Walla Fest, Making Lots of Noise in Norristown, PA

NOT MUCH HAPPENED IN NORRISTOWN.  To find something remotely interesting we had to hop on a train for forty minutes to get to the nearest relief of small town blues - Philadelphia.   But now, I guess you could say there are a couple things happening in this town - one of them being Walla Fest.  In a place where the sidewalks get grayer everyday and silence is often too loud, WALLA FEST, A MUSIC AND ART SHOW, IS TURNING UP THE VOLUME IN NORRISTOWN, PA AND MAKING A LOT OF NOISE.

           It was June of 2011, the end of  another year in high school, when Anthony Bui, Yesenia Bello and I led the creation of the Norristown Art and Music Extravaganza in Norristown Area High School's cafeteria. It was fun putting together something that let our peers share their creations. Not too long after that, we asked Philosophy & Telecom teacher, Art Director of Iron Age Theater and the man in charge at The Centre Theater, John Doyle, if we could put on a bigger music and art show in his space.  The first Walla Fest took place about a month later on July 11, 2011.  Now the three of us are in college and still pushing to try to promote community between musicians and artists both locally and regionally. Today is our 7th big show featuring performances by  local Philly acts (Satellite Hearts, Cousin Brian, Boog, The Retinas and Q Family Band), an open mic, art from our Walla Family (people that help us set up and run shows from merch, to sound, to video, to food and promotions), and an Instagram exhibition.

Read on to learn more about what it's like in Norristown, Pennsylvania having fun making things with your friends and future hopes for Walla Fest in this interview with my fellow Walla Fest founders, Anthony Bui and Yesenia Bello. - Words and Interview by Keba Robinson; Photo Credits: Vi Tran *, Yesenia Bello **, Anthony Bui ***, Caitlin McClean **** and me, Keba *****; 
Videos @ WallaFestLive shot, edited by Rob Hunt & John Doyle

Left: Anthony, Right: Yesenia
Keba: So what is it like in Norristown, PA?
Ant Bui: It’s alright. There’s a lot of diversity here so it’s easy to get along with one another, but at the same time it’s also hard to get along with one another.  It’s alright though. There’s a lot of cool stuff here, like Mr. Doyle’s theater, the high school, The Basement, it’s a new cool venue that’s coming out.  But yeah, I like Norristown, I was born here.
Yesenia: Dull and boring, for the most part. Lots of people have road rage because the streets are so small.

Keba: Were there any art or music related things to do in Norristown before Walla Fest?
Ant Bui: Very little, we have Norristown Arts Hill festivals, we have Mr Doyle’s Iron Age Theatre. We had school shows, but, ya know, school stuff doesn’t count because it’s sort of forced.
Yesenia: Yeah, I think lots of the things that existed before were kind of towards a different audience than what Walla Fest is aiming for. It wasn’t toward young people as much. For the most part, things
were for families and stuff like that, but not just young folks. 

Keba: How did Walla Flowers Productions come together?
Ant Bui: It was a Wednesday.  We were in high school. It was an art club meeting. We got the news that our school wasn’t going to have its annual evening of the arts like it normally did.  The three of us just kind of took control of what was formerly Evening of the Arts and afterwards we asked Mr. Doyle, the school’s Telecom & Philosophy teacher/awesome dude guy who runs things at The Centre Theater and we asked him if we could try out putting on a show there and he was down to let us try something.

Keba: Why did you guys feel like Walla Fest would be a good thing to start?
Yesenia: We wanted to make something fun for us and for other people - we like doing stuff like that. We like to do it for the kids like us and to build an artistic community.  I also did it for the vegan cupcakes.

Ant Bui: I personally had always wanted to open a cafĂ© and do music. Cause when I was younger, I basically wanted to be Rob Zombie, I’m not going to lie.  He does art, music and movies. That’s the stuff I want to do.  But then I found out I suck at guitar so I gave that up, can’t really do visual arts, and I haven’t even touched a camera before in my life so I just thought - why not be a business man?   Ya know, I get the gist of business.  You have to take a risk….my uncle owns a convenience store blah blah blah  so I was like, it’s in my pants! I got this, it’s in my genes.   So I figured It’d be good to do something so that people who do music art and movies have somewhere to go.

