INTERVIEW WITH ROCK N SKULL ORGANIZER AND FOUNDER JUSTIN MURR
Date: July 9, 2017
LAST YEAR, I ATTENDED THE ROCK N SKULL FESTIVAL FOR THE FIRST TIME. I HAD A FANTASTIC TIME AS ROCK N SKULL 2016 DEFINITELY DELIVERED IN TERMS OF LIVE PERFORMANCES. HOWEVER, THERE SEEMED TO BE A LOT OF BEHIND THE SCENES ISSUES AND SOME LAST MINUTE CHANGES. THIS YEAR’S ROCK N SKULL EDITION WILL BE ITS LAST AND TAKING PLACE AT THE AVANTI’S DOME IN PEKIN, ILLINOIS, USA FROM OCTOBER 27 TO 29, 2017. ROCK N SKULL 2017 BOASTS A FORMIDABLE LINE-UP DESPITE SOME ADVERTISED ACTS NO LONGER BEING ON THE BILL. UNFORTUNATELY, TICKET SALES HAVEN’T BEEN WHAT THEY SHOULD BE FOR AN EVENT OF THIS STATURE WHICH I HAVE DUBBED “THE BEST MOST AFFORDABLE ROCK FESTIVAL.” ACCORDINGLY, I CAUGHT UP WITH ROCK N SKULL ORGANIZER AND FOUNDER, JUSTIN MURR, FOR A CANDID CONVERSATION ON WHAT’S GOING ON.
Sleaze Roxx: You have announced that this year will be the last year for Rock N Skull. How long had you been thinking about that possibility and what prompted you to make the decision now?
Justin Murr: I loved doing Rock N Skull ’til October of last year, then I loathed it and all the stress / bullshit that comes with it. Maybe I’m a little jaded right now but I’m looking forward to it being over. I’ll tell you what, I’ll miss is the people I met and the strangers that became good friends. What I won’t miss is the constant manipulation and the drama. Did I play a part in the drama — 💯 percent I did. At the end of the day, my heart was always in the right place and giving people what they paid for. If we lost a band, we got another band. I always prided on trying to do what’s right in the people buying tickets’ eyes.
Sleaze Roxx: I’ve run city wide sporting events before and can attest that they can be quite unpredictable and difficult. Do you think that running an event such as Rock N Skull, and Skull Fest beforehand, has been more difficult than you thought?
Justin Murr: Anytime you start a business, there’s this great sense of pride, especially when it’s financially successful. It takes a lot more organization and even though you think you thought of everything, something always comes up. I am a great band aid type personality, meaning I can temporarily fix a problem quickly but when doing something as large as RNS 17 or for that matter last year’s event, you need a great group or core. Sometimes, I have control issues and have a problem giving control up. The reward has always been accomplishing the event at all costs and that’s why I’m gonna make sure if anyone wants to come, we will give them one last ride!
Sleaze Roxx: What prompted you to start Skull Fest in the first place?
Justin Murr: The love of music, my musical project Liberty N Justice stopped selling like it used to, and my pride and love for the biz wouldn’t let me leave. True story — back in 2013, I approached Andrew McNeice about doing a MelodicRockFest but I would help finance it. I’m a little too hard to work with and I’m a control freak and had all these ideas and Andrew was interested. After three weeks of me frustrating him and most likely overwhelming him, he told me he liked John Kivel’s ideas better and was going in that direction. I had made a friend, Arttie Parker, through the internet and he worked at a bar in North Platte, Nebraska [USA]. I pitched him my ideas and he was all for it. Skull Fest was born and even though it was a financial disaster, I had so much fun that weekend that I wanted to try it again in my own hometown.
Sleaze Roxx: This is not to take away from any of the other Rock N Skull editions but which one was your favourite thus far and why?
Justin Murr: I loved Skull Fest for the atmosphere. I loved the first two years of Rock N Skull in Pekin at Goodfella’s because they made money. I love the Rock N Skull family and the yearly family reunions. That’s what I’m gonna miss the most — not seeing the Orr’s, Sunde’s, Sande’s, Renfro’s, Krygier’s, Mike Ellis, Laura Scott, John Williams, Heather Baker, Tawyna Lee, and so many others that have been there every single year since North Platte, Nebraska. They will never know how much they mean to me and Sarge. How they allowed me to live my dreams! I’m Italian… and in saying that, family means everything and these people and so many others have became like family!
Eclipse‘s intro and performing “I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
Eclipse playing their intro tape and first song I Don’t Want to Say I’m Sorry at Rock N Skull 2016 in Joliet, IL October 29, 2016
Sleaze Roxx: One person who seemingly went from partner to detractor has been Metal Sludge principal and Tuff frontman Stevie Rachelle. Tuff played at last year’s Rock N Skull and Metal Sludge had a booth for the entire event. Since then, Metal Sludge has been quick to point out the various difficulties that Rock N Skull has encountered. What happened between you and Stevie?
Justin Murr: Rachelle was never a partner. He was just someone who pocketed free money to help promote a show. When the money stopped, the loyalty stopped. We paid Tuff $3,000 to perform at three different Rock N Skulls. He took $1,500 for his band and $1,500 for advertising on his site. He also pocketed an additional $15,000 total besides the performance fee the last three years to put his website’s name on a certain VIP. When the ticket buyer bought one of those passes, he was paid half the ticket price. Nice little gig for him but after losing a ton of money at Rock N Skull 2016, we were late paying him and he wanted to be paid right then. It took a few months to recoup after the losses. We didn’t have the money so we put him off and finally paid him four months after the event. At that time, I told him he would not ever be getting another dime from me and said some heated things to him. He took those words to heart and caused him to do what he is doing now. Funny thing, people send me screen shots of what he says, etc. He never complained about the event losing bands or being unorganized when he was being paid. The craziest thing, he has made it his personal vendetta to bury the event and has done a good job. He just leaves out some of the facts like him knowing bands were canceling and why they were cancelling. Last year, Stryper cancelled last minute and Rachelle advised me and we got a settlement from them for cancelling at Rock N Skull so late. He even helped come up with what he thought would be a fair compensation number. We would have one on one phone conversations and he would tell me in years past what bands would cancel and why. That’s what is so funny about him and his news stories to me.
Sleaze Roxx: Unlike some of the other festivals out there, it seems that Rock N Skull has ended up each year losing a few to a lot of acts that it initially advertised. That being said, it always seems to work out. But getting back to the loss of performers each year, why is that?
Justin Murr: Us advertising a year in advance is one major reason. We are not a big festival and despite what anyone thinks, the first four years we were self financed, meaning I paid the majority of the events’ cost. We would offer a band an amount we could afford, they would accept and then a bigger offer would come, and they would opt out of our fest even though we had a deposit and a contract. Ace [Frehley] cancelled this year even though we had a contract and deposit. Same thing with Wildside. Another thing, a band accepts our offer and then realizes that the amount they said they would play for doesn’t work out financially for them and they cancel. Others are my fault where I pull a band for one reason or another — mostly this year because of cost. That’s as honest as I can be and hope it makes sense.
Sleaze Roxx: The hottest rumour is that Steel Panther are no longer playing at Rock N Skull 2017 to save on costs. What’s the status with Steel Panther?
Justin Murr: The truth, I talked about it to a handful of people and I guess someone I considered close wasn’t really that close and decided to inform Metal Sludge. With all the bad press from Sludge, last year’s major flaws, people’s perception and bands’ perceptions, it has really hampered ticket sales from past years. People are also waiting to buy tickets because of the band changes. All that put in a blender just spells a huge problem. At the end of the day, I have to put on a show and if ticket sales are not adding up, we will have to make cuts to make sure the show goes on. I hope people come out but I can understand if they don’t. Honestly, I get messaged twice a week because people think the show has been cancelled or is gonna be cancelled. I’m a fighter and I’m doing everything I can to make sure whoever buys a ticket gets their money’s worth!
