Phuzz Phest began as a mistake. In 2011, Philip Pledger, who was booking frequent shows at the Winston-Salem cool-kid hub Krankies Coffee, and another booking agent accidentally scheduled four shows on four consecutive days. He wondered how they might ever pay for it.
"From a promotional aspect, it's a really big nightmare," he says. They fished for a marketing pitch. "'Let's call it a festival.' If we frame it that way, maybe people will be more likely to show up."
They stuck with it, and this year marks the festival's fourth and a major shift in their ambitions. Instead of the usual smattering of regional acts, Phuzz Phest will include several high-profile national bands, likely to draw crowds from outside the Triad. There's Kool Keith, the veteran surrealistic rapper and self-proclaimed inventor of "horrorcore"; White Fence, a psychedelic rock group with ties to Ty Segall; and No Age, a charging-and-charming Sub Pop duo that recently traded their straightforward rock for something a bit more indirect. Krankies expands to use six venues this year, too.
And, of course, there's the contingent of North Carolinians, crawling from the woodwork of every genre and city: ASG imports Wilmington metal, while Whatever Brains supply psychotic rock from Raleigh. Pledger's own band, Estrangers, add homegrown pop.
"Being able to bring in bands like No Age and White Fence and Jessica Lea Mayfield, it shows people that it's not just a thrown-together local music thing," Pledger says. "It gets people energized to see that it's the real deal."
Making the leap from the festival's improvised origins to "real deal" status required more funding. Texas Pete, the Winston-Salem-based hot sauce company, signed on as a sponsor, alongside Pabst Blue Ribbon, Hanes, the city's arts council and a bevy of small local businesses. Pledger has used the funds to add a coffee conference and bike race, too.
"It's grown to be more of a festival instead of just a few bands playing," says Krankies' manager Gaby Cardall.
From its inception to present, Phuzz has been a one-man operation working on a slim margin. Though Pledger relies on a team of volunteers, the responsibilities of booking, fundraising and management fall to him. But can a festival organized by one guy in a town more renowned for its tobacco than its music continue to grow, or even survive?
"I can see it becoming something where I put a lot of my energy, and it's worth it, and it becomes my job," he says. "Or I can see doing it this year and maybe next year and it being a great experience, but then not being able to continue because of financial needs."
Justin Holm, guitarist and vocalist of Winston-Salem transplants Iyez, echoes a similarly measured optimism for Phuzz Phest. His band is now based in Brooklyn, but he confirms that more people are learning about the city scene because of Pledger's work: "This is going to help put Winston on the map, musically, a little bit more so," he says.
The thumbprint of Phuzz Phest, or what differentiates it from other area festivals, is its sense of defiance, or a hopefulness that trusts Winston-Salem can have a vibrant, legitimate music scene, like the bigger cities to the east and west.
"People don't know that much about music from Winston or bands from Winston once you get away from there," Holm says. "It'll help encourage the musicians in and around Winston to keep doing what they're doing."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Survive or advance"along with UNC's ConvergeNC tests Southern boundaries.