The first ever Fringe Fest is this weekend, Saturday, July 8th, and it is looking awesome. This is an all-day, all-local festival, hosted by Bentley’s Pub and Wedge. Nine local bands and three local DJ’s fill out the set, with performances by alt-country-rockers Neoga Blacksmith, Dream Pop quartet We the Animals, and the energetic punk rockers Bookmobile! amongst other excellent acts. There is not a weak link to be found.
In addition to serving as a local showcase, Fringe Fest seeks to draw some attention to the oft-overlooked northern fringe of the downtown area. I met with Co-owner Ashley Buerkett, and lead bartender Matt “Fu” Kucera to discuss the upcoming festivities.
As I am ordering a drink, Buerkett recommends a “White Lie:” a coffee-infused-tequila-based libation, available as a shot or as a cocktail. Yep. You read that right: coffee infused tequila. “You don’t have to like tequila, you just have to like coffee,” she says. I have no quarrel with tequila, certainly, but I love coffee in all forms. Oh my god, is the White Lie good. I will be back for that.
Buerkett retrieves Fu from the back patio, and we begin.
Smile Politely: So this is the first year for Fringe Fest?
Ashley Buerkett: It is the first year.
SP: What motivated you to put it together?
Buerkett: Really, it just started as, you know, us being in the Fringe District, we wanted to be more involved, or we were NOT as involved with other things happening downtown, in terms of Friday Night.
Matt “Fu” Kucera: Everything seems to be directed towards two blocks away from us. Even though we are a block away, we might as well be in Urbana. So it seemed like, if we wanted to put ourselves on the map, the onus was on us. We had to carry that weight ourselves.
SP: Bentley’s has had a bit of a musical interest for a long time. Is that fair to say?
Fu: It’s also sort of a tie in with Bull & Dog [recording studio] opening before too long. This bar definitely has ties to the musical community. Most of the bands that are going to be playing for Fringe Fest are our regulars or our friends. Initially, we had planned on trying to do an anniversary sort of party, but the date that we had originally looked at was already booked [with the Hogchute Opry]. But we wanted to include a lot of other businesses that are also often overlooked by everything happening a block away, so that’s why it’s “Fringe Fest.” It’s all the business that are on the fringe and overlooked by the promotion of the “downtown” block.
SP: The lineup is awesome. All local?
Fu: All local.
SP: How did you go about setting the lineup?
Buerkett: That was mostly my fiance [Garrick Nelson]. He and I are opening Bull & Dog, and he is a musician. He’s in a couple bands, but he kind of helps do the scheduling. He was the one to reach out to all of the bands. Actually, we had a couple people come to us. Bookmobile! is doing their record release.
Fu: Ashley’s musical taste is dramatically better than mine, so I have to defer to her on all this.
SP: It really seems to be the only exclusively-local festival that I can think of.
Buerkett: It really is, and a lot of these bands are pretty new and have only played a couple of shows. You know, I’ve seen them at Blips & Chitz a couple times, in basement shows, but I’m happy to put them on our stage. They deserve it.
SP: Will there be an outdoor stage, then?
Buerkett: Yes. So, MMS [Rentals and Productions] is one of our sponsors. Tom Chandler is kind of helping with the setting up. We’ve got quite a big stage, with a whole canopy and lights, and sound-guy Bob is doing sound. Acme Principle is playing, and he’s in that band as well, so, yeah. It’s a really nice team effort. We also have a lot of bands crossing over and playing a song or two with other bands.
I wanted to call it “Regular Show,” but that was already taken. [Laughs]. But yeah. It happened kind of organically.
Fu: Well, and I think that with the musical community that we have, they’re all friends too, so it gives them the opportunity to play with each other and have fun. It’s more than just a gig. I think that even the people in the bands are really excited about this festival, and we hope that the community is as well.
SP: So the show is Saturday. When does it start?
Buerkett: Doors at one. DJ’s will starting DJ’ing right when the doors open. That’s another thing to mention. We have a nice line up of DJ’s playing intermittently between bands, so there will be no lull in music. We’ve got Tim Williams, Belly, and Ideal DJ’s mixing it up in between sets. Bands technically start at two, and everything is done at midnight.
Fu: They’re trying to unite the sets, so hopefully it will all flow really nicely.
SP: Awesome. Any other thoughts?
Fu: We’re excited that this is the first one. Realistically, we are looking at this to be a blueprint to continue doing this for years to come.
Buerkett: I also want to mention that we do have The Pop Stop doing popsicles that day; we’ve got Wedge, our neighbors, doing tacos. Columbia Street is helping us out with coffee for White Lies. We are going to have a White Lie station. Red Bull is helping us out. We’ve got some nice craft beers outside.
Fu: We are going to have a Tito’s & Red Bull station. Columbia Street, we are also going to be doing iced coffees with their cold brew that day. The stage is actually courtesy of Melody Music--
Buerkett: --and Bull & Dog.
Fu: In an effort to reach out, we’ve also had bands be sponsored by Fleurish, Plant Mode, and a bunch of smaller local businesses that we wanted to include because they have deep roots in the community.
SP: Excellent plant pun.
Buerkett: Dandelion, Exile on Main Street, and Jet Sterling are all sponsors as well.
Buerkett: I do want to mention our staff. A lot of our staff are local bartenders that you already would see around downtown anyway--
Fu: --Oh yeah. A lot of downtown regulars. We are lucky to have so many friends in the industry, that on a day where we need to triple our staff, they are willing and able to help us out.
Buerkett: You’ll see some faces that you might know. That’s all I wanted to say. [laughs].
Fu: Don’t let the cat out of the bag too much! Also, we would like to note that we will be closed the following day to allow our staff to rest, as they will all be working from three to midnight or later on Saturday.
Tickets are available here. Doors open at 2 pm and shut at midnight. Admission is $20, with re-entry permitted throughout the day.