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Back in the ‘90s, punk-rock fans looked forward to the Warped Tour every year.

Today … not so much. The Warped Tour has evolved and no longer features such an emphasis on punk—and that’s where the It’s Not Dead festival comes in.

On Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, the second version of the festival took place. Unlike the Warped Tour, the It’s Not Dead festival is a one-day affair—and attendees have to make some tough scheduling decisions. Everyone who is someone in punk rock fills the lineup, and the main stage features most of the best bands, meaning it’s hard to break away to see some of the bands on other stages.

Shortly after the festival opened, Warped Tour/It’s Not Dead founder Kevin Lyman appeared on the main stage, talked briefly for a moment and mentioned that the large stage rotated. One side was named the Gary Tovar Stage, after Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar, and the other side was called the Gabby Gaborno Stage, named after the late Cadillac Tramps front man who passed away after a tough battle with cancer earlier this year. Lyman introduced the first act—Wraths, featuring Pennywise vocalist Jim Lindberg.

Wraths kicked ass—but many attendees hadn’t yet arrived or were in the parking lot tailgating, meaning they missed one hell of a show. Lindberg’s stage presence and intensity, which has made Pennywise great, was also present in Wraths. Toward the end of the set, Lindberg said the band didn’t know what to play, given they had only recorded a handful of songs and had five minutes left.

The Interrupters, a Los Angeles ska punk band that continues to grow in popularity, played after Wraths, as the crowd size continued to grow. The 100-plus-degree temps didn’t stop the Bivona brothers from wearing their signature white dress shirts, black ties and black pants, while frontwoman Aimee Interrupter was dressed all in black. The Interrupters put out a lot of positive energy, and most of the crowd was dancing, or slam-dancing in the mosh pit. Kevin Bivona declared that It’s Not Dead is his favorite festival, and that he hopes they come back in the future.

After skate-punk band Good Riddance put on a solid and energetic set, GBH followed—like a shot of adrenaline, which led to an even larger mosh pit. The members of the English street punk outfit that formed in the late 1970s might have appeared old, but they were intense. Vocalist Colin Abrahall declared that they were angry old men (in less appealing terms), and their set was brutal. I saw one attendee in a wheelchair go crowd-surfing—but his wheel chair tipped forward, launching him out of it. It wasn’t long before the guy was back in his wheelchair and rocking out on the security barrier.

Later in the day, former Black Flag frontman Keith Morris and his band OFF! put on a fantastic set. He took some time to talk about how he remembered coming to the Glen Helen Amphitheater in the ’90s for OzzFest, saying that the parking lot tailgating resembled what was shown in the ’80s documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, and adding a story about a young woman who said she needed to give blow jobs in the parking lot in order to pay for her ticket.

As early evening set in, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes took the stage dressed in disco outfits. Missing were two regulars—NOFX bassist Fat Mike and Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett—with Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley and Face to Face guitarist Scott Shiflett taking their places. Frontman Spike Slawson sounded like he was calling San Bernardino “San Berdina” when he addressed the audience, and he was full of amusing anecdotes, including one about how he had the hots for some guy who also had the hots for him, and that they were busted in a park “finger banging.” One of the highlights of their covers-filled set was Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

I decided to venture over to the adjoining Fender stages to catch headlining performances by the U.S. Bombs and Voodoo Glow Skulls. Duane Peters of the U.S. Bombs has received a lot of negative attention as of late due to … well, being Duane Peters. He’s made controversial posts on social media as of late, saying that Tony Hawk was involved in a conspiracy relating to his late son’s death after a car accident, insulting local pro-skateboarder Eddie Elguera, and using homophobic slurs. When the U.S. Bombs went onstage, Duane Peters required the aid of a cane, but quickly put it aside when he began to sing. The U.S. Bombs performed well, but Duane seemed to struggle a bit through the set.

Riverside punk-ska legends Voodoo Glow Skulls have also endured some recent social media controversy, after now-former frontman Frank Casillas reportedly began making pro-Trump posts—upsetting the other two Casillas brothers, bandmates Eddie and Jorge. After Frank Casillas declared during a recent show that he was retiring from the band—an announcement which came as a surprise to the rest of the band—the remaining members recruited Death by Stereo frontman Efrem Schulz to finish out the tour. Voodoo Glow Skulls took the stage to a very large and welcoming audience, and Schulz’s stage presence was extremely high energy. The fans loved it.

Dropkick Murphys and Rancid brought their co-headlining tour to a close on Saturday night at It’s Not Dead. The first quarter of the Murphys’ hour-long set was all older material from their first two albums, including “Barroom Hero,” followed by “Do or Die,” “Never Alone,” “Boys on the Docks,” and “The Gang’s All Here.” The band always delivers a great set, and Rancid’s performance was just as good.

Beyond the music, the festival included a tent featuring artwork, photography and … books? Yes, books. In fact, Jim Lindberg did a book signing in the tent in the afternoon, as did Keith Morris of OFF! and Jack Grisham of TSOL.

