“I saw a Twitter survey that asked ‘What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?’,” says Rudy Herndon, the founder and main organizer behind Nevada’s Schellraiser Music Festival.
“In my case it was “Dynasty” by KISS. Back in 1979, 1980. And then I discovered Meat Puppets, The Ramones, The Replacements. Music was literally a life changing discovery.”
Schellraiser was created to be a multi-day music festival spanning different genres set in a scenic valley at the foot of the Schell Creek Mountains in McGill, Nevada. The historical former mining town lies off of most people’s maps – it’s located a dozen or so miles north of Ely, nestled in the dark skies rich corner of eastern Nevada where Great Basin National Park sits a mountain range over and the region markets itself as a mountain biking mecca.
After the pandemic put a hold on the initial plans for the music festival, Schellraiser kicked off its inaugural event in the Summer of 2022. That first event brought performers like outlaw country artist Nikki Lane and americana alt rockers Old 97’s to the stage.
“My main inspiration for Schellraiser is Trans-Pecos Festival in Marfa, Texas”, reflects Herndon, recalling an event that was created as an antithesis to the Coachella environment. Unlike large scale events where the focus is on the commercial appeal and party atmosphere featuring an overwhelming number of acts performing, Trans-Pecos takes place in a small artists’ community, where barriers are down between performers and audience, and the goal is to make the atmosphere feel special, where music is engaged with rather than simply consumed.
Schellraiser’s 2022 event fit that bill nicely, with performers inviting other acts onstage spontaneously for improvised jams, those playing might be found following their sets in the audience sharing drinks with attendees, and everyone retiring to the tiny McGill Club bar – the lone watering hole in the town – after the night’s performances had ended.
As if to set his event even further apart from the massive commercial festivals, Schellraiser takes place in a civic park surrounded by trees beside a large natural warm spring that acts as the town’s public swimming pool. Each evening the sun sets behind mountains creating a picturesque backdrop to the scene, and on clear nights, thousands of stars blanket the valley sky with a surreal clarity, given that the town of McGill lies at a 6200’ elevation.
Speaking to him about the event, Herndon’s passion about music is clear. The city of Ely’s historic Hotel Nevada has sponsored a pop up office and shop on the town’s main street where Schellraiser has shelves of vinyl records for sale by not just performers, but other indie artists, offering an indie-minded musical outlet in a small town not exactly known for its buzzworthy musical diversity.
“I think it’s important for a successful festival to branch out. Why would you pigeonhole yourself to one genre? For me, as a voracious consumer of music, I feel that a great band is a great band. There’s so much wonderful music out there, but the mainstream tastemakers or indie tastemakers like Pitchfork, their focus is more narrow. I wanted to shake things up and have a variety of bands and genres.”
As he talks about Schellraiser, and his drive to create an event in an area that typically doesn’t see many musical big names without the couple hour drive to Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, one is struck that Herndon is one of those people who found music so much more than just something to listen to, but instead something that has played a cathartic role in his life, a soundtrack to memorable places and experiences, and something he is driven to share with others. Adjacent to the park where the festival takes place, he runs the Schellraiser Campground, ground zero for attendees to car camp or rent one of the heated and furnished glamping tents or container homes, which operates seasonally aside from throughout the festival, and he is in the process of restoring an old community theater in McGill that fell into disrepair following the decline and closure of the local copper mine.
Having traveled a path of living and working in a variety of western towns before ultimately coming to call McGill home, Rudy Herndon remembers those magical moments that have stuck with him through the years, and talks of how his goal is to create an event and a place where these unfiltered intersections can continue.
“I think I took Lollapalooza for granted. In 1992 I saw Lush, The Jesus And Mary Chain, and Ministry, big names. And it was amazing. But in ’93 I saw Mercury Rev on the side stage and they put all the mainstage bands to shame. They were a little rough around the edges, they kinda messed up a song, but I think that added to the magic. That was 29 years ago and I’ve never forgotten that.” He thinks about this and how that moment is reflected in Schellraiser’s lineup.
“Often times there are incredible bands that most people have never heard of.” And he brings it back to what he experienced at Marfa’s Trans-Pecos music events, “That festival was so special. It was hard to get to, but once you’re there you just feel like you’re surrounded by people who generally share your passion for this wonderful music. I wanted to bring something with that level of quality to this area.”
Schellraiser was created to appeal to those looking for a more intimate festival experience, something more tied to the outdoor recreationally-rich area in which it takes place a couple hours from the nearest big cities, something that blurs the separation between participants and attendees. In short, Schellraiser was created for those that look at the empty spot on the map in which it takes place and rather than seeing it as the middle of nowhere, see it as the middle of everywhere.
Schellraiser 2023 will take place in McGill, Nevada from June 1st-3rd, with headliners Dinosaur Jr., Blonde Redhead, Asleep At The Wheel, The Joy Formidable, Blitzen Trapper, and Murder By Death, plus nearly 30 other bands performing across two stages.
Full information and details can be found at Schellraiser.com