Sounds of Halloween have circled the Port City for weeks now. It typically starts with an overzealous neighbor hanging cackling witches and screeching bats triggered by passersby. And then the witching hour itself arrives, with masked children squealing in delight as they collect their annual stash of candies. For The Phantom Playboys, Halloween is filled with a bit more rhythm and dance—which is why they’ve been haunting Wilmington with Zombiefest for eight years. In fact, The Phantom Playboys’ drummer and Zombiefest founder Jimmy Kaylis says it’s become one of Wilmington’s biggest underground parties year after year.
“That’s the way I’d like to keep it,” he admits. “And we do that by having certain types of bands—not bringing in cover bands. We try to keep it rock ‘n’ roll and ‘keep it real,’ as the saying goes.”
This year’s Zombiefest is slated for October 28 and is evolving into more than one night of fun. In fact, it’s three days of events, featuring an indoor/outdoor block party, hosted for the first time at Satellite Bar and Lounge. Satellite’s indoor and outdoor bars will be open, and along with food from Satellite’s own Bloc Tacos, Greenfield Street will be blocked off for foot traffic only. Kaylis has enlisted South Front properties to help kick off the festivities with a Friday night screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at 7 p.m. on the South Front lawn. Folks are encouraged to bring snacks and blankets for the show, and they can dress up, too.
“[The UNCW Stage Company will] be reenacting the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and they welcome people to help with the reenactment in front of the movie while it’s going on,” Kaylis explains.
Another addition is the Zombiefest beginners to intermediate rockabilly/swing dance class on October 26 at Hannah Block Historic USO Community Arts Center ( 120 S. 2nd St.), starting with lessons at 7 p.m. and pre-Zombiefest dance party at 8 p.m. Hosted by Ben Phillips and Cape Fear Swing Dance Society, it’s $3 to participate, and they’ll be giving away four Zombiefest tickets.
Though Satellite is a new venue for Zombiefest, it’s still a bit of a homecoming in ways. When Kaylis and company started Zombiefest eight years ago, he opened his Space 13 shop to house the event. Then they tried to move it to downtown areas but wanted it back off the beaten path, so to speak. If all goes well, Satellite may become a permanent home for this undead celebration.
“It used to be more of warehouse party,” Kaylis describes. “We thought moving it to Satellite gives it back that retro-industrial feel, which is really the way the party started.”
While Kaylis and company created Zombiefest because they simply wanted a Halloween event to play—plus, the acoustics at Kaylis’ warehouse were, well, killer—each year they invite other local bands to join them on stage; the headliner is always an out-of-town guest. The Aqualads from Charlotte are coming to Zombiefest 2017, and will join Deadly Lo-Fi and The Paper Stars.
“We like to keep a kind of rockabilly/surf/swing vibe to the bands,” Kaylis says. “In past years [the headliner] has been Southern Culture on the Skids, for example. . . . Aqualads is a surf band on the same touring circuit as The Phantom Playboys.”
The Phantom Playboys have been touring with their last two albums, both recorded by Southern Culture on the Skids’ Rick Miller. “Baby Likes Booze” (2014) and 2016’s “Bartender, Leave the Bottle” actually landed the band a coveted spot in Pandora’s streaming rotation.
“There’s a certain criteria you have to have to get on Pandora,” Kaylis explains. “One of them is you have to have at least two CDs out . . . and you can’t just throw your music in there and say, ‘Hey! We’re on Pandora now!’ That was a big step because [Pandora] makes your music international.”
Currently, The Phantom Playboys are working on their third full-length album, and they’re about halfway complete. They’ll join Miller in the studio once their songs are fleshed out. In the meantime, they’re playing a couple of new tunes live. “Balls to the Wall” and “Fifth Avenue Brass” have been getting stage time as of late.
“We have a pretty fun band, so a lot of our songs have a super-fun tone to them,” Kaylis tells. “One or two new songs are a little more ‘serious’ but the rest are fun. Anyone who’s ever seen us knows what we try to portray. We build and feed off the crowd and energy between us. It’s too many times that bands now walk through the motions . . . and we’re not that. We are serious about our music, but we believe live music is where you go to have fun and cut loose.”
Though The Phantom Playboys have been known to don their own costumes and amp up various sounds each year, Kaylis says they haven’t decided on their garb or any creepy covers as of yet.
“It’s kind of a surprise when we do stuff like that,” he continues. “One year we did Elvis and his band, and we had him come in from his haunted limo outside through the crowd with a body. We added a little skit, too.”
Zombiefest has upped the ante for its annual costume contest from $100 to a $200 cash prize. They’ll also have a dance cage and series of zombie movies playing throughout the night. The Phantom Plays will have Zombiefest tees, tank tops and work shirts available for cash only.
Zombiefest tickets are $15 in advance at Gravity Records or Satellite, or $18 (cash only) day of show.
Zombiefest Beginner Rockabilly Dance Class and Dance Party
Thursday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Hannah Block • 120 S. 2nd St.
Rocky Horror Picture Show Screening
Friday, Oct. 27, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
South Front Apartments Lawn
1400 S. 2nd St.
Saturday, Oct. 28,
Doors at 6 p.m.; show at 7 p.m.
Satellite • 120 Greenfield St.
Tickets: $15 adv.; $18 door