“To actually be able to talk to the people that read your books, it’s cool,” Grisham said. “It’s the same thing to me as music. If they read the book and they enjoy it, it means we have a connection. We probably connected somewhere else down the line. I actually like to meet the people who like what I do.”

One of the more interesting selections for sale on Grisham’s table was a children’s book, I Wish There Were Monsters, which was written and illustrated by Grisham.

“It’s about a kid who has all this bravado and wants to fight all these monsters, and talking about all these monsters he wants to fight,” Grisham explained. “At the end of it, he says, ‘Hey, I wish there were monsters, just not tonight.’ He cuddles up in his bed with a cat. It was fun to do something that was laid back, and when I wrote it, it was never planned for release. I wrote it for my kids. I would just Xerox copies and hand them to friends.”

Published in Reviews

Since its inception in 1999, Coachella has continued to evolve—to the point where it’s now one of the most well-known festivals in the world.

This year, it went through a large evolutionary step: The capacity went from 99,000 people to 125,000. The site was also reorganized, with the Outdoor Stage and the Mojave and Gobi tents pulled all the way back against Monroe Street. The Sahara Tent is a permanent fixture on the site, but the interior got all sorts of new effects. There is also a new tent, too: the daytime/early evening-only Sonora Tent. It offered an air-conditioned, club-like atmosphere and hosted a lot of punk-rock acts, like as T.S.O.L., The Interrupters, Shannon and the Clams and others.

Many Weekend 1 attendees took to social media to complain about crowding in the general admission areas. There was some truth to those complaints, as I learned during Weekend 2.

Still, I found it pretty easy to move around the festival with only a general-admission-wristband. I did notice longer lines for the restrooms, and thanks to an increase in the number of disabled patrons attending Coachella, the ADA platforms at all the stages got full early.

Another issue: The lobby area after the security checkpoints got overly crowded throughout the mid-afternoon to late evening. On Sunday night, I at one point found myself in a human traffic jam, in the middle of a large crowd of people trying to push through a bottleneck.

Yes, these are serious issues that need to be addressed for Coachella 2018. Still, I found the festival rather navigable overall.

Some Sunday highlights

• Ezra Furman, the first act on the Outdoor Stage on Sunday afternoon, opened his set with a cover of the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare.” His set had a lot of highlights; it was as if Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Ramones had a love child. The mixture of piano, a bit of harmony and a punk-rock sound was fascinating.

• Lee Fields and the Expressions was the first act to perform on the Main Stage. Fields has a very powerful voice, even by old R&B/soul standards, and his songs got the crowd going—singing along, clapping and slowly waving hands in the air as Fields sang slow, ballad-like songs about love or changing the world for the better.

• Future Islands’ early-evening set on the Outdoor Stage was just as impressive as the set I witnessed in 2013 when the band performed in the Gobi Tent. Front man Samuel Herring is well-known for his high-energy dance moves, and on Sunday, he pulled them off quite well. After 11 years together, the band is still climbing the ladder of indie-rock success, and doing so without many stage effects or crazy gimmicks. Who knows what we’ll see from them in the future?

• TSOL closed out the Sonora Tent on Sunday night with a fun performance—complete with old-school Los Angeles punk attitude, mosh pits, circle pits and Jack Grisham’s wild banter. He explained that while the band was recording the recent record, the members were one studio over from Snoop Dogg. At one point, the crew joined Snoop for a game of basketball—when John Fogerty drove his Corvette onto the tennis court. Grisham said he politely asked him to move it, and Fogerty simply walked away. Grisham’s response: He pulled up the door handle and put it between his butt cheeks. When Snoop and his crew said that Jack’s actions were “pretty fucked up,” Grisham responded that they didn’t know what punk was about. Oh, and Grisham said he also rubbed his scrotum all over Fogerty’s hood, too. In other news: Grisham pointed out that keyboardist Greg Kuehn’s son, Max Kuehn (who plays in the band FIDLAR), was filling in on drums.

• New Order put on a tremendous headlining performance in the Mojave Tent on Sunday night; it was one of the best shows I saw. The performance was upbeat, included more of a dance music element, and filled up the entire tent, with overflows onto the lawn area. The band played two Joy Division songs for the encore: “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” both of which paid tribute to friend and Joy Division front man Ian Curtis. 

Photo credits (below): Aerial shot, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; Ezra Furman, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Future Islands, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Lee Fields and the Expressions, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; New Order, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice.

T.S.O.L. helped define the Los Angeles punk scene after the band’s start in 1978.

However, its initial punk success was short-lived: After frontman Jack Grisham, drummer Todd Barnes and keyboardist Greg Kuehn left in 1983, T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty) reconfigured as a rock band.

After a legal battle over the name, Grisham became part of T.S.O.L. again in 1999, with Kuehn rejoining in 2005. They’ve been performing together ever since—and recently released a new album, The Trigger Complex.

