Another Cup of
Coffee with Brandon Herrington of the Fareveller Music Fest

Here’s one thing about Brandon Herrington you need to know: he founded Fareveller, a weekend-long music festival in Memphis that will celebrate its second year this March. Here’s (maybe) a more important thing about Brandon Herrington: he founded Fareveller because he loves music, and because no one else had yet. 

To anyone else, creating a 4-day, multi-venue music festival from scratch would be the last conceivable way to stay active in music. To hear Brandon tell it, it was as simple as going to the store when you realize you’re out of milk. Because he’s so naturally laid-back, as Brandon talks about Fareveller—and his own background as a musician in Memphis—he honestly sounds unimpressed.

He shouldn’t be.

Enjoy Another Cup of Coffee with Brandon Herrington!

Are you from Memphis originally? Where’d you grow up?

I am from Memphis. I’ve been in Memphis pretty much my whole life. I left briefly for college, then came back.

Where’d you go to college?

Jackson, Mississippi. I went to Mississippi College, it’s a really small college. And finished up at University of Memphis.

Did you study music?

Yeah. I ended up with a music business degree at Memphis.

How did you originally link up with Landon [Moore, one of Memphis’s best—and most prolific—bassists] to form This Is Goodbye? Did you go to Houston [High], too?

Nah, I went to White Station. I just met Landon in the music world. I was playing in a band called Dora and he was in another band. And we played shows together, hung out, his friends became my friends. Next thing you know, Dora broke up and This Is Goodbye started.

I’m curious about the arc of that band. When did it really start and when did y’all actually break up?

It’s hard–it seems like such a long time ago! I think 2002 was when This Is Goodbye really got together. And we hit it hard for about two years. Toured, recorded, had a little spec deal with Young Avenue Sound. It took a long time to develop, though, and it eventually imploded. After that, I got married, our drummer got married. We officially broke up in Champaign, Illinois. We played our last show there and then had to drive all the way home being broken up.

But we kept getting back together for random shows…

This is why I was asking! I’ve been to two or three “last shows.”

…yeah, yeah! It’s the dumbest thing. Dan at the Hi-Tone would always call us when some great band came through town. He knew we could bring a good crowd. “Cursive’s coming, can you open for them?” Of course we can. “Mute Math’s coming, can you open for them?” Of course we can. So we kept having these “last shows.” It got to be a kind of a running joke, but it was still fun to play together.

We all still play, though. Landon, Will, Jared, and I have been writing a bunch of electronic music.

Landon and I were recording here in August and he told me about an electronic project he was working on. Same thing?

Yeah, it’s called Fast Planet. It’s not finished. We’re going to put out a full-length album eventually. It’s mostly electronic, some guitar, and then I’m singing. It’s taken about a year of us getting together once a week. We spend about half the time trying to figure out what we’re doing. We have an idea and then have to figure out how to make it work.

In my experience, that’s where a lot of the good stuff comes from. Not going in with any one preconceived notion, seeing where an idea takes you.

Right, right. 

Where is it in development?

We have between nine and twelve songs that we’re going to release. Almost everything’s recorded. And we’re mixing them as we go–a guy in town named James Joseph. He’s mixed three so far.

2011 was Fareveller’s first year. How did you go from being a full-time musician to creating a music festival?

Wow, “full-time musician” is a strong term! I have a full-time job doing marketing for an architecture firm. It’s been a while since I really made money playing music. But the reason I did it is because I thought Memphis needed it. I’ve played in bands here for years. I’d get frustrated going to other cities and seeing their music scene, going to Pygmalion, going to South By Southwest, and thinking, “I’ve dug my roots in here in Memphis, I’m married, I’m at an age where it would be harder for me to work and tour as a musician…” So I started thinking, what can I do to still be involved in the music industry?

So, the music festival to me was the easiest way to get back involved in the music business without having any direct influence over the creativity of the artist. I didn’t want to be a label, I didn’t want to work for a publisher. I didn’t want anything where I had to sell pop music. I want people to produce their music exactly how they want, and then I can just give them a stage and bring people to their shows.

Give them a platform.

Right. The festival, to me, was the coolest way to do that. That’s the goal.

I went to Jeremy Stanfill’s show at P&H last year, and I saw Star & Micey later that night at Young Avenue. Both really good turnouts. I missed the other nights because I was out of town. How’d they all turn out? What were the pleasant surprises? What were some lessons you learned from year one?

It went really well. Over the course of the three nights, we had around 1,200 people come out. I was surprised by where the turnouts happened. I booked what I thought would be the biggest night for Thursday at the Hi-ToneMargot & the Nuclear So-and-So’s, Dignan, etc. But other nights ended up being bigger. The local shows at the Deli were big. Star & Micey. Ben [Nichols, of Lucero].

Ben filled in last-minute, right?

Right, Ben filled in for Damien Jurado. Played solo and brought a big Lucero crowd, which was great. It’s tough because you’re taking a risk booking out-of-town bands, but you have to book out-of-town bands. That’s the goal of the festival. Bring talent to Memphis, and showcase the talent in Memphis.

What are your goals for Year 2?

It’s all baby steps. Rachel [Hurley, editor of TVD Memphis] suggested we do some daytime events—which is a great idea. Having a ton of different events every day would be amazing. Until the festival really makes money, I have to be careful about how much we do. I don’t want to dilute the main purpose–buying a wristband and seeing shows for three nights.

