The legend of Spazz Fest

Photos by Joe Pellegrino/Mixer<br />Future Islands performs at Spazz Fest IV in 2013. Some members of the band will return to Spazz Fest VII this year to play as the band The Snails.
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Photos by Joe Pellegrino/Mixer
Future Islands performs at Spazz Fest IV in 2013. Some members of the band will return to Spazz Fest VII this year to play as the band The Snails.

By Rebekah Todd

Once upon a time there was a handful of young artists who felt the need to take the art and music scene of Greenville into their own hands. With a lack of support from the townsfolk, this small group of people began putting on shows for the underground, hosting music in their homes and anywhere that they could get away with a few hours of loud noise.

Hence came the Spazzatorium Galleria, a decade in the past — it was a magical ground held in the shadows. Hence came the Spazzatorium Galleria, a decade in the past — it was a magical ground held in the shadows of Dickinson Avenue. A large building shuttered by beige blinds, one would never suspect the creativity held inside. Dimly lit, one might be a little disturbed upon first entrance. It was known for the insane amount of scribbles on the walls, with drawings done in sharpies and paint, dimly lit rooms and people adorned in dark clothes. 

The Spazzatorium Galleria was a makeshift venue with speakers that were blown and rattled the vocals into a distorted fuzz, only adding to the character of the place. Above the stage was a loft that allowed the listeners to dangle their feet in a bat-like manner, over the band’s heads and look down upon them as they sweated out their most recent creation. It was as if the beatniks of Jack Kerouac’s time had been reincarnated and placed on the East Coast, nestled into Dickinson Avenue. Assuredly, word spread to the powers that be that there was a group of less than charming youngsters having fun, loving free and expressing themselves even more freely, and the Spazzatorium Galleria was shut down. But this was not the end of the Spazz. No, it was only the beginning.

With the closing of the Spazzatorium Galleria came new strengths. By then, people all across the country had heard of this stopping point on the map, and touring bands from every direction began to inquire about the city and the music scene it had to offer. From their inquiries came the Spazz House, somewhere between 11th and 13th streets. Cheap rent and thin walls, this empty house quickly became home to countless musicians, troubadours, artists and vagabonds who were always welcomed with open arms. The spark of the Spazz began to grow so greatly that it began to morph into a full blown music festival, where it holds strong today.

Alyssa Karpa moved to Greenville in June of 2013. An escape route from a toxic relationship, she packed her bags. She had been accepted into the graduate program in the College of Fine Arts and Communication at ECU. With little prior research on the city, she trusted her gut and made her way out of the state of Pennsylvania and into a future unknown.  

As fate would have it, Karpa had met the leader of Spazz, Jeff Blinder, in Philadelphia years before her move to Greenville. She later recognized him while in Eastern North Carolina and put two and two together. She soon became friends with notorious wing-man Dennis, and began helping where she could as the door-girl, stamping people’s hands as they walked into the shows and keeping things organized for the bands that arrive hours before, in preparation for the show. Coming from a broken relationship and stifled confidence, Karpa found a home with the Spazz crowd and began to find her purpose again as she became a great addition to the volunteers of this creative bunch.

“Greenville is a lot of things,” Karpa said. “Many think it is a black hole. Some think it is a dead end. Many spend the majority of their lives trying to escape it. Spazz is a way to shed a positive light on a place many dislike. It is a way to harness the negative energy and create something positive and exhilarating. Spazz brings the community together both in celebrating the music and helping to make the town a better place. The greatest and most beautiful thing about Spazz is that every person who has ever come to a show has helped to build the community. Every person has had some role in making Spazz what it is today. Spazz does not belong to Jeff or me. Spazz belongs to Greenville because it would be nothing without the people who have come to the shows, were inspired to pick up an instrument, sought out Jeff to play a show, told their friend about an event or even worked the door for an event. Greenville and Spazz are connected, as Greenville grows, it will create room for Spazz to grow.”

With help from people like Karpa, Spazz has begun to take on a more streamlined, sustainable approach towards the music scene by linking up with town officials. 

“The first year I experienced Spazz Fest, I was a Golden Ticket holder,” Karpa said, referring to the pass that allows entry into all of the festival’s events. “I went to as much of the festival as I could and completely fell in love with the music. By this past year, when I was helping Jeff, we were able to secure more venues, build a relationship with the new owners of Crave (formerly Tipsy Teapot and the home base of Spazz Fest), obtain more sponsors, and create a more streamlined and professional look to the festival. We still have a long way to go, but we are learning with every step we take. 

“This year, like the past couple of years, Uptown Greenville has been an important asset. Bianca Shoneman (with Uptown Greenville) is a wealth of knowledge in event planning. She is our saving grace to keeping Spazz Fest afloat while we try to figure out exactly how to make the festival better. We also have been building a program for volunteers. Last year was the first year we actually organized the volunteers and that will help this year function better.”

These days, it is obvious that Spazz is getting it together. With 10 to 15 volunteers, the festival has turned into a year-round production with a never ending to-do list. Gathering sponsors, getting approval from the town, booking venues, booking bands, organizing the schedule, designing posters, printing posters, printing wristbands, promoting the event, and keeping the funds in order is no easy task. At the end of it all, most of the money made from the event goes to supporting the bands and local art facilitators. What is leftover is split between volunteers and/or used to save and plan for the next years events.

There is no doubt that what is seen today by new onlookers as Spazz Fest is the result of over a decade of blood, sweat, tears and jail time. The remaining music scene in Greenville is not to be taken for granted. It is without question that someone paid a very high cost so that others could enjoy the freedom of a festival including many of their favorite bands. 

Spazz Fest VII is set to take place March 16 to March 20 It will include countless bands and will be held at venues including Crave, Crossbones Tavern, Art Avenue, Christy’s Euro Pub, Player’s Retreat, The Scullery and the Greenville Music of Art. There will be a kickoff Guitar-B-Cue on Thursday. This location was kept a secret at the time of publication, but was scheduled to be revealed soon. Like last year, admission to that event is free with a shareable dish. An “endurance brunch” on Sunday will also be happening again at Crave. On Sunday there will be a “Punk Rock BBQ” at Player’s Retreat. As for the house parties, keep your ears open! For more information, visit www.spazzfest.com.

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