Pushing Boundaries: Walla Fest breaks out of the suburbs
Clique, one of the bands performing at this year’s Walla Fest | photo by Sabrina Jacot

“We actually never really call it a ‘festival.’ It’s in the name, but I think the word ‘fest’ is more about the vibe of many things happening at once over a longer period of time.”

That statement from co-founder Keba Robinson pinpoints the underlying motivation of annual music, art and film event Walla Fest.

“We prefer calling it something along the lines of a ‘gathering.’ It’s a gathering of people but also a gathering of art and experiences.”

Now in its third year, Walla Fest is breaking away from its suburban roots in Norristown to take up residence at PhilaMOCA on August 8th and 9th. And with that venue’s alternative approach to showcasing art, this seems like a match made in heaven.

But rewind two years and you would find Robinson, along with co-founders Yesenia Bello and Anthony Bui, looking for a way to take a school project to a larger audience.

“The three of us who started it had helped to put together a concert and art show type deal in high school and after that we were kinda just like, let’s do this again but somewhere else and then about a month later we had our first Walla Fest.”

For two years Walla had a home at The Center Theatre in Norristown. Bello attributes the event’s freeform and eclectic structure to the roominess and alternative purpose of that space, saying:

“I don’t think that we would have gotten to what makes Walla different and interesting had we started in a more widely accessible location, or really, had we started anywhere other than The Center Theatre.”

The Districts perform at Walla Fest in 2012 | Photo via YouTube

While those early days certainly influenced the direction of Walla, the showcase is not defined by its location. Instead, the event is a way to share and celebrate art of all sounds and styles; originally created by their friends, now created by their peers at large.

And they want to shake things up.

“We were trying to keep alive a successful music and art fest in a small, not so on the map town, made for tons of experimenting. Always pushing for a wider audience, we have tried everything from bubbles in the gallery space, odd instruments for people to play with during down time, communal disposable cameras, and theater props, just to name a few.”

An important aspect of Walla Fest is its genre-fluid approach to booking, resulting in a potpourri comprised of many musical styles.

“A thing that I think we really strive for with the show is that it pairs a lot of different genres of music together in one lineup, so fans of one band that would regularly not be out to see a live show of another band will maybe discover some new music that they really dig,” says Bello.

Robinson adds:

“It’s always been a challenge of ours, how to successfully put very disparate genres side by side in the same show instead of doing that thing where you book bands according to how they are  sonically or socially similar.”

Marisa Dabice of Mannequin Pussy performs at Hazzard Hall | Photo by John Vettese

Mannequin Pussy, seen here at Hazzard Hall, will play this year’s Walla Fest | Photo by John Vettese

This year’s line-up sticks pretty close to that mission. Baltimore’s Mothpuppy joins local acts Clique, NAH and Mannequin Pussy on day one, while Rich Flow represents Walla’s Norristown roots alongside New York’s Turnip King and Chicago’s Landmarks on day two (just to name a few).

Sonically speaking, the bands land along a spectrum of emo rock, punk rock, bedroom folk-pop, hip hop and more.

And with the new venue comes a tighter focus on the non-musical aspects of the event as well. Films will be screened between bands and artwork will fill PhilaMOCA’s walls in way that is synergistic and thought-provoking.

Looking ahead, the founders want to continue to make Walla Fest a place that sparks creativity and inspires new ways of expressing art.

“I kinda think it’d be cool to push against that more so that people can be influenced outside of their taste-zones, find something new, or maybe be a catalyst for something new.  Perhaps that won’t come to fruition in this next Walla but i’m interested in pointing in that direction.”

Pick up tickets and get more information on the two day gathering here, and get more information at its Facebook Event Page. View the full line-up and check out some of the bands below.

Day One
Mannequin Pussy
Brandon Can’t Dance
Rhetoric Wallace & Uncle Crimson
Shannen Moser

Day Two
Norwegian Arms
Hello Shark
Turnip King
Rich Flow
Buddy Leezle

Cal Fish
Elliot Bech
Krispy Feldman
Lydia AD
Madeline Babuka Black
Michelle Krysztofiak
Stu Olshevski

Film Screenings
Things are OK directed by Cory McConnell
Super Stupid!!! by Madeline Babuka Black
Disposer by Elliot Bech
We’re Gonna Be Lords directed by Robert Lopuski


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