For 13 years now the folks of Low Key Arts have been hosting the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival in Hot Springs, Ark. This year’s lineup of 45 under-the-radar acts with genres varying from avant garde rock to hip hop is likely its strongest yet, officials said.
About a three and a half hour trip from Northwest Arkansas, Valley of the Vapors kicks off Friday March 17, with events running through Tuesday, March 21. The 45 acts playing the festival hail from all over the U.S., with a few artists from France, Israel, Japan and Canada. The festival is intentionally kept small for producing intimate performances, with up to as many as 4,000 attendees in years past.
“When we’re booking, we’re looking for quality. We’re not closed minded,” said Bobby Missile, creative director and talent buyer for Valley of the Vapors. “We’re not booking specific genres. We want all genres. We have a major advantage because we have our pick from the wave of bands we can piggy back off of from South by Southwest in Austin.”
Every day of the festival at 5 p.m., Low Key social media accounts announce the location of a free performance in an unconventional venue in downtown Hot Springs. In the past, there have been performances in the mountain tower observation deck and a fire department.
“We have a undercover agent, whose name is Sgt. Star, who books for these secret shows,” Missile said. “I don’t even know where they’re going to be playing until its announced.”
Friday night is headlined at Low Key Arts by Vodi and Andrew Bryant of the Water Liars. That same night Maxine’s — which will host all Arkansas acts — will be headlined by Little Rock’s Big Piph and Tomorrow Maybe, a hip hop act backed by a live band that is garnering national attention.
Saturday night features the Bay Area’s Andrew Jansen’s new project Loud Sun at Low Key Arts, along with Dallas’s Prince-inspired Ronnie Heart. Maxine’s will feature Arkansas alt-country favorites Dylan Earl & The Reasons Why as well as Dazz & Brie, the winners of this year’s Arkansas Times Musician Showcase.
Providence, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys, the band Rolling Stone calls “America’s most exciting punk band,” headline Sunday night along with Chicago’s long-running math rock act Joan of Arc.
Monday night brings Toronto’s popular indie rock quartet Weaves to town. They’re supported by Montreal shoegazers No Joy, as well as Portland, Ore. singer-songwriter Jackson Boone.
Tuesday night VOV favorites Grandchildren, an orchestral pop group from Philadelphia, will close out the festival once again. They’re supported by Austin, Texas performer Walker Lukens.
There will also be three writer-friendly free workshops during the festival about sharing fears in bedtime stories, how to write music reviews, and how to write sketch comedy.
Bill Solleder, the founder of Low Key Arts and who toured for several years in bands as a singer, started the festival in 2005 when he booked a solo show in Hot Springs for solo artist and friend Nora O’Conner, who was on her way to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. That kind of underground show was unprecedented in town, and word got out that there was a place to play on the way to Austin in Arkansas.
“When we saw the crowd that turned out for the first year, we found out it was something sorely lacking,” said Shea Childs, a board member for Valley of the Vapors. “There wasn’t a rock festival in Hot Springs that spoke to the music that we like, like independent rock.”
The festival has since built a reputation for bringing cutting-edge up-and-coming artists to Hot Springs.
“Growth for us isn’t about size,” Childs said. “But rather including different and varied types of artists.”
Another cornerstone of Valley of the Vapors is the festival’s “Adopt-a-Band” program where members of the community are asked to “adopt” a performing band or artist and make a care package for them. Typically, the packages are filled with memorabilia, snacks, toiletries and various goods.
“Touring bands, they’re in a van driving 8 to 10 hours a day,” Childs said. “Sometimes they’re playing for drinks and pizza. They don’t have hotels, and some go without showers. So we said let’s do something for each band and make them a care package and show them our southern hospitality while they’re here. Every band that’s played here has wanted to come back.”
As for tickets to the festival, day passes are $10 and full festival passes are $45, which include admittance to all events at participating venues. For attendees looking for the full experience, there’s the FOLK pass (friends of low key) that provides access to all VOV events at participating venues, a VIP lounge with food and drinks and a t-shirt and poster.
For more information or to purchase passes visit www.valleyofthevapors.com.
Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival
Who: Weaves, Joan of Arc, Andrew Bryant, Downtown Boys, Grandchildren, Ginsu Wives, Muuy Bien, NE-HI, NIL8, May the Peace of the Sea Be With You, + many more
Where: Low Key Arts and Maxine’s in Hot Springs, Ark.
When: March 17 – 21
How much: Day passes are $10, full festival passes are $45 and all-access FOLK passes are $120.
Check out valleyofthevapors.com for more info and follow @VOVfest for updates on secret show details.