I graced the great state of Georgia with my presence this past weekend, driving into Atlanta for Wrecking Ball 2016. After two jam-packed days, I returned home to North Carolina have learned several things.
1) Atlanta heat doesn’t mess around
I was born and raised in southern Texas, so I know a thing or two about heat. But the Atlanta weather must have known a heat aficionado like myself was coming, because it came to play. It was hot both days. Like “I love Diarrhea Planet but they’re playing outside at one in the afternoon so I’ll pass” hot. Like “I gave up trying to look cool on the second day and just wore a tank and basketball shorts because I am trash” hot. Like “PBR sponsored this event and they have beer everywhere and I love PBR more than life itself I’m going to drink water because my mom will probably be mad if I die in Atlanta” hot.
But props to Wrecking Ball for handling it perfectly. They allowed you to bring in a refillable water bottles, had well-maintained water refill stations that actually had cold water, and they didn’t gouge the price of water on site. Some other music festivals that I won’t name could learn a thing or two from them.
I’m talking about Warped Tour.
2) The Masquerade is one of the coolest venues I’ve ever seen
The theme – three rooms in the venue, labeled in descending order capacity-wise Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory – is great on its own, but the execution puts it over the top. The building mimics a castle, with the dark concrete walls being lit by bright red lights. It’s a very cool vibe.
The aesthetic features of the venue are a moot point if the functionality of it falters, however. But The Masquerade doesn’t fall in that trap, as all its stages featured phenomenal sound and great layouts. It’s a bummer they’re moving to a new location, but I’m glad I was able to be there to send it off.
3) Sorority Noise had no business being on the smallest stage
The festival featured five different stages – two big ones in the park, one in each of the Heaven and Hell rooms inside the venue, and a small setup in the front parking lot, labeled the Purgatory stage.
I caught several sets at Purgatory, and it had a cool vibe. It was fairly low key, usually with a smaller crowd drawing around the fence barrier when a band would start.
But that’s not how Sorority Noise’s set went.
The band was closing out the stage Saturday night as one of the most high-profile groups to play there, with a large crowd congregating as they sound checked. And as soon as the opening riff of “Corrigan” kicked in, the whole place erupted. Like, the entire stage was almost destroyed. The unsuspecting security employees had to sprint over to keep the barricades from toppling over. It was wild.
Long story short, the band turned in a truly phenomenal performance (they covered a Pedro The Lion song and I think I blacked out). It’s so encouraging to see genuinely talented and positive artists get that kind of attention, and Sorority Noise are endlessly deserving of it.
And it’s now abundantly clear: Sorority Noise won’t be playing those small stages much longer.
4) Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock are national treasures, baby
While I unfortunately wasn’t able to catch either of their solo sets, I made a point to be on hand for Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock’s set as Antarctigo Vespucci. They alluded to the fact that the band isn’t super active (“For a band that has never practiced, I think we’re doing pretty well,” quipped Farren at one point in the set), so I wanted to make sure I took advantage of the chance.
Musically, the band was killer. They ripped through tracks of their three records (which are, in my opinion, some of the best songs either musician has written in their careers) with an infectious level of energy that quickly had everyone bouncing around with them. But the most electric part of the set was the chemistry between Farren and Rosenstock. It’s no secret that both are immensely funny people, but the level to which that came across over their 45-minute set was incredible. It honestly seemed like two best friends goofing off and ripping through pop rock gems, and that yielded one of the most entertaining sets of the weekend.
5) You can find new bands at festivals
I don’t generally associate large-scale festivals as places where you can discover new artists – it seems like people are normally their just to see the handful of big names. But Wrecking Ball was different, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to go home with a list of new records to check out.
For instance, Gouge Away was the first band to open for Thursday. Touche Amore had gushed about their tourmates at their earlier set, but I usually don’t connect with newer hardcore bands. There was something different and enthralling about Gouge Away, however, and it immediately clicked for me.
There were also Diet Cig and Solids, two bands that I had heard of but had never dug into, who both caught my attention by tearing down the Purgatory stage early on in the day. There were even some local Atlanta bands who stood out, like Auspice and Fox Wound.
It may seem like the ideal place to find new bands, but I left Wrecking Ball with a lot of Bandcamp homework to do.
