The story behind Marv Fest has all the elements of a Movie of the Week or, in the right hands, a top-notch independent film. But a respectful distillation would yield two things at its core: love and music. And there are three events that frame the festival’s back story–one tragic, one joyous yet bittersweet, and one staggering but not final.
Shirlé Hale-Koslowski (then just Shirlé Hale) met Joel Savage when she was 13 and he was 17. “I was a very old, adult child,” she recalls with a laugh. In the small town in Bucks County, Pa., where they lived, Savage qualified as a bit of a rebel. “He was always challenging his parents and acting out constantly. And he had a 1965 Corvair, souped up and completely jacked up.” He also qualified as, in Hale-Koslowski’s words, “my first real love, I guess. We had this really silly, dramatic relationship.”
On the night of June 9, 1979, an improperly repaired axel broke on the truck in which Savage was riding in the passenger seat. The truck hit a telephone pole, flipped over and burst into flames. He and a friend who was driving the truck died in the accident. They had dropped off Hale-Koslowski 10 minutes earlier. “After that, his parents became more of a part of my life. They were both very, very involved in what I was doing,” says Hale-Koslowski of Joel’s parents, Marv and Sandy Savage. “It was kind of like they just wanted to be a part of my life because I had been a part of Joel’s life.”
As it does for teenagers, even under the most tragic circumstances, life went on for Hale-Koslowski. A week after her high school graduation, having fallen in love with the son of a Spanish diplomat, she moved to Spain. She stayed there for a year, traveling the country and opting not to attend the Music Conservatory of Madrid where she had been accepted.
When she returned to the United States, Hale-Koslowski–a gifted musician who started playing the piano at age 4 and formed her first band when she was 12–applied to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and was accepted. There was a snag, however. Her father, a long-haul trucker, and her mother, a nurse in a senior citizen home, did not have the money for the Berklee tuition. It was then that Marv and Sandy Savage stepped in. When they found out that she had gotten in to Berklee and wanted to go, they offered her the money that they had saved as a college fund for Joel. Equal parts flabbergasted and grateful, Hale-Koslowski accepted. “It was a huge gift,” she says, in the kind of understatement that 20 years can inspire. “The only stipulation with Marv was he said that I would have to do the same thing back for somebody at some point.”
Time to jump ahead, movie-style, about 10 years after Hale-Koslowski graduated from Berklee in 1988. During that period, she strummed and sang in the subway with her Berklee roommate Mary Lou Lord, played in several bands (the eight-piece funk/new wave ensemble the Bohemian Angels and the riot-grrl combo Womyn of Destruction among them), and started the frenetic pop-rock band Gerty! with future husband David Koslowski. Not long after she and Koslowski brought Gerty! to Durham, Hale-Koslowski received the news that Marv Savage had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease that he continues to battle six years after the diagnosis. It was Hale-Koslowski’s turn to give something back to Marv.
Enter Marv Fest–a two-night indie-rock-leaning festival being held at Durham’s new 305 South, Marv Fest will gather locals such as Schooner, the Sames, Jett Rink, North Elementary and, of course, Gerty!, as well as laptop-driven Western Carolina duo Jew(s) & Catholic(s) and an energetic rap group named Robo Sapien that just moved here from San Francisco. All proceeds from the event will go to the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society in the name of Marv’s Maniacs, a group that the driven Savage leads in his and Sandy’s retirement home of Sarasota, Fla.
Last year, Hale-Koslowski composed a letter telling her and Marv’s story and sent it to 50 people to request contributions for Marv’s Maniacs. She raised over $700, but she didn’t want to repeat the letter this year. “Then it dawned on me,” says Hale-Koslowski, a laugh playing at the edge of her words. “Duh. Why don’t you do something with music, you idiot?”
Marv Fest is at 305 South in Durham. Friday, Oct. 14: Physics of Meaning, Eyes to Space, Jew(s) & Catholic(s), Spader, Robo Sapien, Gerty!, Jett Rink. Saturday, Oct. 15: pulsoptional, Blackstrap, Cantwell Gomez & Jordan, Art Lord and the Self Portraits, North Elementary, Fashion Design, The Sames, Schooner. The music starts at 7 p.m. both nights, and the sliding scale admission fee is $5-$10.