There’s a moment in the documentary film “Nova Rex: Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy” when guitarist J.P. Cervoni appears utterly discombobulated, as if a Martian had landed and given him a cupcake.
“How the fuck did we end up looking like fucking girls?” a confused, even dismayed Cervoni says in the 2011 “rockumentary” about Nova Rex, the hair metal band he co-founded in the mid-1980s with bassist Kenny Wilkerson. “I don’t understand. We looked like girls.”
“I used to go to the women’s department to buy clothes,” a carefree Wilkerson says in the film. “I was a young kid. That was the look. I don’t know how to explain it.”
That feminine “high hair” look landed Nova Rex in . . . well, it landed the band’s memorabilia in the archives of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum and in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
And it’s landed a revitalized Nova Rex, led by Wilkerson, in this year’s Rock n’ Rib Fest, the music festival that once rocked the weeds of Palm Coast’s Central Park and Wings Over Flagler at the county airport that has now been folded into the Flagler County Fair and Youth Show.
The fair runs today (Wednesday April 6) through Sunday April 10 at the Flagler County Fairgrounds at 150 Sawgrass Road in Bunnell. On Friday, Rock n’ Rib Fest will feature the country band Restless Heart, known for such No. 1 hits as “That Rock Won’t Roll,” “The Bluest Eyes in Texas” and “A Tender Lie.” Nova Rex plus Foreigner and Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute bands will perform on Saturday.
These days Nova Rex isn’t quite as androgynous as they were in the glory days of hair metal heaven in the 1980s, but . . .
“We still play the game,” Wilkerson says by phone from his DeBary home. “It’s what people expect from us. I still wear eyeliner and mascara and paint my fingernails black. The only difference is now we’re all about 50-years-old, so I’m not wearing spandex because, you know, I’m 50 years old and just too damn fat to wear it.”
Nova Rex kicked around the ’80s glam metal scene in Los Angeles before relocating to Indianapolis. There the band found a modicum of success with such party-hardy songs as “I Just Wanna Rock” and “Turn It Up Loud.”
Then, Wilkerson says, Nova Rex and other bands with high hair “crashed into a wall of early ’90s grunge” led by Nirvana. Despite the waning popularity of hair metal, Nova Rex soldiered on until 2000, when Wilkerson mothballed his feminine spandex and mascara and opened a small chain of tanning salons around DeBary.
But Wilkerson was surprised when he did a casual Google search of his band’s name in 2010. Though never as popular as hair metal icons Poison or Motley Crue, the Rexsters were generating respectable traffic on the Internet “and everybody was selling our CDs,” the 49-year-old bassist says.
That spurred Wilkerson to release a Nova Rex greatest hits CD in 2010. A year later he took the numerous videotapes he had of his band’s decades-old concerts and teamed with director Dean Robinson to create “Nova Rex: It Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy,” that 70-minute “hair-metal rockumentary.”
The documentary appeared on Netflix and in such retail outlets as Best Buy, Wal-mart and others.
“The dang thing got seen by about 30 million people,” Wilkerson says. So Wilkerson ditched his tanning salons and rebooted Nova Rex in 2014. Since then the band has been playing about 100 gigs a year, including Bike Week in Daytona Beach, that other massive biker event in Sturgis, S.D., and numerous rock festivals that usually feature such fellow ’80s-era bands as Slaughter, Great White, Quiet Riot and others. Cervoni occasionally joins Nova Rex for a few gigs, but he won’t be with the band at the Rock n’ Rib Fest.
Wilkerson takes a lighthearted, even self-deprecating attitude toward himself, Nova Rex and hair metal in general. The cover of the documentary’s DVD cheekily includes a blurb comparing the mighty Nova Rex (Latin for “New King”) to Spinal Tap, that mythical band created as a vehicle to satirize metal music in a 1984 Rob Reiner film.
“We knew it was all silly back then and we still do,” Wilkerson says. “A lot of these bands from that time frame — aka Bon Jovi — they distance themselves from that ‘hair metal’ title. I embrace it. I thought it was great and hilarious.
“The documentary is called ‘Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy,’ but I did do an album in 1994 called that too. We didn’t take ourselves seriously. Our songs weren’t about anything heavy. It’s not like we were trying to push political views or anything like that. We’re just a good-time party rock ’n’ roll band. I think the world needs more of that, honestly.”
Nova Rex seems to be making more of a mark with its second act than during the band’s initial run.
