The Bouncing Souls
Less Than Jake
Reel Big Fish
Duane Peters Gunfight
Date: October 10th, 2015
Location: San Manual Amphitheater. San Bernadino, CA
The Pier was in attendance for the history making It’s Not Dead Festival at the San Manual Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA on Oct. 10, 2015. The artist line up put previous year’s Vans Warped Tours to shame. Over 22,000 punk and ska fans stuffed into the venue as multiple circle pits kicked up clouds of dust. Around thirty bands spread across three stages in the 100-degree heat. It was a punker’s paradise!
As I sat down to write this article it became clear this was going to be the most difficult concert write ups I have attempted. I could summarize the day for you but fans of punk music can only imagine what it was like to witness the greatest assemblage of skate and street punk bands in one day. You just had to be there.
Back in the days when a “selfie” took a few days to develop and the “hashtag” was known as a pound sign this group of Southern California musicians changed the musical landscape forever by playing harder, faster, and louder than anyone else.
What appeals to me about the Southern California punk scene is the way it sneaks outside of the lines by breaking the rules. They became a voice for the voiceless by taking our feelings of angst and anger towards politicians and executives who feel it is their selfish duty to enhance their own agenda and bank accounts with a clear disregard for their fellow man. When you are at a punk show, everyone is equal. No one person is more or less important than another and that includes the individuals on stage.
“Because it depends on tolerance and shuns denial, Punk is open to all humans. There is an elegant parallel between Punk’s dependence on unique views and behaviors and our own natural genetic predisposition toward uniqueness.” – vocalist Greg Graffin of Bad Religion (A Punk Manifesto)
Punk rock gave us a chance to be ourselves without caring about society’s definition of the way life should be lived, how we should act in public, and what is considered good music. Punk is our escape from the facade of Americanism that tells us we either need to be Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, elephant or jackass, asshole or bigger asshole.
Punk is unafraid to call out society’s claims of progress through perpetual war, class separation, and the loss of civil liberties. Public service has become a myth among our leaders and deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership are threatening to secure the corporate stronghold while subsequently erasing any existence of the word freedom. What we needed was one day where all of the punks who changed the landscape of art and politics got together and said: “We are still here, don’t piss us off.”
Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman became one of the most successful concert promoters by bringing an all day festival of our favorite bands on the road every summer. There is a reason all of these legends agreed to play the festival, as he was able to get one of the most incredible line-ups in the history of our scene into San Bernardino, CA for one day to prove otherwise.
The artist schedule was released the morning of the event and seeing every band was out of the question; sacrifices had to be made. Even the order of the last four headliners (Descendents, Bad Religion, NOFX, and Pennywise) was decided throughout the day by the almighty wheel.
Over sixteen headliners were slated to share the main stage over a 12-hour period. How Kevin Lyman was going to pull this off was anyone’s guess. The gates opened and the aging punks filed onto the grounds as Duane Peters Gunfight kicked off the festivities. The stage rotated at the end of the set as their music faded revealing H20 already set up and ready to go.
Bands were able to tear down their gear as the next act set up while the current group breathed in the dust and smoke from the rowdy crowd. It would behoove every other music festival to adopt this ingenious method. It prevented any lulls and kept the distorted guitar blaring consistently throughout the day.
No Kevin Lyman event would be complete without Vans and a slew of professional skaters and BMX atheletes. As the music played professional skateboarders Steve Caballeros, Christian Hosoi, Neil Hendrix, Alex Perelson, Omar Hassan, Josh Borden, and Lizzie Armanto entertained us on the ramp. BMX pros Mat Hoffman, Rick Thorne, Dennis McCoy, and Coco Zurita also showed off their breathtaking skills.
The It’s Not Dead art exhibit featured work inspired by the punk scene in addition to pieces created during the Hollywood heyday. Punk rockers are also known for the literary talents as well and those who were able to make it away from the stages were able to attend book signings from author’s including Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin with his latest book Population Wars.
Vendors lined the outskirts of the festival grounds with various companies and nonprofits. We were able to talk with Chad from To Write Love On Her Arms, the suicide prevention organization dedicated to helping those suffering from depression and addiction.
All of the artists that performed have begun to show their age. Gray hair and wrinkles are inevitable, especially among those who have spent the last few decades on the road. One thing that has not changed is the attitude. It may be a little safer in more controlled environments but the feeling has remained alive. The message is the main attraction and has fortunately held strong. It seems nearly every other genre has become more of a fashion show and popularity contest using social media to display good looks rather than a conscious message. Narcissism and inflated egos are easily quashed in punk music, which every other style of music cannot easily admit.
The bands have not lost their intense fervor for social justice as well. As Anti-Flag appeared on the revolving stage, lead singer Justin Sane made it known: “We usually don’t allow bigots on stage but today we’ll make an exception” as he threw a piñata effigy of Donald Trump into the mosh pit. It wasn’t thirty seconds before his paper mache head was removed and could be seen circling amongst the dust cloud being kicked up. Anti-Flag indeed inspired the audience to participate in a little civil disobedience.
One stand-out moment involved a crowd surfer who found his way into the photo pit. Instead of being escorted to the side of the stage by the occupied security staff, he saw his moment to climb the rafters shaking his fists and signing along. When he was finally coerced down he received a hero’s ovation by everyone not wearing a uniform and was escorted off the premises.
People call it a scene but it is clearly more of a family. Reel Big Fish’s horn section performed quite a few Goldfinger’s songs that also featured Mike Hererra of MXPX on bass. Tim Armstrong made a surprise appearance with The Interrupters on one of the smaller stages. I even ran into long time producer Ryan Greene in the middle of the crowd during Lagwagon’s set who told me Descendents drummer and long-time producer Bill Stevenson reminded him they had both worked with nearly every band on the line up between the two of them. The bond created by this music was instantly put into clear perspective.
Some of us have a little more gray hair than others. Many artists and concertgoers brought their kids to what will hopefully become a new generation of punk rockers dedicated to breaking the mold of music and everyday life. We move a little bit slower and act a tad less belligerent. Whether it is age, the heat, or sixteen-dollar beers, the focus was on the music. It has become what Mike Wiebe of The Riverboat Gamblers called a “wiser nihilism.”
As a fan, it was a relief to see over 20,000 people from 48 states and 14 countries show up to support bands that have been around for decades. I hope the bands understand how much it means to us they are still making music and they were apart of this historical event. It verifies the massive chunk of our lives spent sweating, knocking each other over, and losing our voice in hole in the wall venues. Continuing that tradition keeps us young. It’s not dead and, as long as there are those who believe they hold some sort of indiscernible power over others, punk rock will not die!
It’s Not Dead Fest website
It’s Not Dead Fest Facebook
Article by: Blake Taylor
Photos by: Maria Hilario Studios