess. I’ve always wanted to be a label talent scout so my brain is always in work mode and my phone is filled with notes about memorable acts I catch throughout the year. We typically get together and start crunching numbers and logistics and sending out emails in March, though. The next five months are spent doing exactly that, plus scheduling and scheduling and rescheduling, plus more and more. We stay on the smaller end of the booking side to keep weekend passes down and keep a comfy grip on finances. Implementing a cut-off date, or most other strict rules or deadlines, seem to be the kinds of little things that could eventually lead to putting this thing together not being as fun, so I try to shy away from that with great carefulness and consideration of course. The fact is that bands are going to cancel or need to be moved around — making room for up-to-day-of additions — because they’re people too!
Do you have a specific “gets” list that you go after to top the list?
CM: Definitely don’t think it’s been easier or harder at all after Joan of Arc, who by the way just kind of fell into our laps. (Local Charlotte booker) Phillip Shive called Zach because he had an offer from them that just happened to be on the weekend of the fest, so yeah total serendipity, but they have always been my favorite band. It sort of felt perverse. Ha. I think we both have folks that we always want to ask, local or otherwise. A lot of the bands we have wanted in the past have guarantees too big for Zach and I’s britches, errr wallets.
ZR: To have Joan of Arc headline last year was a huge accomplishment, and a giant leap for the festival for sure, but it really hasn’t changed much in the ease or difficulty of booking bigger bands. I feel like Archers of Loaf are basically a perfect next step and do hope that having them on board will have a more powerful impact in the way of drawing larger bands in the future. The most important thing always though is to incorporate tons of locals. As for Archers, Lisa Barr from Tremont is just as much, and more, responsible for bring them back to town. She believed in us and this simply wouldn’t be happening without that. She kicks total ass at getting tons of things done and she’s persistent and awesome.
Tell me the most insane anecdote (fit for publication) from the previous fests…
ZR: There actually hasn’t been too much crazy to happen, at least that’s print-friendly, although I will say some Baltimore cats shared a very powerful cookie with us one time. I’m a cookie monster and have never had one flip me upside down like that. But two reader-friendly happenings at the top of my memory bank are the separate times that Calabi Yau, Brody & Choch and Human Pippi Armstrong each completely owned Casey and I’s living room at the most perfect after-hours times. Calabi Yau are mathematical/musical heroes of Charlotte to myself and lots of others, and to experience Pippi in the Nu Faizon living room was to have lived much more. Each of these shows saw fellow Charlotteans come alive like never before in the face of a performer.
The other memory, which Casey may or may not want printed, is from about two days into last year’s festival, coming off of basically zero rest at 8 a.m. to pick up a dunk tank for the day’s Snug Harbor show. When we took a breather to get breakfast at John’s Country Kitchen, Casey had officially maxed out and passed out several times mid-meal at the table. It was all at once funny, cute and a little heartbreaking cause I could totally feel his pain.
In a perfect universe, what does Recess Fest look like five years from now?
CM: I would say, in a perfect world, heaps larger. I have always had in mind that it would slowly spread out and consume the larger part of the city. I think Zach and I have really wanted to try and at least spread some to Uptown, but resources for that sort of thing are pretty tight. I think ideally the fest would grow and snowball on its own. It would be great to piece together schedules with more national acts and be able to keep tons of locals on, too. I think the idea of people curating shows is something we have just come into trying out. Young and in the Way are curating half of the Tremont show, which should be crazy. I think overall, growth is all that we can hope for, and continued support from the fantastic people in this community.
ZR: Lots of people recognize how Recess has grown in these few short years and always ask if it’s going to evolve into something “like Hopscotch” or another mega fest. I think we could definitely be on that level in the next five years as long as support keeps developing and bands stay interested in this happening. I personally would just like to have some arrangement fall into place, right place at the right time sort of thing, where we’re able to run this with more financial comfort. I dream of being able to pay locals awesome wads of cash and having tons of sweet fest t-shirts of all sizes and colors, having big Recess Fest banners all over town and just as many people as possible excited and involved.
CASEY MALONE’S RECESS FEST MUST-SEES
Whatever Brains — Hands down one of my very favorite local groups. Their live shows are always really intense. They have that special ability to bring a punk-like intensity to a bill, but all of their songs are crafted much differently than most punk groups. I saw them play at 4 a.m. at Hopscotch and they played an Alex Chilton cover. Forever won over.
Drag Sounds — This is Mike Wallace’s new-ish band from Greensboro. I have been really excited from the recordings that I have heard of theirs. Really into the sort of stuff they’ve got going on. The song “Out All Night for Love” that’s on the Recess Fest compilation is great!
Human Pippi Armstrong — Will definitely kill it. His new songs that I have heard are incredible. I’m sure he has tricks up his sleeves. Sort of like the epitome of alumni when it comes to Recess. He’s playing Yauhaus with The Brains for a late show. It should be way crazy.
Tomahawk Deb — Is a guy from Atlanta, that also plays in a band called Wowser Bowser. They are so so good but couldn’t do the fest this year due to scheduling. The Tomahawk stuff is great though. Really eclectic, it reminds me of really early Brian Eno at times, but I also get a 90s electronica vibe, too. It will be really cool to see how this goes down live. Really happy to have him.
Kill Your Mules — I’ll close and say one of my favorite new-ish local bands is Preston Drumm’s band. Those dudes are so so good, and so fun. The songwriting is way over the top, just really funny, and really earnest and interesting.
ZACH READER’S RECESS FEST MUST-SEES
Black Congo NC — I’ve fought to get them at every fest since the start and the stars have finally aligned this year.
Minority Party — Reasons aren’t really necessary but I had them in mind since day one of planning this fest and it really would have felt incomplete without ‘em.
Creepoid — Saw them gently destroy two sets at this year’s MACRoCK festival and knew I had to have them at my own.
Boa Narrow —Another favorite band/memory from my teenage years here and I’m so stoked they’re reuniting after years of not playing together.
Forever F.C. — I’m beyond stoked that Charlotte is finally home to a group of pushin’ emcees. They’re grimy, from the hood, and each possess strong flows that embarrass most of the shit people falsely address as hip-hop these days. Plus, I put them at Crown Station so it will be the tight, sweaty and head-bobbin’ hip-hop show it ought to be. I also secretly want to be their producer.