Here’s how much the man on the other end of the phone loves Halloween: As a boy, he risked a split cranium in the name of the black cat-abetted holiday.
“I was that trick-or-treater, that kid who would go above and beyond when it came to Halloween stuff,” Johnny Griffin begins. “Back before people were zip lining, I hooked up a rope to the top of my house to my neighbor’s fence and was sliding down it during Halloween to scare people.”
Years later, he’d marry a woman, Denise Griffin, who’s just as Halloween-obsessed.
Now they live in a house in the high desert of Southern California whose decor is fashioned after Disney’s Haunted Mansion.
Both of them are also former singers with lengthy careers in the music industry — they met while DJing — who operate the Run N’ Roll Company, which puts on boutique festivals.
Now they’re merging the two passions.
“We’ve kind of taken our love of music and performing and put that into events that we’ve put on in the past,” Griffin says. “This time we decided, ‘We’re going to combine our Halloween love and our music love into one event.’”
Hence the advent of the Fear Faire, a Friday the 13th-themed music festival and horror convention debuting at the Rio on Friday.
The two-day event combines live music from new wavers Oingo Boingo Former Members, rockers Alien Ant Farm, indie acts like Joker’s Hand and The Proscriber as well as Vegas’ own Indigo Kiss, Dru and others, with a film fest, a special effects makeup battle, dance crews and more.
And seeing as how it’s all getting started on Friday the 13th, the fest will fittingly feature an appearance by Warrington Gillette, who starred as Jason Voorhees in “Friday the 13th Part 2.”
The idea behind it all?
To take your average horror convention, which is traditionally predicated upon lots and lots of dead stuff, and make it a bit more, well, lively.
“I can go to a Halloween con and get autographs and buy stuff. OK, what else?” Griffin asks. “We wanted to have it be more immersive where people can have more to do besides just waiting to meet somebody for an autograph.”
And now a word from a “Dead Man’s Party”-starter.
“We’re kind of synonymous with Halloween,” says John “Vatos” Hernandez, drummer for Oingo Boingo Former Members, the musical headliners of Fear Faire’s opening night. “Fear Faire, that’s right in our bag: ghouls and people ripping stuff apart. That was the kind of stuff that made (Oingo Boingo founder) Danny (Elfman) gross us out on the bus, with all these slasher movies and stuff.”
While the Elfman-fronted Oingo Boingo came to an end after a farewell tour in 1995, the new wavers’ catalog is being kept alive by Oingo Boingo Former Members, featuring Hernandez, who’s been with the band since the late ’70s, along with fellow Boingo vets Sam “Sluggo” Phipps (horns), Carl Graves (keyboards), Steve Bartek (guitar) and John Avila (bass), who are joined by Brendan McKian (lead vocals), Mike Glendinning (vocals, rhythm guitar), Freddy Hernandez (bass) and Brian Swartz (trumpet).
With the Dia de los Muertos-themed album cover of the group’s seminal fifth record, “Dead Man’s Party,” began a long association between Oingo Boingo and the macabre — albeit a playful one, the band’s horn- and synth-enhanced sound a bright contrast to occasionally dark subject matter.
“Danny had an affinity for the Day of the Dead, and we’ve always kind of celebrated it in the band,” Hernandez explains. “The Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration of death, the conquering of death and the fear of death, you just go on living — your spirit goes on living — and every year there’s a party for all those spirits.
“You’re partying with dead people,” he continues. “It’s a beautiful thing, because we’ve lost so many people with COVID, it’s been so terrible, there’s so many awful things going on, that sometimes death is a release, sometimes it’s a celebration, sometimes it’s a lot of fun.”
As such, the band seems as natural a fit for the Fear Faire as dismembered prosthetic limbs, the goal here being to crank up the volume on the horror con experience.
“Very rarely do you have any music in the background at one of those things,” Griffin says. “It’s just the roar of the crowd. It’s like, ‘OK, it’s quiet now, everyone’s at lunch and we’re just kind of standing here at our table, nothing’s happening.’ We wanted to make sure that there was at least some lively energy happening.”
Of course there will be zombie rom-coms
It’s kind of like a silent disco for slasher flicks.
In addition to the concerts, another main component of the Fear Faire is its film festival, done in conjunction with indie distributor with FilmFreeway, which allows directors to submit films.
“We’ve had over 2,000 entries and we’ve narrowed it down to 300,” Griffin says, “and it’s not just full features. It’s everything from music videos, short films and feature films.”
The way it works: Attendees are given headphones to hear every swing of the ax in crystalline sound, with selections presented on three channels across three screens.
The offerings range from children’s animation to Italian zombie flicks to undead rom-coms (“First Date of the Dead,” anyone?) to clips from industrial music mainstays Frontline Assembly.
The films will be part of a full schedule of attractions, which also includes a freak show, costume contests, an immersion room and maze, magic performances and more.
The Griffins originally planned to do Fear Faire as a one-day event last September at Area15. But two weeks before the show, four of the nine bands scheduled to play canceled because of the pandemic.
And so they spun things forward to May 13, which also happens to be Denise Griffin’s birthday.
Should the fest prove to be a hit, they plan on holding another one every Friday the 13th at various locations.
“We’re just going to follow the calendar and try to move it around,” Griffin says.
In the meantime, get ready for the Halloween equivalent of Christmas in July, cinematic spilled entrails in place of mistletoe.
“Friday the 13th is always, always a mystical time,” Hernandez says. “To me it’s a good luck charm. It’s going to be a good luck charm for people who want to party like they’re going to die tomorrow.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram