For the last four years, January has given local music fans a post-holiday reason to celebrate with the annual pop-punk pajama party SNÜZFEST.
But 2021 just has to be different, doesn’t it?
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, this January just wasn’t safe enough for holding what should have been the fifth iteration of the event. But SNÜZFEST founder Kevin Andrew and his team were not about to let the streak break.
“The new year was rolling up and I was thinking, ‘Man, we would have been doing SNÜZFEST in like two weeks,'” said Andrew, “I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s let’s do another one of those virtual ones.”
Building off what they learned streaming a scaled-back virtual show in early summer 2020, Streamwood native Andrew and his Guardrail bandmates — Schaumburg native Ken Ugel, Des Plaines’ Alyssa Laessig and Doug Brand from Tinley Park — made public last Friday their plans for this year’s version of SNÜZFEST. Revealed on March 12, the one-year anniversary of the band’s last show, it felt like a fitting time.
“I remember the night before, we had rehearsal, and we’re seeing the news reports of the NBA postponing the season, and Tom Hanks having coronavirus. And then the day of the show we get to the venue and we’re loading in and we’re reading more stuff that’s getting shut down,” Andrew said. “So we figured this was a good way to reflect on that in a positive way.”
This year’s version of SNUZFEST, which will be streaming on the band’s Facebook page, will feature recorded performances and video shoutouts from a number of local and regional acts — including A Better Hand, Bad Planning, The Blamed, Counter Theory, Drew Neely & the Heroes, The Flips, Late Nights, Tiny Kingdoms, Torch The Hive and, of course, Guardrail, plus a few other guest appearances — all fest alums.
“We were always looking for ways to make our shows a little more out of the ordinary,” Andrew said. “So it’s not just like you show up to a venue, you watch some bands play and then you go home. We want to do things to make our sets memorable.”
Born from a friends’ joke about throwing a show based on the old-school overnight lock-ins, Guardrail members ran with the idea, dressing up a show with an expanded lineup as a pajama party. And when the first one — held at Berwyn’s Wire — was a success, SNÜZFEST grew into an annual event.
In addition to great music, the festival has also been a conduit for helping charities. One year, donations (in exchange for pancakes) benefitted a charity bringing aid to a recently hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico; the next two years, when SNÜZFEST moved to Schubas in Chicago, donations went to the Alison Cares Foundation, a local organization bringing awareness to mental health and substance abuse issues.
With the fest streaming for free this year, bands will take turns encouraging fans to make donations to various organizations in need of aid.
“It’s really great for everyone in the scene because it’s a great way to connect to do something for a good cause, learn about new bands, maybe get to play with bands you never played with before or see bands you’ve never seen before, all that good stuff,” said Jacques LaMore, the man at the mic for the last four years of the festival. “It’s a great way to get together and do something good.”
LaMore, the voice behind the suburban-based Pop-Punk & Pizza Podcast and the WFAV 95.1-FM morning show out of Kankakee, also played with Drew Neely & the Heroes the second year of the fest. This year, he’ll be joining the festival via video.
“It’s been really cool to be a part of,” he said. “It’s another way to interact with the scene but also it’s always been about making a difference.”
Yep, even the fest’s regular emcee is going to be there.
In fact, all that will be missing are the pajamas.
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