By Philip Obenschain (@pobenschain).
Chad Gilbert is a busy guy. “When I’m off tour I don’t want to be stir crazy, I want to contribute,” he explains, between bites of toast and avocado slices. We’re meeting for breakfast at a local cafe, situated in historic downtown Franklin, the idyllic community just 20 miles from Nashville. To Chad, a Florida native who spent much of his adult life living in Los Angeles, before making the full-time move to Nashville a few years ago, Franklin feels like a peaceful enclave of Nashville proper (“I lived in LA for 14 years. This traffic is nothing,” he proclaims). But ask any Franklin native, and they’ll tell you that it’s undoubtedly its own city, and one with a small town closeness and pride independent from its larger neighbor, which has afforded the space and desire for Gilbert to carve out his own DIY niche.
AN AMBITIOUS IDEA AND PERFECT TIMING
His latest project? A breakfast themed music festival, BreakFEST, which will see 10 punk and indie bands descend on The Factory at Franklin’s Liberty Hall, an ornate space best known for previously hosting weekly Americana variety show Music City Roots, set to take place this Sunday, June 24. Heading up the event is Gilbert’s own band, New Found Glory, returning after an impressive three sold out shows in Nashville last year as part of their 20th anniversary tour. Joined by a mix of established and up and coming acts, nearly all based or partially based in the Nashville area, the event will see The Factory flooded with younger, more punk enthused patrons than would normally be spotted frequenting the upscale local shops and restaurants that populate the complex.
But why breakfast? “Living in Franklin, the three things I hear people talk about all the time are coffee- every meeting or hangout revolves around coffee, music, and not enough to do for young adults,” Chad tells us, grinning at both the genius and silliness of the prospect, “Why wouldn’t you get up early to go see some punk rock if you’ve never done that before? Watch a band at 9 a.m. and eat a donut. It’s an experience that you don’t often get to do.”
Stemming from an idea he had before relocating to Nashville, Gilbert first got the festival bug when the opportunity to do something at a popular venue in Southern California was presented, but never came to fruition. Still, he bought the domain name and kept the idea at the back of his mind, finally struck with an aha moment when the general manager of The Factory, a space he frequents, asked if he’d ever be interested in hosting an event in one of the complex’s halls, fortuitously at a time New Found Glory were booking a tour in support of last year’s Makes Me Sick, still absent a local date.
Before I could even ask, he clarifies that yes, NFG have done this before, or at least something similar: “In the early 2000s, New Found Glory played a show in Colorado for a radio station. It was called ‘Kegs and Eggs’ or something like that. We played at 7 a.m. in a bar, and I remember they picked us up at the airport then night before, and we drove by the venue and there was a line at three in the morning of kids waiting to get in. At 7 a.m., it was the craziest show, people were flipping off the bar. The venue only held like 400 people, and it was insane.”
And yes, he’s serious about the breakfast angle. Doors for the event open at 8 a.m., and among the various local venders supplying eats and treats are Frothy Monkey, Five Daughters, Honest Coffee, High Brow, Triple Crown Bakery, Tito’s Vodka, and more. To add a little extra incentive for early risers, freebies and entry gifts will also be supplied for the first 300 people to arrive.
FROM PUNK ROCK ROOTS TO COMMUNITY BUILDING
Though his most ambitious and most visible local undertaking, BreakFEST is just the latest community-focused event Chad has been apart of. Tracing back to his roots in the DIY punk scene, Gilbert is the type of person who creates what he wants to see in his community, and excels at doing so. Inspired by Alamo Drafthouse and their pop culture obsessed Mondo brand, Chad and some fellow movie lovers launched The Movie Gang back in 2015, hosting periodic, fan-focused, nostalgic screenings of classics like Home Alone, The Goonies, Wanye’s World, and Indiana Jones at the historic Franklin Theatre, not far from The Factory, adding increasingly more elaborate activities and amenities thanks to a host of local sponsors.
“[It’s] like Rocky Horror but for everything,” Gilbert explains, describing his process of studying each film to craft lighting cues, and ideas for giveaways and tie-ins, insisting that by remaining a fan himself, he can approach everything with a sense of fun and personal gratification. “If I was doing it for the business aspect, I would be the worst businessman in the world,” he laughs, “You grow a community, you have fun.”
That same community building and ability to view his work as a fan carries over to BreakFEST as well, which, through a personal, DIY approach to curation, tapping into the local scene, and thanks to the relatively intimate size of the space compared to most festivals, Chad hopes to set the boutique event apart. “When you go to a big festival, you’re just an attendee. With BreakFEST, it’s in a room that holds about 2,000 people. My goal is for the experience to be where every person there matters and is a part of it. The goal is not just to have a festival, but build a community,” he tells us, adding “A lot of punk festivals lean too punk rock. One thing I want to do with BreakFEST is to connect the dots between genres, to find the common thread that connects it all.”
TWO DECADES IN AND JUST GETTING STARTED
Now celebrating 21 years with New Found Glory, a group which began in his native Florida, Gilbert has also flirted with record production, a handful of side projects, and even a few solo records under the moniker What’s Eating Gilbert, but with NFG’s incredibly busy touring and recording schedule in recent years, he’s grown to enjoy taking a breather whenever he can, and using his time to explore new outlets like The Movie Gang and BreakFEST. “When I’m home I want to be home. I don’t want to be in a room with no windows. I like the sun,” Chad asserts, pondering the prospect of future solo or production efforts.
While his band is geography spaced out (singer Jordan Pundik resides in San Diego, though he purchased a Nashville home a few years ago, and bassist Ian Grushka and drummer Cyrus Bolooki are both in Florida), they’ve made Music City their de facto base of operations, opting to rehearse, record, and keep their equipment here, giving local fans increasingly more opportunities to see them play, and acting as a magnet to attract peers in similar bands to pass through more frequently.
Like Gilbert, the group as a whole have retained their passion and drive by remaining fans, sticking true to their roots and making professional and creative decisions that, above all, serve their audience. “We always stay excited about new things. We’ve always driven our band through the eyes of a fan,” Chad asserts. Weathering (while helping usher in) the pop punk explosion of the early ’00s, and remaining a dependable act as it’s all but faded from the mainstream, the guitarist feels at peace with the microcosm of music they inhabit, and the state of their particular niche, which has been creatively flourishing and attracting renewed critical attention once more over the past several years.
Observing the state of pop punk in 2018, Gilbert muses what could double as a mission statement for his entire festival: “The community is back in the right hands. When people are hungry for it, it makes them love it more. Now that it’s back as the underdog, fans want to show up and show love.”
The inaugural BreakFEST is a testament to Nashville and Franklin’s prolific, flourishing, and communal underground punk and indie scene, and an essential boutique event in the summer festival landscape- an off-kilter and refreshingly unique idea we hope to see continue for years to come. Grab tickets and find out more right here.