Wallypalooza strikes back: Local festival organizers prepare for a Labor Day onslaught of music and fun
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The first time Jody “Devil” Sparks first stepped on stage at Wallypalooza earlier this year, the crowd filled him with dread.
Sure, his band — Crome Molly — has played for all manner of rough-looking audiences — bikers, wrestlers, metalheads and other assorted gatherings of tattooed, steely eyed music lovers. But the cross-section of people packing the house at what used to be Big Daddy’s Sports Bar on Highway 411 in Maryville was another animal entirely, he told The Daily Times this week.
“I was thinking, ‘These people are gonna kill us,’ because a lot of people were there who didn’t look like our normal crowd,” Sparks said with a chuckle. “I thought, ‘These guys are not gonna like us,’ because we were one of four bands that weren’t a cover band. I was a little nervous in the beginning.
“But after the second song, everybody was out of their chairs, pushed up against the stage and headbanging with us. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah — we got them now.’ After we played and came off the stage, we sat around and signed autographs and talked to people for an hour before we got out of our masks and changed into our street clothes — and that stuff is hot!”
Credit the adventurous spirit of Wallypalooza concert-goers for such a warm reception — even a band made up of a motley cast of characters who wear masks, sport on-stage pseudonyms and have released a record called “Bloody Murder Circus” can find new fans at the event, which is taking place this weekend at Confused Grill and Bar on East Lamar Alexander Highway in Maryville. It’s the brainchild of organizer Wally Miles, who’s already thrown two previous Wallypaloozas earlier this year; taking place over three days starting Thursday (Sept. 1), this one may be the biggest one yet.
“One of the main things Wallypalooza does is give all of these local bands an outlet,” said Sam Keys, bass player for local rock outfit AfterLife. “There are a lot of bands there that are heavier than us or have different themes, and some of them have a hard time finding a place to play. Wally gives bands a place to be heard. We walked away the first time we did it with 25 or 30 new fans, so we were very taken aback by that.
“The next time he asked us, we said yes with no hesitation. It gives us a place to showcase our songs and our music, and we’ve always been very well-received. The first time we did it at Big Daddy’s, there was a headcount of 200-plus. It was standing room only — no place to sit, and there were people in the parking lot trying to get in.
“That was probably the biggest crowd up to that point,” he added. “We’ve played a few festivals here and there, and there were more people at Wallypalooza than at some of these ‘professional’ festivals.”
Wallypalooza all started with Miles — a 1997 graduate of Maryville High School and a lifelong resident of Blount County — inviting some friends to the lake in 1998, to enjoy an afternoon of music blaring from an old boombox. The next year, someone came up with the idea of getting a rock band to play for the gathering.
Over the next 14 years, the event was christened Wallypalooza and grew into the monster that it is today. And starting in 2008, when he booked three bands (Middle Finger, Stonemosis and Half of Something) at Nater’z Sports Grille in Maryville, it’s become a beast over which he has little control, at least in terms of how many people show up.
That year, word-of-mouth brought in more strangers than friends, although a few minutes around Miles with his easygoing sense of humor, infectious laugh and laid-back attitude is enough to forge a friendship rather quickly. After it was over, even more people expressed regret that they weren’t able to attend. The next year, he moved it to Big Daddy’s and spread it out over two nights. And it’s continued to grow.
This year, Miles and master of ceremonies and local comedian/pop culture critic Waylon Whiskey have promoted Wallypalooza on WNFX-FM, 94.3 The X. Whiskey’s graphic designs are all over a line of Wallypalooza merchandise, from T-shirts to underwear. And the music will run the gamut, from the hardcore sounds of Crome Molly to the pimp-smooth bass-happy vibe of Funkmaster V and the Funkmaster V. (That’s Funkmaster “Vee,” the alter-ego of local musician and wrestler Vinnie Vineyard, and the Funkmaster “five.”)
“Wally does a great job of promoting Wallypalooza; for a guy who’s not a professional concert promoter, he does an excellent job of getting the word out,” said Vineyard, a familiar face locally as a former member of the in-demand cover band Flipside Runner. “That makes it a lot of fun. And the thing that’s interesting is that the wrestling crowd likes it. There are always a lot of wrestlers there, and I think that has a lot to do with the relationship they have with Wally (who moonlights as “Jagger Sterling, the Thrill Pistol” on the local wrestling circuit).
“He’s starting to meld the 1980s rock and wrestling thing. He’s promoting both of his loves, and I think that’s interesting. It’s going to be fun for me, and Funkmaster V is going to prove what he’s been preaching the whole time — that music can save you, and that funk music is a superior form of musical entertainment.”
While Vineyard’s peers may disagree on the latter, they couldn’t be more in agreement on the former. Whiskey, whose participation this weekend will mark his third Wallypalooza, has seen it grow even in the short time he’s been a part of it.
“From one to the next, it’s just more energy, more of an event,” Whiskey said. “Rather than just a bunch of people getting together to watch a band, it felt more like a party at someone’s house, and a band happened to be there. It was a really diverse crowd — wrestlers, bikers, metalheads, sorority girls, frat guys — and from the first one to the second one, it was a larger crowd.
“And this show is changing significantly. We’re adding some comedy, some contests, really working on crowd interaction and some merchandise. We want to make it about the brand as much as the bands. That way we can have huge events, and a band that might not have a lot of name recognition can still come out to a huge crowd. And the crowd is going to know they came and were a part of something that was just seeing a band on stage.”
Basically, it’s a win-win situation for everybody. The venue slings drinks as long as the law will allow, the crowds partake of some revelry that’s several notches above the usual weekend bar band scene and the musicians get to broaden the fanbase to which they play.
“It’s awesome, man,” Keys said. “You’ve got some people there just to drink and have a good time, which is great, but there’s a lot of people there wanting to experience new bands and new music. And when you’re an unsigned band playing to people who have never heard your tunes before, it’s very, very cool.”
As for the man himself, Miles has a message for those considering a trip down to Confused this weekend — the more, the merrier.
“In 14 years of doing this, I’ve not seen one fight,” he said. “It’s incredibly laid back, and whether people are coming for the music or the social gathering, at the end of the night, everybody seems to have a good time. Good times and good music — that’s pretty much the theme of it, and it’s open to everyone.”