Interview with Jahshie P of MoonRunners Music FestivalPhil Collins - April 17, 2017
MoonRunners Music Festival brings together country, roots and punk for the fifth year running, May 5-6 at Reggies. This year's lineup includes country and roots mainstays Shooter Jennings, Scott H. Biram, Pearls Mahone, Jesse Dayton, The Hooten Hallers and punk bands Escape From the Zoo, Evil Empire, Still Alive, Won't Stay Dead and more. I talked with Jahshie P, founder of the festival, recently on Skype. He also plays in the local punk bands Last False Hope and The Decayed, both of which play this year's fest. We talked about the origins of the fest, MoonRunner's fifth year and how roots/country fans respond to punk and hardcore.
Phil Collins: Congrats on year five of MoonRunners Music Fest.
Jahshie P: Thank you.
PC: Yeah, absolutely. How, can you just take us through how this whole thing got started and have you been at Reggies all five years?
JP: Yeah, it’s been at Reggies all five years. It actually started, me and my friend Shooter Jennings had a website called moonrunnerscountry.com. It was a news website, reviews, show reviews, just random posts, stuff like that. That ended up going under, it got hacked by somebody, something went wrong and the site crashed. I started a music festival right around that same year so I decided to take the name from the website and move it along to the festival so there’s still the MoonRunners name going on.
PC: Reggies is a great venue for it, you’ve got the two sides so that gives you a lot of flexibility.
JP: For sure. Yeah, we usually don’t overlap any bands, it’s usually one after the other. You’ve got to walk between two rooms, so it’s pretty easy to catch every band that you want to see. It’s really fun seeing bands in the smaller room and the big room. It’s crazy packed in the small room usually, so it’s kind of fun watching bands over on that side.
PC: The two rooms have a pretty distinct feel from each other, too. It’s kind of cool to get different vibes.
JP: Yeah, absolutely. I mean you’ve got the great lights and sound in the big room, so it’s definitely two different vibes, completely.
PC: With there being so many festivals in the Chicago area, I think MoonRunners has a distinct thing going on, but did you have that in mind when you first got started, the kind of abundance of things going on in the scene?
JP: No, you know, Chicago fests are really not my competition, not that I want competition. It’s other fests with these same styles of music that are popping up all over the country and that’s kind of taking a big hit for us. It used to be just us and a festival called Muddy Roots, out in Tennessee. We were the only ones really focusing on this type of music, underground roots music, and now there’s probably seven or eight festivals doing that so that’s really, really put a damper on things for our fest and hurts ticket sales and what not. The thing is, no Chicago people really come out, it’s almost all people traveling. I’ve got to try to get the Chicago people out there somehow but it seems like the first four years, it’s all people traveling to get there.
PC: Interesting. So it’s a different kind of draw than putting together a regular, one-off show.
JP: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely a different draw because the bands are from all over. I got like five or six local bands on the show, but I mean, for the most part the bands are from all over the country.
PC: I’ve always noticed in the lineup for sure that even so there seems to be a good representation of local punk bands, I saw you’ve got Evil Empire on there this year. There always seems to be a good handful on the lineup so it’s cool to see that as part of the fest.
JP: Yeah, absolutely, I mean that’s what I grew up on, punk rock. I got into the roots and country scene a little bit later in my life, when I was like 12, 13. That’s the two types of music I’ve been listening to my whole life. At first I didn’t have too many punk bands, except my own band. Then the third year I actually had the Unseen headline, so I changed it up quite a bit, I had a lot of punk bands that year. Since then, I’ve been doing about, you know, 25% punk bands.
PC: Escape From the Zoo is on this year.
JP: Yeah, I’m so excited about them. They’re an incredible band, incredible.
PC: That album they just put out is fantastic.
JP: Killacopter? Yeah, it’s killer. I wish more people knew about them. Most people know Days N Daze, but I think Escape From the Zoo, personally, is much better than Days N Daze. That’s my own personal opinion.
PC: This is a good year for all of them with the new Days N Daze album, Escape From the Zoo, My Pizza My World had an album out like six months ago, so there’s a lot going on with that crew. For a festival like this, how many people do you have working to set it up and you know, get everything together?
JP: I’ve got the venue which provides the sound, the lights, the staff, everything else, but besides that I do everything myself. Booking, paying, everything else, contracts. It’s all me.
PC: I imagine that takes up quite a bit of your time.
JP: Oh yeah. I usually start booking about two months after the fest, so it’s about 10 months out of the year that I spend working on this. And this year is actually two months earlier than last year so I’ve only had a limited time to work on it and promote it this year. Last year was July, this year we moved it back to May. It’s been a tight, tight schedule but you learn to deal with it.
PC: You’ve got your band, Last False Hope playing and then you’ve got a new band as well playing, right?
JP: Yeah, the Decayed. Really, really excited about that band. No roots really in it whatsoever, it’s just straight up thrash, punk rock, little bits of metal in there. It’s just heavy, definitely for the hardcore fans. We’ll be playing at like 11 a.m. on Saturday so nobody’s going to see us.
PC: You’ll kick things off.
JP: Oh yeah, I’m not going to put my new band after touring bands.
PC: As you mentioned, with a lot of people coming in from out of town and more country and roots fans, how have they been with the more harder punk bands and stuff like that on the lineup?
JP: Still Alive, this is their third year playing and they’ve gone over really well every year. I mean, it’s their acquired taste, obviously, some people walk out but you have the core people that are just really impressed by it. So, I would say it goes over pretty well. And I don’t care if it didn’t, I mean I’d be up front enjoying the bands anyway. I’d still book them even if nobody cared, as long as they still play.
PC: Still Alive kicks ass, they’re so much fun to see.
JP: They’re a great, great band.
PC: I saw there’s a free comp out this year with a lot of the bands playing.
JP: Yeah, yeah my friends at Muddy Roots put that out for us, which was nice of them. Yeah, there’s a free comp online, I don’t know exactly where you go to get it, I think muddyrootsmusic.com possibly, but I’ll throw up a link for that as well. [Download it here.]
PC: Any other bands on this year’s lineup that you’re looking forward to seeing?
JP: Shooter Jennings, of course. He’s one of my favorites, he’s bringing his L.A. band, he’s been on tour with his Dad’s band for like the last six years so it’s going to be a definitely different show than he’s been putting on. Scott H. Biram, he plays every single year, pretty much. He’s always a great, great time, so I’m looking forward to that. As you mentioned, Escape From the Zoo, I’m looking forward to. Everybody on the bill, I mean I wouldn’t book them if I wasn’t a fan of their music, so it’s a treat for me. Selfish as it is, I get to see all my favorite bands.
PC: One of the nice things about festivals too, I’ve found over the years, is you buy into the whole day and then you end up seeing bands you might not normally see, or go out of your way to see. Have you found out about anyone over the years that you really didn’t know too much about beforehand?
JP: Yeah, sure. I’ve had a lot of bands hit me up. Probably about five or six bands that I booked this year was through emails. I get a ton, I don’t have a chance to check out every one of them, unfortunately, but I check out what I can and if I like their stuff, then I put them on for sure. This year probably about, like I said, five, six bands were from just people hitting me up, asking to play.
PC: Anything else that you wanted to kind of spotlight about this year’s fest?
JP: No, just get your tickets. www.moonrunnersmusicfestival.com There’s two day passes, there’s single day passes, and then there’s also nightly passes, so you could get tickets for really cheap if you just want to check out a couple bands, but I prefer people go for the whole weekend, of course.