Janky Smooth

It’s Not Dead Fest: The State of the Union

Fans packed in tight at It's Not Dead Fest

Fans packed in tight at It’s Not Dead Fest

After my visit to San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino yesterday and bearing witness to the 1000’s of punks kicking up huge clouds of dust In 100 degree weather at It’s Not Dead Fest, I can, without a doubt, attest to the fact that It’s NOT Dead. Not dead at all. Well, at least the part of IT that generates millions of dollars of revenue, world-wide. When people talk about “It” being “dead”, are they referring to “it’s” spirit?

The Descendents at It's Not Dead Fest

The Descendents at It’s Not Dead Fest

“It” is punk rock and I’ve written about this topic so many times now that this might be my swan song. Then again, if a 52 year old Milo Aukerman can stand in front of thousands of sweaty friends and play “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” then I can write about “it”- again. After attending HiFi Rockfest a couple weeks back, I must admit, I WAS a bit worried about the future of hardcore punk but after the invasion and take over this weekend and thinking back to the last Punk Rock Bowling it became clear that the issue with HiFi Rockfest was 100% promotional. I hadn’t attended a Warped Tour in at least 15 years and this show reminded me of what Warped Tour was back then. Shit. It was the same exact bands that were playing Warped Tour 15 years ago. Accept for The Descendents. They were on Hiatus, at the time.

Fans at It's Not Dead Fest

Fans at It’s Not Dead Fest

I look at punk rock as an awakening. A political, social, coming of age enlightenment that throws off the yolk of your 6th grade social studies class where Christopher Columbus was a hero and Karl Marx and his philosophy were a danger to the worlds very existence. That awakening is not contingent upon a few power chords, circle pits or spiked collars. Hardcore punk, in it’s purest form, in it’s highest expression is an upheaval that uses music, poetry, violence and dissent as tools to recruit others and thumb our noses at the status quo. I equate being punk more to the awakening than the music and I’ve talked to enough old punk rockers turned Tea Party members to concede that it is totally possible to fall back asleep, once awakened. Afterall, one’s outlook changes greatly once a mortgage and few kids are involved. Thanks Obama!

its_not_dead_crowd_12It’s Not Dead Fest is a “greatest hits” compilation of a now vintage era of hardcore punk that is now part of the very fabric of the Americana that it was fighting against. Before Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords started regurgitating boy bands dressed as hardcore punks. The punk spirit is still VERY alive today. You could see it in the Occupy Wall Street movement. You can see it in the Bernie Sanders campaign. You can see it in the March Against Monsanto. But in a world where graffiti is now called “street art”, there is a need to push the envelope further and redefine rebelliousness, altogether. My main concern with the youth of today is that there is very little anger. There is very little willingness to incorporate violence in such a violent world. Occupy Wall Street and other movements which fight the influence of global corporations, get very little coverage from the mainstream media. I don’t think the media could ignore those movements if there were more violence involved. Even if violence is NOT the answer, MLK had Malcolm X. It seems to me that change is always a mix of peaceful and violent protest- even if peaceful wins out in the end. So while a completely new generation of kids reject this digital, popular mainstream in the form of a Burger Records, the resurgence of vinyl and the hundreds of zines that are being produced again, I’m also seeing those kids reject violence and a collective consciousness altogether in favor of love or in some instances, what appears to be a helpless type of depression. In my opinion, there always has to be the threat of violence to affect any change in this world. That is one thing the 80’s and 90’s punk scene did very well. Violence- and the gate keepers were scared.

All this might seem like a huge reach when simply discussing an old school punk festival but I am simply addressing the proclamation that so many have been making for so many years now that “Punk is Dead”.  Obviously, the proclamation of death is NOT referring to the music.  What does it mean?  It’s a complicated question that can be disseminated a million different ways but when it comes to the It’s Not Dead Fest that took place this weekend, the answer to that was simply a great fucking time with the best of friends. Outside of some bands’ lyrics when dipping into the older parts of their catalog, there was little evidence of anyone there continuing to “fight the good fight”- especially with the absence of Jello Biafra.

