Feeling the Pulse
The West Virginia Independent Music Festival gives kids in rural West Virginia the space for an indie scene.
Photos Courtesy of Daniel Johnson
When Daniel Johnson was a kid, being in a band or liking punk music wasn’t cool. Wearing a Ramones shirt didn’t get you all the girls or make you popular. “There was a stigma—that whole Satan-worshipping fear,” Daniel says. “We were the crazy rock-and-roll kids.” Especially in rural West Virginia, there was no precedent, no network of support. “You had to want it. You really had to work for it, to seek it out.” Daniel moved from his hometown of Logan to Huntington for many years, but when he came home, things had changed.
“With the Internet, rural places aren’t so isolated anymore. You can be on the cusp of everything,” he says. Connected to so much information, a lot of kids were following the independent music scene—hundreds, in fact. Daniel helped with a local music event, Rocktoberfest, five years ago and realized how much things had changed when more than 200 kids showed up. It was shocking for a town of less than 2,000 people, but Daniel loved it. He stayed involved with the show, and after two years he was in charge. “I changed the name to the West Virginia Independent Music Festival and each year I’ve changed this or that to make it more interesting.”
Two years later, he’s still perfecting his vision. “I want to create a genuine festival experience. A lot of the kids here won’t get to go to Warped Tour or Ozzfest,” he says. “I want to give them a whole day of music. It’s not just another show.” Daniel gets stages brought in from Kentucky and tries to provide a well-rounded lineup. “It’s all about objectivity. I have to book things I don’t really care for,” he says. “Even if it’s not something I would listen to, it has to be polished. It has to be good.”
This year, half the lineup for the September festival was local bands. “It’s surprising. It’s hard to pull seven or eight bands from a town this small,” he says. “But that happens sometimes. You see these small towns that have no real music scene with hives of quality bands.” Daniel is excited to see the growing community of young musicians in Logan, and he’s trying to create an atmosphere that accepts it. “We’re getting a lot of support from the area,” he says. “I work hard to be a voice for this. I’m covered in tattoos—I’m like the face of the enemy. But I’m a small business owner. I show up to town hall meetings and work with the local CVB. It’s not punk rock, but that’s how it works.” Through these positive relationships, Daniel gets donations from local sponsors to make the event free.
This year, the West Virginia Independent Music Festival took place on September 21, 2013, at Chief Logan State Park. When it rained all morning, Daniel started to get nervous. He pushed the schedule back an hour, and luckily, the rain cleared up by noon. It was still wet and cool, but that didn’t stop the show. “People were there with umbrellas, ready to stand in the rain to catch the shows,” he says. “I have to give praise to those people.” Daniel says that, in spite of the weather, it turned out to be a consistent day. There was a steady stream of good performances across genres. There was even a band, Malicious Intent, who played their first show in 10 years that day. “They were my favorite band when I was a teenager,” Daniel says. “It was so cool to see them together, to see all the things that made the band special are still there.”
Daniel’s already thinking about next year. His big plan is to find an indoor venue—as long as it doesn’t lose the vibe he wants. It’s important to keep the positive momentum going, to open this opportunity up to kids from a tiny town deep in the mountains of West Virginia. Because even if the Internet makes it easy to keep tabs on the latest trends, there’s still a disconnect between the web and reality. “Before this, we had no physical, tangible way to connect,” he says. “Now you can feel a pulse.”