Berkeley music festival gives ‘outcasts’ a shot

Sam Benavidez,
Arts & Life Editor

Geekfest, the Bay Area local music festival that started in 1997 and ended in the early 2000s giving ‘outcasts’ of the music scene an all ages place to play, is returning to Berkeley on Saturday.

“If you are having a hard time finding a place to play your music or create your art, don’t wait for someone to give you a shot. Go out and play for people,” said Corbett Redford III, one of the founders of Geekfest and lead singer of Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits.

Originally coordinated by S.P.A.M. Records, a now-defunct record label from the Bay Area, past Geekfests included bands like Nuclear Rabbit, Trigger Happy Clowns, and Dairy Queens.

While one band might have a mosh pit full of rabid fans, other people would get bored and fight with foam buffer weapons, or wander the beach on acid, or drink beer under a tree

— Dan Abbott

Colorful and flamboyant attire, off-the-wall music, and a carefree attitude are all aspects found at a Geekfest.
“Attendees had such varied interests, and attention spans,” said Dan Abbott, guitarist and vocalist for Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, and co-founder of GeekFest.

“While one band might have a mosh pit full of rabid fans, other people would get bored and fight with foam buffer weapons, or wander the beach on acid, or drink beer under a tree,” he added.

The first Geekfest in June of 1997 was never intended to be the beginning of anything, but was just created “to have a show and invite all of our friends, somewhere where the show wouldn’t get busted,” according to Abbott.

They set up a generator-run show on Richmond’s Point Molate, a then-closed-down Navy fuel dump, and invited their friends’ bands to play with them.
“We did it again, and again,” said Abbott. “We were worried that listing the location on a flyer would attract police attention, so we borrowed a tactic from the rave scene and set up a voicemail to use as a clandestine hotline to give directions.”

After numerous shows, they began to see growth that included a crowd of regular attendees.
“We saw the same familiar, awkward faces showing up to check out bands they’d never heard of,” said Abbott. “To see what sort of silliness we’d cooked up.”
“Geekfest was always about having fun and being inclusive, no matter what a band sounded like or how they dressed,” said Redford, “I think any kind of music or art scene could always use a little more of that kind of vibe.”

Self-identified “outcasts” of the punk scene at the time, Abbot felt rejection.
“I never wanted to wave the punk rock flag,” said Abbott. “But I definitely learned a lot from punk ethics and ideals. So I don’t blame the punk scene for rejecting me, but the rejection stung nonetheless.”

One of the other driving factors behind creating Geekfest was a dwindling amount of spaces for all-ages shows. They did not have venues, so they made their own outdoors with generators.

In the early 2000s, the city of Richmond attempted to force the founders of the festival to pay for a one-million-dollar insurance policy for their outdoor shows. Holding free, generator-powered shows on a closed-down Naval fueling station would not be permitted. That is when they moved indoors to northwest Berkeley’s 924 Gilman.

“Gilman opened their doors to us to have our festivals there and thusly helped breathe new life into Geekfest,” said Redford.
924 Gilman, an all-ages music venue in Berkeley will host the 2015 reincarnation of Geekfest, just as they did a few in the early 2000s.
Gilman volunteers mentioned to Geekfest coordinators that they should bring the event back, and the Gilman volunteers followed through, eventually adding numerious acts on the bill.

The festival, which begins on Saturday Mar. 21 at noon, will feature 18 solo and group acts across a wide range of genres, including folk-rock, punk, metal, and more at 924 Gilman St. in Berkeley.

“If we started Geekfest because we were shut out of certain scenes back in the day, when we created our own thing we wanted it to be as all-inclusive as possible,” said Redford. “If it ain’t free and all ages, it ain’t Geekfest. That’s the rule.”