We had already survived a dead car battery in record breaking heat, when our ride dropped us off at Bolsa Chica State Beach for Punk in Drublic, in Huntington Beach. This was a fitting location to pre-game for Growlers Six, happening twenty miles up the coast, as it was the show I had intended to cover, but the promoters seemed less interested in our intention of reviewing the fest, than assisting with late promotion through our social media. For this reason alone, we felt it necessary to stop by and “sample” some of the 100 local craft beers being distributed amongst the festival goers, then ditch the divorced-dad-fest, as we cruelly nicknamed it, and go straight to Beach Goth.
We attempted to count and review each beer, but by the time we arrived at the mid-twenties, I was already tripping over my shoelaces and bumping into patient patrons, hiding their disgust at our unruly entitlement, and surly demeanors. It also didn’t help that the more I drank, the more negatively critical I became with each beer, while my partner and photographer became more friendly and outspoken with the pourers and owners. It should be noted that the festival seemed to be remarkably organized, and was enjoyed for the entirety of our duration there. As we sprawled the newly assembled festival grounds in the public beach parking lot, D.I. played a sparsely attended short set in the background, though the audience flocked to the stage when Casey Royer led into the band’s hit song from 1982, “Johnny’s Got a Problem” and “Amoeba”, originally by the Adolescents. Casey returned to the stage for a guest performance during the following set by The Dickies, as lead singer Leonard was MIA for the band’s performance. Royer’s performance with The Dickies was also well received, and the band kept the crowd moving through the heat with their cover of “Paranoid“, originally by Black Sabbath, and “Gigantor“.
As we made our way back stage to raid the catering tent, with food provided by local restaurant group and host Sea Legs, Strung Out performed to a growing crowd of die-hards. The fanbase at the festival was evenly divided with local punk rock dads, lifer fans, some who had traveled all the way across the country to witness the bands, others from Europe, and craft beer connoisseurs who were willing to wait in line to taste the fall’s newest batches of short run beers on tap. Though we were sad to leave early, we were over excited to see the notable lineup at Growlers Six, and were not disappointed upon arrival.
We arrived at dusk as the carnival rides began to illuminate the festival grounds surrounded by humongous crate ships, while the echoing PA of Guided by Voices literally guided us past these giant vessels and into our new home for the next thirty hours. The venue was laid out quite impressively, as it was easy to navigate to each stage, and no artist felt too over powering playing against each other’s sets. I stood immersed in a crowd of costumed & plain clothed attendees, both wearing black lipstick. As I watched a brief performance of Cigarettes After Sex, one of the few groups playing I had not seen yet, I was taken back by lead singer, Greg Gonzalez, who’s demeanor seemed intimidatingly professional for such a young group on the bill.
We then made our way over to the main stage for what I considered to be the main highlight of the evening, as Modest Mouse played a full set including standouts such as “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes & Dashboard“, and my personal favorite performance of the entire festival, “Trailer Trash“. Issac Brock sulked onto the stage for the set’s opener, “The World at Large“, but did not disappoint, and transformed into his wildly exaggerated self, soloing his guitar with his teeth as the set progressed. It wasn’t much of a surprise for me, having seen Modest Mouse nearly ten times over the past decade, but it seemed to resonate with younger members of the audience, many who I was shocked to see mouthing and singing with the band on tracks such as “King Rat” and “Dramamine“.
Following Modest Mouse, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs took the stage, opening with their beloved “Rich“, and playing a career spanning set including mega-hits “Gold Lion“, “Heads will Roll“, and “Date with the Night“. Lead singer, and Front-grrl icon, Karen O, puppeteered the audience, especially notable during the band’s performance of “Maps“, which brought couples together, huddled for warmth, as the temperatures along the water started to drop, and those like myself, who arrived under prepared, stood chilling in the packed audience.
We left shortly before the set ended, and made our way backstage to a more intimate atmosphere with the small crowd of artists and friends celebrating the festivities. Saturday’s resident DJ, Bobby May, kept the group dancing and partying with classic soul and funk 45s through the evening’s late hours, which perfectly encapsulated the tent, as long-hairs tripped acid, while dancing in unison with drag queens, photographers and sex addicts, all enjoying themselves. We joined a few on the side of the stage to watch The Growlers make their first appearance of the weekend, serving as both hosts & headliners in matching jumpsuits with their faces painted. The fans clamored at the band in excitement and satisfaction, through their performances of “Dull boy“, “Someday“, and “One Million Lovers“.
We navigated back past the giant ships and found our ride home, excited to see the grounds in the daylight.
When we arrived on Sunday, the young crowd seemed re-invigorated and far more energetic than we were, having put our bodies through a roller coaster of hangovers throughout the previous day’s festivities. We were fortunate enough to catch legend Jonathan Richman, joined by drummer Tommy Larkin, who’s set fit perfectly into the early day, and kept the audience smiling and swaying through its entirety.
Following Richman, we caught The Geto Boys run through Hip Hop classics like, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” and “Damn it feels Good to be a Gangsta“. Scarface, though visibly aged, is still commanding in his delivery.
