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Interview with Tony Weinbender, Fest organizer and No Idea Records publicist

In Journalism, Music on May 27, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Interview with Tony Weinbender, publicist for No Idea Records and Fest organizer

Tony Weinbender

Festival veteran Tony Weinbender, 34, has been going to music festivals for almost 20 years and running them for about 15. Here, Weinbender provides some history, tips and great stories from his experiences with live music.

Tony: Well I mean, the only festivals—I’m 34. So in the 90s, I went to Lollapalooza like the early Lollapaloozas before it became like one like just standard festival when it was like a touring festival. And then I went to Warped Tours like 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, like all the early ones of theirs. Um. And then I’ve put on a music festival for like three years in college called MACRoCk in Virginia. And then I moved here and I put on like the last eight Fests. And helped out with the last two Harvest of Hope festivals. So I mean, I’ve been going to festivals since I could drive. Since I was 16.

Britt: How did you transition from going to festivals to running festivals?

T: When I was in college, I was part of the college radio station and we went to the CMJ which is the college music festival in New York. That was like my second year of college or something. And we all came back from that festival kind of disillusioned kind of like “This sucks.” None of the bands we really liked were playing. So we just tried to do our own. So we got a committee together and started trying to do our own festival. MACRoCk [Mid Atlantic College Radio Conference] still exists. They just had one this past April. We kind of just went for it and did it. We didn’t have a budget for it or anything. We just did house shows and tried to raise money throughout the year and invited our friends that we knew and bands that we liked and people played. It was really small the first year but it ended up growing to be a substantial—you know, it was more of a multiple venue and panel workshops and discussions and stuff like that. It was geared toward college radio kids.

B: How much money do you need to start a basic festival?

T: Not a lot. Just a couple grand is what we raised up a year. Most of it was just based on asking bands that were cool and stuff and being like “Look, if we make money, we’ll give you money.” It was a different time period back then. Like the late ‘90s, you know. So it was different. And you know. Then I moved here in 2000. And I think it was 2001, I did the first Fest here in Gainesville.

B: How did you get involved with No Idea Records and what’s your official title?

T: Well, I’m No Idea’s publicist. And I’ve just known the people who work at No Idea from when I lived in Virgina in the 90s and was touring in bands and stuff. And then, after Against Me! left No Idea and went on to Fat Wreck Chords, they kind of realized that they needed somebody to help them promote their material, and they just approached me and asked me to come work for them. And I’ve been doing that I think since 2002.

B: Was the first Fest always associated with No Idea Records?

T: No. The first one really wasn’t. We had some No Idea bands play, but it wasn’t an official sponsor or anything like that. We didn’t have any official sponsors. We just did it.

B: So that was your baby here in Gainesville?

T: Yeah. Essentially I was just hanging out with some friends and they were like “Hey man, you should try to do what you did up in Mac Rock down here. It’d be fun.” And I was like, “Okay. Let’s try to do it then.” So I just pulled some friends and asked some venues in town and asked a bunch of bands I was friends with to come to Gainesville and play. The first one was really small. We only had 60 bands play in like two days.

B: How big is it now?

T: Last year, I think we had 300 and twenty-some bands play in three days and we had 11 venues I think. It’s definitely grown.

B: On the practical end, as a festival veteran, how do you deal with the heat of the summer?

T: Well, I mean I tend to not go to the big Bonnaroos and Langerados and things like that because one, they’re just a lot of money and two, they’re mainly big, giant bands, and I don’t want to be in a field with like thousands and thousands of people really far away watching them on a jumbotron screen anyway. And, I’m not into the whole taking a bunch of drugs and sitting in a field with a bunch of people. It’s kind of weird.

I usually go to—I just came back from a festival in Wilmington, N.C. that was basically almost, you know, a good chunk of the bands that played our Fest here. And it was a good, multiple venue, walk-around-town in Wilmington. And I think it was $20 for the whole weekend.

They had almost 100 bands play. It was really cool and Wilmington is a great little town, so you just walk from venue to venue. I kind of like that—more that vibe because, you know, just you’re in an environment where I can walk up to a bar and buy beer. I can watch bands. And I can choose my own adventure, too. If I don’t want to see this band, I can leave and go somewhere else. Or I can leave and go get food. Whereas an outside festival where you’re camping, you’re stuck there, you know?

I went to that and the only other festival I was planning on going to, which I just booked my flight today for, is up in Richmond, Virgina. They’ve been doing a festival called Best Friends Day. And they do that—this is their ninth year doing it. And it’s a lot of the same bands that play Fest, but the way they do it is they only do one show a day. And each show is at a different location. And they also have a big, giant scavenger hunt in Richmond for the weekend. And then one of the shows at this big, giant, man-made, weird water park thing, which is kind of fun. And that definitely beats the heat. You can go see a show and also go down a giant rope swing and also go down a water slide. They’re just finishing booking it now. It’s a lot smaller. But it’s a lot cooler because you don’t have to rush around and go from show to show. It’s the weekend of the 20th and it’s four days in August.

But I also want to go up to, I’ve been researching—I haven’t been since I was a kind—but in North Carolina and Virginia and stuff like that there’s always a bunch of bluegrass festivals. They’re kind of outside, and you just chill in lawn chairs and watch some amazing bluegrass musicians. So looking into a couple of those, and maybe just driving up to North Carolina and going to some of those.

B: How young is too young for a festival?

T: It depends on the festival. I mean we did Harvest of Hope this year and there was a bunch of parents that brought their kids and stuff, and I think depending on the festival, depending on what the age group should be there. I would be kind of weirded out if there was a bunch of kids hanging out with us at Best Friends Day up in Richmond but I think definitely an outside thing like you were talking about next weekend [Florida Folk Festival], it should be a family affair.

B: What if it’s clearly something like Best Friends Day or Warped Tour?

T: Well, I mean like Fest, like what we do here, you can’t bring a family because of the venues. So I mean, there’s only a few venues they are 18 and up, so if you’re under 18, there’s really not much you can do.

I think it’s really just look at it for what it is and judge it upon if you feel comfortable, you should bring your children to this thing.

B: What’s the best party night at a festival?

The nights that I can stay up late enough to hang out…That’s really it. The festivals I go to, there’s always after stuff going on. I mean, it goes with every festival. There’s people that just don’t want to go to sleep and still want to play music and stuff. I mean, I think they’re all crazy party nights. I think usually the first night everybody goes big and then the last night everybody goes big.

But yeah, I usually can’t because all day drinking for me I usually just fall out by like the end. I just want to go to sleep.

I just made a pact not to drink liquor this year at Rad Fest [in Wilmington], but still it’s brutal.

B: Do you have a vital thing that you recommend people bring with them?

T: I mean, I think, I’m not sure if these festivals let them do it or not, but I think an empty water container is the best thing you could possibly bring. And sunblock. I mean, you’re out in the heat all day. A hat always helps too. I mean those are just things that are just common sense, like I said, being out in the sun.

B: What should people leave at home?

T: Dogs. Don’t bring your animals. They don’t like music. They don’t want to hear it. It bugs me out so much when I’m at a festival and somebody’s just got a dog with them. It’s like, you don’t need to bring your dog man. They’re very confused. They’re just bummed out.

B: What’s a good festival food?

T: I always tend when I go to festivals to eat multiple meals but small meals. Because it’s just outside. And try not to eat anything hairy because nine times out of 10 if you’re at an outside festival, all you got is port-o-potties. And you don’t want to be having to blow up a bathroom.

But on the way, I’m a big foodie guy. So when we went to Wilmington, I researched all these restaurants and when we were there, I was like, “Look, these are the top five places I want to eat at while I’m here.”

Go ahead and research, but on the way, especially driving, especially like Tennesee and stuff there’s got to be some awesome little dives here and there that you can go visit, you know.

B: If you’re walking around do you have a favorite energy bar or trail mix?

T: They’re not really energy bars but raw almonds. They’re really high in energy and really high in protein. And I tend to eat that when I’m running the Fest here. I’m on my feet all day and running around and I just don’t have time to go sit in a restaurant and eat.

Just raw almonds. Go to the bulk foods store or Mother Earth and just buy raw almonds. Not the salted almonds. Just raw, plain almonds. Because if you buy the salted ones, it’s just going to make you thirsty. They’re delicious.

B: Would you recommend that people bring bags?

T: I think it’s just up to if you can bring it into a festival. I mean it depends on—backpacks, fanny packs, something like that’s good for holding your sunblock. I think, if it’s definitely an outside festival, sunblock, hat, maybe a hankerchief or something, probably be a pretty good idea.

