The Kraken Rules Earth Rocker III- Hunter’s Interview
The third annual Earth Rocker Festival, kicked off on July 13, 2019 at Shiley Acres in Inwood, West Virginia. Everything I had planned for covering this festival went awry having lost my mother the week before. To be honest I was lucky to make it to the festival at all. Originally, this was slated to be the best year yet for coverage as Beney Benefiel and I had recently launched Gearhead Radio, in celebration of the many Clutch shows we have covered and attended over the years. We had even been lucky enough to feature J.P Gaster as our first interview guest. We were ecstatic for this year, and had been planning everything for months. Sometimes life hands you the unexpected, and those plans suddenly change. The goal was to do on site interviews of the many Clutch fans and Gearheads, and to caputure something deeper, and more reflective, about the subculture that over the years this amazing band has cultivated. For Beney he has been involved in the Clutch camp almost as long as Clutch has. For me I am always in search of the bigger picture, the story within the story. As a journalist sometimes you do not go looking for the story, as much as the story finds you. That was certainly true of Earth Rocker this year.
Something must be said about the subculture or community that Clutch has created over the years. Sure, many bands may rival the fan base in their size but Clutch truly knows how to bring people together. Clutch is that sort of band that does not have regular fans, in fact I would not even call them super fans. In fact, I am hard pressed to define it. What it means to be a Gearhead is something more, something that Clutch has whole heartedly brought together and inspired, and something for which I did not truly grasp the magnitude of until I met, and was able to experience Earth Rocker through the eyes of one young fan: Hunter Alexandrow.
I met Hunter that day, amongst a sea of what was probably at least one hundred people; Gearheads, all of which crowded around Beney’s black pick-up truck, before the gates opened, for the festival. Beney had arranged an impromptu photo shoot, of the many people who had gathered for the festival. Many of which who have known each other on at least social media for years. Almost all of those people knew Hunter in at least that capacity, and many wanted to take photos with him as well. My son Tom, and I walked up and introduced ourselves. I first noticed that Hunter was there with his mother Crystal Morrison, who was helping him stand for the photos. He had a radiant smile, and from the amount of people who flocked to him I could see that his personality was infectious. I could tell that Hunter was ecstatic to be at the festival. Though he had attended Clutch concerts in the past this was his first Earth Rocker, and chance to meet many of the people who had been instrumental in his life, for many years; those who have supported him growing up, from High school, to College, to today. I can imagine for Hunter it was as exciting to meet many of the people who have supported him, and cheered him on, as it was to see the almighty C! Of course what had brought Hunter to this place, along with the sea of hundreds of people around him, was the almighty C! to begin with. In “The Land of Pleasant Living” or “The Big Group” thousands of people have come together following Clutch and have found a place where they truly belong. It might sound cliché, but in these social medial groups, life-long friendships have been forged, lovers have found each other and gotten married, and then there is the Kraken, or the nickname that has been given to Hunter, by fellow Gearhead Stephen Townsend. The Kraken is a staple in these groups.
Hunter shared with me how he received the nickname by saying that, “Stephen Townsend gave me the nickname because the Kraken is a giant Octopus/ Squid that has tentacles. He said that I spread hope and joy around the [Clutch] page like a Kraken would its tentacles. So He gave me the nickname.”
Hunter is greatly loved by this group maybe even as much as they love the band itself. Hunter is known for his positive energy, and vitality, and for having just so much heart. Because of all this Hunter found himself on stage with Shiley acres owner, Mr. Gregory Shiley, right before Clutch was set to go on. Many people cheered for Hunter up on that stage, as much as they cheered for Clutch.
For Hunter life has not always been easy. His mother Crystal, shared with me about his medical condition. To me, there are no stronger words than the words that come from a mother; a mother has the ability to love and to understand their child like no other.
Crystal shared, “Hunter was a twin........his brother Mason only lived an hour and a half. They were delivered at only 24 weeks (6 months of pregnancy). Hunter only weighed a pound and a half and was the size of a Beanie Baby. Hunter had many issues at or shortly after birth but the most concerning were no blood flow from the waist down caused from the umbilical catheter, complete kidney failure, a massive brain hemorrhage, a heart defect and Retinopathy (retinal detachment). The lack of blood flow to his lower extremities is what would cause massive tissue loss to his legs and eventually lead to double amputation several years later. Incidentally, he never stuttered once until his leg amputation. All of his Speech Therapists say it was trauma induced”
However if you are reading Hunter’s posts on any of the Clutch groups on Facebook, or conversing with Hunter online, you would never know that. Hunter is charismatic, full of life, and a source of encouragement to others. I think for many of us Gearheads, the fact that Hunter has gone through so much in his young life, but has such a zest for living, is nothing short of motivational. It is far too easy to be consumed by the things that we face day to day, but when you meet someone like Hunter you have put things into perspective. It was amazing to see Hunter be able to attend Earth Rocker, and to get up on stage in front of thousands of people cheering for him, and shouting “Kraken”. For all of the joy that Hunter has shared with all of us, this was truly his moment.
