I was first introduced to Dirty Honey while sitting backstage with fellow rockers, Blacktop Mojo. As I customarily do, I asked my artist friends for new music recommendations – who had they seen on their tours that was new, upcoming and totally worth checking out? Unanimously, they answered “Dirty Honey.”
On my way home, I found a couple of their songs on Spotify and clicked play. They were right to recommend them – energetic rock reminiscent of Zeppelin and Aerosmith, with incredible vocals and catchy lyrics. This was everything a hit was made of. I followed, kept them on my playlist (I highly recommend adding When I’m Gone to your workout playlist) and looked forward to seeing them live as soon as possible.
I lucked out at Exit 111 Festival, just a few months later; a Tennessee rock festival I was already scheduled to photograph. Commanding a massive mid-afternoon crowd, their high-energy set and explosive vocals bought them a great number of new fans. Word on the street; Dirty Honey was the hot new band on the 111 lineup. Crowds packed early on, and the front row was buzzing with die-hard fans, homemade signs and more than a few DH shirts and hats. I later caught the band in the media lounge for a quick chat. It was apparent that despite being new to the scene, they were seasoned professionals and wholly committed to their music.
“The tracks on Dirty Honey bang with the kind of organic grit that could bring hard rock back to the mainstream, which would be an amazingly good thing. The New Classic Rock movement is building up steam and Dirty Honey is in an excellent position to help shape its leading edge.” – Mike O’Cull, Rock and Blues Muse
Hailing from Los Angeles, the band consists of singer Marc Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone. The band formed only very recently, in 2017, but has very quickly gained notoriety and a sizeable, enthusiastic fanbase in the rock genre. They self-released a self-titled EP in March of 2019. Their single When I’m Gone quickly topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart, making them the very first unsigned band to achieve such accolades.
“For years, the term ‘saviors of rock and roll’ has been handed out too easily, with very few in recent years, barring Rival Sons, getting anywhere close. But, with the backing Dirty Honey have from established stars and iconic producers, a major label is sure to come calling soon. If that happens, the potential of this band is infinite.” – Adam Keys, Rush on Rock
I recently caught their January show at The Parish Austin, just one of their multi-city US tour dates. They’d enticed a formidable crowd. I quickly learned that Dirty Honey has quickly amassed a group of hardcore fans – many of which had been travelling along, city-to-city, to catch more than one show. All were clad in DH merch, and could barely contain their excitement. Their Friday evening show kicked off with Scars, a bluesy, groovy tune, and quickly accelerated through Break You to hit Fire Away. The ten-song set was over before we knew it, but not before a flawless rendition of Aerosmith’s Last Child (Marc sure can hit those delicious notes), wrapping with When I’m Gone and Rolling 7’s.
As we left the venue, I overheard several parties commenting on how excited they were to hit their Dallas show the very next day. Others commented that they were prepared to travel up to Pryor, OK for their Rocklahoma festival set May 22-24. We predict big things for these guys – and rightfully so. The talent is humbling, and their energy and prowess on stage is unmatched. If you haven’t taken a quick listen, we highly recommend you do. Check out their upcoming tour schedule here.
Bobby has been a pivotal figure in the music industry here in Austin for many years – from his successful multi-genre music podcast, to his tireless support of Austin bands. Our music community would be amiss if it weren’t for Bobby’s contributions. To thank him for his hard work and the send a slightly-belated HBD, here’s a recap of Saturday’s celebrations.
The inaugural festival draws rock and metal fans from across the US for an unforgettable weekend of incredible music
Story & photography: Kail Rose
Held in Manchester, Tennessee on a chilly weekend from October 11-13, Exit 111 was everything a music festival could and should be. Featuring a decidedly edgy lineup of rock and metal, it brought together a colorful variety of rock and metal fans –a decidedly under-served genre in the festival world– for a three-day blowout of epic proportions. Drawing huge crowds with classic rock headliners Guns N Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Def Leppard, the festival also seamlessly incorporated acts from a variety of Rock sub-genres; contemporary, alternative, heavy rock, metal, progressive rock and even thrash. Exit 111 brought cult classic favorites, peppered the weekend with the biggest stars in today’s rock world and introduced some ‘newbies’ of the highest caliber. It was a lineup to die for and a mixed that worked well – damn well.