This year, we’re scaling back the number of artists and venues. We did close to forty last year. We’re trying to book a little bit larger out-of-town acts. And then make sure we book good locals that can draw. And also, really focus the shows.

In terms of focus, you mentioned one venue—likely Newby’s—would host just electronic artists. Will the other venues be that genre-specific?

Young Avenue Deli will definitely be more of the indie rock stuff. One truth about Memphis–and it’s something I think can change–is that people don’t cross boundaries too often. People who go to the Hi-Tone don’t typically go to Newby’s. And part of that’s great! It can be awesome, because it nurtures these little scenes. But part of it can be bad if people don’t consider going to a show just because it’s in the wrong room–it’s in the wrong “scene.” We have to be careful–the same band that could pull really well at the Hi-Tone just wouldn’t pull as well at Newby’s.

What would you like to see Fareveller look like in five years? Ten years? What’s the ideal vision for it?

The ideal vision is more along the lines of Pygmalion. The only reason I keep bringing that one up is because that’s my biggest frame of reference. It’s a festival that’s 100% devoted to live shows. Not too much other stuff going on. For the weekend of that festival, the city is devoted to those shows. Around 6000 people come out. It’s all a certain level of indie music and below. It’s not Top 40, and it’s also not against any of that. It’s just about progressive indie music. I’d love for Fareveller to maybe get larger than that, but I don’t want it necessarily to be a SXSW. That’s an industry festival. That’s a $700 wristband, and a bunch of the bands don’t get paid to play.

I want a festival where bands get paid to play, and it’s affordable for the people in our city to come.

From the artist’s side, that’s really refreshing.

We paid every single artist last year, and we’ll pay every single artist this year. It may not be much, but it’s something. Even if it’s an out-of-town band and the crowd wasn’t great, I told them I’d pay them. It’s my mistake if I booked them and nobody came.

The timing of Fareveller—the week after SXSW—is interesting. I bet a lot of bands playing both would find this a nice change of pace.

The thing about SXSW—and again, I don’t have anything against this—but its intention is to be an industry conference. It’s an opportunity for the industry to showcase their artists. It’s huge, and it does a big thing for Austin, and that’s awesome. But if we can take advantage of the bands coming off of South By, and they need touring stops on the way home, we want them to come through Memphis. We should have a place for them.

How many artists would you like to book this year?

Probably no more than twenty-five.

Who are you listening to right now?

Besides M83? I’m all over the map. I’m listening to Bon Iver. I’m listening to a lot of Fleet Foxes. There’s a guy, Jose Gonzalez, and his band is called Junip. It’s really good stuff.

I came into the new Fleet Foxes record a very casual fan of the first. But this album made a big leap for me. Just on the singing alone—I really admire it.

I agree. I liked four or five songs on the first album but this one I went, “Oh, I get it.”

What’s your impression of Memphis music right now? On an upswing? Downswing?

Maybe both? I have to be careful here. I think Memphis goes through cycles. When I was nineteen, we were playing shows to 300-400 people at Newby’s. I don’t know too many bands in Memphis right now that could draw those crowds. And it’s not the quality of bands, because I don’t think we were all that great! I just think the scene was that good.

But, I think people in Memphis are taking things more seriously now. Which is very good. And guys like Jonathan at the Hi-Tone, booking people that I’ve never heard booked here before. The Hi-Tone’s calendar has just been great. Rachel’s doing her part. Everyone is.

I still worry about Memphis a little bit, because I think there’s still a mentality that it’s about the past. While the past is very important–as I sit here in Ardent Studios–it won’t sustain us as a music community.

The things that made Memphis a historically special place for music talent are still here. It’s still a geographic hub for people in the mid-south. It’s still a way-station for people passing through. It’s still as awesomely weird as it ever was. There’s so much talent in this city. I see it all the time.

I totally agree. Bands that came through last year for Fareveller said all the time how great it was that they got to tour Ardent or Sun or the Stax Museum. One band said, “we just walked around Beale Street–are those people just playing there all the time? Like, every night? Because, holy crap.” Yeah, they’re there! You’re right, and that’s just Beale Street.

And I also think more people like you, like Cities Aviv–you’re breaking the stigma that I always heard, which is “if you’re in Memphis, you don’t tour.” It’s been so awesome to see Star & Micey, or you, or Cities Aviv out there touring.

Yeah, I love coming home to Memphis, and I love staying busy when I’m here. But I gotta hit the road.

Right. And the other cool thing is that, if a Memphis artist does tour, and then they play a show back home, it’s a bigger deal. “Oh, they’ve been gone for two months–we need to go see them.” Lucero gets huge crowds in Memphis partly because they don’t play here all the time.

What is your favorite bar? Most frequented bar?

I live and work downtown, so my most frequented bar right now…probably BarDog. Unpretentious, great jukebox. Favorite bar? Gotta be Earnestine & Hazel’s. I’ve spent too much time there.

You’ve got one meal left in Memphis. What is it?

Oh, wow. You sound like Landon! Landon’s a huge Top 5 guy. That’s how he passes the time on tour: “top five vending machines!” Just ranking anything. I’m the worst at coming up with these answers.

And it’s totally unfair, because when I ask, I’m asking because I’ve already been thinking about it for two hours.

I know! It’s probably a New York club at Fino’s. Two pepper shooters. Yeah, that’s my answer.

Finally: Memphis is…?


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