While countless groups have experienced a bumpy road attempting to establish a large-scale music festival in Columbus, a handful of smaller parking-lot parties have taken root in recent times — most notably 4th & 4th Fest, which celebrated its second year at Seventh Son Brewing this July with a well-curated lineup headlined by Wilco spinoff the Autumn Defense and Operators, a new dance-rock project spearheaded by Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Divine Fits).
The newest kid on the block (party) is Helter Swelter, an event dreamed up late last year by Ace of Cups owner Marcy Mays and Wexner Center marketing and communications director Jerry Dannemiller, who occasionally books events at the bar in addition to his daytime gig.
“We started out weird and big, like, ‘Let’s get the Melvins! Let’s get Afghan Whigs!’” Dannemiller said in an early August interview at Ace of Cups, which will host the inaugural Helter Swelter on Saturday, Aug. 16. “We started down that road and it was like, ‘Sure they can play — for $15,000.’ So after a couple months of chasing down booking agents … we were like, ‘OK, let’s keep it small and local.’”
A bulk of the day’s excellent lineup is both local and loud — “It definitely tends toward the noisier end of the spectrum,” Dannemiller said — and includes performances from Unholy 2, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Washington Beach Bums, Pretty Pretty, Raw Pony, Moviola (which counts Dannemiller among its ranks) and Mays’ band Scrawl, which will perform its 1987 debut Plus, Also, Too in its entirety.
“It has been profound [digging into the album again],” Mays wrote in an email. “I didn't realize how much we had already evolved into our sound, and how confident and honest the songs are.”
The day will be capped with a set from influential New Zealand indie-rock band the Clean, making its first-ever Columbus appearance.
“There’s a real affinity for that band in Columbus, [and you can hear its influence in] groups like Great Plains and Scrawl and even Times New Viking and some of the younger punk bands,” Dannemiller said. “They have this weird, underground, kind of cultish following.”
Barring any unforeseen disasters, Mays and Dannemiller hope to establish Helter Swelter as an annual event, though it’s difficult to imagine the concept growing much beyond its modest roots, which purposely reflect the fiercely independent character of the bar.
“When you set out to please a really broad swatch of people, invariably it’s going to have a little less personality, I think,” Dannemiller said. “We wanted to have a fun, distinctive day festival, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”