The Maness Brothers Enter the Fourth Year of their Whiskey War Festival

Jake and David Maness, keeping the fest in the family. - Drew Sheafor
Drew Sheafor
Jake and David Maness, keeping the fest in the family.

Jake and David Maness spend more time together than most brothers. They might be best known for piling ten tons of Southern rock into tiny dive bars throughout the city, armed with the barest essentials -- a guitar and some drums. Their band's name, the Maness Brothers, mirrors the pair's approach to music: honest and simple.

That's also reflected in the siblings' Whiskey War Festival, an annual convention of visual art, live music and, of course, booze. For the last four years, the event has taken place at VFW Post 2866 -- a hop and skip away from Main Street in St. Charles. The fest returns to the venue this year and will bring in more than twenty bands across four stages on Saturday, August 22.

"The name has this strong aesthetic that I wanted to get away from," David says. "We even talked about changing it, but people like the name, and it's catchy. It sounds podunk and country, but I kind of like that."

The brothers book bands based only on their own personal taste. Straightforward and direct, the duo spares little thought toward profit or marketability, choosing instead to approach acts based on musical merit and little else.

"We don't try to keep it genre specific. One of the things we do when we're picking bands is make sure that we only have serious artists -- like, touring and recording -- people trying to further their art," David adds.

The Whiskey War Festival started in 2011 as an overbooked show at a VFW hall. Once word spread that David and his (now-defunct) band Whiskey War Mountain Rebellion had this huge space secured -- and enough pro audio gear to kill a horse -- other acts wanted in. What began as just another gig with too many bands soon grew into something greater than the sum of its parts.

"The first year was a success, totally. But it was the weirdest lineup you could imagine," Jake says.

Other acts on the bill started calling the show "Whiskey War Fest," and the name stuck. Now that the Maness Brothers are touring more, they're meeting acts outside the city. They consider the fest an excuse to invite their favorite bands from around the country to St. Charles to meet like-minded acts and share in a full day of music. Headliners this year include James Leg (Nashville), Dirty Streets (Memphis), Calliope (Milwaukee) and Chris Black and the Eagles of Unemployment (Paducah, Kentucky).

"The biggest difference to me this year, is that we have bands like Path of Might, Anodes and Shitstorm. It's definitely the most heavy lineup," David says.

The pair takes special care to build momentum throughout the day. Instead of saving every heavy-hitter for later slots, this year's fest features a consistent stream of diverse acts, including hybrid hip-hop acts Illphonics and Blank Generation. The brothers themselves will perform throughout the day in their classic duo and also as part of the Barn Mice, their group with Irene Allen and Drew Sheafor.

Taking cues from other large-scale events, this year the fest brings a slew of sponsors, including Tallgrass Brewing Company, Defiance Whiskey, Arch City Radio, Big K Entertainment and the St. Louis Blues Society.

"We always have the goal to pay our bills off for the next year, and it never ever comes anywhere close," David says.

But the pair seems confident that the festival will grow, granting them money to draw in larger acts and possibly expand the event to satellite cities across the country. The notion seems unlikely, considering the Maness Brothers' ramped-up touring schedule. But the brothers have a secret weapon hiding in plain sight: family.

"This has turned into a family business, wholeheartedly," David says. "When springtime rolls around, everyone -- Mom, Dad -- starts talking about it."

Both parents are deeply involved. Their dad consults on organization, and their mother enlists her circle of friends to staff the event.

"Mom has run the ticket booth every year so far. When we're on tour, they're out at shows. They both just really like local music," Jake says.

While music is clearly at the core, the family continues to cast an ever wider net, encouraging the greater community to get involved. There are triple the vendors from last year, and artists such as Whiskey War mainstay Jason Spencer (known as Killer Napkins) will sell posters and make live art.

Despite the mix of heavy rock, blues, metal and whatever other genre the Maness brothers throw into the blender, the event maintains a strong communal vibe.

"That's the beauty of the whole fest to me: We've never had any issues," David says. "No one's ever been kicked out, and look at the name: It's Whiskey War Fest! Everyone's drinking."

Whiskey War Festival 2015
11 a.m. Saturday, August 22. VFW Post 2866, 66 VFW Lane, St. Charles. $10. 636-724-9612.

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