Sleaze Roxx: I’m not sure if everyone understands but I get that you have to cut expenses if the ticket sales do not support the current line-up. So what’s the deal with Steel Panther?
Justin Murr: Honestly, a decision hasn’t been made. That’s why a poster has not been released. People assume, but there is so much behind the scenes that people just don’t understand. The biggest blow was we had a major sponsor that would have solved all this but they saw the bad press, became squeamish and after trying to save the sponsor at a lot lower rate, another story popped up and the sponsor just walked away. My personal life has also taken a toll on me and my event. If ticket sales don’t improve, we will have to take drastic measures to make sure the event happens. I hope this makes sense while trying to answer your question. If I had to answer TODAY, and seeing the financial situation, we have no choice but I am meeting with a sponsor later today and I do have faith that everything will work out. Either way we will have a great show!!!
Sleaze Roxx: One thing I noticed this year, and perhaps it has been like that for prior years, but Rock N Skull 2017 mainly advertises through its Facebook page ‘Rock N’ Skull 2017: One Lsst Ride.’ Do you think that has been enough in terms of advertising?
Justin Murr: I do Facebook but we are starting local radio and focusing on Illinois concert goers. That will be the key at this point.
Sleaze Roxx: Although you experienced some financial difficulties with Rock N Skull 2016, this year’s edition sees bigger — and presumably more expensive — acts on the roster in a venue about five times the size. Rock N Skull 2017 has yet to start so everything might turn out to be a huge financial success but do you think that you might have taken too much risk for this year’s edition?
Justin Murr: I love the [Avanti’s] Dome [in Pekin, Illinois, USA] and the people at the Dome have been good to me. Take out the band costs and the event costs are cheaper at the Dome than if we did it at a large club. If this big event would have followed Rock N Skull 2015, we would not even be having this conversation.
Sleaze Roxx: There appears to have been some complaints about various promo discount codes that you have been advertising to try to sell tickets. What’s the deal in that regard?
Justin Murr: I totally understand people being pissed off and totally see their point of view. As a business, when revenue is low, I’m just trying to jump start it. We cover costs with the revenue and it’s our blood line. We need ticket sales to make this happen and I was trying to give the consumer a reason to buy now. If a ticket buyer has a complaint, inbox me, I’m reasonable and I’ll work something out with them. It’s just something we have to do at this at this point to hopefully make someone change their mind and come to Rock N Skull 2017.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems like this might be a good time to reminisce on some of the past editions of Rock N Skull. It all started with Skull Fest in Nebraska in 2013. What’s your best and worst memories?
Justin Murr: Worst memories belong to Rock N Skull 2016 without a doubt. I should never have moved it from Pekin. That was just greed and going to a bigger venue and not being content with the way it was. Bigger isn’t always better and Goodfella’s in Pekin was my sweet spot. It was in my backyard. I knew everyone locally. It’s one of the things I regret moving it. The good memories, you’ll have to wait. I’m writing a book “God Hates Concert Promoters” where I tell all my secrets [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Last question for you and before we end, I’d like to thank you for all your efforts in organizing the Rock N Skull events. It’s obvious that you have a real passion for music and it’s too bad that you have decided to end it this year. Do you have any regrets?
Justin Murr: Tons of regrets! I’m Mr. Woulda Coulda Shoulda. I love music. I love the raw emotion of a live concert and the energy of the crowd. I hope people come out for one more Rock N Skull ’cause this is it! It’s going to be a big party and one thing you ask people, have a good time at Rock N Skull!
Tickets can be bought at: https://rocknskull17.ticketbud.com/rock-n-skull-17. Use promo code “sleaze” and save some money!
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you Justin! I am really looking forward to attending Rock N Skull 2017 and really hope that people who are interested in going understand the need to support the event by buying tickets in advance rather than adopting the “wait and see” approach based on how the line-up ends up.
Stephen Pearcy playing “Lay It Down” at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
Rock N Skull Day 3 10-30-16 The Tree Joliet, IL