Skate And Surf Festival returned for a second consecutive year to Asbury Park, New Jersey, on May 16th and 17th. Thousands of people ranging from their teens to early 30s gathered near the boardwalk between the opening of the gates, to the very last chord of the main stage bands. Fans watched and participated in the festival’s celebratory return as bands, old, familiar and new graced the strategically placed five stages.
Some acts were veterans of the festival while there were some newcomers. A member of a band inquired to one nervously as to how the festival is normally received from fans, as well as if there is a decent turnout. One reassured him that the two days are teeming with fans who are there for the music, not for the promise of spectacles. A nod was received from the same musician from a stage later on in the day, confirming that his fears were at rest.
The festival was a surprise in the sense that while the biggest names like Thrice, Dropkick Murphys, Manchester Orchestra and the Gaslight Anthem drew enormous crowds, so did rising acts like the Story So Far, the Wonder Years, Modern Baseball and Gates. In fact, one would say that it is safe to say that the Wonder Years and the Front Bottoms drew crowds as large as the Gaslight Anthem did. It was good to see hard-working bands such as these gain well-deserved attention and one can also assume that this was noted by the bands themselves.
Skate And Surf took a cue from last year’s musical reunions of Midtown, the Early November and Saosin. Both days were filled with reunions of Hot Rod Circuit, Thrice, American Nightmare, Poison The Well and more, including an impromptu acoustic performance that had Hot Rod Circuit lead singer Andy Jackson sitting on the edge of the West stage for a great, intimate moment of the festival. Thrice had the biggest audience of the reunion acts, but it was Acceptance that really had the crowd jumping around, feeling amped.
A lot of Acceptance’s set was compiled from 2005’s Phantoms and the crowd was more than okay with that. Acceptance have always been one of those bands where it was and is still questioned as to how they never stepped into the spotlight that they deserved. If the members of the band were skeptical before this festival, the massive crowd singing their lyrics back to them, should solidify that their return was most welcome. It was clear on the World Stage, Acceptance are back with a fire that will hopefully be captured on any future recordings.
mewithoutYou had a respectable-sized crowd and they pleased their adoring fans with songs new and old. They played the recently released “Red Crow” which was well received. They also snuck in another song off of their upcoming release, Pale Horses, and while doing so, one heard a fan say to his friend, “God, they are still so fucking good!” Even though their newer works are welcomed by their fans, when they performed fan favorites like “January 1979” and “Bullet to Binary” was when the crowd roared with cheers of favoritism.
The Wonder Years, as previously mentioned, seemed to have drawn the biggest crowd out of all the Saturday bands. The band pushed themselves so hard that a few songs in the bassist Josh Martin ran backstage to throw up. He came back smiling, and Dan “Soupy” Campbell told the crowd that the band was so excited to be there, that Josh upchucked because he was screaming so hard. While having a short set time, the Wonder Years took care of the teeming masses by performing songs new and old. It was a variety enough to make any Wonder Years fans happy. They were fun to watch, not just because of their pop sound or their enthusiasm. Rather it was because thee gentlemen were all smiles. Playing at Skate And Surf was a privilege and a humbling experience for the Wonder Years, who are sure to be asked back next year by both fans and promoters alike.
Manchester Orchestra are without a doubt a phenomenal band, but at the same time they felt a little out of place at Skate And Surf. Vocalist Andy Hull & Co. did their best to conjure a high energy and played some powerful songs, but it was not enough to get the crowd really moving. There was at one point a small mosh point and even Hull chuckled that this may have been the band’s first mosh pit. This, being a nod to Manchester’s focus on Hull’s crooning voice and easier instrumental tones. Instead of ending with an energetic song, Manchester chose to end with “Where Have You Been?” an emotionally powerful song; strange to some, but logical to Manchester and their loyal fans.
When Thrice took the stage, there was a loud chant from the crowd: “Welcome back!” As Dustin Kensrue tuned his guitar, he looked down and one saw him trying to hide a smile. The first chord struck and they quickly dove into “Firebreather”. One was glad to witness the set, as this was Thrice’s first return to the East Coast in three years. Despite being inactive for a few years, the band were incredibly tight, even though Kensrue admitted to the crowd that he messed up. They treated fans to favorites like “Stare At The Sun” and “The Artist In The Ambulance” and of course, “Deadbolt”. The band’s setlist flawlessly incorporated both songs older and newer from their discography, while keeping a great energy and undeniably captivating presence. Anyone unfamiliar with the band was forced to stop and take notice, as this set, in particular, was one to truly marvel.
Ending the Saturday crowd was the wonderfully engaging and unique band, Dropkick Murphys. Even though they opened their set with “The Boys Are Back” off of their newest record, frontman Al Barr promised a set full of throwbacks. Pulling out hits like “Finnegan’s Wake” and others, Barr kept his promise and fans walked away happy. The light drizzle that started during Thrice’s set eventually turned to heavy rain during Dropkick’s set. As some fans wandered towards the exits, Barr joked about those leaving being “emo fans,” and praised the fans that stayed, who were then rewarded to the closing song “Shipping Up To Boston.”
