Summer is a time for music festivals (QRO Festival Guide). Some people drive to the fairgrounds or a major park for a day, soaking in a few of their favorite acts. Some pack up a ton of camping gear and travel to the middle of nowhere, where their multiple day antics are the stuff of cutting rooms for documentaries. Nestled in an unassuming spot in the heart of Atlanta, some people come out to Wonderroot, a non-profit organization committed to creating a vibrant artistic community. As August rolled to a close, Nophest took over Wonderroot for a weekend, a unique music festival in that it holds the feel of good friends hanging out. Now in its third year, the Nophest Music Festival brought 30 interesting and lesser-known bands to the basement of Wonderroot for a weekend of music, cheap beer, and counterculture.
Nophest originally ran twice per year, once in the spring and once in the fall, but in 2009 it tapered back to one event per year. Last year, Nophest was a massive festival, spanning several venues and hosting over 50 acts. This year, the scaled back event still provided the same charm, albeit at a reduced scope. Economic factors came into play, as the cost of venues and bands can be prohibitive in these times. A major factor in reducing the size of the festival was logistics; managing a huge number of bands was a nightmare for organizer Randy Garcia (QRO interview) and friends, with their small crew of volunteers.
While Nophest holds no major headliner, it has become a staple of the Atlanta music community. The crowd stayed steady through the three days, and people came to expose themselves to the music. Jenn G., a communications strategist, was attending for the first time. "I had no idea what to expect," she said. "
" Most music festivals pull their crowds through star power; Nophest has become knows as a place where good music flows like the kegs of beer, and the crowds are less interested in the brand name appeal of the artists than the opportunity to discover something new. While this is some of the pure charm of the festival, the lack of star power likely had an impact on the overall attendance, especially on the final day.
The event started in the evening of Friday, August 28th, and ran all day Saturday and Sunday. Although the skies were gray and dull during Saturday and Sunday afternoon, people continued to trickle in and out. There were no blaring banners for sponsors, no tables offering cell phone freebies. There wasn’t even a large display for merchandise; bands simply pushed their wares after their sets. Nophest takes the music festival as far from commercialism as one possibly can; it is a place to hang out, to socialize, to engage in thought provoking conversation and meet old and new friends. The cheap beer was a great draw, and while there was a green room for bands, there was no food available for the general public.
The intimate basement setting held no pretension, and the most striking feature of the festival was the singular focus the audience kept on the music itself. Inside the basement venue, as act after act played, there was very little talking. People were completely absorbed by the music they were listening to. Andrea, an educator at the Atlanta Historical Center, saw a write-up on Nophest in a magazine and felt compelled to check it out. "
Nophest is about more than just the music. It is an expression of the independent music community’s commitment to the musicians on the scene. Founded by Randy Garcia, his intention was to present a festival that sprung from his roots in punk rock. Nophest was originally birthed from independent Nophi Recordings, and this year Garcia was proud to say that no artists from Nophi were playing. This festival is far beyond an opportunity for self-promotion for Garcia – it’s his vehicle for giving something back to his community.
The music itself passed the spectrum from afternoon ambient electronica to full on blaring rock ‘n’ roll at night. Each band that played had their own identity, their own image, and their own talent. There was not a dud in the bunch. Nophest is not musically genre based, and each passing hour continued to showcase electronic, rock, indie, and punk bands, all spanning the extensive and eclectic of Garcia, and the community at large. Friday night included the hard electronic and multimedia presentation of Larvae, and the experimental and lively Jungol. This Piano Plays Itself brought a lush, raw, and well arranged mix of rock and pop. Saturday was a very rock oriented, and the parking lot and stage area were jam packed for the full Renaissance regalia and steampunk sensibility of Extraordinary Contraption, and the blazing guitar and soulful vocals of Garcia’s own indie band Nerd Parade (QRO album review). By Sunday, the crowds were sparse, partly due to the endless rain, as well as the unrelenting hangovers. Halfway through the day, Sensitive Chaos summed up the mood perfectly, with a low-key set of electronics that massaged the brain, and soothed the heart. While the music played on, the other major event of Sunday was a large gathering of folks in the parking lot playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon, complete with notes and a map for quick reference.
Rather than high priced water or fancy foods, Nophest offered dollar beer, and according to one of the Wonderroot volunteers, all proceeds go to the band. Wonderroot is not an ordinary venue, and as a non-profit organization, has no need to have the event be profitable. It is the perfect statement for what lies at the heart of Nophest: It’s all about the music.