Funkatorium Invitational holdovers fly south to Greenville

BORDER HOPPING: With Wicked Weed Brewing’s July 8 Funkatorium Invitational delayed until Aug. 26, roughly a third of the breweries originally slated to pour that weekend will instead be at Birds Fly South Ale Project for The Funk Collective.
BORDER HOPPING: With Wicked Weed Brewing’s July 8 Funkatorium Invitational delayed until Aug. 26, roughly a third of the breweries originally slated to pour that weekend will instead be at Birds Fly South Ale Project for The Funk Collective. Image courtesy of The Funk Collective

A new festival has risen from the ashes of Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium Invitational. The Funk Collective — a two-day event at the Greenville, SC, brewery Birds Fly South Ale Project with sponsorship from Greenville bottle shop The Community Tap and Charleston-based Revelry Brewing Co. — will bring 50 independently owned breweries to upstate South Carolina. Scheduled for the original Saturday, July 8, date of the now-delayed Funkatorium Invitational, The Funk Collective will likewise donate all profits to that event’s beneficiary, Asheville’s Eblen-Kimmel Charities.

Part of the backlash from Wicked Weed’s May 3 announcement that it had sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev was a rapid rate of attrition from the brewery’s nationally esteemed Funkatorium Invitational. The yearly festival celebrating sour and funky beers, features some of the most prominent U.S. breweries currently brewing farmhouse and lambic-inspired beers. However, the vast majority of these breweries promptly declined to attend the event in protest of Wicked Weed’s acquisition by the world’s largest multinational brewing conglomerate. The Funkatorium Invitational was eventually cancelled outright with Wicked Weed reimagining and rescheduling the event for Aug. 26.

A vacuum was left in the schedules of many breweries that had planned to attend, and into that breach stepped Shawn Johnson, co-owner (with wife Lindsay Johnson) and brewmaster of Birds Fly South, alongside his friends at Revelry and Community Tap.

“I didn’t see any reason to dissolve a good thing, and the Funkatorium Invitational has been a very good thing for a lot of people — from those that benefit from the charitable donations to the breweries that have gotten to pour beer there,” Shawn Johnson says. “If we didn’t do it, [a substitute festival] could have ended up in Colorado or the Northeast. We love Asheville and I didn’t see any reason for the region to lose such a big event.”

The Community Tap’s extensive event organization experience aims to ease the logistical challenges of executing a beer festival with less than two months’ notice, while Revelry’s involvement points to the future of The Funk Collective. Johnson expects the event to occur annually, and Revelry is already slated to host the 2018 iteration, which will focus on beers from the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Of the 74 breweries originally down to participate in the Funkatorium Invitational, roughly a third will be in attendance for The Funk Collective. Johnson cites the difficulties of securing South Carolina legal permits in the short timeframe allotted as the primary reason for the remaining breweries’ reticence to take part in the new festival. A competing event in Massachusetts is also attracting many of the New England breweries that were originally scheduled for Wicked Weed’s fest.

The Funk Collective’s structure is slightly different from that of the Funkatorium Invitational, with an exclusive VIP event scheduled for the evening of Friday, July 7, prior to the main event on Saturday, July 8. Friday’s VIP experience will showcase more than a dozen upstate breweries, and will also include access to extremely rare bottles from an undisclosed list of international breweries. Saturday’s festivities will feature approximately 35 regional and national breweries, a complete list of which may be found here.

While Johnson is not alone in the independent brewing world when he grieves the loss of a craft cornerstone like Wicked Weed to the machinations of Big Beer, he views his decision to pick up the torch of the Funkatorium Invitational as an effort to find a silver lining in what many deem a disheartening chapter in the region’s craft beer movement by redoubling solidarity among his peers.

“This is in no way a statement against Wicked Weed,” he says. “This is for the greater good. It’s a time to bring the small artisanal producers together and solidify our identity as independent brewers. We want to take people’s attention away from all of the big changes, the smoke and mirrors, and get them to focus on what’s going good around here.”

The Funk Collective will take place on Friday and Saturday, July 7-8, at Birds Fly South Ale Project, 1320 Hampton Ave. Ext., Greenville, SC. Tickets for Saturday only are available now for $64.81, and VIP passes that include access to both days and early entry on Saturday are $113.60. Details and tickets are available here

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