Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Story & photos by Paul Silver

It’s Labor Day weekend! To most people that means a day off work, maybe a picnic, or just catching up on things at home. To the type of people who read Jersey Beat, however, it can mean only one thing: it’s time for Awesomefest! This year marks the eighth iteration of this pop-punk gala, and the sixth time it’s been located in sunny San Diego. Awesomefest is the time of year, also, to not only listen to a lot of great bands, but it’s the time of year to reunite with friends from around the country and around the world, most of whom have only been seen in the virtual world of the internet since the year before.

This year, as with last year, I started my Awesomefest experience a day early, with the annual pre-fest. There’s two of these held every year: One at VLHS, Southern California’s premier DIY venue, and one in San Diego. The San Diego pre-fest this year featured some great sets by both local and visiting bands, some of whom played sets at the main fest and many who did not.

Homeless Sexuals

Grammatical B



The Slow Death
The same two venues that host the nighttime Awesomefest shows, Soda Bar and The Hideout, hosted the pre-fest shows. One highlight of the night had to be DFMK, a band from Tijuana that’s started to play north of the border and has begun to conquer our local punk scene. They’re fast, tight and crunchy as hell. Local San Diego band, GHETTO BLASTER, tore up the Hideout with their machine gun music and the wild vocals and wilder antics of front man Ryan Foxe. Touring bands that played included THE WOLF and WARM SODA, from Austin, the former with a hard rocking sound and the latter with a more indie rock vibe, as well as bands playing the main fest, as well, such as SHELLSHAG, THE SLOW DEATH, and TOO MANY DAVES, which, perhaps, should change their name to Too Many Drunks. And, speaking of drunks, I learned a hard lesson at last year’s pre-fest that I did not repeat this year. Last year I started the party way too hard that night, and paid the price the next day, already severely hung over at the start of Awesomefest. This year, I stopped drinking early enough that Friday morning I awoke feeling refreshed. You can view Thursday night’s pre-fest photos here.

Friday registration began at noon over at Soda Bar. Or, it was supposed to. I volunteered again, this year, to help run registration, but the packets with wrist bands, as well as the pre-paid T-shirts, were all still up in Riverside. Everything finally arrived around 3:30pm, and a massive on-rush of waiting festers took about 45 minutes to clear out. With that, I headed down to the official Awesomefest Happy Hour at Live Wire, where the drafts were $3 all weekend for anyone with a wristband. Given the great selection of beer there, it was a pretty “Awesome” deal. Pizza and more beer at Luigi’s was next on the agenda, and then it was down to the Hideout for the official start of festivities. Wait – the Hideout? Yeah, what used to be The Void (and before that was Bar Eleven) has changed hands again, and names. And interior design. The owners decided to dump a huge sum of money into the place to make it look more like a downtown Gaslamp district club. They succeeded in that, but I’m not so sure the investment will really pay off. It’s not really the neighborhood for it.


Tom Grrl

The Raging Nathans

The Maxies

Varsity Drag

Friday night highlights included the Awesomefest debut of locals CASKITT, whose huge sound belies their status as a three-piece band. I’ve been lucky enough to see them frequently in town, but for most fest-goers, this was their first chance, and I think they’ve made a huge impression, from the buzz I heard afterward. Friday night also saw the return to Awesomefest of THE HADDONFIELDS, the St. Louis pop punk band that I fell in love with way back at one of the earlier fests I attended. TOM GRRRL was a band I’d heard of but hadn’t seen. They’re a two piece, guitar and drums, and the guitarist wears a dress when playing. OK, that’s cool, but are they any good? Hell yes! They have a great indie-punk sound. VENA CAVA reunited again for this year’s festivities, with their incredibly precise, yet easy post-punk sound. FRENCH EXIT played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen from them, and I’ve seen a lot of great sets from them. The crowd really got into it, pressing forward toward the stage, with lots of fist pumping, singing along, and stage diving and crowd surfing galore. Also playing were the bro’ band SUNNYSIDE (just kidding – they had a review calling them that, but they’re anything but, with a cool gruff pop-punk sound), THE MAXIES, everyone’s favorite Greenlandic band (add a k to the end of that) that had nothing but nice things to say about all the other bands, and the band likely to be the most out of place this year, but also one of the most interesting, VARSITY DRAG, featuring Ben Deily, founding member of The Lemonheads. They play an indie pop sound, rather than the usual pop punk from the other bands, and Deily’s high-pitched vocals are unique. It was a shame the crowd thinned out, because more people need to be exposed to stuff like this. Check out photos from Friday night’s Awesomefestivities here.

