The boys in Nuthin’ Fancy are no strangers to big crowds, a fact that will serve them well when a couple thousand people come out on Saturday night for the annual SlimFest celebration.
Garrett Holloway and Zac Long both are veterans of the Foothills Fall Festival stage, the annual downtown Maryville celebration that once brought 10,000 folks or more to town every October. (Holloway played it with his former outfit, The Deep End Band, in 2011; Long with the John Titlow Band in 2010.) From Waterfront Grill to the city of Alcoa’s annual FreedomFest celebration, Nuthin’ Fancy is an all-killer, no-filler project with one mission in mind, Holloway told The Daily Times recently, and it’s summed up nicely in the group’s moniker.
“I get it a lot: People will ask, ‘What’s your band name?,’ and when I tell them Nuthin’ Fancy, they say, ‘OK, it’s nothing fancy, but what is your band name?’” Holloway said with a chuckle. “It’s not just the band name, because in a lot of ways, we’re really not. We’re not up there dancing around on stage or doing anything crazy or wearing some crazy get-up. We’re just up there having fun, and that’s really all it is.”
The son of Gary Holloway and Cheryl Holloway, he graduated from Alcoa High School in 2013 and works as a Maryville firefighter. He got into music in high school, singing in chorus and picking up the guitar out of a desire to play the songs he loved on the radio.
“I tried to take formal guitar lessons, but it drove me crazy trying to play the stuff they wanted me to come home and learn, and it just got so old,” he said. “The reason I wanted to play the guitar was because I wanted to play Lynyrd Skynyrd. That’s the stuff I listened to.”
At Alcoa High, he knew his bandmates; Long and Jared Jett graduated in 2011, and halfway through his high school career, Jett transferred to Heritage High and met drummer Landon Best. At one point, they all transitioned in and out of the John Titlow Band, eventually making their way to one another and forming Nuthin’ Fancy.
“We all really learned to play together, and we would get together to jam and stuff like that,” Holloway said. A self-described “Southern rock band that plays lots of covers and is currently working on originals,” Nuthin’ Fancy covers a spectrum of music that lovers of classic and Southern rock will find both familiar and surprising.
“There for a while, we played a lot of Blackberry Smoke, and I don’t think you’ll hear a lot of bands covering them, but their songs are awesome,” Holloway said. “To me, there are a lot of bands that play songs they think everybody wants to hear, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of Top 20 country bands around. But we like to play stuff you don’t get to hear as much, like ‘Alright Now,’ by Free.
“Some of it are kind of off-the-wall songs you don’t even hear on 103.5 (WIMZ-FM), and a lot of time people will hear them and go, ‘I forgot all about that song!’ They’re just all songs that me, Jared and Zac grew up with. My dad, he’s the reason I play what I play now, because when I started learning guitar, he would pull out all of his records and say, ‘Hey, try this. Figure this out. Play this.’ So I was listening to AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin thanks to my dad, and that’s pretty much what I listen to now.”
It’s earned the boys a regular monthly showcase at the Waterfront, where the band’s name is also indicative of its style. The guys often don’t use a setlist, relying instead on intuition and the shared musical telepathy of guys who perform together as friends who love music.
“Half the time, me and Jared are just feeling what comes next, and we’ll call one out — ‘Come Together,’ by The Beatles, or something like that — and we’ll just roll through the set,” Holloway said. “We get done with one and go right into another until we’re thinking, ‘What time is it? It’s probably about time for a break!’ I’m not really one to talk a whole lot. Honestly, it’s just not my forte.”
“Less talking, more playing” — that’s as good a formula as any for SlimFest. First organized in 2006 as a 50th birthday party for local businessman and raconteur Steve “Slim” Stilts, the festival’s namesake wasn’t content to enjoy a day in his honor. From the outset, he partnered with the holiday philanthropy “Shop With a Cop,” which provides funds for law enforcement to take underprivileged kids on a shopping spree, and that first year, SlimFest was held in the parking lot adjacent to The Bullpen Sports Bar on Gill Street in Alcoa and raised more than $40,000 through a reverse raffle and donations.
Each year, it’s gotten bigger, and now it’s become one of the biggest annual parties in Blount County. To play it, Holloway said, is almost like a full-circle journey for him.
“I’ve been to every one except may the first or the second, and Smooth Groove (the R&B ensemble that’s been a fixture for every SlimFest save one) is probably my dad’s favorite band,” he said. “He went to school with a bunch of those guys, and whenever they’ve played, he’s always asked me to go with him to listen in. I’ve sat in with them before and gotten to know them pretty well, so it’s kind of neat.
“We’re looking forward to it. Whether you know Slim or not, it’s just a good time and a chance to listen to music and eat and drink and have fun. And since we don’t have the Foothills Fall Festival anymore, for a lot of folks who go see music at the Waterfront or Brackins or wherever, it’s a way to experience the whole idea of a big party.”