ESP Magazine
October 9-12, 2002
Volume 15, Issue 9

Sparklefest rocks Chapel Hill

Sparklefest may sound like a light, frothy smattering of pop sounds, but according to promoter Mike Nicholson, nothing could be further from the truth. Nicholson describes the music for the festival, which runs Wednesday through Saturday, October 9-12 at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, as "sort of melodic rock."

"We're a billion miles away from Britney Spears and all that," he said. "So I've been trying to position it more of a rock festival, as opposed to a pop festival because I just want everyone to know that these are rock and roll bands who just happen to play a lot of good pop music."

This is the festival's third annual outing in the Triangle area.

"It was done the first year under the name The Shindig, and we did it in Raleigh," Nicholson recalled. "The radio station down here, G105 had something called the Big Shindig. I don't listen to the radio much, so I didn't really know about it. I was naming it after the old TV show, so about two days before the festival last year they called me up, saying "`What is this?' So I told them it was too late to change the name this year, but if I do it next year, I'll change the name."

Nicholson has the background to run a pop festival.

"I'm a musician" he discloses. "I play in a lot of different bands, and I like this music a lot. I used to play back in the '90s with Bullwinkle Ghandi that played around Greensboro, I still play with the X-Rayons which plays Greensboro, I used to play with the Doleful Lions who were on Parasol records, and I played with Rhonda Bailey, and about 40 other bands over 20-some years."

The promoter says he got the idea for a local pop festival from an event in L.A. called International Pop Overthrow, but that outing lasts for three weeks and Nicholson wanted to do something a bit more manageable. Last year's festival spanned three nights, but has expanded to four for this year's model.

Once word got around, Nicholson quickly discovered that there were more bands who were willing to play than there were slots. Roughly 75 bands had contacted Nicholson last year vying for 30 slots.

This year's lineup has 33 performers, some returning vets of previous Sparklefests. The Shazam returns once again to shake things up on Saturday night. The Tennessee-based band describes themselves as "hopelessly out of step with the times." Their beat is the '64 to '69 era, but the quartet doesn't limit itself to any one particular area or genre, staggering around in Southern rock pastures one moment and then stomping about in the British rock realm the next.

A part of Cockeyed Ghost has haunted Sparklefest for years. Ghost "visionary genius" Adam Marsland, has hosted past Sparklefests and played the slots between acts. This year he returns on Saturday with the band to put out a sound that has been described as "punky pop mixed with Beach Boys sweetness."

Also returning this year are Kenny Howes & the Yeah! A native of Florida, Howes re-creates British styled rock filtered through the rural vibes of his adopted home of Atlanta. Howes & the Yeah! also appear Saturday night. The music starts at 6 p.m.

The Grip Weeds return to headline Friday's show. The Weeds don't meet anybody's idea of a pop band, either, unless you have the nerve to lay that label on the Who. The Weeds have been compared to the earth-shaking wreckage that the early Who laid on unsuspecting listeners, but led by a woman who plays like Led Zep's Jimmy Page. But it's only the spirit, not the material of these early rockers that the band is covering -- the Weeds write their own stuff.

The Windbreakers is the duo of singer/guitarists Tim Lee and Bobby Sutliff. The Mississippi-based group plays a harder-edged sound than most pop bands, closer to Americana than straight-up pop. The Anderson Council is locked in a '60s British time warp, frozen in the styles of the Small Faces and the Who, driven dangerously by a Keith Moon styled percussionist. Both the Anderson Council and The Windbreakers are Friday night performers.

Winston- Salem's The Saving Graces aren't afraid to don the power pop mantle. The trio -- singer/guitarist Michael Slawter, bassist Drew Jenkins and drummer John Holoman -- play aggressive pop that has been called "sonically raw, but clean and authoritative." The SG's play on Thursday night.

Ex-Swamis' Holden Richards heads up a bill on Wednesday that also features Poprocket, Crash Into June, the Rachel Nevadas, Backbeat and Carl Peel.

For those still not clear on the concept, Nicholson promises that the focus of Sparklefest will be "song craft, vocal harmonies, good playing and good songs." Rocking is encouraged, but heavy metal gods and angst-ridden power chorders and twangophiles will just have to sit this one out.

October 9-12
Local 506 (506 W. Franklin St.)
Chapel Hill

Adam Marland will make his third appearance at Sparklefest this year.

Adam Marsland will make his third
appearance at Sparklefest this year.

Paula Kelly will play Local 506 Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
Paula Kelly will play Local 506
Saturday at 8:30 p.m.