“It’s like someone took the rock lineup out of my wildest dreams and made it happen. Unbelievable.” – Britt H., Oklahoma City
The festival drew a remarkably mixed crowd; fans of all genres, all ages and demographics piled in to Great Stage park on Thursday and Friday to kick off the inaugural event. Over the weekend, I spoke with people who had journeyed from all over to attend: Florida, New York State, the midwest, south, Texas, and even a few from Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona. One of the hallmarks of a successful festival concept is one that not only sells tickets, but entices people from a great distance.
Truth be told, Exit 111 made it easy to attend, gave attendees great value for their money and unique offerings. With a convenient venue that allowed everything from rustic motorcycle camping, group camping, RV spots and even upscale glamping. There were a great number of reasonable hotel options in close proximity, making the festival surprisingly easy to attend. Our group, arriving from separate states, had either road-tripped or flown in to Nashville (just an hour north) and selected a nearby hotel. While we love to camp and will probably try out the camping experience next year, we were glad to have a warm hotel and hot shower with the arrival of a nasty cold front the same weekend. The region offers everything from $50-a-night motels to upper upscale hotel and suite options. We selected a Hilton Garden Inn in Murfreesboro and were exceptionally pleased with the accommodations.
By utilizing the existing infrastructure of Great Stage Park in Manchester, TN (just an hour south of Nashville), the festival provided attendees with an immaculate, purpose-built festival facility. This is the same location used by Bonnaroo year after year. The decision to use Great Stage park was an excellent one – it only added to the experience, simplified arrival, setup and attendance, and allowing a large event with big crowds to go off without a hitch. Logistically, Exit 111 felt smooth, simple and entirely feasible. Parking was plentiful, the grounds were spacious and immaculate, we could find bleachers, shade, a large central beer hall, plenty of reasonable restroom facilities and a number of pleasant perks. And the festival grounds were not too large. Unlike some of the big-box festivals, it wasn’t a workout to get from stage to stage.
“Wow, they really kept everybody happy. I mean Lynyrd to Slayer in a single day? That’s just Day One!” – Rob, Kansas City.
In addition to a well-chosen facility, Exit 111 managed to incorporate generous food and beverage offerings into the festival. From the central Beer Hall (-slash- sports bar, which was open all day and drew a significant crowd with comfortable places to sit and watch the game) to the copious food, drink and snack vendors. This certainly seemed a priority and unlike many festivals, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety, availability and lack of long lines for a snack, dinner or just a mid-set Jack & Coke top-up. I did not have to wait more than five minutes to grab a beer or order food at any point during the festival. And the quality of food itself was superb; from grass-fed organic burgers, to a Ben & Jerry’s “adult” ice cream float, or pulled pork loaded nachos. It was almost criminal that the two were directly adjacent to each other – I certainly found myself grabbing one of each on more than one occasion. None of us left hungry.
Aside from the music, which was sheer brilliance from day one, the festival also incorporated a small car show, a freestyle motocross experience, pop-up shows and the disturbingly fascinating Paranormal Cirque and their sideshow performers, who terrified and delighted crowds. The cirque hosted twice-daily big-top circus performances and almost hourly freakshow tricks, contortions and things I couldn’t watch. The lady piercing her neck with a 12-inch needle was a little too much… though the fascinated crowds surrounding her said otherwise.
“How the f*&! are they going to top this one next year?!” – Brad & Jan, Boca Raton
It goes without saying, though: the crowning glory of Exit 111 was the lineup. As if some lucky talent-buyer had jumped inside our brains, or perhaps stolen our beloved Spotify ‘songs that are on repeat’ lists (the latter being far more probable) and curated a lineup of the highest caliber; a little nostalgia, a lot of legendary, and some new and definitely-worth-knowing. They somehow nabbed the best, the brightest and definitely the favorites and assembled them on one weekend, on three impeccable stages with minimal overlap, great sound, friendly crowds and an unmatched energy.