its_not_dead_crowd_14The lineup was semi perfect. It represented such a healthy majority of what I was listening to in the 90’s that anyone that might’ve been left off the bill was a bit of an afterthought. It could easily pick 8-10 bands I would’ve swapped out for others but if you had a good time, then you shouldn’t complain. I cannot move on without mentioning the bottled water priced at $4.75. $4.75? What a huge fuck you to the people attending your concert in 100 degree weather. Yes, there was free water provided by the city of San Bernardino that was the equivalent of drinking out of a hose but it was just astonishing to see that price for people willing to shell out a shekel or two for ice cold water. Also, how many quarters did the water vendors need to have to give people change? The only other negative thing I can really say about It’s Not Dead Fest is the sound at the main stage was a bit of a disaster on a number of occasions. Luckily, it was mostly during the bands I would’ve swapped out for others. Except, as one of the funnest bands to see in their prime, D.I.’s set on one of the side stages was completely interrupted by Devil’s Brigade taking the neighboring stage in the middle of the D.I. set. The sound was so loud when Devil’s Brigade went on that it literally stopped D.I. dead in the middle of “Johnny’s Got A Problem”. There was nothing else D.I. could do but stop playing as soon as Devil’s Brigade started. It was the only time all day that I heard that happen. D.I. ended up attempting to fight through it and finish their set but it completely killed them. It forced me over to the Devils Brigade stage and they made it hard to stay mad.

Those are the only two things I can point to that would be negative to my experience at It’s Not Dead Fest. The heat was stifling but there’s nothing promoters could be accountable for there. It’s really is difficult to say anything bad about promoter, Warped tour founder, entrepreneur and environmental champion, Kevin Lyman of 4fini Productions, from a fan perspective (aside from $4.75 water). Very simply, he and his staff just know what they are doing and that was highly evident by the turnout and lineup of It’s Not Dead Fest.

The Dickies at It's Not Dead Fest

The Dickies at It’s Not Dead Fest

I got to the San Manuel Amphitheater at about 2:45 and finally made it inside to catch The Dickies at the Old School stage at 3:30. There was already a huge plume of dust that became a permanent fixture above the crowd at the main stage. The Dickies were perfect, as always and bass player, Eddie Tatar was smiling ear to ear since he might have been the only band member in any band that was getting two paychecks that day- one from The Dickies and the other from D.I. When the Dickies set ended at 4pm, the Van’s skate and BMX demo started on the half pipe that was set up just between the Old School and the Big Ernie stage. The Vans Old Skool Jam featured Mike Frazier, Steve Caballero, Christian Hosoi, Neal Hendrix, Alex

The Briggs

The Briggs

Perelson, Omar Hassan, Josh Borden, Lizzie Armanto and Dennis McCoy and many of those old school skaters and BMX’ers got hella lit that day. I floated between the half pipe and Big Ernie Stage where The Briggs were playing one of the tightest sets of the day. I was also floating around between Anti Flag and The Interrupters before giving TSOL my complete, and undivided attention at 5pm and that lack of commitment caused me to miss Tim Armstrong joining the Interrupters during the song “Family”.

Correction: Steve Soto collected the most paychecks by performing with CJ Ramone, Manic Hispanic and Adolescents.
TSOL at It's Not Dead Fest

TSOL at It’s Not Dead Fest

Jack Grisham was sporting a lovely, long, floral skirt that probably minimized the amount of sweat on his balls but was anything but flattering alongside his now signature, black suit jacket. TSOL were one of my favorites of the fest and by the end of the set and during Abolish Government/Silent Majority, the band and slam pit were in prime form. Greg Kuehn’s keyboard created a fat layer of sound during that song that made it sound very fresh and current. I skipped Bouncing Souls and opted for D.I., gladly, even with all the issues. I was curious to see if D.I. would get controversial and play their anthem, “Guns” during their It’s Not Dead Fest set. I didn’t hear it although, D.I. were completely drowned out by the Devil’s Brigade sound on the Old School stage so it could’ve very well happened and I missed it.

The Vandals at It's Not Dead Fest

The Vandals at It’s Not Dead Fest

The Vandals had my complete attention during their set and it was my first time watching a set in it’s entirety at the main stage. While their play was perfect, I left completely dissatisfied when the band failed to play Pat Brown, Urban Struggle and Lady Killer, opting more for their more contemporary, Disney Punk catalog of songs that are truer to the song writing contributors of their current lineup.

