Awesome Fest IV: From the frontline.

It was a familiar story; I was depressed, seemingly on the outs with all of my friends, unsure of what to do with myself, and desperate for an escape. Fortunately, since this usually happens at least once a year, I’d somehow managed to plan ahead by scheduling a trip out of town. I’d done it before, but this time I was off to California; somewhere I’d always wanted to go, just never been. It was a long flight—at least for my attention span—but my excitement combined with humorously bad in-flight movies made the time pass by quickly.

My plan was to meet up with my friend Matt, formerly of New York City, now of San Pedro. I’d ride with him down to San Diego for Awesome Fest, and then stay with him for a few extra days. Earlier that day I found out that The Soviettes were playing a “secret” show in Long Beach, and while sitting at an In ‘N Out Burger waiting to pick up our friend Lauren who was also travelling with us, Matt asked me if I wanted to go, or was too tired from traveling. I was tired, but with the way things had been going, plus the fact that a good part of my reason for coming in the first place was to see The Soviettes, I had to go.

When we got there, I was still a little in awe of where I was, thinking to myself “I can’t believe I’m here.” I also had a bunch of people I knew ask if I was living in California now—I wasn’t sure how that reflected on me. I pretty much mulled around until The Slow Death played, whom I’d missed every time they came by before. Admittedly, part of me preferred Pretty Boy Thorson And The Fallen Angels, but it was the same part that’s stubborn and reluctant to change. The other part enjoyed them just fine, seeing as it’s still the Jesse/Dave brain trust I’ve always enjoyed so far.

As The Soviettes were getting ready, my excitement grew—I’d seen them once before, but it was an incredibly short set at an uncomfortably big club. Now I was standing just a few inches away—so close that as soon as they started playing, I found myself getting knocked into mic stands over and over again. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for that mess, so I casually danced my way over to the side of the stage and watched the rest of the set from there. I remembered reading about them playing house shows and barbecues in San Pedro years before, on the internet from my suburban North Jersey home. Now it felt like I was on the inside.

As they finished up, Lauren came over and asked if we minded calling it a night. I didn’t, but Matt requested just ten minutes of Four Letter Words. “I was told there’d be mayhem.” He was right. As soon as they started, everyone in the room started knocking each other over. Fortunately for us, we watched from the back. Within one or two songs, it looked like a case worth of toilet paper rolls were being thrown around, in what could’ve passed for the weirdest ticker tape parade of all time. We did leave shortly, but I’d probably been up for a full twenty-four hours by the time I laid down on Matt’s living room floor to go to sleep.

The next morning we finalized our plan on getting to San Diego. Before leaving, we stopped at a local street fair where I ate some good cheap food and started making our way down. Kevin told us that at one point during the show last night there were five separate fights going on at once. We were amused, making great time, and generally enjoying ourselves when the van started to act funny, by which I mean “sluggish” and “not good.” It became a struggle to get up a large hill, then we coasted downhill like a much higher stakes rollercoaster. More than once the van nearly broke down, but we got off the highway just in time. Some of Matt and Kevin’s friends agreed to meet up with us and follow along in case we had any more trouble. Fortunately, once we started back up, we seemed to be doing okay, until we pulled out of the parking lot and our side door slid open. Apparently I shouldn’t have tried to open it earlier, because it was broken. It was a quick, decent scare, but by that point we couldn’t help but laugh at it.

The rest of the ride went much more slowly, and we made a few more emergency stops, but we made it in one piece. To me, the hotel looked like a dorm from Animal House but with palm trees, and once we got inside, it seemed to be a fitting comparison. I was staying with some friends of mine from Minneapolis, and our room number happened to match my birthday. When I got there, I found that they’d taken the couch and moved it out onto their balcony looking out over the swimming pool. We ran off to get some food and head over to the shows.

The first band I watched was The God Damn Doo Wop Band, who I’d seen a few times before, but not recently or since some lineup changes. I figured they were a nice, mellow way to start the weekend, and I was right. From there I casually made my way over to the other club to see Stoned At Heart, who seemed like a natural follow up. Even though they’re still fairly new, I’m glad I’ve gotten to see them more than once. I couldn’t help but feel tired, so I was glad that I was able to seemingly ease my way into what was sure to be a marathon weekend.