If we are honest with ourselves, as much as we love Rock N Roll, and as much as we love Clutch especially, festivals can wear a person out. You normally have a great distance of walking to do, there is the heat, the crowds, but we do it. I thought about everything that it meant for Hunter to be there, and how despite any physical challenges he may have, this young man was accomplishing something that I am quite sure, was high on his bucket list; and being able to live out some of his dreams in that day. Having met Hunter and witnessing his stage debut made me think about how truly precious life is, and how important it is to live it to the fullest. I realized that I had found my story, that a festival is so much more than the venue, or the food, or the drinks, or even the music. Although we come for the music, a festival like Earth Rocker, is about bringing out the human connection. Through Hunter’s story I learned so much about humanity, facing adversity, and about myself. I left the festival that day yearning to know more about him, and how Clutch has inspired his life, and in turn how he has come to inspire so many others. The fact that a Rock band can create a community of followers such as Hunter, and the many Gearheads who had a hand in making that day special, is a huge testament to the power of Clutch. It is a testament to the fact that music has the power to organize, to bring together, and to inspire. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak with Hunter, and to chat with him about life, inspiration, and the almighty C! Meeting someone like Hunter I take away an even deeper appreciation for the music of Clutch, and their ability as not only musicians but community organizers. For if there were no Clutch, there would be no Earth Rocker, no Gearheads to talk about, and you might not get the chance to listen to the story of this amazing young man. The following is the interview I did with him.
Would you say that Clutch is your favorite band?
- I don’t really have a favorite band because I love lots of different genres and types of music. Clutch is definitely one of my favorites! Along with Down and Texas Hippie coalition.
Why Clutch? What is it about their music that especially hits home for you?
I love the songs, and going to see them live. Neil’s presence on stage is unparalleled in my opinion. Neil connects with people at his shows by staring into their soul with his eyes, and pointing at them. It’s truly an awesome feeling being stared down by one of your favorite singers.
When did you become a Clutch fan and was there a certain song that really got you into them?
I was watching The Walking Dead reruns over a school break, with my mom; and on one episode “The Regulator” came on. I was hooked on the intro of that song from the moment I heard it. So I Googled the lyrics and found the song was by a band called Clutch. Over the next couple of days I did a complete listen on Spotify. All the albums, and all the songs. I loved a lot of the songs right away. From then on I have been a fan!
How many shows have you been to?
- I have been to four Clutch shows so far. Three have been with my mom and stepdad. And one has been with my dad.
Was the 2019 Earth Rocker the first ER you have been to? Describe that experience?
- This was the first ER that I have been too. It was a very cool and interesting experience! The fact that I got up on stage was a dream come true. I loved seeing the boys again, and meet loads of interesting people, from all walks of life, and different countries!
How did it come about that you got up on stage with Mr. Shiley?
A couple hours before Clutch went on stage Tim Sirbaugh came up to me and said there was a fundraiser, and a drawing taking place, and asked me if when they announced the winners if I would like to go on stage, and of course I said yes! I had no idea what to expect. I was wondering if I was going to say anything or if I was just going to stand there.....
Tell me what you were thinking or feeling at that moment in front of the festival crowd?
I was so nervous and ecstatic at the opportunity at the same time! I had butterflies in my stomach. One minute I am standing there looking at the crowd, and then the next thing I know Mr. Shiley walked over to me, and introduced me to the crowd, saying, “I am sure that everyone knows the Kraken…...” All I know is that it was incredible to look out and see all the faces of the Clutch fans who were cheering me on. These people have gotten to watch me change, and grow up for the past couple years. It was out of this world! I remember thinking “how lucky I am to have gotten to experience a private meet and greet with one of my favorite bands at my first show, a signed note and album from the band and then somehow I got on stage at the bands own music festival.” I was truly humbled and beside myself.
You have become very well known on Clutch social media sites tell me how that came about?
I first joined the Clutch page a few years ago. One day I decided to share a picture of me and my new wheelchair, and before you know it, a bunch of People started commenting on it, saying how cool it was. It spiraled from there. Since then, so many people, most of whom I have never even met, have watched me go through high school and now college. These people have given me advice and taken a huge interest in my life.
If you could share some advice to those who may have a physical impairment of challenge what would it be?
My advice would be to learn to laugh at yourself and make the best out of your situation. If you can’t learn to laugh at yourself and make jokes, you will go through life being a sad sour puss, and no one likes those types of people. Always remember that there is someone who has it harder than you. My mom says all the time” It is what it is.” You have to take the hand that you have been dealt and make the best of it.
Do you find that music provides any help or encouragement in your daily life? Why?
Music helps me get through my day to day challenges! It helps motivate and inspire me, calms me down, and gets me pumped up. I listen to music from the time I get up until the time I go to bed. Music is my life!!
If you could plan your ideal music festival who’s playing, where would it be, and anything special you want to include?
If I was going to plan my own music festival, the lineup would be- Clutch, Texas Hippie coalition, Young Jeezy, Vince Staples and Vessel of Light. I would definitely have the festival at my mom’s farm, so people can camp out and make a weekend out of it.