Charlotte isn’t really an indie-rock city. Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffett sell out annually, while it takes an A-list indie band like the National a decade to book a show (albeit a sellout) here. Arcade Fire is well beyond indie at this point and still doesn’t play here.
But that is changing, thanks to a few devoted independent concert promoters and event planners. In the past three years, daylong music festivals like AWOL, God Save the Queen City, and now Brewz have served as a platform to introduce Charlotte acts to crowds that wouldn’t normally catch them at local venues while bringing sought-after headliners like Girl Talk and Matt and Kim to town.
Of Montreal – which released its much-buzzed-about 12th album, “Lousy With Sylvianbriar,” last week – will headline the inaugural Brewz Music and Arts Festival at NC Music Factory Saturday. In addition to beer sampling (free from noon to 2 p.m.), art, food, vendors and wine sampling, Brewz Fest boasts Of Montreal’s fellow Athens, Ga., band the Whigs, Chapel Hill’s the Love Language, Kool A.D. of rap group Das Rascist, Folly Beach jam trio Dangermuffin and an eclectic bevy of some of Charlotte’s best local acts.
Locals include hip-hop artists Stereoloud, Stranger Day, and Mr. Invisible, national touring rock band HRVRD, Americana staples the New Familiars and Ancient Cities, instrumental electronic duo Dirty Art Club, and DJs Shuhandz, Ray, Sarah Burns and That Guy Smitty.
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Brewz Fest is the brainchild of Cameron Lee of CLTure – a full service marketing and advertising company focused on branding and social media for the arts. Three years ago, Lee – who ran an indie hip-hop label briefly at age 18 – left a comfortable job in finance to pursue his passion.
“Around age 21, I got licensed as a loan officer,” Lee says. “I started doing well and lost focus of what I really wanted and put my dreams aside. When I turned 30, I was pretty much depressed. I absolutely hated being in finance, being in an office. At that point, I quit everything I was doing. I lost a lot of the possessions that meant a lot to me, and struggled.”
Lee began volunteering for Plaza Midwood Community Radio (a locally produced Internet radio station) and Shutter16 Magazine. He began booking and promoting one-off events like Occupy Your Mind during the DNC, and concert series showcasing local bands at nontraditional venues like South End’s World of Beer and Queen City Q. The idea was to get local acts in front of new crowds.
The seed for Brewz Fest was planted in June, when Lee witnessed 1,500 people show up at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery to sample beer and listen to the New Familiars.
“(I was thinking), why would people pay $25 to go to a brewery and check out local bands?” Lee recalls. “Then it struck me. People are coming out just for the beer.”
Enter Brewz Fest, which takes place in the gravel lot next to the Fillmore’s parking lot and Silver Hammer Studios. Lee partnered with Rock House Events, recruited a number of local breweries and artists who will both sell and create new works during the festival, and booked a bill worthy of attention. He got ESPN 730 to set up TVs so concertgoers could keep up with football. A Taxi Magic App gets patrons $10 off post-show cab rides as well.
“We’re pleased as punch to be a part of (it),” says Justin Fedor of Ancient Cities and New Familiars, which helps open the festival.
Lee’s purpose remains the same: “I’m always looking at ways to get exposure for local bands that we love.”