Word about Worst Kept Secret Fest continues to spread

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

The key to extracting a secret from "Seinfeld's" Elaine Benes was to ply her with peach schnapps. To learn more about Worst Kept Secret Fest, in contrast, one merely need ask anyone attached to the rapidly growing music and arts extravaganza for information.

"Our goal is to expose Columbus' underground music and art scenes in a very inclusive and accessible way," said Friendly Faux singer/guitarist Geoff Spall, who joined artist and fellow organizer Heather Shoemaker for an early October interview at a downtown coffee shop. "That's why it's called Worst Kept Secret Fest. It's ironic. It's not a secret at all. We want to make it easy for people to find it."

Spall, Shoemaker and a rotating cast of characters, which currently includes Pat Chase, T.I. Herald and Josh Ziegfeld, first conceived the event in 2012 as an extension of the city's thriving house concert scene.

"The bar scene was a drag because of the cover [charges] and the whole money issue," Spall said. "We were on the north campus scene of houses - House with No Name, Dinotopia, 351 - … [and] we wanted to have people come out to a free show, and have as few things prohibiting attendance as possible.

"When I was 20 and started playing in bands around Columbus, I was finding lots of things I wanted to do in the music scene weren't accessible. It seemed you had to be lucky or be in the right place at the right time to make anything happen, and we wanted to make our own luck."

The first event, which took place at the Dude Locker in late 2012, attracted roughly 200 attendees with its rock-heavy lineup ("We used to call it a garage-rock rager," Spall said). Organizers expect more than five times as many people when the free fest sets up shop at Dude Locker for two days beginning Friday, Oct. 10, complete with its most diverse roster to date.

"We've got folk, hip-hop, garage, punk, a bit of electronic," said Spall of the lineup, which includes Domes, Damn the Witch Siren, the Receiver, and Eternally Dizzy, among many, many others. "When we started out, it was bands we knew and bands that were in our circle. But you can only do so much with that, so we started meeting more and more people and inviting them to play. We wanted to include as many people as possible and keep moving [forward]."

In spite of Worst Kept's rapid growth - the last event, which took place in April, drew more than 1,000 revelers and even attracted the attention of the city's police force ("I knew we'd officially made it when we got our own DUI checkpoint … [and] I was flattered agents of the state were out," Spall said) - organizers have strived to maintain the event's DIY appeal.

"We're always looking for people with the same spirit we started the fest with," said Shoemaker, who serves as art director and will display her own paintings alongside works by artists Mike Davis, Kelsey Skeen, Danielle Forbes, and more. "Do you want to help make Columbus an awesome music scene? Do you want to help make it bigger? If you have that spirit and drive, that's what we're looking for."

In turn, many of the performers and artists assist with different aspects of the production - from design work, to passing out fliers, to distributing wristbands at the door. Even Dude Locker, an 11,000-square-foot campus warehouse that serves as a year-round rehearsal and performance space for dozens of local bands, was selected for its communal, not overly polished vibe.

"There's such a spirit to Dude Locker," Spall said. "It has a great aesthetic, and it matches what we want to do. [Owner] Todd [Gentry] is an open guy … and he lets us use it as our playground, really. The last thing you want is a bunch of rules."

For this reason, both Spall and Shoemaker have a hard time envisioning the biannual event staged anywhere else, even as Worst Kept threatens to outgrow the only locale it's ever known.

"Outgrowing Dude Locker isn't a huge problem to have, but I'd prefer to stay," Shoemaker said. "We've looked at a couple places as options, but the spot we have now is so tailored to us. It wouldn't be at home if it wasn't there. But who knows, maybe the next one could be at Crew Stadium."

Dude Locker

5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10 and 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11

527 E. Hudson St., Campus