Headliners Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard and Guns n Roses need no introduction, and drew absolutely massive crowds for three once-in-a-lifetime sets. But early in the day, we were surprised and delighted to discover a set of lesser-known bands who blew our minds to pieces and shattered all expectations; Watermox, Bishop Gunn, Them Evils, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown, Dirty Honey and Graveyard (seriously, add them all to your Spotify right now). Saturday’s lineup incorporated more personal favorites than I thought I’d ever see in a single year, never mind just one day. Ghost, Nothing More, Fever 333 and Gojira were so stunning, so impeccably perfect and yet distinctly unique, that I am at a loss to describe just how happy I was. By Saturday evening, I could have gone home happy. But we returned for Day Three to catch Alter Bridge, Skillet, Lamb of God, (the one and only) Deftones, Coheed & Cambria and to finally, amazingly, wrap an already incredible weekend with Guns n Roses.
Killer. Beyond killer. More than a few commented that they couldn’t fathom how Exit 111 could follow with a bigger, better lineup in 2020.
And finally, my favorite part of the weekend (a common theme among rock and metal festivals) was the superior, friendly, slightly ridiculous, entirely accepting and simply wonderful crowd. If you want a great bunch of people to celebrate great music alongside, look no further than the tatted-up, wild-looking dudes who may or may not have just ridden in on a Harley. They’ll be the ones welcoming you to their space; if you’re shorter than them, to stand in front of you. If you feel like crowd surfing, they’ll lift you up. In the mosh pit, and you fall over? A stranger will be there to help you up and brush off the dirt. Want a recommendation for a good place to grab a bite? They’ll let you try theirs and share the secret spot where the lines are short and the chef gives you extra. Rock and metal crowds are absolutely the best. While I absolutely love the contradiction of a new friend who also looks like the dude your mom would cross the street to avoid, I also sincerely appreciate a good crowd when I see one.
Exit 111 was basically one big party of kindred spirits: great people collecting and connecting over a common love of all things rock. Regardless of whether ZZ Top and Cheap Trick were your favorite, or if you preferred to lose your mind at Whitechapel and Of Mice and Men, this was a weekend not to miss. We found ourselves in a pinch-me moment, over and over – how had Exit 111 managed to curate such a flawless lineup, present it in a perfect venue and maintain a streamlined, seamless attendee experience? Will we be recommending Exit 111 for years to come? You bet. Will we be buying our 2020 tickets the second they go on sale? Abso-f’ing-lutely.
On a chilly Thursday evening, Scoot Inn played host to an indie rock pairing of epic proportions. Selling out the intimate outdoor venue, Wilderado and Mt. Joy brought their unique, upbeat indie flavors to an adoring crowd for an all-too-short evening of great live music.
Wilderado kickstarts the night with a laid-back set, beer-in-hand. Infamously once called ‘Bird Dog,’ the indie folk band hails from Tulsa, OK and has released three EPs (four if you count the acoustic version of 2018’s Favors). They are the epitome of what Austin loves best; solid music, a mellow indie vibe, and quirky unassuming personality. Their merch says it all, really. I take a quick spin past a table offering mildly distressed pastel tees, leather-encased lighters, beer koozies, earth-tone hats and vinyl encased in muted psychedelic patterns. This is indie folk rock at it’s best.
The set opens with metered, groovy energy. Wilderado’s brand of folk rock boasts nothing over the top. Their performance is deliciously subdued, uplifted by pretty vocals – soaring at times, others in perfect raspy harmony. It’s pleasant indie rock that pairs perfectly with your craft beer. This isn’t a band that needs to be big. It’s groovy, fun, stoically upbeat and thoroughly enjoyable.
It’s a short set -just 45 minutes- allowing the many 30-somethings with painstakingly groomed mustaches, trucker hats and faux vintage leather everything some time to purchase another Deep Eddy & soda for the petite blonde in baggy boyfriend jeans, a messy ponytail, deceptively pricey boots and an over-sized sweater. I wonder if she’s overheating (it’s really not that cold) as I eavesdrop on a trendy Hipster nouveau trio slamming the venue for being sold out of their favorite White Claw flavor. Several man buns bumble past in a skunky haze that is most certainly not cigarette smoke. A lanky girl clad in a tie-dye dress and pirate-esque dreads sways next to the Mission Dogs food cart, giggling; “hehe! It smells like hotdogs!” Austin certainly boasts a unique crowd. It’s a guilty pleasure to sit and people-watch in between sets.