T.S.O.L. played the first-ever concert that Coachella promoter Goldenvoice put on, so it’s appropriate that T.S.O.L. will be playing Coachella on Sunday, April 16 and 23.

During a recent phone interview with Grisham while he was in traffic driving home to Huntington Beach, he was an open book. Grisham’s history includes a love for drugs and alcohol, legal issues, a marriage to a 16-year-old girl in Mexico, and eventually sobriety, which he achieved in the late 1980s.

“I believe I would have been dead if I didn’t stop,” Grisham said, “not because I was a big drug-addict guy, because I really wasn’t. I’ll tell you exactly what I was: I was a high school idiot who had gotten out of control. I was hanging out with people who were like me—a mess. Everyone was drinking, snorting coke and taking pills or whatever the fuck was going on. I would say to myself, ‘I don’t really have a problem, because I don’t really shoot up. I’m not really an alcoholic, because I live at my mother’s.’”

Grisham recalled one of his early arrests.

“I was actually arrested in Palm Springs for disturbing the peace,” he said. “Luckily, they didn’t get me for impersonating an officer, which is what they originally wanted me for.

“I did little bits of time in jail, but no prison sentences—just a bunch of stupid arrests for dumb stuff. But there were a lot of people who weren’t happy with me, and I was drinking large amounts and taking pills to go with it. When you’re 24 or 25 years old, is it a recipe for disaster? Yes. Pills and booze is a bad combo.”

Grisham still believes in punk-rock ideals, even though he’s now a responsible member of society, a husband and a father.

“It’s kind of funny, because I have the same outlook now that I had back then,” Grisham said. “To me, punk rock was always this family kind of thing. My family and I were not on good terms. The punk-rock thing was this cool family thing where everyone was an idiot and out of control. A lot of it was kind of a hippie movement, too. We were inclusive. Men and women were equal; no one cared who you were into sexually, so it was really wide open, and I still think like that. I still think that you should challenge old ideals, conflict, experiment, keep an open mind and all that stuff. It hasn’t changed, but—I hate to sound like Austin Powers right now, but along with free love comes responsibility. Now, I’m just more responsible with the same ideals.”

Grisham has spoken out in the past about political issues, and was one of the 135 candidates who ran in the recall election for governor of California in 2003. Grisham said it’s hard to say whether he’s always considered himself “informed.”

“That’s a hard one. I don’t know how informed a lot of us were,” he said. “I was pretty ill-informed, saying, ‘Fuck the government!’ I had a dad who was 30 years in the Navy. Attacking what he stood for was part of being a young man growing up and turning against your father. How informed was I, really? I don’t know. Sometimes, I think we’re fighting the wrong demons at times. I don’t think people realize that some of these issues we’re dealing with, many of them are things that have been going on for thousands of years—fear, greed and these kinds of things.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s actually pretty frightening. Who isn’t scared? But you can be conservative and liberal at the same time. It might sound a little crazy, but I love helping people who have been harmed by circumstance. I’m in, and I’m 100 percent in. Those who have (been) put out by their own choice, I’m not really a big fan of. I think they should teach courses in religious tolerance in schools and start teaching tolerance and understanding. These are things we’re not teaching our children. A lot of people who believe in a higher power are basing their political decisions on those beliefs, yet we refuse to look at other people’s beliefs and understand what we’re dealing with.”

As far as Goldenvoice goes, Grisham said he’s had nothing but positive experiences with the group over the years.

“T.S.O.L. played the very first Goldenvoice show in Santa Barbara. I’m still friends with those guys,” he said. “(Goldenvoice president) Paul Tollett wanders around Coachella, and you wouldn’t even know it was him. I was out there for Desert Trip, and he was really nice, and he invited my family out. He’s wandering around in jeans and a T-shirt; all these people are there to see these bands and have no idea he’s the guy running the show. He walks up to my wife and said, ‘I still remember having to call Jack’s mom’s house,’ and rattles off my mother’s phone number. My interaction with them has been great. They’ve treated my family with respect, kindness and love, and that’s what I like about them.”

However, Grisham conceded he’s not a fan of large festivals.

“I’m not a big concert guy. For me, I’ll probably wander around, play and then go back to wherever I’m staying and go to bed,” he said. “I’ll probably hang out during the day and visit people in town. If I’m going to listen to music, I like listening to it at home. I think it’s really cool they asked us, because not a lot of bands of our type have been asked. Yeah, the Vandals and the Damned have played, but it was really nice (for them) to ask us to do it, and I’m stoked to see people and my friends. That’s what I’m looking forward to. My kids are more stoked about it than I am—not that I’m not stoked; it’s an honor, but I like being at home. I shoot photos, too, and people have to come to me, because I don’t go anywhere. I get asked to go to studios to shoot so and so, and I say, ‘No, tell so and so to get in their fucking car and come to Huntington Beach, and I’ll shoot ’em over a cup of coffee.’”

Published in Previews