I was never a huge fan of Lagwagon so I took that time to wait an hour for food and drink. The final four headliners would be selected by the spin of a wheel with their names on them, Wheel of Fortune style. I had my own thoughts on what order they should play in, as did most of the fans in attendance, I’m sure. That’s what made the wheel so genius. It left the remainder of the lineup up to chance and there is no way some angry punk or any member of the remaining bands could get bent out of shape about that. The wheel was spun four times and the order of appearance was, The Descendents, NOFX, Bad Religion and Pennywise getting the closing spot.

its_not_dead_descendents_7If I had to pick one band I was most excited about, it would have to be The Descendents. Of all the old punk bands still on the circuit, The Descendents usually have the tightest set. There is some kind of hive mind that exists within the band when they perform. I believe this is most evident when performing All-O-Gistics. Even when Milo strays off script and tempo, somehow the band knows each other well enough to hit on the one. Everytime.   Of course, having a genius like Bill Stevenson on drums helps. Honestly, it wasn’t their tightest performance but a bad night for the Descendents is still head and shoulders above almost everyone else. All!

NOFX at It's Not Dead Fest

NOFX at It’s Not Dead Fest

Fat Mike took the stage and proclaimed how unexcited he was to play this show, which made me laugh and made me mad at the same time. He talked some shit about Bad Religion and their new guitarist looking kinda like Greg Hetson and that they might as well just have Greg Hetson. Amen. I’m not sure what makes someone the most punk but Fat Mike definitely seems like he’s the most drunk and they’re probably the same thing when you get past 40. Nevertheless, they played a lot of songs off of and pre Punk in Drublic which is my sweet spot with the band. I think the sound REALLY got dialed in throughout NOFX’s set and also, the punishing sun had set prior to them taking the stage. It’s kind of like what you feel when you’ve been holding in a piss for a long time and you finally get relief. They were great.

Bad Religion at It's Not Dead Fest

Bad Religion at It’s Not Dead Fest

Bad Religion has about 174 songs I couldn’t give a shit about. They also have about 150 songs that completely changed the way I thought about god, love, politics and social dynamics. Of all the bands on the lineup, Bad Religion’s, Pre Generator discography was the biggest influence on how I actually approached the world as a teenager. There was a middle section in their set that was pretty damn epic that was heavy with songs off No Control and Suffer but the band didn’t play one song off of How Could Hell Be Any Worse. Lame.

The main stage was set up like the spinning wheel that the headliners used to choose the orders of their performance. When one band had finished their set, the stage would spin 180 degrees to reveal the next band in the lineup and they would begin playing, almost instantly. It was pretty sweet. Unfortunately, it seemed to cause some issues with the transition between Bad Religion and Pennywise. Pennywise had an almost 20 minute delay to the start of their set. Fletcher came out and insisted that Jay Bentley had spilled some beer in the gears of the stage and that was what caused the delay. Surprisingly, A LOT of people stayed. So did I. The first two Pennywise albums made me blood thirsty. I could take or leave any album that followed The Unknown Road. I don’t think they played anything off those first two albums except for Bro Hymn but they are still a tight, kick ass band live.

It would take much more time to discuss the victory’s of It’s Not Dead than it would it’s failures. There were so many amazing performances and just a couple of scheduling conflicts. Two bands I had to miss were the Adolescents playing during the Descendents set and Conflict playing during NOFX. Being that I saw Conflict at this year’s Punk Rock Bowling and the Adolescents a number of times in the past couple years, my decision wasn’t too difficult. The decision not to release set times to the public was an interesting effort to get people to the venue early but if I had known what the times were, I probably wouldn’t have missed Agent Orange and Fishbone. There is no way I would’ve thought Agent Orange would play so early in the day and even though Fishbone is one of the greatest live bands in ANY genre, it certainly wasn’t too much of a surprise that they played so early.

It seems to me that this very well could be the last generation of hardcore punk as we know it. This is usually the time where I insert one of Ian Mackaye’s most important lyrics, “You can’t be what you were”. The question is, what will we become? Will this up and coming generation fight for anything or will they be transfixed to their iphone screens, completely sedated by non stop stimulation as all their civil liberties are trampled? We argue with each other on Facebook while the 1% pad their wealth and influence. Who will start the fire? Who will sound the alarm? The artists that performed at It’s Not Dead Fest certainly have done their part but it’s clear that “their part” has been reduced to a brand. I ain’t mad at that but it’s time for a new generation to pay their dues.

Punk Rock Bowling 2015 and What Is Punk, Poser?

Jello Biafra Talks Politics, Music and The Music Business

OFF! Transform The Echo from a Peaceful Indie Venue into a House of Raw Aggression

OG’s, Toddlers and Whiskey for The Weirdo’s and Adolescents at The Observatory

Janky Smooth at Riot Fest Chicago 2015: A Drunk History

Bad Religion at The Mayan: Hardcore Punk Lives on Through a Soft Generation

Words: Danny Baraz

Photos: Josh Allen

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