Mt. Joy are up next; the colorful, joyously upbeat indie-meets-psych-rock quintet always brings a great show and tonight is no exception. Hailing from Los Angeles, they debuted single Astrovan in 2016 and gently exploded into the contemporary music scene. They haven’t looked back, hitting major festivals such as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza in the last two years. It’s a deserved victory. Their set features a tidal wave of upbeat hits interspersed with newer material. Notably of their upcoming album release, of which single Rearrange Us was released the day prior. Spoiler: it’s groovy, melancholic and excellent. With neighborhood restrictions on the venue, it’s an all-to-early finish, but we leave pleasantly uplifted. The front row is clearly exhausted from exuberant fangirling, while the rest of us silently wish we could do it all over again. There’s a reason Mt Joy is selling out in cities across the US. With a sound that could fill an arena, it’s a treat to catch them in an intimate local Austin venue.
When I learned about the Sublime – Michael Franti – Common Kings show set for August 1st at Stubbs Waller Creek, I knew this was one I couldn’t miss. A true 90’s kid, Sublime were a favorite of mine growing up. Despite tragic overdoses, lineup changes and then a precipitated name change, Sublime with Rome still hold such an undeniable sense of nostalgia for so many of us. I knew it would be a packed venue and a great evening.
The evening brought fair and sunny weather but also miserable heat and humidity – as is too often the case on an August evening in Texas. But Austin music lovers are resilient and resolute, and they flocked to the venue early in the evening, grabbing a cold one on their way in. I arrived as the opening act was wrapping their last song (unfortunately), but I was in time to catch a favorite of mine, Orange County’s reggae superstars, Common Kings.
Bound together by a passion for music and an impressive musical repertoire, Common Kings consists of five guys as perfectly ethnically and culturally diverse as you could get. Their sound, while undeniably reggae, also lends from pop, rock and R&B. It’s a deliciously upbeat, catchy sound. With their Youtube video for “Alcoholic” they garnered significant social media buzz and went on to generate quite a following. Touring internationally with some big names including Justin Timberlake and Matisyahu, they’ve reached a welcome reception all over the world and built a significant fanbase. Their debut album Lost In Paradise received a Grammy nomination. Opening for legends Sublime and the legendary Michael Franti, these anything-but-common artists had the crowd moving. Despite the intense heat, it was a joyful, sweaty, uplifting set.
Michael Franti and the Spearheads followed with an hour-long set of blissfully empowering music that inspired and invigorated the already buoyant crowd. Known as a philanthropist, humanitarian and filmmaker in addition to a prodigious, high-energy musician, Michael Franti and the Spearheads elevated the evening to another level. His energy, positivity and presence engulfed the crowd. Mid-song, he jumped the barricade several times to shake hands and hug his grinning crowd members. Clad in a “Work hard & be nice to people” sleeveless tee and a “Stay Human” hat, his joyful performance was contagiously upbeat. Franti sets the bar very high for what’s possible if you truly adore the performance and respect your audience.
Sublime with Rome wrapped the evening with a nostalgic set of their biggest ska punk hits and also some newer material. Now a collaboration between ex-Sublime band member Eric Wilson and guitarist Rome Ramirez, their act is a pleasant combination of nostalgia and new. For many years, folks questioned whether this re-envisioning of the Sublime legacy would succeed. And shows like this, with such a packed, energetic crowd, are testament to their persistence, talent and ultimate success. It was a treat to catch them live on the Stubbs stage.
“If you thought that the band would never be quite what it was back in the ’90s, good. Because they aren’t. And quite frankly, they shouldn’t be.”
We recently sat down with Des Rocs at the House of Blues in Dallas during his supporting leg of The Struts’ Young and Dangerous tour. In an endearingly perfect New York accent, he shares with us his passion for unbridled rock music. “My goal is to ignite an unapologetic rock revolution in the world. I want to spread rock n roll that’s worth listening to.”
