Gremfest is a DIY Reno music fest, the brainchild of Kelsey Garfinkle and Spencer Kilpatrick and the celebration of a handful of birthdays in their circle of band friends. In the past, they filled their house near the UNR campus with the music and beers. This year, the plan was to camp out in the desert, but wild Reno weather and the fear of getting their shitty vans stuck in mud changed everything.
In the span of a day, they sealed down a new location, 40 Mile Saloon in midtown, informed everyone and had a BBQ out back for early arrivals. This group is always redefining “functional alcoholism.”
The tiny bar’s walls are made of brick and the drums reverberated crisply. It was impossible not to be too loud. I was napping through the first two performances, but I’m sure they were great! If you, the reader, missed it like I did, fear not. One of them, Josiah Knight, is playing with his band, Outlaw Kindred, at The Bluebird on June 2 with Dirtwire.
The first act I did catch actually was great. I can vouch this time. Dainesly pumps out twangy tales in a form of country realism. With a pedal steel guitar at the helm, it fits the country bill sonically, but with more authentic content. Less belt buckles, more Boba Fett references. And just like most bands in Reno, it’s a supergroup, slowly fusing the town’s music scene into one glorious blob.
They closed with Pink Floyd’s “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” It was a brave endeavor, executed exquisitely, complete with “more cowbell” and Roger Water’s heavy breathing.
The Brankas are a two-piece from San Francisco who play some experimental music. The set started with spastic noodling, then random breaks where “I Will Always Love You” played some octaves down. It was playful and fucking weird.
Singer/guitarist Theo Slavin would squeak into his microphone over ridiculous drum beats and absurd melodies. It was like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard with less structure and no theme. I’m not sure what the math rock starter pack is, but The Dillinger Escape Plan didn’t prepare me for this. His immense pedal selection was complemented by a hand-level pelican case full of extra knobs, gadgets and a pack of cigarettes.
When you finally reach your wit’s end with the nonsense, they somehow slip into some catchy experimental punk like Los Angeles’ Piebald.
There were plenty of sounds and choices I didn’t understand, but that’s life. They made you ponder, what is “good” anyway?
Shotgun Sawyer from Auburn got into the groove quickly.
“Here’s our drummer David Lee with no top on,” singer/guitarist Dylan Jarman said. “That was early.”
They play sludgy blues fronted by mean slide-guitar riffs. They’re like Electric Wizard, if they were fronted by Duane Allman. They’re like The Black Keys if they were good.
My favorite part of a bassist’s skillset is if they can make you admire the bass during a guitar solo, like Mr. Lee of Rush. Bassist Brett Sanders had a cloudy tone similar to Cliff Burton. It was difficult not to focus on his simple, but pounding bass lines.
On the other hand, a trait of a good guitarist is letting the bass shine. While taking breaks from playing, Jarman also incited a little mosh pit and flirted with another slide guitar fella, Jack Beisel of Hopeless Jack.
“Here’s a song about being from Auburn,” Jarman said. “If you don’t know where Auburn is, fuck you.”
I know where it is!
They delivered an entertaining set and at some point interluded into “Dazed and Confused.” Well played.
Joan and the Rivers are a three-piece band from the Silicon Valley who play music about pizza and Bay Area traffic “that makes you want to drink.” They are also the lovers/best friends/twins separated at birth of Reno’s Failure Machine. The bromance is real.
They scream like madmen, but it somehow comes off as charming. They are exciting and clearly enjoy themselves. They treat each other like brothers.
“We are super glad Gremfest happens,” sing/guitarist Eric Smith said. “We are honored to be here.”
“Eric,” bassist/vocalist Mike Hickel said. “Shut the fuck up!”
During wild guitar solos, Smith would let the crowd provide additional feedback by scratching strings or running their beers against the pickups. Adding to the ruckus, Hickel let his legs buckle and basically trust-fell into the crowd. They were also constantly inquiring about or receiving drinks.
“That was some well-ass whiskey,” Smith said.
The Happy Trails closed the night with high-spirited rock and a song about the Cal-Neva. They featured guitar-slangin’ Spencer Kilpatrick as a new member. At first he just sang backup, but sure enough, he released what I’ve deemed the most soulful voice in Reno. Perhaps the universe. When he and singer/guitarist Luke Fuller take turns on the verse, they get the most bang for their buck.
They both shredded like madmen. As a guitarist, if you sound great with Kilpatrick in your band, you’re on to something. They kept it interesting with lots of tempo changes and a couple covers. They closed with a Shotgun Sawyer song, a cute nod of endearment repeated throughout the two-day fest.
– Tony Contini