Keba: Do you guys have a lot of support from your local community?
Ant Bui: I think we do.  We have our regular supporters that love Walla Fest as much as we do.  They always show up for the show and support the idea. The Walla family supports us. Mr. Doyle supports us. I think the bands that show up enjoy it.  I know the high school supports us.

Keba: What is your favorite part about making Walla Fest?
Yesenia: It’s really fun setting things up and getting the art gallery ready… getting distracted and cutting branches from trees for the stage backgrounds. Making spontaneous art…fooling around. Getting lost in the theatre, finding  its secret passages.  Talking about ghosts….

Keba: Doyle said there used to be a ghost in the theatre.
Bui: What happened, did he get it exorcized?
Keba: No some guy scared it away apparently by running around naked in the dark like a mad man.
Yesenia: So if there’s ever a ghost in the theatre we know what to do. We elect you, Anthony!

Keba: What do you see Walla Fest becoming, what is your vision for it?
Ant Bui: I think it’ll become WWIII.  No, just kidding. Hopefully we can go across the country…do a Walla tour, kind of like Warped Tour. Hopefully people love it enough for it to get big and catch on.
Yesenia: Yeah, I could see it as big crazy festival that tours around the world. We’re going to be like 60 and we’ll be touring Indonesia.
Bui: I’ve never even been on a plane.

Keba: What has been your favorite Walla Fest so far and why?
Yesenia: Probably the last one. I feel like there were super positive vibes and it was pretty packed and filled with the kind of energy that we wanted. Positive vibes all around.  Everyone had a great time..artists, musicians, everyone attending and us.
Ant Bui: My favorite has to be the one with Satellite Hearts and Resin Gypsy and The Skins from Brooklyn. That was the first time we had so many bands come from outside of the Norristown area. Even though the original plan was to showcase Norristown art, it’s good to combine them.  And not only that we are bringing artist here to Norristown, but we’re bringing Norristown out there too.

Keba: if you could create a Walla Fest lineup with any bands or artists in the whole world who would you pick?
Yesenia: Sufjan Stevens! The Beatles, and Crosslegged.   Crosslegged would start it out and then The Beatles will be headlining and Sufjan would be in the middle. And then maybe The Velvet Underground and Blonde Redhead. And also Broadcast. And Tupac! We could holograph it.
Ant Bui: Little B, Lil Wayne, Lil Flip, Lil Scrappy, Lil Romeo, and  Lil Bow Wow.  No just kidding, I would want to see The Clash, The Ramones, a whole bunch of old stuff.  I don’t know, I can’t really say because I listen to a lot of weird music. But really I would just like to see The Ramones. Just them. that would be the dopest thing ever.

Keba: Is it strange doing something like this at such a young age?
Yesenia:  Well, ya know, there are other people who like to do stuff like this, so why can’t we? Like have you ever seen that commercial with the kids and they have all this crazy technology and they’re super smart.  So there’s all of this knowledge and we have all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips, it’s the beginning of a new age.

Keba: After making Wallas for a year and a half what would you tell other young people living in, what they think are boring towns?
Ant Bui: I’d tell them… ya know, just do what you want to do man. If you want to do something, do it.   But don’t always look for money cause if you always look for money it’s not going to have that special feel to it.  I mean, money helps, but it can’t be all about money and that corporate mainstream stuff.  But I don’t know, that’s just to be kind of hip I guess.  JUST DO YOUR OWN THING AND HAVE FUN. 


If you live in the Philadelphia area make plans to go down to Walla Fest today in Norristown, PA at The Centre Theater to see Satellite Hearts, Cousin Brian, Boog, The Retinas Q Family Band and lots of cool art too! Doors open at 7pm for the open mic and art show and live music starts at 8pm! Only $5.

Other stories about art and music scenes in unknown places: Teaadora Nikolova, The Wing in Haifa Israel