It would appear that amongst the many names I get lovingly and not-so-lovingly referred to as, the ether has added “fest guy” to the list. Have a fest to promote or chat up and I’ve become yer go-to-man. Not that I have a problem with this, jus’ sayin’ is all so you’re not surprised and/or disappointed in the coming weeks (hint, hint). So, with my new title and crown in place, I got put in touch with David Rodgers, one of the three principles responsible for Tucson, AZ’s Southwest Terror Fest. In its second year, SWTF has doubled in size and length (it’s like the state’s musical Viagra!) from two days to four and features more signed and touring acts like Kylesa, Red Fang, Helms Alee, Pinkish Black and SubRosa to go along with their focus on bands hailing from the bottom left part of our continent. The fest kicks off one week from today and if I already didn’t have prior engagements, you’d better believe I’d be there. David hit me up while on a hiking/camping vacation somewhere near, or maybe even in (!), the Grand Canyon to let me in on what life has been like as a relatively newbie fest organiser and promoter.
What are the origins of the Southwest Terror Fest?
We used to have L.A. Murderfest out here and it’s been gone for a couple years – I know he’s trying to bring it back – but a bunch of us were sitting around at a show one time saying, “Man there’s no festivals out here any more.” The closest one is Chaos in Tejas over in Austin, but that’s still a long way from here. We just said, “Should we be the idiots to pull the trigger and do this?” We were drunk, so it sounded like a good idea at the time.
So, after you sobered up…[laughter]…what sort of experience did you bring to doing this?
I book shows and regional tours for bands around the southwest, so I have some experience with shows, so does Ryan from Pigeon Wing and Dave Carroll from Diseased Reason – it’s the three of us who do a lot of the work for it. I mean, other than booking shows on that level, we didn’t really have any experience. We just looked around at what other people have done, like MDF, FunFunFun Fest, Chaos in Tejas and it was like, well, if we can kind of do something close to that, we should be able to make it work. None of us are idiots; I run my own business aside from playing in a band, so we all have pretty good minds and pretty good business sense among the three of us. So, we just took a swing at it.
What have the differences been in doing a fest versus shows/tours?
It’s just ten times the amount of work. Getting bands to come to Tucson, unless they’re already touring through, is difficult. You have to convince a few people that, yes, people will come out to this and it will be worth it. Tucson is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, almost down to Mexico, so we went through quite a few bands trying to get four headliners for four days as opposed to two for two days last year. I probably went through two-dozen bands who said, “Yeah, we’ll do it,” but for some reason something came up and they couldn’t do it and I had to move on. It’s stressful because you think you have a band locked in and they get offered a tour on the east coast, and it’s like ‘Sorry, tour’s more important.’ And you can’t really blame them; I’m in a band, I know how it goes, but it’s a lot more work.
What did you learn from the first year of the fest that you applied to this year?
We just tried to expand outward a little bit. We had a couple bands from the east coast last year and most everybody else was from California or Arizona. This year we added the two days. We were lucky to get two tours coming through; that’s how we got Kylesa on Thursday and the Red Fang on package on Saturday. Once we expanded our reach outward past the southwest, a lot more fell into line for us and we’ve already got plans for next year and two years down the line. The one good thing is that the more people hear about us, more bands are starting come to us asking about playing.
I’m assuming that the venue is a friendly place and host, but have you had problems with the locals? I mentioned this because I had a friend put on a fest in the city I live in a few weeks and ago and the city did nothing but give him a hard time [Read all about it]. Also, there’s an upside-down cross on the flyers, which I don’t have a problem with, but you live in America…
[Laughter] I’m in Arizona, and I don’t know if you’ve heard about us, but it’s a touch conservative in this state. The venue, The Rock, is luckily one I work with all the time and a lot of tours that come through Tucson get booked there. It’s a regular joint for bands coming through town. Luckily, I’ve known the guys who run the place for a long time. My wife went to school with the general manager of the place, so we have a really good working agreement. They pretty much let us have the run of the place for the weekend. As long as things don’t get crazy outside the venue, the city stays out of our business, which is good. The only problem is that if the fest gets any bigger, we’ve talked about getting an outside stage and at that point we’ll have to get the city involved and that’s the part we’re worried about. It’ll be the same thing as your friend’s fest; they’ll take a look at the papers initially and be like, “Cool.” Then, somewhere down the line someone will take a deeper look at it and be like, “No, we’re not having this in our city.” Stuff like that happens all the time. Other than that, The Rock is good place; they’re real friendly to bands and take care of them. Some of the punk guys in town have a problem with them because back in the day we had a couple of those pay-to-play promoters and sometimes people have a hard time differentiating between a venue and a promoter, so there are a few angry souls out there, but for the most part tons of bands have played there. I’ve seen Neurosis, Eyehategod who played to like four people back in the day. It was amazing!