6) Punk’s not dead but only because bands like The Menzingers and Joyce Manor exist
We’re in the middle of a really interesting moment where bigger publications are catching on to bands from this corner of the music world and championing them to a larger audience. Two of those bands are The Menzingers and Joyce Manor, and their sets this weekend proved that they are more than deserving of the attention.
There really aren’t many bands that deliver as much pure energy live than The Menzingers. From start to finish they are flying all around the stage, connecting with a crowd that hangs on their every move. Their Saturday afternoon set was no different, with the band pumping out hit after hit after hit, all to the delight of an adoring fan base.
The Menzingers made waves last week by dropping a new song, entitled “Lookers”. The song was instantly received with rave reviews, and the good news is those reviews can carry over to the live version as well, as the track slipped perfectly into the set alongside classics like “Good Things” and “Mexican Guitars”.
Joyce Manor also released a new tracks recently, continuing their recent trend of writing perfect songs. While the outdoor stage wasn’t necessarily my most ideal place to sing along to “Leather Jacket” at, the band had no problem delivering their sound to the mass of people occupying the crowd.
7) Touche Amore is the best live band ever I have ever seen
You may think I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m not. No other band exudes what Touche does through their live performances.
I was lucky enough to see the band perform two sets in the same 24-hour span (that’s actually the second time I’ve done that, somehow): their festival spot on the Heaven stage and their set opening for Thursday at the aftershow in Hell. The band differed their setlists for each, employing a more standard set in Heaven while dipping into old favorites in Hell, but regardless of what area of their discography the song came from, the band delivered it with the same ferocity. Touche pushes more emotion and energy across than any other band live, and their crowds reciprocate accordingly.
Seriously, watch the band close a set with frontman Jeremy Bolm in the crowd as everyone shouts along to the final refrains of “Honest Sleep”. There’s nothing like it.
8) Seeing Thursday reunite was an honor and a privilege
Thursday was highly influential in shaping my musical taste and knowledge (I remember getting a burned copy of War All The Time from a friend in junior high and being blown away). So when the opportunity arose for me to see them play their first show in five years in the tiny confines of Hell (the 500 cap room at the Masquerade), there was no way I could pass it up.
Perched from my perfect spot side stage, I watched the band triumphantly take the stage and rip through a jaw-dropping set. This wasn’t one of those cases of a band reuniting half-heartedly and simply going through the motions. They were completely on point and, most importantly, genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves, especially frontman Geoff Rickly, who was beaming from ear to ear for nearly the entirety of the set.
The band explained that they would be playing a special setlist that night, focusing more on deeper cuts and fan favorites, while leaving some of the bigger tracks for their festival show the next day. They of course still played classics like “Understanding In A Car Crash” and “For The Workforce, Drowning”, but threw in a nice mix as well, showcasing rarely-played songs from the likes of Common Existence and A City By The Light Divided as well. Rickly also weaved in some stories and insight as he introduced the tracks.
All in all, that set was one of the most memorable events I’ve experienced firsthand. The influence that Thursday has had over the years was on full display. Fans young and old came together to belt their favorite lyrics alongside each other, while the band members of the openers (Touche Amore and Gouge Away) stood entranced next to the stage. My favorite reaction came from Touche frontman Jeremy Bolm. Both Bolm and Rickly mentioned their long history (Rickly has known Bolm since he was a kid and helped Touche put out their first record) and each musician joined the other’s band on stage for a song (Rickly on “History Reshits Itself” and Bolm on “Cross Out The Eyes”), but the look of awe on Bolm’s face as he sang along through the entire set was a really telling moment. Thursday is a special band for a lot of people and that was a special night.
9) Wrecking Ball is the best festival in the country
I’ve been on the record before with my sentiment that festivals as a whole suck. I don’t understand the appeal of paying a ton of money to watch a band play on a poor-sounding stage in the middle of a field 100 yards away. That is not something that has ever interested me.
And that’s what makes Wrecking Ball so great. It takes the perks of a big-scale festival – big names, reunions, legacy acts – and combines them with a DIY punk attitude. I was genuinely blown away by how perfect everything turned out, from the layout to the food options to the sound to the traffic control. Everything was wonderful, so a big thank you is in order for the team behind Wrecking Ball.
Wherever it ends up being next year, I’ll be back.
10) I should really wear sunscreen.
I turn 25 in a month. I should know this by now.