Concert Review – It’s Not Dead 2 at the Glen Helen Amphitheater

It’s Not Dead 2

On Saturday August 26th, The Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernadino, CA hosted It’s Not Dead Festival 2. The first It’s Not Dead Fest actually took place in 2015, giving festival organizers two years to fine tune the event. This year’s festival offered better organization, and a kickin’ line up as well.

The festival had four stages this year — one more than It’s Not Dead #1. The main stage was named in honor of Mike “Gabby” Gaborno, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 51.

Gaborno was a prominent figure in the punk and Chicano scenes of Orange County and Los Angeles, most known for fronting the punk rock supergroup, Manic Hispanic. In order to challenge the white washing of mainstream punk culture, Manic Hispanic fought back by covering punk standards, parodying the song titles and lyrics to speak about Chicano culture. The passing of Gaborno was a great loss to the Latinx and punk communities in Southern California. It was incredible (and an honorable nod from festival organizers) to see his name memorialized above the punk greats that headlined the festival this year. 

Other stages included the Fender and Olympic stages — two tandem stages which provided seamless transitions between each stage’s alternating half-hour sets. The final stage, the Cuckoo’s Nest Stage, featured lesser known acts. Set up right at the entrance of the festival, The Cuckoo’s Nest acted as a sort of opener stage for the whole event.   

Line up and set times for It’s Not Dead 2.

In addition to the musical performances, the festival also featured a variety of art, apparel and craft venders, in a sort of open-air punk marketplace. It’s Not Dead also brought back the Punks Well Read Tent, which offered meet and greets, readings, performances, and book signings from punk musician authors such as Kieth Morris (Circle Jerks, OFF!), Bob Oedy (The Grim), Jim Lindberg (Pennywise), and Jack Grisham (T.S.O.L.).

Performances ft. Guttermouth, Mad Caddies, The Toasters, Buck-o-Nine, The Flatliners, A Wilhelm Scream, Buzzcocks, OFF!, The Adicts, U.S. Bombs, Voodoo Glow Skulls, and MORE

Upon walking through the festival gates — a rather long trek from general parking — we caught Guttermouth mid-set at the Fender Stage. Singer Mark Adkins exclaimed to the crowd, “Political correctness is dead!” before jumping right into “Do The Hustle”, a fantastically offensive tune bashing roller skaters which includes the lyrics, “You cum-guzzling fruitcakes, I hope you break your fucking neck!”

I grew up listening to Guttermouth, and I have always appreciated their dedication to, and dramatization of, brash, punk offensiveness. This was, by far, the most fitting introduction to the festival and the day’s events.

We caught Mad Caddies on the main stage next, a ska punk band that is know for combining many different musical styles and elements into their music. Although Mad Caddies don’t quite have the punk rock “look,” their 2 Tone+ musical collaging is the essence of D.I.Y. punk.    

In general, I loved the inclusion of ska at the festival. I got to see the Toasters as well, who I had been looking forward to ever since the line-up was announced. In one of my favorite sets of the day, The Toasters were just pure, carefree fun. The band opened with fan favorite, “2 Tone Army,” and the set also included my personal favorite, “Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down.” The Toasters ended with “Weekend in L.A.” even though singer, Robert Hingley, pointed out that he did in fact realize that they were in San Bernadino and not LA (“Well I want to go to San Bernadino, Spend a week in Paris, France…”).

There was a groovy circle skank train during The Toasters set, in place of a mosh pit. At one point a dad entered the skank train with his toddler daughter on his shoulders. You could track her bright pink bucket hat bobbing along above the crowd. As the pair were leaving the girl squealed, “I moshed daddy!,” and he replied, “You sure did, sweetheart.”

Heart melting material, right there.

San Diego’s Buck-o-Nine also played later in the day. Plenty of ska grooving for all ages! Indeed, Buck-o-Nine gave a shoutout to an audience member, Judy, who was at the festival celebrating her 70th Birthday. Judy was set to sky dive the following day. Hope she had a blast!

Being in San Bernadino in late August meant that it was a brutally hot day, with the heat lasting well past sun down. Two working water fountains were the only free water source, with 20oz bottles of water being sold at $5 a pop. Yeah, even punk festivals price gouge. Bummer. They were offering free samples of Rockstar Energy Drink, however. 

In a testament to the heat, soon after the Flatliners (awesome Canadian punk band!) began their set at 2:30, front man, Chris Cresswell, started to rub his eyes after one of the songs.

“All the sunscreen I’m wearing is melting into my eyes and I can’t see, I can’t see you,” he addressed the crowd, “But I can hear you, and I can feel you!”

While the sunscreen did impair Cresswell’s vision, it did not impair his performance, thankfully!

A Wilhelm Scream took a moment after their set to remind festival goers to stay hydrated.

“Remember,” front man, Nuno Pereira, advised, “Water is the first ingredient in beer.”

Buzzcocks performed on the main stage from 4:55-5:40. Their 45 minute set was packed with classics. And, as you can read in tHeARTofLA’s recent review of their show at The Roxy, the men are still rockin’ hard — although their vocal ranges aren’t quite as spot on as they used to be. We began to speculate just how many shows these dudes have performed in their 41-year career.

OFF! followed right after Buzzcocks, with Keith Morris immediately lamenting how messed up he felt performing directly after the legendary band, who he reveres with immense respect. Buzzcocks no doubt heavily influenced Morris, who is now one of the most iconic hardcore punk musicians of all time. 