Saturday was a wonderfully relaxing day while Sunday was an eclectic mix of performances from Poison The Well, From Autumn to Ashes, The Front Bottoms, Kevin Devine And The Goddamn Band and more. Sunday forecasted a thunderstorm at 2 p.m., the exact hour that the festival began. Storm clouds loomed in dangerously and with a threatening demeanor. An hour later, the clouds disappeared and the sun shone brightly down on the festival, much to everyone’s delight.
When Modern Baseball took the stage at 2:25, there was already a large crowd assembled in front of the Game Loud Stage. To be honest, it was pretty impressive. The young band kept things light hearted and fun for their crowd. They played the riff from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” before jumping into the song “Rock Bottom.” Their second to last song was a cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young” which fans received very well, as well as Modern Baseball performing rather exceptionally.
From Autumn To Ashes and Poison The Well kept things heavy while pop-punk was taking their turn reigning the first half of the day. Kevin Devine and Aaron West were able to display the musical talents of their full bands. As some of these artists have grown in age, as have the attendance within family members. Kevin Devine took some time during one of their songs to high five a little boy sitting on the side of the drum set. Nora’s vocalist, Carl Severson’s wife and two beautiful toddler daughters were also in attendance as well, watching their father take command of the West Stage.
The Front Bottoms snuck on stage before their set time, much to the fans’ happiness. Fans were singing along to every single word so loudly that frontman Brian Sella almost starting laughing happily while grinning. As much as the Front Bottoms are gaining recognition, it was good to see that they remained humbly composed, especially when fans screamed the lyrics, “And I will remember that summer/As the summer, I was taking steroids/’Cause you like a man with muscles/And I like you.” Sella took a moment to quickly tell the crowd, “I fucking love you!” As if the crowd wasn’t amped up enough, a surprise appearance from Kevin Devine during “Twin Sized Mattress” had the crowd screaming louder—so much louder—than before. They took no time in distributing fun colored tambourines to the crowd, so they, like Kevin can help out.
Gates were a band that performed on the small Bar Stage, but they drew a surprisingly large crowd. It was thrilling to see such a young and passionate band able to hold a crowd of such size. Speaking with Gates before their set, they told me that people mistranslated that their energy in the studio was hard to replicate onstage, when really it was vice versa. After witnessing their raw and organic performance, one would say that this it entirely true. One aspect of watching Gates perform that one loved, was watching the expression of newcomers witness Gates’ dynamic post-rock builds. If there is any up-and-coming band that should be on one’s radar, it is Gates.
The Gaslight Anthem took the stage and overflowed their 10 p.m. curfew with their 26-song set. The crowd was tame during the first few songs, but after they performed “1000 Years” the audience was like a bunch of toddlers who couldn’t sit still. Fans were treated to a few guest spots, like the Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf as they covered the Misfits’ “Astro Zombie.” Diehard fans who stuck around late were treated to “Blue Jeans And White T-Shirts” and the closer, “We’re Getting A Divorce. You Keep The Diner.”
The only fault of the entire festival was unfortunately during Hot Rod Circuit’s set. The band gathered on the West Stage to perform and two songs in, the stage’s generator died. Andy whipped out his acoustic guitar, sat down in front of the stage and completed a song before the generator kicked back on. Unfortunately, the generator did not stay on for the following acts. When returning an hour later to catch Small Brown Bike’s set, one found the neighboring East stage had Major League standing awkwardly on stage with their instruments in hand, lights out, generator dead again. One was not able to stick around to see if Small Brown Bike were able to perform, but when returning again a half-hour later, both stages were still dead. Major League were able to perform at a later time with a shorter set, as did Pianos Become The Teeth and Defeater. Security confided that they were shipping in another generator during Small Brown Bike’s set and it looked as though they made good on their promise to the fastest of their ability.
Watching hundreds of people run to catch their favorite bands, some with ketchup/mustard stains on their shirts, sun kissed—in some cases, a little too sun-kissed—faces, loud banter at the drinking zones of who had the best set so far while music played from every corner of the festival, made one think that Skate And Surf is in fact its own little world. This year there was more focus on pop-punk bands with guitars rather than just a microphone, but bands like Hot Rod Circuit and Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band made sure you were dosed with enough energy to get you through the rest of the day as did the Front Bottoms and Four Year Strong.
Everyone from the openers, to the small Bar Stage bands, to the up-and-comers and the headliners were worth the price of admission. Everyone gave performances that left fans old and new still bathing in the afterglow hours after each set. Skate And Surf had built off of what they did last year with the reunions and mixed it up with a stream of pop-punk, pop and hardcore. It’s a formula that works and we’re excited to see what variety we will be given next year.