Good ideas can’t be contained. They expand to fit people’s appreciation of them, and Shannon Cleary’s notion that Richmond’s music scene deserves a weekend of celebration and acknowledgment is a great example. We’re nearing the fourth edition of the WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents festival, and Cleary has outdone himself yet again, putting together a winning lineup of bands that will showcase the depth and breadth of Richmond’s musical talent over the course of four gloriously noisy days.
With the start of the festivities set for this Thursday, I asked Cleary a few questions about what goes into planning for the event and how this year’s festivities are shaping up.
YHT: WRIR and Commonwealth of Notions Presents seems like a huge undertaking. When do you start building the lineup each year? When you’re done with each one, are you ready to not think about it for a while, or do you jump into planning mode right away?
Shannon Cleary: I typically focus my energies towards our anniversary party. This takes place on the first Friday of February. After that, I go into Commonwealth mode so to speak. It’s funny. Maybe it’s because I recently watched True Detective, but this festival is like a big case for me. How can I solve the issues that have riddled it in the past? How can I make it an appealing experience for the bands involved? How do I make it something that I want to do? This year, I think I finally figured out a proper model for the festival. That doesn’t mean that it won’t change next year. But for this year, it feels great.
Now, as far as what happens after the festival. I am fortunate now to not have the honeymoon phase hit me as hard as it has in the past volumes. There would be that Monday morning shock. It was like for one weekend, I felt something remarkable and then you go back to your day job. Now, I have a tremendous amount going on. I am working with some of my favorite musicians in Richmond to create a record for the Clair Morgan project. I have become inspired to focus in on writing creative non-fiction. If anything, as soon as this is over, I have a lot left to take care of. I might be busier than I have ever been, but it’s focused and that energy is indescribable.
YHT: Were they any bands you knew right away you wanted to book this year? Any you’d hoped would be able to play but couldn’t? Anyone you’re particularly excited to see yourself?
SC: I have been approaching The Awesome Few and Sundials since Volume Two. It was a real delight to get them on the bill for this year. Honestly, I think this year is the strongest line-up yet. I think trying to reflect on the past three volumes and figure out a way to incorporate that into this year’s festival was a real benefit. I had a small inkling that I would want to bring The Snowy Owls back. So much has changed for the band since they appeared in 2012. It was a way to celebrate their focus, their creative energy and what lies ahead. At the same time, Heavy Midgets appeared last year and after they put out a proper full-length earlier this year, I knew I had to get them back. Super King is so awesome and at the core of this event, it’s a celebration of Richmond music and culture.
As far as bands that I approached and couldn’t play, this actually wasn’t such an issue. Music in Richmond is at a tremendous peak. There are so many awesome artists that are creating such great work in this music scene. It was almost an easy task to figure out a list. Of course, availability was an issue for some acts and that can be a bummer. The nice thing about this event and its affiliation with WRIR is that if someone isn’t available to perform at Commonwealth, WRIR has so many events that bands could easily be considered for in several regards.
As far as excitement, I am stoked for just about everyone. I am excited to see what materializes in regards to Todd Herrington’s Things and Microwaves’ collaboration entitled “Micro-Things.” I hear some bands are figuring out some interesting covers. Some bands are debuting some new material. Outside of everything, I am excited to be able to perform in some capacity by joining Clair Morgan at the Strange Matter showcase and I am stoked to be affiliated with the Live at Ipanema series on the last night.
YHT: Who did the poster? I feel like I remember Matt Klimas doing them in the past — did he do this one?
SC: Rob Sheley designed the poster for this year. He has done a lot of work for Horsehead in the past. My biggest thing is that I love the ability of having a different artist take on the poster each year. Between Matt, Bizhan, Liz and now Rob, I have been able to achieve this every year.
YHT: Are there any unsung heroes of the festival that don’t get enough attention? Is there anything about the show you want to make absolutely sure everyone knows?
SC: My immediate thought would be to mention Lindsey Spurrier and Tim Falen. Lindsey and I work together at WRIR through the Events committee. We spearhead events and also develop a base in which we can organize volunteer support for the events. It’s a really fascinating extension of the station. With Tim, he has helped shape several of the ideas I’ve had regarding the festival. He’s a great editor in the sense that I might have some wild ideas and he knows how to ground them.
Although those two immediately come to mind, there are way too many people to mention. There are people who make themselves available to not only attend the festivals, but help volunteer. They have been there since 2011 and they still remain supportive of what we are all aspiring to do. That is one of the true values of WRIR and it’s a reason I have been committed towards volunteering and enhancing my role at the station since 2009.
YHT: I love how the festival gets bigger each year. What are your hopes for the future growth of wrircon? If there’s a Volume 50, what do you think it would look like?