The B52s played an array of hits and have outlived most of their contemporaries, while showing no signs of slowing down. The group played “Mesopotamia” early, but saved their biggest hits for last, many I forgot were theirs. Performances included timeless classics including “Rock Lobster“, “Roam”, Private Idaho“, and “Love Shack“.
Hepcat overlapped with what I’ve been told was a much underrated Ska set, before Dan Auerbach played one of the weekend’s longest sets, joined by guest guitarist Robert Finley. Though the performance was not the energy level I was hoping for, true Auerbach fans in the crowd, proudly sporting the only Black Keys shirts I saw all weekend, seemed more than impressed by his solo efforts.
I watched a good portion of Fear, led by Lee Ving, who looks older, but played louder than I’ve ever seen and their set was crazy as hell. Highlights were the set’s early performance of “New York’s Alright“. What started as a very small crowd, grew rather quickly and had the hardest circle pit of the weekend.
Most punks in the audience stuck around for Bad Brains‘ set, but left disappointed with the vast majority of reggae songs in the setlist when EVERYONE excited by their presence was hoping for a hardcore dominated set. The band was joined by Randy Blythe from Lamb of God at the end of the set to play the old hardcore tracks such as “Pay to Cum“, “Banned in D.C.“, and “Big Takeover“. Even though just having H.R. on the same stage with the rest of the band was exciting and something not seen for decades, it’s difficult to understate how underwhelming the reality was.
Beth Ditto, former front woman for The Gossip, has proven to develop both her talents and likeability, and at one point snagged a slice of pizza from the crowd with an abundance of cheers for her bravery. Her efforts as a solo artist seem to be working well for her, and she had no trouble keeping the crowd engaged, singing and dancing for the entirety of her set.
Alice Glass went on shortly after, giving the festival one of its few disappointments of the weekend. With a set so eagerly anticipated, a newly released album, and a lot of strangely timed press, it was sad to see a singer, as her, give such a low point performance. I’ve seen her previously perform on crutches with higher and more intense energy, while crowd surfing with a broken leg. She seemed to be crawling through her set, exhausted.
Julian Casablancas and the Voidz also gave an un-noteworthy and disappointing performance, with noticeably poor sound and a setlist that didn’t seem to resonate with the crowd. Having wrote and sang on nearly every Strokes song, a band that is truly enamored by the citizens of Southern California, it was sad to see him lull in front of such a large crowd.
The evening’s biggest surprise for me was Girl Talk, who stole the youth of the festival, blending classic dance and alternative tracks with modern electro and hip hop beats. The energy was highest during this set and a large portion of the young audience accompanied the lone performer, Gregg Michael Gillis, on stage assisting with toilet paper gun duty and frequent costume changes. When Gillis, climbed on top of his speaker set up and paused his set briefly to address the crowd, the children pushed forward and looked up at him with idolization in their eyes. Gillis has been DJing under the Girl Talk moniker for over a decade and has mastered the ability to control a festival size crowd.
The Growlers returned for set two, but it was the Butthole Surfers who really stole the crowd with the evening’s final set. Paul Leary and his three piece band still manage to make more sound than most four and five piece bands today, and their set was both well attended and appreciated by the audience. It was dark and went off on numerous tangents using Leary’s effects modulators. Standouts included “Hey, Cowboy Bob“, and “Creep in the Cellar“.
Overall the festival seemed to go off without any major issues aside from minor skirmishes with security and an unruly costumed attendee attacking performer Lydia Night, of The Regrettes (yeah, that happened). The venue seemed to be much more appreciated than the grounds at the Observatory for such a large festival, and hopefully its an indication it will return again next year. When news of the lawsuit came down the news wire last year, it was hard to know what to think. It always seems there is more than enough money to go around with these types of large, multiple day festivals but I do acknowledge that I have ZERO facts or details about what transpired between Orange County bred band The Growlers and the bookers/promoters of the Observatory beyond the just the attempt by the promoters to own the rights to all of it, outright- including the the name “Beach Goth.”
Whether or not Noise Group, the folks that book, promote and transformed the Observatory into a premiere SoCal music venue did a majority of heavy lifting with the festival formerly known as “Beach Goth” or not, the term/genre/attitude of that branding was unequivocally created by The Growlers to half jokingly describe their music, crowd and aesthetic. Clearly the revenue generated by the festival was significant enough for Noise Group to be willing to be cast as the villains in this story and to some extent when it comes to business, rightfully so. I’m not sure if there was a path through that lawsuit that allowed them to fight for the rights to the festival without fighting for the rights of that name but the only thing they ended up getting out of the proceedings was the intellectual property rights to the Beach Goth name. Noise Group won that battle but clearly, The Growlers won the war. As Shakespeare queried so long ago to distill how much the essence of identity is determined by what you call it, The Growlers answered the age old question, “What In A Name?”
Answer- The Growlers 6 on October 28th & 29th at the Waterfront in Long Beach.
Words by: Dave Unbuckled
Photos by: Jessica Moncrief