Whee! Fest using electronica to feed the hungry and bring people together
Just outside Western Carolina University, the sounds and vibrations of the underground music scene could be heard and felt in the hills just off of Monteith Gap Road in Cullowhee last Saturday.
Equipped with tents, hula hoops, glow sticks, frisbees, canned goods and ... beer ... hundreds of young people marched their way to a counter cultural celebration of sorts.
The spectacle was all part of Whee! Fest, a daylong outdoor music and arts festival organized by local electronic musician Ian Brown, the event was put together to provide alternative music for folks of all ages and to raise canned good donations for the Sylva-based hunger relief agency The Community Table.
Enter the Garden
On Friday, dozens of young people from across the region and nearby WCU students shuffled in and set up camp at Avant Garden, the site of the festival, awaiting the 12 hours of indie rock, reggae, and electronic musical performances scheduled for the following day.
As campers settled in and the sun set, vendors set up their stands while intermittent acoustic guitars segued those present into Saturday.
From 11 a.m. on Saturday to around midnight, musicians from near and far came to the event to play before more than 300 people from all walks of life. Among the Bob Marley flags, the hula hoop girls, Nag Champa incensed air and the ever-present glow sticks bobbing throughout the field of the event, people and families of all ages celebrated the festival.
The event was unlike Bonnaroo, Burningman, Coachella or any other standard hippie festival because of its small size and lack of commercialization — largely due to the small amount of local vendors and the charity drive present at the organic farm. In fact, even without any kind of county or community grants to help promote the event, Brown and the rest of Whee! Fest volunteers were able to collect 389 total cans of food for The Community Table.
The underground music-infused generosity had many at the farm feeling good about the event.
“This party had a purpose for positive impact,” said Asheville resident Caitlin Vance, 23. “They could have just thrown a big party and not had any purpose, but the fact that Ian decided to use this as an opportunity to help the community is awesome and says a lot about the EDM [Electronic Dance Music] scene in Cullowhee. They’re good people doing good things in a responsible fashion, not just a bunch of kids partying mindlessly in the woods.”
Barret Bonkoski, from Valparaiso, Indiana, said the event had something to prove. “This is a good gathering and a great way for people to meet and to support those in need,” he said. Bonkoski has been a resident of Cullowhee for four years, but admitted in that amount of time he had never seen such an event in the public.
Whee! Fest charmed newcomers as well.
“It’s really cool and different,” said Marc Priest. Priest, 29, who recently moved to Cullowhee from Idaho Springs, Colorado. “I brought some visitors from back home to see Cullowhee and North Carolina and I am glad I was able to bring them.”
Club music, Earthen dance floor
Not only was the beneficence at the festival an achievement, but the music was too. According to many at the event, hearing musical genres like Dub Step, House or Reggae in an area of Western North Carolina other than Asheville was a pleasant surprise.
“It’s kind of weird. You only see this sort of thing in Asheville,” Bonkoski laughed.
“There is a very creative community here,” said Whee! Fest musician Preston Jacobsen (a.k.a. DJ Story) after his set. Jacobsen, a Progressive House DJ for more than a decade, came to play the event from Asheville.“It’s great to play here. The college is a good link to the community and they are a great sounding board. I can generate a big response out of these kids,” he said.
For Xzavier Taylor (a.k.a. ST!GMA), performing at the event was a new experience– one that he would like to have again. Taylor, a local Dethstep performer who began in Dutch house and electro remixes, has been practicing for three and a half years.
“Whee! Fest was great, it was the first family event I ever played as well as a daytime slot,” said Taylor. “It was nice to see such a wide age group enjoying my music. The atmosphere was amazing, everyone came out for a good cause instead of coming for the sake of getting drunk and listening to good music.”
Another Whee Fest!?
According to Brown, volunteers and other Whee! Fest promoters are already planning to hold another festival.
“It will not be for another six months, perhaps even a full year,” said Brown. “We will definitely be opening each season at Avant Garden with an event of this size, but we are hoping for bi-annual.”
Brown said that he and other organizers are working on other smaller events, as well as free events, to showcase new artists. Both events, he added, would be similar to Whee! Fest and would also aim to raise canned donations for The Community Table.
All in all, Brown said the event was a success. “This was our first event of this magnitude and we raised 389 cans of food to donate. While we did not turn a significant profit whatsoever, the intention behind the event was fulfilled and not only were all our artists and venue were paid but we were blessed with a ton of publicity and some very positive reactions.”