A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Back in February of 2014, On the Avenues was devoted to previewing a much-loved local institution, and it is my aim to partially revisit these words today, with an altered addendum. Diligent readers may notice a slight but palpable change of perspective in this updated version. As Kurt Vonnegut might have observed: "And so it goes."
When Gravity Head comes calling, familiar space and time continuums can be briefly altered. Normal routines are rendered Byzantine by comparison. Life’s infinite horizons narrow, and one reverts to existence by the hour, minute by minute.
Passing through the looking glass is boring by comparison.
I’m not speaking of the fest’s actual commencement, because once the opening bell sounds on Friday morning, there is a collective observance of Sidney Freedman’s dictum from television’s M*A*S*H: “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice - pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”
No, it’s the preparation for Gravity Head that saps working days and requires so much attention to detail during the run-up to the bacchanalia.
It might be done differently, but when it comes to what has unexpectedly become a tradition, the array of minor points adds up to a greater sum. It’s just a beer fest, and yet it’s more, and different from the rest.
From the very start, when it was decided to have a second Gravity Head, no one had any idea what the “proper” way of running a beer festival was supposed to represent. Conventional wisdom eluded the original organizer, for which many among us remain grateful.
The aim was, and remains, to provide regular customers and locally-based friends with as many opportunities as possible to taste a few special beers over a period of time.
That’s the sum of it.
The beers never have been served all at once. They unfold in waves over a period of weeks. There are no flights, because flights imply a “right” to taste them all. Rather, the desired end is for folks to taste a few, and then return another time and taste a few more. Not too many at once, because they’re strong.
Of course, Gravity Head’s opening day has become somewhat of a scrum, and a singular tradition all its own. Folks seem content with the interior logic occurring at the beginning, but this isn’t what every celebrant looks forward to experiencing each year.
Rather, there’ll inevitably be a quiet Tuesday night on the second or third week, with a handful of friends, and leisurely, contemplative sipping of one or two quality libations, spiced with conversation. These are the precious moments that lead to feelings of timelessness.
And timelessness is why beer still matters, among numerous other reasons I'll always cherish.
And so the 18th edition of Gravity Head begins on Friday at 7:00 a.m. at NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House. The brewery partner for the opening day tap takeover in 2016 is Stone Brewing Company. Stone’s regional sales representative Mark Kocher, a friend and confidant, offers a tout.
This is going to be an exciting time with some pretty fun stuff. Stone Brewing will be in full effect with treats sent from California especially for Gravity Head. Do not miss!
Mark's a keeper, and I’ve always had a sizeable soft spot in my teeny-weeny, Grinch-sized heart for Stone, especially its co-founder and CEO, Greg Koch, who visited the Pizzeria & Public House in 2007 while touring the Midwest. Currently Stone is constructing a brewery in Berlin, Germany, and doing it the American way; for once, that’s a compliment. It’s the first such project in Europe.
Only recently, Koch had this to say about Stone’s commitment to independence. I couldn’t agree more.
… The industrial giants that worked for decades to marginalize our segment have found their tactics ineffective. So, Big Beer decided it’s time for an age-old strategy: Purchase. Control. Obfuscate …
… In purchasing small, “local” brands, Big Beer is able to capitalize on the purchased brand’s reputation, while many consumers are too distracted to pay attention or care.
Truth is, we live in a complex world. As consumers, it’s exhausting to know which brands are truly independent, authentic; did or didn’t sell out. When a craft brewer sells out to Big Beer, not only are they handing over control of their company’s future (irrespective of the requisite “We’re Not Changing Anything” press release), their brand is transformed overnight from being a positive force for growing the craft segment into a tool fighting against the brewers who choose to remain solely dedicated to the craft category.
… We are standing strong, knowing our team members and fans care passionately about Stone Brewing’s philosophy and values. Celebrating an artisanal, natural approach to beer and food, philanthropy, sustainability, reinvesting in our company, community, industry and future … all while holding true to the craft beer ethos.
The ideologies that Steve (Wagner) and I have been able to incorporate into Stone Brewing are of incalculable value to us, and selling our company to Big Beer is not in our future. No matter the size of the check. Period.
As for Gravity Head itself, I have every reason to believe it will proceed in 2016 according to its normal trajectory, largely as it always has. The festival template has been developed over a period of 17 years, and it is staff's second nature by now.
Still, I’d be lying if I were to deny feeling somewhat strange at being completely uninvolved with Gravity Head for the first time since 1999 – not bad or depressed, just a wee bit odd.
For so many years, I’d do the ordering and stashing; write, rewrite and publish the program; disseminate the propaganda; rig tap handles; produce signage; and count glassware … and by the time all of it was ready, it felt like I knew each one of those kegs personally.
Farmers must feel that way when they take their piggies to market.
Of course, over the years I’ve gradually ceded most of these tasks to others, except for the program and propaganda (for the last time in 2015), and this is why Gravity Head will proceed in 2016 without a hitch. If only in this one instance, the succession was intelligently arranged.
After 17 years, gravity remains the law, and it’s a hard habit to break, but break it I fully intend to do. Once upon a time it was my idea, and now it’s no longer about me, assuming it ever really was. Gravity’s bigger than you and me, anyway.
Now, please go forth and propagate daddy’s pension fund – and while you’re at it, have one for me. Happy Gravity Head!
Opening lineup here
February 18: ON THE AVENUES: Mourning in America, circa 1984.
February 11: ON THE AVENUES: James Fallows, New Albany, and the primacy of bricks over string music.
February 8: ON THE AVENUES EXTRA: "No, John Rosenbarger, congestion is our friend. Help us achieve it, or get out of the way."
February 4: ON THE AVENUES: Hello, I must be going.