Johnny Schaefer said the inspiration for one of Houston’s fastest-growing music festivals came from an endearing 1993 comedy. Schaefer is a partner of House of J, the Eastside’s music and arts venue for local and touring independent artists. The venue’s festival – aptly dubbed J Fest – comes to life for a fifth edition this weekend. In all, more than two dozen acts will perform on multiple stages from Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 2.
And it all started with Wayne and Garth.
“The idea of the festival was quite fun. We were throwing those kind of little shows in our living room, the ones with 30 people in there, 10 people hanging out and stuff,” Schaefer said. His favorite band at the time, he says, was Houston’s Escape From the Zoo. He wanted to create a showcase event with this group as headliners.
“I was looking Wayne’s World 2 when he sees this naked Native American and the guy is like, ‘If you book ’em, they’ll come,’” Schaefer said, almost suggesting the character in the movie was talking to him from the screen. “I thought, I don’t know if I could really book a festival. I was like, maybe I’ll just message (EFTZ singer and author’s son) Jesse and Jesse was like, ‘Of course man, I’m in.’ I was like, ‘I guess this thing is falling.’
“It was the first and it just grew from there,” Schaefer said. “It’s been kind of biannual, in the fall and in the spring.”
Earlier this year, the festival expanded to include sets at House of Jat 323 Hutcheson, and Voyage Six HTX, a haven for heavy metal and hardcore punk bands at 6230 Rupley Circle. This latest opus is based on the idea of extending to other places, in particular rebound bar, The end and a secret performance venue.
“John Hale opened a venue and Stupid Idiot is on his sister label, Grimace’s Shape-Shift (Records), so we were happy to work with him and the people there (at The End). And Norbert owns Kickback Bar, who’s actually like a good friend of House of J he’s a really cool guy it’s like you can literally throw a rock and hit House of J’s Kickback Bar it’s one train stop away Kind of a cool dive with a really good sound, bassist Pep usually does their sound, he helped design all the audio and there’s a cool scene.
“Day two will be pretty much House of J and Kickback Bar at the same time. You could ride back and forth, if you bring your bike that would be cool, a longboard maybe. And, you could take the train, just one stop. It’s really not far,” Schaefer continued. “The way we’ve done the bills, it’s kind of built specifically for maybe where people are going to want to move around a bit .”
“So we’re finishing House of J a little earlier than usual. The latest House of J band is Poserz, who are a banger, by the way. If you don’t know the metal band The Poserz, they are crazy. But then we have a secret place coming up, there’s going to be a band in a secret place. Secret group, secret location to be announced this week.
Schaefer released details of the secret show. The set will begin at a gas station across from House of J. A full hour-long set begins there among the Funyuns and lotto tickets featuring the headliner, artists from the indie rap label No Empathy. Some exciting young artists are on this label, including Ishgenius and Kanaki. They’ll end the set at the nearby Kickback Bar, “so everyone will kind of have to do this little run at the end,” Schaefer said.
Like many House of J events, the festival caters to all ages for the entire event at each venue. And there will be something for music fans of all kinds, starting with headliners, punk icons from Houston 30footFALL, up-and-coming punks from Dallas and Grimace Records act Noogy and punk legends from San Antonio Chicana Fea. Schaefer said most festival attendees will have these acts on their radar.
“I would have to say, just to digress, 30footFALL and Fea were like bucket lists. These are kind of obvious. Noogy too. But the ones to watch that people might not know about, I would say, day one, Artificial Fun. They have a kind of indie, a kind of punk vibe. Really cool and different band. They are young children. I would definitely try to go out to see them.
“The second day, I mean, it depends on the venue. House of J, I would say Bondbreaker. They’re from Austin and they played at the Black and Brown Fest. It’s a really heavy band, husband and wife are in this band, they’re cool. At Kickback Bar, I would just say No Empathy. You have to see them, it’s going to be crazy.
“The last day, if I had to choose, Fuska or Trashkat. There are many local legends on the third day. You have Fuska and Ganesha and Trashkat, Whitney (Flynn) is obviously playing. A bunch of local favorites on the last day.”
“It’s always been our dream to book these large groups into these small, accessible venues at a relatively cheap price,” Schaefer summed up. “You can get all of these bands for $30. Like $10 a day. It’s a good thing. We keep it cheap because we want people to have money to spend on bands, you know?
“We obviously can’t do it for nothing,” although you get the feeling that Schaefer and company would if they could. He and his House of J partners Alberta Rollins and Jeffer Thomason have made it their goal to bring audiences closer to some of the country’s top independent musical artists.
“The older he gets, the more fun we have putting on these ridiculously big, organized multi-genre festivals. It’s just a lot of fun.
Schaefer is already wondering what’s next for the festival, how big it can grow, and what bigger acts it can add to its growing legacy. One thing that won’t change is “it’s definitely community driven and always will be, kind of in the spirit of the House of J.”
Until J Fest 6 is announced, Schaefer said, “Jeffer has a new concert series worth mentioning called Free AF. People sign up for a Patreon and we have a free monthly show with free pizza, free beer, free music and we pay for all of that with the Patreon. It’s like subscribing to a crowdfunded show.
“We’re just trying to make some noise in a different way and give these kids a place to be and a place to express themselves at the end of the day.”
Schaefer is a Houston music veteran, immersed in the scene long before House of J opened its doors. He will play sets this weekend with El Jumbotron and Stupid Idiot. We told him “we are not worthy!” of his contributions to the local music community and asked him what he had learned from his time as a festival organizer, pushed into life by a fictional character from Wayne’s World 2.
“I feel like what sets Houston music apart is that it’s eclectic. It’s a truly eclectic city. There is a wide variety of inspirations, whether influenced by culture or simply by genre. For some fucking reason, we don’t have a shortage – if the music is good, and we try to find people playing good music when we can – if the music is good, people don’t have afraid of being the first to dance. This is what has always enabled us to do what we do. At the end of the day, if people are a bit scared to try their luck with the local band or enjoy it, it usually takes the first kids to dance for everyone to go crazy. We focused only on the younger ones. I think the cornerstone of any scene exists in shows for all ages.
House of J’s J Fest 5, from Friday September 30 to Sunday October 2. Headliners 30footFALL, Noogy, No Empathy Power Hour and Fea, as well as twenty bands in several venues. $10 to $30. Tickets available through Brown paper tickets.