Feeling the Pulse

The West Virginia Independent Music Festival gives kids in rural West Virginia the space for an indie scene.


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Photos Courtesy of Daniel Johnson

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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.”

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