Swamp Fest takes RVA: music festival returns for second year

Photo by: Jake Cunningham
Photo by Jake Cunningham
Photo by Jake Cunningham

Twenty-six local and touring bands gathered in Richmond for Swamp Fest 2016, a two-day heavy music festival.

The festival was hosted by Strange Matter, a concert venue on W. Grace known for its banging set lists and vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and Great Dismal, a group which works to organize shows at both DIY and venue spaces in Richmond. The event focused on creating a safe space, celebrating inclusivity and diversity, featuring politically-minded bands on Aug. 13 and 14.

This year marked the second Swamp Fest and featured bands from across the United States and Canada. Tickets cost $15 a day, with acts opening each day at 6 p.m. A sampler album from all the acts featured at Swamp Fest 2016 is available on bandcamp.

“This is about creating a community worried about more than a sick riff,” said Drew Necci, part of Great Dismal and the band Samarra.

Necci said Swamp Fest is a chance for heavy music artists and fans with a common mentality to gather and address issues of racism, equality and queer and trans rights through creative expression.

If the community doesn’t stand up to dangerous and ignorant behavior, it breeds the same aggressive white male-dominated apathy that plagues the scene now, Necci said.

“With Swamp Fest, the community is policing itself,” Necci said.

Necci said more than 40 bands were contacted to play at Swamp Fest, some locals, and many who were friends with members of Great Dismal and have met while touring around the country.

“When you start to deal with heavy music, there’s a lot of unchecked aggression and oppression,” said Will Neer, also with Great Dismal and plays in Samarra. “We wanted to put together a weekend with the cathartic effect of heavy music without that.”

There have been plenty of straight-up punk music festivals in Richmond, but that wasn’t as important to the organizers as getting people together with a common mentality, Neer said.

“A lot of punk and hardcore shows around here are very violent and unwelcoming and borderline dangerous if you haven’t been vetted or fit a certain mold,” said Andrew Schwartz, who plays in the band .Gif From God, a which played in the pre-show on Aug. 12 at 25 Watt, a downtown venue.

This year’s show was more concentrated inside Strange Matter because of the heat, Schwartz said. Last year, many festival goers roamed the city between acts.

“A lot of times you run into issues in your local scene that people from Texas or Philadelphia have, and it offers a new perspective,” said Stephanie Smith, who plays in the band This Land Is Now Dead.

Swamp Fest is not an event to take for granted, said Richmond local and attendee Mark Zvijac. He has not found a more welcoming community anywhere, he said.

“I’m fairly new to the scene, but I’m drawn to it for the energy,” said audience-member Jade Jay. “It’s been really nice to see what’s coming out of other cities and other states.”

Jesse Adcock. Photo by Julie TrippSpectrum Editor, Jesse Adcock
Jesse is a junior print journalism major and Arabic and Middle Eastern culture minor. He has walked in the valley with no water and bitten the heads off of snakes. // [email protected]

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