A love story resurrects an underground rock 'n' roll fest | Music Feature | Indy Week
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A love story resurrects an underground rock 'n' roll fest 

Managing the party: Josh Johnson

File photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Managing the party: Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson admits he was ready to give up.

In late 2013, Johnson flew from Los Angeles, where he'd been living, to North Carolina, where he'd been raised, to record another album with garage-rock reactionaries Paint Fumes. When he landed, he had a message from his wife back in California, saying she wanted a divorce. The sessions with the band didn't go well, and neither did a subsequent tour. He spent the last night of the trek in jail after being found asleep in a car's passenger seat while clutching a half-empty beer can.

Why had he flown home?

"I was planning on moving to New Orleans and drinking myself to death," Johnson says. "I didn't have anything else going on in my life."

Back in Greensboro, though, he met Lindsey Sprague, the frontwoman of Daddy Issues. He stayed. They started dating, rented a house together and even formed a new band called Wahya's. Johnson began playing more shows again and, his interest in live music revived, decided to resurrect Blackbeard's Lost Weekender, the small bacchanalian festival he'd created when he played with deranged Chapel Hill bruisers The Spinns. He discontinued it after a disappointing 2007 run. But now the festival is three times the size it's ever been, with a few-dozen acts coming from all corners of the east coast and even Canada. The Spinns will reunite to play it, making the sixth Blackbeard's both a nod to crazy old times and an acknowledgement, Johnson hopes, of better times to come.

"It's been a wild year and a half," he says. "But I walked into something good."

INDY: Five years seems like a good run for a festival. Why resurrect Blackbeard's for the sixth edition after such a long break?

JOSH JOHNSON: I didn't know I would do anything like this again. I thought it was one of those things that fizzled out, like an old band that you still talk about. But I was laying in the bed, and I had this moment: "I'm going to do this." I leaned over, picked up a notebook and knew I could get this band, these guys, those people. Lindsey said, "You should really do it." I wasn't doing anything creative. I wasn't playing in Paint Fumes, and I felt like I was in limbo. I did it, and I feel pretty good. It's bigger than I ever imagined it could get.

It is much bigger, with more than 40 acts. That's a lot for one person to handle, financially and logistically. Does it help that your own bands have played with most of these people at some point?

There are a couple of bands I've never met, but other than that, I pretty much know everybody or have played with them or have seen them in some form before. My repertoire of friendships goes hand-in-hand with this. If I were some kid that these bands had never met and was saying "Hey, come play," they would probably say, "Why would we go do that without any guarantee?" But I know these guys and gals, and they know the situation. They want to have a good time and get out of their town for a weekend.

Everybody seems to be pretty good about the money. They're not making a lot, but I know they'll be taken care of for gas to get to the next place. I'm going to see how it goes at the end of every night and divvy it all up; if you're coming the furthest, you're going to get the most. A lot of these bands are friends with each other as it is, because it's a community of people who know each other. Bands are teaming up to come down from New York, doing little tours and making a cool weekend out of it.

Aside from the growth, was it important for you to reimagine any part of the festival?

There's a new diversity of music. There are two guys from Charlotte, c.W.o, and they're really great hip-hop. I'm trying to get it all over the board this year, so that everybody has a good, different sound. I don't want it to be your typical rock 'n' roll fest where it's a bunch of dudes sweating on each other in a moshpit and getting drunk and talking about the old days. It's going to be new, different, exciting. I like the direction I went in this year, so it's not your typical Blackbeard's, where everybody is doing blow and getting drunk and staying up all night. People are going to like the change.

What inspired it?

It comes from me getting older and settling down a little more, not being such a wild maniac. Taking time off from music and looking back at things and seeing a whole different approach helped. I feel like I'm slowly growing up a little bit. We did one Blackbeard's after The Spinns broke up, and it ended up not doing so well. That last one I did, I don't even remember it. I think I enjoyed it, but I don't know. I was partying too much at that point in my life. Who knows what I was going through mentally.

Since the last Blackbeard's, much larger music festivals have come to the Triangle—Hopscotch, The Art of Cool, talk of Moogfest. But this seems more like the clear expression of one person's sensibilities, yours, rather than something designed to recruit sponsors and sell tickets.

This is a little more unique than those, because it is focusing on the underground. Those other ones are real fun, but they want to be like a big underground thing. But they care more about the big picture than I do. This is a laidback reunion, and everyone is invited. A lot of people like to play those festivals to put it on their résumés, like they care more about that than their music, the reason they were wanting to do this.

In that way, Blackbeard's seems like a cookout as much as a concert.

Absolutely. If I lived on a big, huge farm, I would do this every year and have everyone stay at the house. Come down. We'll party. We'll eat a bunch of barbecue. Everybody bring their kids. Everybody hang out. Put up a tent. Build a shack. One day.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Roll the stone away."


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