I first caught wind of his act coming highly recommended by a respected fellow music photographer. Soon after, I was delighted to discover Des Rocs would be opening for Grandson on his No Apologies tour, which I was scheduled to cover in April. The set was everything I’d hoped for and more. It was joyfully wild, eccentric and sweaty, something akin to a young Elvis Presley performing an electrifying Arctic Monkeys set. I couldn’t wait to share. Of the tour, he recounts; “It was an electric tour, very politically charged and darkly emotional. For six weeks we were on a tour bus going to sold out show after sold out show – all 22 of them.” I came away with similar sentiments, and yet his set managed to set the Des Rocs name upon a towering new precipice; getting more notice than I think even he realized. I emailed him the very same night, asking when we could interview. I lucked out, learning of his Dallas set the very next month.
He’s been recently and repeatedly named as one of the rock genre’s young revolutionaries. Ones To Watch attributed a genre overhaul and a rock music renaissance to a select few artists, with Des Rocs at the top of that short list. It’s my most pressing question. “It’s definitely time for it. Rock is the worst genre of music, and for a reason.” He asserts, “All of the innovation and experimentation is being done in pop and urban – artists taking chances, which is paying off. People are moved by that experiment. But your regular run-of-the-mill alt rock band today sounds the same as they did in 2007.” He goes on to describe your average four white dudes in front of a cinder block wall, clad in skinny jeans and a white tee… and I can’t help but agree. It’s become a pretty predictable genre. Blandness is not befitting to any genre – but the solution, a-la Des Rocs – is greater experimental culture in modern rock. “I’m going to push rock into a weird twenty-first century place, drag it kicking and screaming if I have to,” he says.
Since no artist can find their place without the influence of those before them, I ask about his own musical upbringing. He talks of Elvis, Talking Heads, Queen, Roy Orbison, “a lot of blues, pop and rock.” Influences which do, indeed, come through in an average Des Rocs track. None of which are even close to average at all, really. It’s a delicious blend. Big rock with massive energy, it pull so many delightful tidbits from others; a bit of fuzzy guitar here, a confident coo, followed by a soul-shattering riff and a high-flying leap from the kickdrum. It’s wrapped with his own signature brand of energetic confidence and one hell of a howl. Quoting so many varied influences, I have ask about genre authenticity. Is it important to find a sound and stay true to it? “Culturally, (authenticity) is relevant… tradition is important.” He replies. But we get the feeling that Des Rocs isn’t really about staying true to a single tradition, rather the opposite.
It’s a recurring theme in this conversation. To what degree is the image as a trailblazer, revolutionary, unapologetic artist important to Des Rocs? He pauses. “I… I don’t really care.” Emphatically, another pause. “I just put out the music; if you like it, you like it, and if not… then great. I’ll just make these records in my bedroom.” He grins, his passionate New Yorker accent so potent. It’s clear I’m speaking with an artist who so clearly loves his craft and just won’t apologize for creating a sound that speaks to him.
I ask what his songwriting process is like. “It’s everything and anything. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a full song written in my head… I voice note it out, piece by piece. Somewhere in my phone is Let Me Live Let Me Die the first time it came to me.” A pause, and he continues after hesitating; “It’s really sporadic. Basically, my process is me trying to figure out my process.”
Which really, very honestly, is an excellent answer. Those artists who’ve found a prescribed sound and stick to a narrow vision really don’t help themselves, least of not in their live performance. And failing to stick to the prescribed is an area in which Des Rocs excels spectacularly. “You have to musically convey the energy without the fine-tuning and precision of a produced sound. The “so-and-so-bands” (name removed) of the world are lacking a sense of drama and tragedy.” He pauses, almost to catch up to his thoughts; “you have to be a fucked up individual to put on a live show that really moves people. There has to be a dark spot in your soul. Stuff today tends to be very sterile.”
He goes on to suppose, with another slight pause; “I think some of the best live stuff comes from twisted souls sitting in a basement in Ohio, who maybe don’t have a great recording but their performance is magic. We need to give those people a chance. Where else are we going to get the next Elvis or the next Prince?” From here, I point out that perhaps we’re looking at him. A notion met with a hopeful shrug and a smile.