As with many things these days, the organizers of Stick Tight Fest were unsure if they could make it happen this year.
As they looked toward bringing the three-day event — which ranges through metal and hardcore, indie rock and folkier sounds — back for a third year at the West Columbia rock dive New Brookland Tavern, it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t allow them to host a live audience. The decision to do live-stream shows wasn’t immediate, and they took their time deciding if it was worth it.
“We’re going to take precautions,” offers Alex Strickland, the screamer for Bathe, one of the heavy bands on this year’s bill, and one of the guys who helped book the lineup, speaking to how they will try to keep the staff and the 12 bands safe. “We’ll have the six feet apart from everybody. We’ll have load-ins at a certain time where you don’t have to interact with anybody. Face masks will be a thing. But it’s still just like, you can do as much as you can, but you don’t know, you don’t f#!kng really know. Uncertainty rules everything right now.”
They decided to do the event because they believe in the cause. Stick Tight Fest takes its name from a tattoo that belonged to Mike Busbee, a former fixture on the local metal and punk scene and a manager at New Brookland. When he committed suicide in 2017, it served as a wake-up call to the music community, who latched onto his inked slogan as a refrain in their push to take better care of each other.
The festival — which started the next year, donating ticket proceeds to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention — has aimed to make sure those efforts continue.
And this year, if anything, the organizers felt continuing it was even more important.
“Because ‘Stick Tight,’” New Brookland owner Mike Lyons says when asked why this year’s festival needed to happen. “‘Stick Tight’ means a little something different to everybody. And, I mean, if right now we can’t stick tight and make sure our community’s OK, then what was the point of the last two years?”
“If we’re not looking out for each other and we’re not a community that helps one another look out for each other, then we’re just assholes,” offers former New Brookland employee and current Comedy Closet owner John Gibson, another organizer. “Move forward. Keep doing the thing. I think people need some good in their life, and this is something good. It’s a small thing, but it’s something.”
Especially given the circumstances, this year’s lineup is impressive, featuring Lowcountry folk-rock favorites SUSTO and She Returns From War, a heavy night headlined by Atlanta’s The Callous Daoboys, and a quartet of emotive indie rock and pop acts crowned by Charlotte’s It Looks Sad.
While none of the bands were hard to convince, the logistics took some figuring. To raise money to pay the bands, the festival is selling commercials that will play between sets. The concerts are free to stream, and donations from the audience will go entirely to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
As far as the live-stream itself, New Brookland will get help from the various audio-visual companies where the club’s sound engineers also work.
“My goal was to try to get the equipment here so we could try to do more of that stuff,” Lyons offers, speaking to his desire to eventually install a setup with which the venue can do live-streams all the time. “But not being open, having no income, that just wouldn’t have been feasible for us to try to purchase that stuff for the club.”
“We wouldn’t want to do it just off a phone live-stream or anything like that, because it’s just not as appealing,” says Carlin Thompson. The New Brookland sound engineer who books shows under the Empire Media banner is another one of Stick Tight’s main organizers, and the one overseeing the technological aspects.
“He’s taking care of all that s#!t. It’s out of my depth,” Strickland laughs. “I don’t f#!king know how to f#!king stream anything other than I can press a button on my phone.”
Still, while they believe in the festival’s mission, they also think it’s time for it to grow. Next year, they plan to rebrand the event, moving on from the Stick Tight name and emphasis on suicide prevention to embrace a wider range of causes important to the local community. In the light of the recent protest movement following the horrific killing of George Floyd during a confrontation with Minneapolis police, Strickland adds that it would be nice to give next year’s proceeds to the ACLU, NAACP or another social-justice-oriented organization.
“We want to help as many people as possible,” Strickland explains, using the community around New Brookland to illustrate the support they’d like to provide. “This place is kind of like a f#!ked up church that people go to. It’s a community. It’s a motley crew of support.”
“I know that means a lot to a lot of people,” he concludes. “We want to look out for those people, too.”
Stick Tight Fest III
June 18-20. 6 p.m. Free to stream. facebook.com/events/542762093277282.