VH1, the cable music channel, recently ranked Nova Rex as No. 48 in its list of 100 Greatest Glam Bands from the ’80s. The band is featured, along with many other name-brand metal and hair metal acts, in the new documentary “Hair I Go Again.” And the Rexsters have been, as Wilkerson says, “immortalized in American history” via the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“I feel like I’m keeping hair metal alive,” he says. “It happened in history. Listen, it’s important enough that the Smithsonian wanted to document it. When I talked to those guys they didn’t have anything from that time frame. We’re talking 25, 30 years ago. They have zoot suits, stuff from Woodstock, but they had nothing regarding ’80s metal.”
Wilkerson donated the black-and-white leather jacket, pants and boots he wore onstage in 1988, as well as photos of the band from that period, a red electric bass, fan magazines and a copy of the documentary. An interview of Wilkerson appears on the museum’s website, americanhistory.si.edu.
“It’s still fun to reminisce about that time frame,” Wilkerson says. “My band now in 2016, we’re still doing it, still flying that flag, trying to give people that memory. The look, the attitude, the partying — we still tear it up pretty good that way. We’re just trying to have a good time.”
Akin to Nova Rex, the Rock n’ Rib Fest itself is undergoing a revitalization by joining the Flagler County Fair for the first time this year.
The music and barbecue festival had partnered with the City of Palm Coast when the fest was created in 2010, says David Ayres, general manager of Flagler Broadcasting, which operates radio stations WNZF, Beach 92.7, KIX Country 98.7 and two others.
The city welcomed the event to showcase its then-new Central Park.
“We were new to town ourselves with a new radio station, Beach 92.7,” Ayres says. Several years later, the broadcasting company partnered with the Wings Over Flagler air show and the music festival morphed into Wings Over Flagler Rockin’ the Runway.
“But Rock n’ Rib Fest itself was kind of dormant,” Ayres says. “We have a website and a Facebook page and everybody kept saying ‘When are you going to do another Rock n’ Rib Fest?’ Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey had said it’d be great if we could do something to help out the fairgrounds and the fair. We always had a good relationship with them.”
Ayres talked with Penny Buckles, fair general manager, and Mike Boyd, president of the Flagler County Cattlemen’s Association.
“I asked them what’s going on at the rodeo arena and they said nothing,” Ayres said. “I said ‘How about we move Rock n’ Rib Fest there?’ They were thrilled about it. We did our KIX Country Fest there last October and it was a great venue and it went over really well.
“We hope the Rock n’ Rib Fest can help the fair get better attendance. We’ve got concerts and fireworks and charities involved. We’re hoping it’s a win-win-win.”
The fest will help to raise funds for the Flagler County Education Foundation, a charitable organization that funds programs to improve graduation rates, increase teacher satisfaction and improve job readiness of graduates. And the fest will benefit the Flagler County Rough Riders, a local nonprofit that hosts rodeo events.
Along with the Rock n’ Rib Fest, the fair will include amusement rides, livestock shows and more. For more information call 386-437-2551 or go online at flaglercountyfair.com.
–Rick de Yampert for FlaglerLive
Here’s the fair schedule.
Wednesday April 6
Gates open at 5 p.m. and close at 11 p.m. Free admission.
** Disc-Connected K-9’s – 6 and 8 p.m.
** 4H And FFA Goat, Lamb and Steer Show — 7 p.m.
Thursday April 7
Gates open at 5 p.m. and close at 11 p.m. Admission $5, children 10 and younger free.
** Disc-Connected K-9’s – 6 and 8 p.m.
** 4H And FFA Swine Show – 7 p.m.
Friday April 8
Gates open at 4 p.m. and close at 11 p.m. Admission $5, children 10 and younger free.
** Rock n’ Rib Fest begins – 4 p.m.
** Patrick Gibson in concert – 5 p.m.
** Southern Chaos in concert – 6 p.m.
** Disc-Connected K-9’s – 6 and 8 p.m.
** Opening Ceremony — 6:30 p.m.
** 4H And FFA Livestock Sale — 7 p.m.
** Restless Heart in concert — 8 p.m.
Saturday April 9
Gates open at noon and close at midnight. Admission $5, children 10 and younger free.
** Family Fun Day – noon to 6 p.m.
** Third Annual Smokin’ on the Farms Backyard BBQ Contest – 3 p.m., awards at 5 p.m., plates on sale 6 p.m.
** Disc-Connected K-9’s — TBA
** Rock n’ Rib Fest begins – noon
** Category 5 Rock-n-Oldies – noon to 4 p.m.
** Nova Rex – 4 p.m.
** Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band – 6 p.m.
** Foreigner tribute band – 8 p.m.
** Santore and Sons Fireworks Spectacular – 9:30 p.m.
Sunday April 10
Gates open at noon and close at 6 p.m. Free admission.
** Narrow Magazine New Talent Showcase – noon to 4 p.m.