England’s The Adicts also graced the main stage, performing from 6:25-7:10 to a hyped crowd. The band still goes for theatrics, and Keith Warren wore his signature white, Joker makeup. Warren and the band’s costumes gave the set a warped circus feel — akin to A Clockwork Orange — providing the aesthetic of which all those that know of the band are familiar. Near the end of their set, a pile of giant, whimsical beach balls were set loose from the stage, bounding into and bouncing atop the crowd.

For the most part, the festival ran impressively smooth. There weren’t any audio issues or speaker blow outs, and bands generally performed on time. In the only real mishap of the day, the band U.S. Bombs ran long in their set on the Olympic stage, performing almost 10 minutes into the Voodoo Glow Skulls’ allotted time on the Fender stage. VGS waited 4 minutes out of politeness, but cut their losses and started anyway. This was only really a problem because of how the tandem stages were set up right next to each other, which created an unpleasant clash of sounds. It was unclear as to why U.S. Bombs let their set bleed so far into Voodoo Glow Skulls.

In a pleasant surprise, Voodoo Glows Skulls performed one of the best sets of the festival and offered a counter to the Toaster’s mellow brand of ska. Their set was fast, furious, and abrasive with a touch of theatrics. They brought out a giant Voodoo mask for their chant, “WHO DO VOODOO? WE DO, FUCK YOU!”

Punk is supposed to wild, wacky, fast-paced and — above all else — fun. In my humble opinion, Voodoo Glow Skulls perfectly captured this spirit in their performance.

Voodoo Glow Skulls, who played from 7:30-8:00, were the last set on the Fender stage, with the headliners of the festival now only performing on the main stage.

Headliners – Dropkick Murphys and Rancid

It’s Not Dead 2 marked the end of the From Boston to Berkeley Tour for Dropkick Murphys and Rancid, who had been on the road together since late July.

Dropkick Murphys began their set in their typical fashion and a haunting Irish hymn with soft female vocals played them onto stage. The production value of their set was fine-tuned — the jumbo screen behind them broadcasted images of working class Boston men of the past, interchanged with various renditions of the band’s name to match the moods of the songs. While the band performed “Blood” — a single from their newest record released in January, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory — a lyrics video played during the entirety of the song. For “Rose Tattoo”, during which the band brought on their producer to accompany them on acoustic guitar, a montage of rose tattoos and Dropkick Murphys fan tattoos flashed on the screen.

Among newer songs, Dropkick Murphys also played “Citizen C.I.A.,” “Curse Of A Fallen Soul,” “The State Of Massachusetts,” and “I’m Shipping Up To Boston.”

During “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” the second to last song, a number of women appeared on stage to dance along with the band. As the band started up with the closer, “Skin Head on The MBTA,” a huge crowd from the audience climbed up onto the stage as well, until the end of the set. Letting fans crash the stage during the last song is a tradition for the band, according to my companion for the festival, John, a Dropkick Murphys veteran who has seen them perform 6-7 times. 

For any hardcore long-time fan of the band, this was a good set. In their hour long performance, they managed to pack it full of songs spanning all across their career. Personally, being a fan of mostly their older stuff, however, I was a little disappointed. I thought they would play a harder/faster collection of songs, and I would have loved to hear more songs from Sing Loud, Sing Proud! especially.

Rancid closed out the night with a lively, nostalgia awakening performance. They opened with “Radio” and the first portion of their set was all classics one right after another, including “Maxwell Murder,” “Roots Radicals,” “The 11th Hour,” and “Journey to East Bay.” They then moved on to play a few new songs from their latest record, Trouble Maker, which came out in June. The band followed those up with even more hits from their 1995 record …And Out Came The Wolves (including “Ruby Soho” and “Time Bomb,” of course).

Tim Armstrong was sporting a vastly different look than how most fans remember him, with a big bushy beard. As someone who hasn’t seen the band in a few years, it was startling! I certainly enjoyed being able to sing all of these songs that I grew up listening to along with Tim Armstrong. Tim is an exceptionally important figure to me — Operation Ivy was one of the bands that originally sparked my love of punk, along with other late 80s-90s California-based punk bands such as Decendents, Guttermouth, Pennywise and NOFX.

It’s Not Dead Fest 2017 – That’s a wrap!

I think I probably saw the most Decendents t-shirts and Milo tattoos in a single place at once in HISTORY at this festival. This was a fantastic people-watching experience as folks from all over Southern California came out in their most impressive punk fashion. Mohawk spotting was exceptionally fun. Punks have a talent for keeping their hair nice and sturdy all day for a festival! Among all of the punk t-shirts, I did, however, spot one Jimmy Buffet tour shirt. 

Some pros of the festival: The stages were close enough together that it was quite easy to bounce between sets, unlike, say FYF, and other festivals hosted at Exposition Park. The closed off horse-shoe shape of that venue can become a nightmare for festival goers who wish to catch sets on the opposite side of the park. At It’s Not Dead, I was able to cruise freely between sets without the stress of missing any songs. In addition, bands performed seamlessly for the most part, and stuck to the schedule! 

A personal victory: I only almost stepped into one pile of puke during the entire event! Impressive for a punk festival.

MAJOR CON: I would have liked to see more (I actually didn’t see any…) female musicians at the festival! Women in punk are extremely vital to punk culture, and I felt like they were left out here. With so many male performers, the festival seemed unbalanced, and not in the true spirit of punk rock — which should act to empower people who feel silenced by mainstream society. 

It’s Not Dead 2 was an immensely fun, though at times unbearably hot, day of punk camaraderie. For many attendees, including myself, the bands that played were essential to inspiring a love for punk rock. People of all ages came out, and I could tell that some parents were elated to expose their kids to the art and culture which shaped them in formative years, and just have a great time bonding. I had a fantastic trip down memory lane, and feel a little more complete having spent the day near my favorite punks.