The HBC Fest, being from Haebangchon, was born in the manner that is expected of it. Leaning on the bar in the Orange Tree (the old one that is, not the newer green one) Jim Gaynor listened as it was some how injected into his consciousness that he had the potential to organise and run a music festival in Haebangchon.
While no one (except Jim) will ever know what the shy and philosophical Australian with more gold teeth than real teeth dreamed off, this incident, a drunken conversation in a late-night venue, has gone on to be one of the most diverse and popular events on the waeguk scene in Korea. In fact I would argue that two events, the Seoul International DJ Festival and the Boryeong Mud Festival (both International festivals with major corporate and government support) are larger. The HBC Fest has grown and mutated and regrown and shrunk and mutated again into an orgasmic organic festival of Music, Art and Life.
Of course Jim was a little limited in his ability to do this alone. The first person he asked, Lance, in his typical confidence and understanding of the job at hand, probably just said, “sure, no problem. When?” Jim, in the spirit of all things Haebangchon should have said “Eh, tomorrow alright?”, but I suppose it was fortunate that he didn’t.
Logical and sober thought was followed by negotiations with the three bars on the street at the time, Orange Tree, Phillies and Ssen. A date was set (July 13, 2006), T-shirts were printed, venues were filled with acts, promo work was done, and before long a legend was born from the kind of drunken stupor the HBC Fest has become famous for inciting.
Jim Gaynor and his band, Grooble at an
early HBC Fest in Ssen Bar
After two festivals, Jim sadly informed his loved ones that he was going back to Japan because the beer was nicer there. One night not long after this sad news, I sent a text message to him that read, “Who is going to organise the festival now?” (in hindsight, I should have had more tact to realise what his answer was going to be). His reply? “You”. Crap.
At the third festival (and the first of three that year, spring, summer and autumn or fall) we proudly allowed the VFW sign-up as a venue. This was a major expansion because this second basement venue allowed for vital extra space for more bands. This was at a time when the live music scene was really taking off with bands like Saint John the Gambler and The Forty Days taking centre stage.
That year was also the first year that the festival really took to the streets with barbecues outside both the VFW and Indigo, and for many the festival air definitely smelled better with grilling barbecued chicken, steak, and sausages wafting down the street. It was, overall, a year of learning lessons. The sheer increase in size meant that a more sober approach on the day from the organisers (i.e. less indulgence on complimentary pints and whiskeys) was required. We also found that that the fest couldn’t supply every piece of equipment as damage was done to some, and that a firmer hand had to be taken with acts that misbehaved. Another important lesson had to do with the day we held the festival; in the summer festival in July, we held it at the same time as the second weekend of the Boryeong Mud Festival and you can take it that the festival will not be held on that day again.
My fondest memory of organising the festivals definitely came at our first Howlin’ Weenie Festival in October 2007. Against all odds we battled and won against one of the biggest going out nights of the year, with the streets crowded with festival goes dressed in all sorts of garb out to try and nab themselves one of the lucrative bottles of whiskey being offered as a prize in each bar. This really was a huge event and definitely the most successful festival up to that point. I really took to it and it was the perfect ‘last dance’ for me. The following May when the next festival was on I was at home in Ireland with my fiancée who I married less than a month later.
Since then Lance has managed the festivals pretty much single handedly, and in fairness to him he has done a great job as the festival has gone on and gotten stronger and stronger. Over the next few days I’ll fill you in on as many individual peculiarities as I can. I’ll also try to write a few things later on in the week about the festival, where it is going and why it can’t take the direction everyone wishes it could. I’d love to comment on the festivals in 2008 and 2009, but since I wasn’t at any of them my expertise is limited.
The last festival, May 2010, was the largest I’ve seen it. It was truly colossal. But there were problems; the bars themselves were hot (it being May you would be giving out if it was cold) and the majority of the people were out drinking on the street and bringing increased pressure on the traffic which encouraged the attention of the police. Many of the acts didn’t seem to be getting the crowd that you would think would be available.
This year, HBC Fest organisers are reiterating the importance of the actual music and performances at the festival, and they are asking for people to go into the bars and watch the performances. This opinion is not just that of the HBC Fest organisers, but it is also shared by many of regular attenders and performers who recognise the true potential of the festival. The bars, not short on business on the day, still need your business to keep the festival running as it is there money that is invested in promoting and paying for equipment. Without their support (and they need your support to support the festival) there will be no HBC Fest.
If the festival is to continue successfully and unhindered by the official strong arm of the law (one of the bars was threatened with closure at the last festival because of the large crowds), then the focus must remain on the bars and the bands and not as most people would like, the streets and the banter.
Please support the HBC Fest’s partners
“Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”
– St. Oddball
(As with some previous posts, feel free to share it with others as much as you like, but remember who wrote it. Sure ye wouldn’t like it if I did it to you! Sound.)