Saturday began with the obligatory Awesomefest burrito; this year it was an amazing broccoli, cauliflower, potato, and cheese burrito from Ray’s. To be fair, living in San Diego, I get more than my fair share of excellent burritos, but they’re always more special when shared with friends from around the country. Afternoon sets were, as usual, held at U31 and The Office, and highlights included a bunch of local SoCal bands, such as GENTLEMEN PREFER BLOOD, HANDS LIKE BRICKS, and SQUARECROW. One highlight had to be the return of THE BERTOS, who last played as a band a couple of years ago. They came back with a vengeance, with the three-piece (featuring stand-in drummer Ricky subbing for Jake, who broke his hand a week earlier) tearing through their set as if they had been practicing constantly for the past two years. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Eckel was clearly having a great time, and his passion flowed through the microphone and out into the PA system. The last band to play the afternoon, though, proved to be that one band for this year’s festivities. Every year, there’s a band that I’ve never heard of that blows me away, and this year it was TOY GUITAR, from Oakland, California. They play a very tight garage-indie-punk sound that could be described as sort of a more indie Marked Men. If you get a chance to see them or pick up their music, I highly recommend them. Take a look at my complete Facebook gallery of what happened Saturday afternoon here.

The Half-Truths

Party Marty with Gentlemen Prefer Blood

The Bertos

After enjoying some slices and a draft from Sicilian Thing, Saturday night moved back to The Hideout and Soda Bar. ADDER kicked off the night with his underground hip-hop mixed with punk, and his set included bass and drums provided by Neil and Josh of Payoff, who had played earlier. I’ve only had a chance to see Adder a couple of times before this, but his mixing was over-the-top cool and creative this night, and his rapping was on fire. Also playing incredible sets this night were THE BLOODTYPES, with their quirky new-wave punk and matching bloody white shirts, WHITE MURDER, who play an intense post-punk sound with dueling female vocals, and RUMSPRINGER, who are, hands down, one of my favorite current bands. Playing only their third show ever was SHITTY CHILDREN, featuring Sammy ThrashLife on vocals, Chris Spillane on bass, Mike Duda on drums, and, umm… the unique thing about Shitty Children is that they’ve had a different guitarist for each of their shows. This time out, it was Noelle of Rational Anthem who hastily learned the songs earlier in the day. Probably my disappointment of the night (and maybe the weekend) was the highly anticipated performance from WINTER BREAK, which is the former SUMMER VACATION minus one member. Summer vacation were always a good band to see, at Awesomefest and elsewhere, but now as a trio, Winter Break just seemed to sound a little thin and a little less tight. Here's my complete Facebook gallery from Saturday night:

Shitty Children

Peach Kelli Pop

The Bloodtypes

Sunday began for me at U31, enjoying a veggie brunch burger that was way better than I expected, with a veggie patty, two fried eggs, avocado, and cheddar and jack cheese. But my Sunday afternoon Awesomefest experience was abbreviated. I only caught four of the bands before I did something I’ve never done before – I left Awesomefest to go do something else. WHAT? What could possibly be so important or interesting that it would tear me away from the music? No, it wasn’t going to the beach with friends, a common thing for fest-goers to do. It was another band playing a special show in Balboa Park. It was a little band called DRIVE LIKE JEHU. But I’m getting ahead of myself. HATE YOUR FRIENDS from Denton, Texas played some decidedly un-Denton-like pop punk that was really tight and poppy. HILLARY CHILLTON were the most not punk band of Awesomefest, playing a sort of white-boy funk rock disco thing, but it was done really well. The other bands I caught included local favorite AMERICAN LIES, and HI HO SILVER, AWAY. My complete Facebook gallery of Sunday afternoon photos can be found here.

Hate Your Friends

Hillary Chillton

OK, Jehu. Yeah, that band. The one that called it quits nearly 20 years ago. The one that insisted they would never reunite. They did. You see, John Reis’ partner at Bar Pink, Dang Nguyen, recently joined the Spreckels Organ Society Board of Trustees. There are regular free organ recitals at the park, but the audience is small and aging. Nguyen had an idea to bring a larger, younger crowd out, and discussed the possibility of a Jehu reunion, playing a show – with the organ as part of the band. The band members thought the idea worthy enough to actually get together again, and months of planning resulted in a hasty social media announcement about a week or two before the show. The free outdoor show. That thousands of people were expected to show up at. It was scheduled to start at 6:45pm with a short organ recital, featuring Dr. Carol Williams, the Spreckels organist. Following that would be a 5-song, 40-minute show with the band and the organ. I needed to be there, and I needed to be up front to catch some photos. So I left Awesomefest about 4:20 and arrived as the band was doing their sound check.