SC: Man, I don’t know if I could handle it getting bigger. Currently, the four day model works. I do tend to like the idea of constantly tinkering with the festival to see how to make it better. The weird thing about it is when it happens. July is perfect. Not much else is going on and it’s a bit isolated. Although, the weekend that I stage the festival seems to be a time where people go off for vacation or they venture to bigger cities for much larger music festivals. I realize there will always be something else going on, but I’d love to figure out how to stage this in a way that it’s as accessible to as many people as possible. That is probably the most ambitious and most ridiculous goal to aspire towards. If anything, the way the festival is staged probably already achieves this. I like the idea that anyone could essentially see every band performing if they felt so inclined. I like the idea that it’s affordable. Some small part of me would love to break it up and maybe do something over two weekends. Maybe have it happen twice in a year but just two or three day mini-festivals. That way I could make everything even more confusing with WRIR and The Commonwealth of Notions Presents: Volume 5.1 and Volume 5.2. Now, Volume 50. That would make me 76 by the time I’d make it to that Volume. I hope I’ll be up to something else, but if I could even use the Best Friend’s Day model and make it to ten volumes, I’d be satisfied.
YHT: When did you definitely decide you wanted to have a radio show? What were the first few shows like? What would you say sets WRIR apart from other radio stations?
SC: I don’t know if it was ever a decision. Really, my friend Alex Morris did a show at the station. One night, I was hearing WRIR for the first time and a Prabir and the Substitutes song came on. I was taken back and thought that was super awesome. Eventually, Alex felt burned out and didn’t really want to do a show any longer and he recommended me to take over his time slot. This was on Thursday mornings from 1-3am. I remember this distinctly. I had to go in and do three training sessions. They set me up with the super awesome Phil Ford to train during his Breakfast Blend show. The thing is that I was a closer at my restaurant job. This pretty much meant I sometimes didn’t get out of work until 1:30 or 2 in the morning. I would basically stay up all night. I would drink too much coffee and then go on the air to train. This seemed like the most logical, rational way to train to become a DJ. It should be a real challenge. I got through the training and The Commonwealth of Notions became my thing at WRIR.
The first few shows were probably remarkably awkward. They might still be. I know I tend to talk at a pretty ridiculous speed and I have been told I have a radio voice. I guess that is bound to happen after doing a radio show for close to six years. I couldn’t really say when the show became what it is. Maybe around the time the festival started becoming a thing? Despite its short lived period, when it was on from 11pm-1am on Wednesdays, I think that made a pretty big difference. People knew I did a show, but they never really had a chance to listen to it. At that point, they could. Now, I’m back at the wee hours of Saturday mornings from 1-3am. If I set a goal for myself, it would be this. I would love for The Commonwealth of Notions to make it to primetime eventually. I think it would open up all sorts of possibilities for the show. Currently speaking, I am confidant in the format in which the music program schedule exists as presently and local music is definitely well-represented via Activate! and River City Limits.
As far as what sets WRIR apart, there are so many things. First, we are true community radio. All volunteers and all passionate. On top of that, our mission to create a platform for unique voice and underrepresented art has really set us apart. I love telling this story. When I first started doing my radio show, my lead-in was the quintessential noise showcase program called “The Wind in the Pines.” I loved that the show existed because it truly articulated how far our spectrum could reach in representing varieties of music. For me, it made me want to be a better DJ because my opener was so genre specific and had its audience. Every week, it was my goal to figure out how to keep that audience tuned in. I have no idea if I pulled that off, but it made me want to be better at what I wanted to do.
YHT: What do you think the Richmond music scene really needs? What would a good next step be? Are there any bands you think are criminally underappreciated in Richmond?
SC: I think Richmond is in a really good place right now. Maybe in the past, I would have claimed that if people just took a second to show a little more dedication to the scene, we could do so many more things. Currently, we have so many people that are working to really chronicle this moment in time. Not even just chronicle, people are actively participating in this art. Music bloggers, photographers, record labels, musicians, graphic designers, fans, videographers and so on are just making their presence felt. And the city could always use more and more people like this, but we fortunately have a lot of people outside of myself that really go above and beyond their call to appreciate and celebrate Richmond music.
In terms of bands that I feel could be appreciated a bit more, that’s challenging. With the level of support that currently exists, I don’t think any bands are going unnoticed. I think everyone seems to be getting a great due. If I picked some of my favorites that I think everyone should check out, I’d point them to the festival. But if there were any artists not included in this year’s line-up, I’d probably pick these guys. Navi, The Welcome Hips, Dave Watkins, Black Water Gold, Hoax Hunters, Blanks, Occultist and way too many more to name.
Click here for more details on the event’s Facebook page, and get the #wrircon4 excitement flowing by listening to Sundials’ “Completely Broken” below.