In my training class to become a WKNC DJ, among the many pieces of advice our then station general manager gave us was to “not just play music made by four white guys”. This was met by laughs, but that line stuck with me because of how relevant it still is. When I was a daytime DJ I tried to have sets with a strong female representation, but four or so guys still made up most of the songs aired from 10 to 11 p.m. on Thursdays. And that doesn’t even take into account the “white” part of that; many genres such as modern indie rock are overrepresented by white artists and artists of color will often have their work labeled as R&B even when that label doesn’t fit the music, which can box in both exposure and creative freedom.
Enter Manifest. This is a festival that, according to the website, is “focused on dismantling patriarchy, misogyny, and white supremacy” with a diverse lineup that draws from a wide variety of races, sexualities and gender identities. Now dismantling vast social hierarchies is a lofty goal, but they’ve definitely got the lineup down. This is a festival that has seen acts like Skylar Gudasz and Hopscotch 2021 attendee Sarah Shook, and this year the acts range from Basura who make minute-and-a-half long death metal bangers to trans experimental artist KHX05 who brings a nervy and rebellious energy to her mixtapes and remix EPs.
Manifest bills itself as mostly a punk festival, and there are a number of punk bands making an appearance. Gown is a hardcore metallic punk band that has seven members, three of whom play the cello, while Fortezza is an doom punk band out of Asheville whose long guitar solos and verses screamed over a lone drumbeat create a chaotic and apocalyptic feel to fit their hand-drawn album covers. The artists have a distinctly local flavor too. Of the 28 acts coming to Chapel Hill this weekend, 21 are from the Triangle area, and five of them won’t have to leave their hometown to make it there.
This is the fifth iteration of Manifest, and it’s the fifth time in these exact three venues. The festival is mostly based around Local 506, a bar and club that, when not hosting live acts, is known for having themed dance parties such as the 80s-style one that I went to this summer. This is where tickets and wristbands are picked up and where WKNC is running the merch table. When not at the Local 506, festivalgoers can head to two other locations, one of which is The Cave. This is another bar/club hybrid, iconic in Chapel Hill for its alley location and will often host rock and punk rock bands.
Now despite having essentially grown up in downtown Chapel Hill, I’ll admit I had to look up the last venue, Rosemary Street’s The Nightlight. It’s the only one of the venues not located on Franklin Street, and its website is at time of writing a single page detailing its closures due to COVID and in the spirit of Manifest, a link to a mutual aid fund. All of these are within a quarter mile walk of each other so it should be easy to go between any of the simultaneous shows being played.
Continuity is a major theme here, and not just in the venues. Manifest 5 marks the fourth appearance of Raleigh’s Fruit Snack at the aforementioned festival, a band whose members work at multiple venues in the Triangle and whose themes of anti-capitalism, openness about sex and dislike of the police fit right in with Manifest’s mission statement. It also features a ukulele player. Meanwhile, punk act Pie Face Girls has attended every single iteration since the festival began in 2016. This in combination with its many local sponsors including Orange County Arts Commission, Chapel Hill’s own Midway Market and this radio station gives this festival a strong feeling of community that puts those goals of social change front and center.
I’m personally quite excited to cover Manifest. While I won’t be able to see every artist (The Cave being 21+ is unfortunate but understandable) there are a lot of acts I really want to see and blog about, and a lot of artists I had never heard of before and really want to get to know as part of my ongoing efforts to further connect with the local music scene here. After all, homegrown music with a message is the new punk rock. And the old one too.