Well, they may not have thought it was that amazing [laughter].
No, they weren’t real happy about it at all, but it was an amazing show for the people who were there.
I notice you have a bunch of sponsors. How does sponsorship relate to your fest?
We try to keep the sponsors local, which most of them are. There’s a local tattoo shop, Lindy’s on 4th, which is a world famous burger place that’s been on Man vs. Food and whatnot, and then we have some bigger companies, but I kept them within the music business. Like Lace pickups is sponsoring it and I know they’re legit dudes because I’m an endorser for them so they’re easy to work with. I’m not necessarily a big fan of that whole Scion thing and I’m not entirely sure what cars have to do with punk and metal, but luckily we have a lot of local people that have been more than happy to chip in money and mainly what that money goes towards is to pay for advertising and to pay for all the hotel rooms for the touring bands as we’re putting up 10-15 bands every night at the fest.
How big is The Rock?
It holds 650. The cap will be brought down a little – to about 500 – because with so many bands each day there are going to be 100 musicians or more in the building. Last year I think we filled up half the place. This year we’re thinking we might sell out Friday and Saturday. Thursday and Sunday area little tougher, but they’re also a little smaller shows. We’re hoping Friday and Saturday sell out so we can push it a little more next year and put more money into it and eventually sell out all four days, then go to the city and go, “Look, we’re selling out four nights, we’re bringing this amount of dollars to the city, can you let us block off a street and put up and outdoor stage that runs between 6 and 11 or something?”
As far as Southwest Terror Fest goes, what would you say the fest does differently when compared to others?
We push a little more towards regionalism. We’re not trying to be a huge national fest, even though we have national bands on it. I also have a lot of bands from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California. All the rest of the year when we go on tour, these are the people we’re playing with in other cities. When my band, Godhunter goes to Vegas, we play with Demon Lung. It kind of made sense to not only bring in some nationals, but do something to incorporate the region and get a little more friendship going on between bands because people are just so disconnected and music is just as bad as every other part of society. I’m sure you know how it is; before the internet, your region was your scene and I think we’ve lost some of that. Bands from California should know who the bands from Arizona are and have them as contacts.
How long do you work on putting the fest together?
We kick around ideas from about November to the time of MDF and usually when my wife and I get home from MDF is when we start kicking into high gear. I’ll usually find a couple people at MDF and drop the idea of our fest in their ears. So, pretty much from June on is when we start nailing bands down and making announcements. I think we announced our first bands in July this year because we had a couple early ones locked down like Landmine Marathon and Transient that we knew for sure were going to play. From there, it’s a process of announcing confirmed bands while I’m getting other ones confirmed. Sunday was a rough one this year because we had a list of bands that would be confirmed, then unconfirmed, and it took me right up until the last minute and I knew Early Graves would do it if I asked them.
As I’ve been doing more and more of these fest previews, I always end up asking this: who would be on your booking bucket list?
We’ve said right from the beginning, myself and Dave and Larry Horvath who’s also been pretty integral, the three of us had a goal that in 5-10 years we would get Tragedy on one night, Bolt Thrower the next night and neurosis on the third night as headliners. If we did that, there’s pretty much nothing else we could do after that. What do you do, unless you’re bringing in Iron Maiden or King Diamond? For me, personally, that’s the glass ceiling.
And check out Dave’s band while you’re at it.