B: Have you noticed security is tighter as far as people not being allowed to bring bags in?

T: I mean, not at the festivals I attend, usually it isn’t. But I’m not sure. You know, I’ve worked Harvest of Hope and I’ve worked those festivals, so I don’t really—I always have a bag on me. So I don’t really know what the normal attendee has to do. I’m pretty sure you can bring bags into most festivals. They’re just going to search them.

Just plan ahead. Don’t show up assuming things. Go ahead and research what you’re getting into. The internet exists.

B: What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen at a festival?

T: (Laughing). Oh God. Many a story on that one. At RADFEST this past weekend I definitely saw a person dressed in a total white pony outfit.

At Harvest of Hope two years ago, we saw just some naked baby wandering around all dirty and shit. We had to call security and be like, “Hey, um, did somebody leave their baby somewhere? Trying to find its parents?” So, that was kind of sad funny.

I don’t know. I mean, I’ve definitely seen a lot of goofbally shit. I’ve definitely seen those people with those crystal orbs out of their gourd.

I went to a Reading and Leeds Festival one year when I was in Europe, and I definitely saw a guy passed out with his eyes open staring up a ferris wheel. We thought he was dead, but he was totally breathing. Always something, really weird. Loving it, I guess, I don’t know.

I saw another guy at that same Reading and Leeds Festival. I saw a guy—it was one of the shows underneath a circus tent—I saw a guy climb the middle pole of the circus tent all the way to the top and, for like a good hour, had security trying to pull him down, and you’re just reaching, shaking the pole and then the whole tent collapsed. On like a couple thousand person crowd.

B: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?

T: I had Big Day Out in Australia, I had a, um, which is like their big, giant festival, like we would say Bonaroo here or something, but it’s been going on over there. I saw, there was this band from Australia called Frenzal Rhomb. They’re on Fat Wreck Chords. They’re like an Australian name. They’re like a big huge punk band in Australia, and the singer and the drummer have their own TV show in Australia and stuff. They’re a big deal.

The drummer is maybe 5’5”, smaller dude. And he came from behind the drum set and ran across the stage and tried to stage dive out into the crowd, but there was a good 20, 25 feet between the stage and the barricade where the crowd was.

And he jumped out and landed right on his midsection, right on the barricade. And that was definitely like a “holy shit.” He jumped out and we’re like “Holy shit!” and he landed right on the ground and he popped back up and waved to the crowd. Then he turned and looked at us and you could just see the pain in his eyes. That was pretty “holy shit.”

He bruised up several ribs. Yeah.

I’m trying t think. I’ve done many tours for many festivals, so I’ve definitely seen some wild, wild shit.

I was touring with Less Than Jake in Europe and I saw them get about 50,000 people to do the biggest circle pit, where everyone runs in a circle, I’ve ever seen flying around the sound booth. But they did it like clockwise, around the sound booth, and it looked like this big, giant typhoon.

That was pretty crazy. (Laughing) You go to festivals, you’re going to see crazy stuff all the time. But I’ve never seen any big fights or brawls or anything weird like that. I’ve definitely seen a lot of people just off their rockers on drugs. Being naked running around and weird shit like that.

Oh, last year at Harvest of Hope, I definitely, here’s a good one. We were all on Stage 4, my buddy John and I, we were working at, we had these baseball carts, they call them “mules.” They’re like supped up golf carts, so you can tow stuff around. We parked over at Stage 4, and walked in to watch a band play, and when we came out to go into our mule, there was definitely two people just naked in the back of our mule just doing it.

Because we parked over in the darkness, and they just crawled over there and started yeah, while the show was going on.

It was kind of funny because we were like, “Excuse me, we need to use this.” Then we just started it up, and they were like, “Oh, oh, sorry man,” and got out.

Apparently, last year, at Harvest of Hope 2, there was a girl who broke her arm doing it. The EMTs had to come over to save her, but the whole little circle of tents, they were all being, like, really loud, all kind of doing it.

The EMTs had to holler out, “Everybody stop fucking. We need to find this girl who is hurt.”

Yeah, there are endless stories.

B: Do you have any other advice?

T: I think the best thing to do to go to the festivals is go to something you know you’re going to enjoy. You know, get some info about it. Plan ahead. Respect everyone.

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