On March 12 at the Tavern in Hattiesburg, Witch Trial Productions will present a show featuring bands Bermuda from California, Demolisher from Chicago, Animals from Boston, Thresholds from Nashville and VAEN from Ocean Springs.
This whole event would never have come about had it not been for the desires of one USM student.
Bryce Ballinger, a music production major at USM, got seriously into music at the age of 14 by both going to see shows and learning how to play guitar, bass and piano.
“That was my dream, to be a performance musician and tour to share my music and inspire people with my music,” Ballinger said.
When Ballinger arrived at USM, he met former USM student Zachary Thomas. Thomas was the head of Rabid Wolf Pack, a former Hattiesburg booking company similar to Witch Trials Productions.
Thomas took Ballinger beneath his wing in February 2015. It was this experience that changed his goals from being a performance musician to being a producer and booking shows.
“Of course, I’m still going to pursue being a performance musician,” Ballinger said. “But seeing how people reacted to that show, that’s when I decided that I’m going to stick with this.”
Rabid Wolf Pack folded December 2015 following Thomas’s desire to leave the music business. Ballinger said he remembered Thomas talking to him after the last show to tell him he was leaving and it would be his choice if he would carry on the Rabid Wolf Pack name.
Over winter break, Ballinger came up with his own production company Witch Trial Productions and assembled a team who would want to help him.
“I built a team of nine to 10 people and contacted an artist to start work on the design for Witch Trial,” Ballinger said.
Michael Steinheiser is the Wisconsin artist who designed Witch Trial’s logo and merchandise. Steinheiser worked with the band Sworn In from Illinois and designed their merchandise.
Although it was expensive, Ballinger put up the money for his services.
“I knew if I wanted to be taken seriously, I needed to have something that represented me seriously,” he said.
Ballinger’s company has other duties beyond booking venues. Ballinger currently manages and books tours for two bands from Nashville, Thresholds and Erebus. The tour will start in Houston and travel to the Gulf Coast to Florida before going to the Northeast. From there, the bands will travel through the Midwest before moving through Kentucky.
Hattiesburg will be the second to last stop on this planned tour, with Birmingham being the last date.
“My friend Caleb is the lead singer of Erebus, and he came down with one of his older bands to open up for one of our shows,” Ballinger said.
It was through his friend that he was introduced to the band members of Thresholds and saw potential in them after listening to their music.
Over winter break, the Witch Trial team got in contact with Chris Fronzak, the frontman of metalcore band Attila and owner of Stateset Records, an independent label company. The Witch Trial team sent him some music and promotional material of Thresholds. Fronzak offered them a visit to Orlando when they had the chance.
“Fronz is a very good businessman,” Ballinger said. “That’s why I’m choosing to go in that route.”
The process of forming a new company has been difficult for Ballinger. Ballinger said he is not afraid to start something new but worries about being as professional as possible so people can look into and not discredit it.
Ballinger takes much responsibility as the owner. He helps with stage management as well as housing the bands in his house. The bands are fed, take showers and Ballinger allows them to sleep on his bed while he sleeps on the floor.
“I try to do everything I can to insure that these bands and people that come out to our shows feel like this is a place that they can come to anytime,” Ballinger said.
The goal of this effort is to make Hattiesburg a place where all bands need to come through. Witch Trial Productions has been getting more calls and emails from musicians around the country.
Their work is important because of the perceived lack of camaraderie and major events happening.
“I would like it for Witch Trial to become something that people can join,” Ballinger said.
Ballinger does not make a profit from any of these venues and generally spends more money. All of the money from each venue goes to the musicians.
He also is a student at USM and works part-time at GameStop in Petal while living in his own house with bills to pay. He puts up money for catering, equipment and even gas, which can rack up to $700.
“I can’t always promise opening bands money, because it’s all up to the people of Hattiesburg whether they show up or sit at home to watch Netflix,” Ballinger said.
Ballinger admits that he will rely on his parents for money at times, not to fund the shows or pay the bands, but to buy his groceries at times.
“If I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t be able to do as many shows as I could,” Ballinger said. His parents also support him by buying tickets and cooking food for the bands that show up.
Despite all the hardships, Ballinger does not regret any of the past few months of being the owner and founder of Witch Trial Productions. He has succeeded in what he wanted to do and continues to do, despite the doubt others tried to place in him.
“I’ve had people tell me I wouldn’t be able to do this and this is kind of a sense that ‘I can do this.’ I’m going to whether they want me to or not,” Ballinger said.