The ins and outs of the super-secret Robert Pollard fan event
by Gary Spencer
I’m home working on Thursday, July 7.
Around 10:30 p.m. my phone rings. On the other line is my buddy Christopher
Warner (aka the Warnz). I can tell he’s slammed a bit much to drink, but I remain patient as he relayed a message I wasn’t
expecting to get.
“Matt (Davis) and Heed said that if you wanted to write about Heedfest – do it.” he said.
Based on my knowledge about how most Heedfest attendees prefer to keep their party on the low, I found this news somewhat surprising. But I agreed to go to Wings Sports Bar & Grill early the next night and get the lowdown about Heedfest.
I arrive at Wings on North Dixie around 6 p.m. on Friday, July 8 – the night before the fifth edition of the annual Heedfest party in Dayton. Almost instantly I find Warnz who then introduced me to Matt Davis who along with Mike “The Heed” Lipps organizes the yearly shindig.
“There’s only two rules,” Matt said. “1. Love Bob. And 2. Don’t be an asshole. We’ve never had any fights at Heedfest, or ever had to kick anybody out. In fact, you will probably be hugged 200 times by the time it’s all over.”
So what is Heedfest? It’s an annual event held in Dayton that just celebrated its fifth anniversary. And the event is all about celebrating the man and the music of Robert Pollard, mastermind of legendary Dayton-based ‘90s indie rock band Guided By Voices and currently mass producer of solo records in quantities that only the most rabid of fans can keep up with. So, what was the genesis of this yearly festival?
“Bob announced he was going to stop touring,” Davis explained. “People came into Dayton for one last show in 2006. Many knew each other from the Robert Pollard/Guided by Voices message board ‘Disarm the Settlers’ and shows but everyone seemed to have a really good time together that weekend. ‘The Heed’ suggested to the board that people should come into town the next summer just to hang out. We thought maybe 10 or so people. I think we had 50 the first year from out of town and close to 80 total. A GBV cover band was formed by board members and we rented the Polish Picnic Grounds. Bob showed up and realized he had four past members from Guided by Voices there so they got up on stage and played a few songs. It blew people away.”
The now ritual pre-Heedfest Friday night gathering at Wings serves as sort of a meet-and-greet for both fellow fans as well as Pollard and his longtime friends. For some fans, it’s the only time of year they get to see each other in person and for new attendees it’s often the first time they’ve met their online GBV friends in person. And for many Heedfest newbies, it’s often their first opportunity to meet Pollard in the flesh and talk to him – a big treat for the hardcore fan. A cover band is playing on the outside patio stage where most Heedfest revelers are hanging out, drinking countless Miller Lites with smiles all around. GBV guitarist Mitch Mitchell eventually got on stage and belted out several GBV classics from the ‘90s and soon enough GBV fanatics surround the stage, ready to grab the mic and sing along. By the time I left, I indeed received many hugs and even a ride home.
Saturday arrives and it’s time for Heedfest 5, sponsored by (of course) Miller Lite. In the past Heedfest has been held at the Polish Club up in North Dayton, but an unexpected glitch in the plans forced organizers to move it to Jimmie’s Cornerstone Bar instead. So I arrive at Jimmie’s around 4:30 p.m., greeted by a sign on the door that read “Closed for Private Party.” I walk in and the place is packed, with well over 100 people in attendance from places inside and outside the U.S. Buckets of Miller Lite appear on damn near every table.
About an hour later, the first of three tribute bands begin to play. They rock. I went outside and bullshitted with people on the patio where Bob was hugging, shaking hands and taking pictures with a nonstop flow of happy fans. As the live music continued, nearly everyone within earshot is holding their drinks up high and singing along to lyrics they know by heart.
Daytonian Heedfest attendee Andrew Garvic once told me that “Heedfest changes lives.” But is that really true? In some instances, it is. Take “Larm” for example. His love and respect for Heedfest, Pollard’s music and Pollard as a man inspired him to move from Philadelphia to buying a house in Dayton. And there’s also Fredrik Magnusson who travels from his home in Sweden to Dayton for the last three years in a row just to attend Heedfest and be around Bob and his fellow fans.
“Its all about the people. All of them,” Fredrik told me. “They are the best people in the world and I just can’t think about how it was before I went the first time. I will come back for as long as I can.”
Mike Jueneman, drummer for tribute band the Heedonists, has traveled from Minnesota for all five Heedfests. He told me something that perhaps sums up the Heedfest experience.
“Who else in music has people from all over the globe converging on his hometown to celebrate his music and just have fun together?” he said. “ Bob is incredibly generous to his fans that come out, and he’s accessible to anyone willing to make the trip. We really are the luckiest fans in the world.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.