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Free music festival celebrates fifth anniversary

By Bill Lynch, Staff writer

Steve “Sweat” Thomas doesn’t have a lot of great aspirations for his Sweatstock festival in Point Pleasant. Sweatstock is probably never going to become another Woodstock, and that’s alright by him.

“It’s all about community,” he said.

The festival, which takes place Saturday, features 14 homegrown bands from around the area performing on two side-by-side stages for more than 12 hours of live music.

“When one band finishes, another band starts,” he said.

Beggar’s Clan, InFormation, Downtown King and Time and Distance are just a few of the bands scheduled to perform.

And it’s all free.

“We supply music. We supply food,” Thomas said. “We operate strictly off people’s donations. Musicians donate their time. People donate money, and so far, it’s been a real success.”

Sweatstock began five years ago, though Thomas, a lifelong musician, said he and some friends had organized music festivals before.

“We started doing them in 1979 or 1980, but then, you know, life sort of got in the way,” he said.

A few decades passed, and Thomas and company decided to start a new festival.

Thomas said what makes theirs different than other festivals is they integrate what they do with the community and keep the scope of the festival manageable. They sell a few t-shirts and drink koozies but stay away from bringing in vendors.

“I won’t let that in here,” he said. “I don’t want a carnival.”

Providing food, Thomas added, helps to keep the atmosphere more friendly.

“If you feed people, you kind of control them,” he said.

The fare isn’t especially fancy: hot dogs and chicken wings for lunch, roast pork at dinner.

They’re glad to take donations. A contribution of $50 or more gets you VIP status and a t-shirt. They also take donations of time and expertise. The point of Sweatstock is more about having a good time and less about trying to make a buck.

Thomas said, “We sponsor a softball team and donated to the workers at Ravenswood Aluminum when they were on strike. We took them food.”

Held on Thomas’ property, the festival offers a shuttle service, and people can camp if they want.

“It’s no drugs or any of that stuff,” he said. “But I’ve got some acreage. We’ve got some woods. If people don’t want to go home, they can go pitch a tent and stay the night.”

Sweatstock, he said, has a pretty laid-back atmosphere — at least during the day.

“We’re leaning toward family-friendly,” Thomas said. “You’ll see people bringing a kid or two during the day, and it’s really just like a big picnic. Now, say 5:30, once dinner is over, we encourage people to take their children out of there. We put on heavier music in the evening and get a heavier crowd that can get a bit more rowdy.”

It’s rowdy, but it doesn’t turn into a free-for-all.

“No mosh pits. We don’t let anybody get out of control.”

Security is a big deal, particularly now. Last year, Thomas said they had some trouble.

“We had a couple of people, they took off their security shirts and kind of merged with the crowd.”

This year, he said, he and the other organizers were digging deeper and hiring people for that work.

So far, Thomas said the festival has stayed at a manageable level, though it is expanding and edging toward outgrowing Thomas’ property.

Thomas said they are slowly but surely edging toward having to change the location to accommodate a bigger crowd.

At a rough estimate, more than 1,200 people come out last year. This is based on the number of wristbands they gave out, which Thomas acknowledged was flawed, based on the lapse in security.

“We’ll know better this year,” he said. “But we’re all pretty sure we’ll need to look for another place to have it in a year or two.”

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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