Heavy Rebel Flashback

Heavy Rebel WeekenderHeavy Rebel flashback: 2007

As printed in YES! Weekly July 11, 2007

I shot a man in Reno. Just to watch him die. Well, not really.

But if anything could give me a case of the Folsom Prison blues it’s this Heavy Rebel Weekender out here in Winston-Salem.

It’s a tribute to the rebellious spirit of American rock, country, rockabilly, boogie-woogie and just about anything else that’s played with a twang and a sneer, and the streets are filled with hot rods and tattooed festival-goers. I’ve never seen so many pompadours, stand-up basses, PBRs, patches with names on them, halter tops, torn fishnets, knee-high lace-up boots, Buddy Holly glasses, Zippo lighters, porkpie hats, mohawks, cropped bangs, wallet chains, sideburns, cowboy hats, cuffed Levis, raccoon tails, corsets and platform shoes in one place before. I’ve also never seen so many people who regard a pair of overalls as a complete outfit.

And I’ve never in all my years seen festival organizers so calm. Mike Martin and Dave Quick have been running this thing for seven years now, and they do it without clipboards, earpieces, color-coded laminate systems or frantic, last-minute cell-phone rantings. In fact, to see them chilling out on the site, hanging with friends or enjoying shows, you might think they were just another couple of fans out for the greatest weekend of the year. They’ve transformed the space at the Millennium Center into a concert hall, with posters hanging from the ceiling of the main room celebrating the heaviest rebels of all time: Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Jimi

Hendrix, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Ronnie Van Zant, Bruce Springsteen. Together they describe an esthetic that is at once far-reaching and very specific — what these guys have in common is pure badassery and a commitment to both a style and a substance that the faithful come out to celebrate every year. I’ve met ’em from Virginia Beach, St. Louis, Florida, New York, South Carolina, Las Vegas, Texas and Louisiana, a gathering of fringe elements come together to make a powerful presence in the Camel City. Down in the warrens below the Millennium Center the stages are so cozy the sound has nowhere to go but straight to your soul. You can feel the basslines in your ribcage and the snare-drum shots in your knees. There are logos painted on car hoods and fenders, frenzied dancing in front of the stages, an ungodly amount of PBR consumption and sweat.

Sweat is very much a part of the Heavy Rebel Weekender. That’s along with mud wrestling, banana pudding, wet wifebeaters, flame jobs, even more tattoos and a staggering array of hot rods dominating the downtown streets.

It’s the kind of event that’s hard to pin down, impossible to sum up in a few words and resistant to pigeonholing. But… At 3 a.m. in the 14 th floor of the Marriott, a man named Hick’ry Hawkins uncases his burled wood guitar. He’s wearing weathered cowboy boots, a belt buckle as big as a plate, a pristine

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