By Roger Barrett
I met Bill Solleder in Hot Springs, Ark. at the first Valley of the Vapors Music Festival. For someone with a seemingly endless list of interests and projects, Bill is, unlike the majority of event promoters, a genuine and calm presence. Almost single-handedly establishing Hot Springs as a touring stop for bands, artists and filmmakers, Bill has helped build an arts scene from the ground up. With the Valley of the Vapors festival, he has created Arkansas’ answer to South By Southwest. This year’s VOV festival boasts a diverse lineup from all over the world, and in it’s ninth year, the festival is the subject of a documentary film.
The documentary “Valley of the Vapors” will highlight the Independent Music Festival that takes place in Hot Springs each year. Hot Springs is known for its national park, spring water, crystals, American Indian history, gangsters and gambling. It is a small Southern town of 35,000 people made up of rednecks, retirees and crystal digging hippies, so why, or how, does an underground music festival featuring some of the world’s most innovative rock, punk, indie and experimental music exist there?
“Valley of the Vapors” is a fast-paced and beautiful film that looks into the heart of the volunteers that make it happen, and the surprise of the bands and artists that unexpectedly fall into the warm embrace of America’s most humble music festival, The Valley of the Vapors. The documentary features performances and interviews with Maps & Atlases, Oberhofer, Kelly Deal, Grandchildren, Love of Everything, Jeffrey Lewis, Jack Toft, Yuri Landman, Pond, The Black Belles, Japanther and Water Liars, directed by Matt McCormack and Jim Miller. See the film: Sat., Feb. 9, at Nightbird Books. Starts at 7 p.m. Free.
I asked Bill some questions about Hot Springs, the VOV Documentary, and VOV 2013 and he had a little spare time to answer …
Q: How long have you lived in Hot Springs and why?
A: My partner of 21 years, Shea Childs, is a native of Hot Springs. During a 2003 trip to the area, we stumbled upon a real estate guide and were flabbergasted at the low price tag on property. At the time, we were working in the booming Chicago music and advertising industry, and growing a family, while simultaneously dodging bullets around our West Side apartment. We decided it was best for our children, our bank books and health to make the move to Arkansas. I will never forget riding shotgun in a U-Haul truck with our 3-year-old daughter, our dog, and a 6-month pregnant Shea behind the wheel, listening to Liz Phair’s, “Exile In Guyville.”
Q: When did the VOV festival start, and how has it changed over the years?
A: The Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival began in 2005, two long years later after our relocation. The event did not have a true home until 2007 when we acquired the Low Key Arts building. Before that, we scrambled for venues to host The VOV and sporadic shows throughout the year. Our grand opening was a sold-out Lucero show and a very special moment for all involved. Today, the festival has grown, but is still known as America’s most humble music festival.
Q: How would you describe the music/art scene in Hot Springs? How would you compare it to other cities?
A: Kids get up front and dance in Hot Springs compared with “the stand-arounds” that plague many other cities.
Q: Who filmed the VOV Documentary and what was your role in the making of the film?
A: The VOV documentary was directed by Matt McCormack and Jim Miller who both reside in Hot Springs. This was the longest film either had directed. The project was part of Low Key Arts program funded by the Arkansas Arts Council that has college and high school students working alongside professionals. Nearly a dozen students worked on the film, writing, organizing, shooting and editing. The film clocks in at 38 minutes, which is incredible when you realize that they had to sort through hundreds of hours of band performances, interviews and festival scenes.
Q: What can we expect this year at the festival?
A: The VOV which takes place during Arkansas Spring Break, March 15-19, will include Trail Shows, Workshops, Secret Shows and Low Key Arts performance. Trail Shows have a musician leading a group of hikers into the woods for an acoustic performance. Daily workshops will include print making, illustration, how to make a mix tape and break dancing. Secret Shows feature bands in off-beat locations that are announced the day of. The feature of each night will be held in the intimate setting of Low Key Arts. The schedule can be found at www.valleyofthevapors.com and includes over 40 bands in 5 days. We will continue to host performance exclusively in smoke free, all ages, small venue settings.
Q: Besides VOV, what’s been going on in Hot Springs? What have you been working on lately?
A: Live music is really making a splash in Hot Springs, as well as, burlesque troupes like The Spa City Sweethearts and Foul Play Cabaret. There is also a very strong underground film making scene that often participates in the Low Key Arts annual event, Arkansas Shorts — a night of short film each January. This goes hand in hand with a very active photography scene. In fact, there are always multiple photographers at Low Key Arts events that capture art and culture here. Its not surprising though, what’s happening in Hot Springs today, culturally, is truly special and will without a doubt catalogue The Spa as a cultural phenom that is both important and valid in today’s universal art movement.