Remaining firmly in my spot, up front and center, at the edge of the stage, I then patiently waited the hour and three quarters for the show to begin. And after a 20-minute performance by Dr. Williams that showcased that beautiful and varied tones produced by the organ, Nguyen took the stage to introduce the band. What happened next will become the stuff of legend, as Drive Like Jehu spent the following 45 minutes or so demolishing the park. They opened with “Do You Compute,” from the album, “Yank Crimes.” The moment the opening repetitive tones came out of Rick Froberg’s guitar, a rousing cheer rose up from the crowd. From there, it only got better, with “Super Unison” up next. You would hardly know that it had been nearly 20 years since they last performed as a band. Yeah, they all have visibly aged. But Rick Froberg, John Reis, Mike Kennedy, and Mark Trombino play with the same intensity as ever. While Froberg may have some doubts about his ability to sing the same way he used to, he certainly belted out the vocals pretty damn powerfully. The organ added a new dimension to the songs, sometimes providing a booming foundation, and other times adding a twittering accompaniment to the fluttering guitars.

Drive Like Jehu

Rick Froberg

John Reis

DLJ's special guest Rob Crow

The other songs included “Sinews,” “If It Kills You,” (the only song they played that wasn’t from Yank Crimes), and finally a pounding, raucous rendition of “Luau.” A “surprise” guest came out to sing along to a certain part of the song. Rob Crow, dressed in, what else? A suit. He stepped out of the shadows and to the front of the stage and intoned the chorus, “Aloha, Aloha, Suit up! Luau! Luau!” After way too short a time, it seemed, they were done. They had to be done before 8pm, due to local noise ordinances, and couldn’t do an encore, much to the dismay of the crowd. I feel very lucky to have been there, and been so close. You can get a taste via my photos here and check out a really good video of the entire performance here.

Sunday Night Finale

Getting back to North Park was a challenge, with the large crowd trying to disperse. And, to be honest, I was wondering to myself whether Awesomefest could even live up to what I had just experienced. But return, I did. Sunday night is often the best night, and this year was no exception. Sadly, I missed a few of the opening bands, but arrived in time to see the new line-up of HORROR SQUAD, with Jimmy Gomez of Dudes Night replacing Tim Burkert on drums, and Tim moving to guitar, replacing the departing Aaron Ohio. Vocalist Damien Trimbach sings with intensity, making some awesome faces in the process, and the sound has a garage edge to it, thanks to the Aguilera brothers, Paul and Gabe. STYMIE, from Texas, was up next. Another band I had seen a couple of years earlier, it was great seeing them again. Stalwarts, MADISON BLOODBATH, had The Hideout shaking and rocking, with the crowd jumping and pumping their fists. I finished the night over at Soda Bar, where the newly expanded RATIONAL ANTHEM line-up (featuring a second guitar, courtesy of Lipstick Homicide’s Kate Kane) played an incredibly tight, fast pop-punk set, entertaining the packed house. The final band of the night, bringing Awesomefest to a close, was none other than LIPSTICK HOMICIDE, that Iowan trio that has stolen the pop-punk scene for the past few years. Guitarist Kate, Bassist Rachel Feldmann, and drummer Luke Ferguson pump out some of the catchiest tunes west of the Mississippi, and east of it, for that matter. Photos from Sunday night are here.

Horror Squad

Madison Bloodbath

Lipstick Homicide

Rational Anthem

And with that, sadly, Awesomefest was over for 2014. It seemed to go by much more quickly than in the past. It was also smaller, because, for the first time, it didn’t sell out. Awesomefest 4 was my first, and it sold out of the 350 tickets available. 5 bumped things up to 400, and 6 and 7 were around 450 sold. This year, things shrank back to around 350 people or so, which is unfortunate. It meant no compilation CD was made. It did mean more room and less chance that a club would reach capacity. I think part of it was that, unlike previous years, there wasn’t a “big name” band or high profile reunion set. I think that will change next year. Until then, big thanks and kudos for one of the most fun Awesomefests ever go out to curators Adam Ali, Andy Godfrey, Marty Ploy, Davey Quinn, and Christina Zamora. Thanks, too, to sponsors Razorcake, Imprint, and ID Ink, as well as local businesses Luigi’s Pizza, Sicilian Thing Pizza, and Live Wire for the weekend specials. As always, thanks to the clubs, Soda Bar, The Hideout, U31 and The Office, for allowing us to take over their space for the weekend. You should come to San Diego next year for this thing. “Come for the music, stay for the memories.” is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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