Phuzzphest 2013

When compiling a list of the top music destinations in the South East, Winston-Salem, North Carolina is probably not one of the first to come to mind. Despite being within spitting distance of some of the South’s hippest music spots, Winston-Salem has never established its own identity as an honest-to-god “scene.”
Phillip Pledger, of Winston-Salem based fuzz-pop band Estrangers, seeks to change that. He founded Phuzzphest in 2012 as a celebration of regional music, with a primary focus on North Carolinian artists (who make up about 75 percent of the lineup,) and more specifically, artists from Winston Salem’s burgeoning music scene.

The festivities where spread out between 4 of Winston-Salem’s premier music venues: SECCA (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art,) The Garage, Krankies Coffee, and Single Brothers. Luckily we were there to capture the action all weekend, and had a blast doing it! We got plenty of photos and even put together some pretty words for some of our favorite sets. Enjoy!

Judy Barnes

Photo by Dylan Newcity

Despite a less than pleasant drive to Winston-Salem through sleet and snow (in April? Really? What the hell North Carolina weather..) I was very ready to begin my Phuzzphest adventure. Judy Barnes kicked the phestival off with a set of intimate ballads sung in her distinct operatic tone. These beautiful arias turned out to be more uplifting than one would initially imagine; the playful energy of Barnes and her backing band made even a song prefaced with “This song is about regret,” give off massive good vibes. It may sound like a misreading of the lovely Ms. Barnes’ songs to say that even the sad ones made me feel good, but it’s really a testament to the power of a performer’s attitude and the way they carry themselves on stage. Even mishaps and musical fumbles were laughed off and explained to the crowd; “That one went on a little longer than usual, but I’m sure you loved every second of it.” Judy Barnes wouldn’t be everyone’s ideal phestival opener, but her friendly demeanor and great stage presence made her an absolute joy to watch and an awesome start to the weekend. 

William Tyler
Photo by Agatha Donkar

With all of the extraordinary talent coming out of Nashville these days it might seem easy to overlook someone like William Tyler. Given only a cursory glance he may appear to be just another kid with a guitar, but after a few minutes basking in his beautiful fretwork you’ll realize how special he is. The young axeman established himself playing alongside Lambchop, the Silver Jews and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, but is now touring behind his second full-length under his own name, Impossible  Truth. Tyler’s instrumental excursions are based upon his fleet-fingered, impressionistic guitar work that blends country, folk, rock and Eastern music. Inspired by his time traveling on trains through the Middle East, “The Geography of Nowhere” evoked images of sun-baked deserts, endless sand dunes, and camel caravans. “A Portrait of Sarah” represented another side of Tyler’s songwriting; a sweet acoustic guitar piece that ebbs and flows like the plot of a good book. William Tyler’s dynamic blend of acoustic folk and exotic, textural guitar is fantastically entertaining to watch unfold on stage. 

Hiss Golden Messenger 

Photo by Agatha Donkar

It takes something truly spectacular to hush a barroom full of half-drunk concert goers, and after Michael Taylor (AKA Hiss Golden Messenger) opened his mouth for the acapella opener of his Friday afternoon set at The Garage, the noisy club became library-level quiet. If that isn’t testament enough to Taylor’s incredible talent, just go listen to his new record, Haw, and be dazzled by his poignant songwriting and masterful alt-country arrangements. Alone on stage and armed only with an acoustic guitar and his grizzled voice, Taylor conjured images of tilled soil and the calloused hands of a working man, who after a long day on the job wants nothing more than a cold beer and comfy chair. Who can’t relate to that?


Photo by Agatha Donkar

Winston-Salem’s Estrangers got the second half of Friday night off the ground with a unique amalgam of surfy indie-pop, which had me dancing like a tipsy high school kid all night long. Each reverb-soaked guitar hook was perfectly balanced by the tight drumming and strong keyboard work, with each instrument taking up just enough space in the mix. The band’s frontman, Phillip Pledger, is the founder of Phuzzphest, and received a well-deserved round of applause for his tireless work putting together this great phestival.  He did a really amazing thing, but don’t let it overshadow how awesome Estrangers are. Seriously, go download their new single and see them live. Once their music gets stuck in your head, it doesn’t get unstuck for a while.

Lost In the Trees

Photo by Dylan Newcity

Ok. Wow. I don’t even know where to start. I guess some backstory might be appropriate: Chapel Hill, NC based orchestral folk band Lost In the Trees has made quite a name for themselves over the past few years. Their sophomore release, All Alone In An Empty House, established the band as regional heavyweights, but it was 2012’s A Church That Fits Our Needs that caused them to breakthrough more on the national and international levels.

Now, after a busy year of touring and promotion behind their last release, the band has taken a complete left turn into Radiohead-ville. The once prominent string section is now absent, and the addition of a second guitarist has freed up frontman Ari Picker to focus on just singing on some tunes. The band is also utilizing visual projections in their new live show, which they were debuting that night at Phuzzphest. The set was comprised entirely of new songs, almost all of which were being played live for the first time. The new material is quite a departure from the band’s old sound, with a very pronounced rhythm section, more guitar-oriented songs, and an atmospheric, slightly heavier tonality overall.

For me, Lost In The Trees’ set was the surprise highlight of the phestival. I stayed late into the night at Krankies on Friday to enjoy some familiar favorites, but instead I got to witness a significant moment in the evolution of a fantastic local band.

Some Army, photo by Agatha Donkar 

The Mark Tobeys, photo by Agatha Donkar 

Cheap Time, photo by Agatha Donkar

Photo by Agatha Donkar

Elim Bolt, photo by Agatha Donkar

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