Sparklefest is really about Mike. In a good way. There are a couple of great music festivals around here that are the work of one or two very inspired, obsessed, yes even culturally needy individuals. Audiences have experienced this with David Robertson and Sleazefest. Then again with David Quick and Elvisfest. These are guys who have a very clear and certain opinion about what they want to hear and who they want to see play.

Mike Nicholson of Pittsboro knows what he likes about rock music. It’s that certain pop thing some bands do. At the same time, finding accurate, yet satisfying labels for this music hasn’t gotten any easier. “Power pop” used to do just fine, but it somehow seems dated. Let’s try the “like-minded bands” approach. Bands that inspire Sparklefest musicians may include, but are not limited to: The Beatles, The Kinks, Badfinger, The Raspberries, Big Star, Cheap Trick, Oasis and Weezer.

Four nights, 34 bands of hard-charging pop-rock is a dream come true. “The name’s inspired by the surface finish on a certain Ludwig drum kit and some guitars.” Sparklefest puts Local 506 in a national category of clubs that host similar, very cool music events.

I asked Mike what kind of music he was looking for. “Rock bands with a pop influence, each band has a certain set of values, good songs played well and they have to rock” he said. “It’s about me and the bands I want to see. This is a great chance to see new music that’s melodic and full of songs. If you haven’t seen live music in a while, this is a great way to come back.”

The Peaceful Revolt of International Pop Overthrow

“I was inspired by the success of a series of shows in Los Angeles called International Pop Overthrow. At first I just wanted to book one band, The Shazam of Nashville (they also have a song called “Sparkleroom”) and that would be it. They needed more money than I could raise, so I figured I’d book a few more bands and get some sponsors. Then some more bands and a sponsor and on and on it grew.”

When he was in The X-Rayons, Mike saw firsthand how a professional ‘fest could work when he played several Sleazefests in a row. “I played three of the seven Sleazefests and enjoyed the way they did things.”

Much of Mike’s energy has gone into booking the bands and lining up the two dozen or so sponsors that help defray the costs of this festival. He plans on enjoying the music when it arrives along with almost three dozen bands. Oh, and Mike’s got a day job, “I eke out a meager living as a graphic artist and recording engineer with my own project level home studio.”

Robbie Rist: The Last Brady

Mike clearly enjoys talking about Robbie Rist. “Robbie’s a friend of mine from L.A. In his youth he was Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch. He was brought in on the last season looking like a mini-John Denver.”

“For the past 10-12 years he’s been a member of the music scene there. He plays everything and fronted a cool band called Wonderboy. He can learn songs real fast.” Rist’s ability to be a quick study will make him Sparklefest’s utility infield or extreme music athlete in a mini-triathlon of sitting in on sets. So far, Rist plans on playing guitar with The Mockers, bass with Kenny Howes & The Dairy Kings, drums with Cockeyed Ghost and Cliff Hillis. As for his notoriety as a child actor, Rist good-naturedly says “hey, it was SIX WEEKS of work. But sure, I’ll milk it, why not?” An entertaining documentary of Rist can be seen at Rist also played opposite Patrick Stewart AND Lorne Greene in 1980’s Galactica network TV space adventure.

The Future Of Pop

Nicholson gets ovations before the shows even start. Peter Horvath of The Anderson Council says “He’s taking his love of a genre and doing something to draw attention to it. It takes a lot of balls to do a four-day festival, still be a nice guy to everyone and not have a heart attack at the end of the day from being stretched so thin. That makes him a pretty cool guy in my book.” Terry Anderson describes some of the music of Sparklefest, “Most pop music is an expression of happiness. Songs with MEL-O-DY that put a bounce in your step. Songs that make you feel like a kid again, like the first time you fell head-over-fuckin’ heels in love.”

Are there any other bands Mike would like to bring to the Triangle? “I would love to get people like Dwight Twilley, Tommy Keene, groups like The Posies or Fountains of Wayne. Who knows, maybe someday.” Will Mike play at his own music festival? “If it happens it will be a great surprise.” EndBlock