While I watched a few more bands I hadn’t seen before like Lenguas Largas, I spent a lot of time outside, catching up with people and meeting some new ones as well. I was hoping to catch Tiltwheel, but as I approached the club I realized that there was a line to get in, so I figured I’d just go back and wait to see Four Letter Words again. I was starting to catch myself falling asleep just before they started, but decided to get a good spot standing on top of some kegs. Tonight seemed to be a slightly tamer, tighter musicianship night. This time Kevin was dressed as a woman, instead of a Cub Scout, with a large novelty afro, and very real mustache intact. People seemed a little more “really” into it, versus just beating each other up.

As they finished, I went back to the hotel with my friends from Minneapolis so we could finally get some sleep. We decided to eat at the Denny’s a few blocks away instead.

Saturday was Matt’s birthday. I got up early enough to take advantage of the free hotel breakfast, which was a little underwhelming. Fortunately, I ended up eating with Kevin and the rest of the Four Letter Words, which provided ample entertainment. There was a liquor store down the block that sold pre mixed cocktails in cans, so I got us piña coladas to drink by the pool—until Matt pointed out that outside alcohol wasn’t allowed. So, we settled by swimming, and then drinking them in his hotel room while Kevin screened shirts out on the balcony. I went on to drink a mudslide and a margarita, had Chocolate from Four Letter Words tell me to have a real drink (handing me a beer and bottle of tequila), but I already felt like I’d been punched in the stomach and dizzy, so I went back to the pool with a bottle of water and bag of chips. I know what works for me.

Matt and Kevin were going to ride bikes over to the afternoon shows, and offered to try to pull me on a skateboard, but it didn’t work out too well. I told them it’d be easier to just catch up with them at my own pace. By that time, Underground Railroad To Candyland were starting. Granted, I was standing in the back of the room and was holding a skateboard, but the room was still a huge party while they played.

When they finished, I decided to walk back to the hotel so I wouldn’t have to carry the skateboard around anymore. As I was making my way back, I noticed that the “Cool Bus” was parked outside, so I decided to get on. There were already a bunch of bullet belt crust punks, loudly bragging who would do the most cocaine over the weekend, another rolling a joint and yelling at some young kids walking by with their families. I couldn’t help feel like I was amongst a bunch of members from the smelliest frat when a cop car pulled up alongside. Everyone got noticeably tense, one person jumping out the back and ran away, but the car just waited a second and took off. The remainders muttered how much they hated the police, but I just wanted to get back to the show. I hopped out the back and started walking. Even as I saw the bus pass me on my way, part of me just wanted to be by myself for a little bit anyway.

I got back to catch the end of The Slow Death, and talk to more people. At that point, all I wanted to do was watch Shark Pants, and made my way over to do that. By now, I noticed that The Office was a lot bigger than I thought, and found a spot much closer on the side of the stage. With their mix of frantic energy playing psych-grooves, they’re one of those perfect bands who, no matter what, I feel like I could see every day.

When they finished up, I moved to the back of the bar to casually observe some of RVIVR for the first time. I wasn’t really familiar with them, but I liked what I heard.  Not really getting that close of a look, I’m still on the fence if I’m a big fan, but I’m a little further along the way. Before they finished, my friends from Minneapolis walked by and said they were going to watch The Crumbs and I decided to join them. I was never overly into them, but I knew and liked a few songs which I’ve heard. But, I also had assumed they’d been around forever, and they all looked pretty young. (I assume they were basically one guy and hired guns at this point, but still.) They did have a little bit of Hulk syndrome though; I’d assume their set was over, until they played a handful of more songs. By the second fake-out, I’d taken a seat on a couch in the back of the room.

After they finished, my friends and I went to eat, and I walked over to the night shows. I made a brief detour to Lauren’s solo set, which was good, if not surprisingly and uncomfortably hot for a solo acoustic set at the beginning of the night. Seeing The Soviettes was a priority for me, so I just went into the Soda Bar early. After one band I didn’t know and Bombon, who were a great mostly instrumental and super fun surf rock band, I was starting to notice how tired I was. I tried to lean up against a wall at any chance I could get. Fortunately for me, I noticed one odd barstool open up further back in the show room, so I took it and proceeded to sit and rest while watching the Mexico City Rollers and Amen And The Hell Yeahs from a comfortable distance. I finally got up to watch the Chinese Telephones up close from the side. Ever since Amos from Tenement started drumming for them, they’ve been playing even faster and harder than ever, and I got pushed back a ways, but they’ve been better than ever lately.

After they finished and things cleared out a bit, I went right back up to the front, excited to see The Soviettes again. It was clear they’d be playing an almost identical set list, but it didn’t matter. It was all just so good. I started to get annoyed when some big dude came barreling over and pushed me out of the way again, but I refused to let it bother me. By another few songs I was back directly up front, next to Todd Taylor. It felt like the only natural thing to do was high five him, and when they finished they thanked the crowd, prompting Todd to yell out “Thank you!”

I hurried over to the other club to see if I could possibly still get in for Toys That Kill, but it was full. A few people tried bum rushing the security guard outside, but I didn’t even bother. They were already done with most of their set, and I could hear them just fine. I talked to Angie from Bombon for a few minutes about how much I liked her band, when we had to break up a near fight. I recognized the main protagonist as the same guy who kept knocking me over during The Soviettes. He immediately went on the defensive saying “Look man, I’m not a dick,” and started name dropping a bunch of people saying “Ask them. They’ve known me forever.” When someone else approached him and said “Aren’t you the guy who shoved me during The Soviettes?” He said no, while staring at the ground. “Are you sure? Because you look just like him.” That alone made it worth it. By that point Toys That Kill had finished up and people were coming out, including Kevin, who was shirtless and completely soaked. I commented that he looked like he’d just climbed out of a pool, and Angie one-upped me by commenting that he looked like he’d just been born. People were still hanging around outside, but at that point I walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

As could be expected, Sunday was somewhat of a hangover day. A few people were even taking off before the day shows even started. I opted to eat, wander around the neighborhood for a while, eat some more, and sit by the pool. I left early enough to see Bird Strike at U-30, while most people were still asleep or hanging out. They were the kind of hardcore band I like; one that’s got an edge yet don’t take themselves overly seriously, and, most importantly, I can watch without boneheads constantly knocking into me as they “tear it up.” I was about to walk over to see Dan Padilla, but ended up talking to Daryl instead, who also introduced me to Adrian. I decided I’d prefer some conversation in my day, instead of just straight noise. Since I didn’t want to leave until after F.Y.P anyway, I figured I might as well just hang out there. Summer Vacation played next, who reminded me of a young J Church. By that point more people started making their way inside, and while talking to Dan from the Chinese Telephones, we both thought it’d be best to pull up barstools at some of the spare tables, and proceeded to watch most of the show sitting down. It was kind of funny watching Sunnyside and Rumspringer while seated, but I was tired enough not to care.

I finally decided to go up front to watch Shang-A-Lang. I’d seen them once before and thought they were okay, but this time they floored me—the kind of set where afterward you think to yourself, “Yep. I’m on board now.” Finally, F.Y.P started getting ready. They were the other half of the reason I’d thought about coming here in the first place. Chocolate from Four Letter Words introduced them once, then again, and stayed on to act as a sort of crazy Flava Flav (yes, I realize that) as they opened up with “Superbowl Sunday” which I was stoked to hear—it was a regular staple in my college radio days, including playing it before every Super Bowl.

I was stoked, and so was everyone else in the room, which meant I kept getting smashed up against the stage and lifted off the ground at a few points. One dude standing next to me kept flailing around, which wasn’t too bad, except when a guy on my left kept tackling him, not only kicking me in the chest, but knocking into Todd Cong over and over again, to the point where even Todd made fun of it. F.Y.P was great, but that part sucked. When they finished, I felt like I wanted to do drugs. Only, I don’t really do any drugs, so instead I went to a Carl’s Jr. and got a ridiculous burger to eat.

I wasn’t in the mood for anything else too crazy that night, so I walked with my friends over to the Soda Bar to see Matt and Kevin’s band That’s Incredible!, who I’d seen before earlier that year on tour and really liked. Before them was some band who went way over their time, including a cover of “Knowledge” in 2010. So they were already running late by the time they could even start setting up, and Sean looked just as exhausted as I was. Rather than totally phone it in, they just played a short set. Dead Mechanical was on afterward, who’d I’d seen a bunch of times over the years, and that may have been the best I’d ever seen them. Lucas had some great banter as well.

There was still a good amount of show left, but I was pretty exhausted. Plus, I noticed the Soda Bar wasn’t that crowded, which meant that Eleven would be packed. Instead, I opted to sit around watching some random bands from a distance. I’d already gotten everything out of Awesome Fest that I wanted. I finally watched a few songs by Cheap Girls while Matt packed up That’s Incredible!’s merch, and we left. We got on the Cool Bus before the crowds came out, and got dropped off at the Denny’s, where we were greeted by Kevin who was already sitting at the counter. Like it was fate.

I sat at the counter thinking that Awesome Fest was a pretty great time. After we finished eating, we all walked back to the hotel, which was surprisingly quiet. I walked into my room, checked out my F.Y.P bruises, and fell asleep, happy.