When I was growing up, every year, Memorial Day weekend would just come and go. Aside from the occasional garage sale or Main Street parade, Memorial Day weekend never had much significance for me as far as a “time of the year” goes. Normally every year, I’d just sit inside, watch TV, and maybe spend time with my family occasionally. The day was pretty much standard.
That was until 2011, when for the first time, Bled Fest gave me Memorial Day weekend plans for the first time in my life – and in the seven years I’ve attended Bled Fest, I’ve never looked back.
It all started as a backyard BBQ and pool party in a Southeast Michigan suburb in 2004, and over the past 13 years, has since evolved into one of the state’s most unique music festivals, packing in over 70 acts this year into a technical high school, spanning indie to hip-hop, alternative to hardcore. Acts such as Anti-Flag, Andrew WK, The Wonder Years, The Early November, The Black Dahlia Murder, Every Time I Die, and Modern Baseball are among some of the festival’s many headliners from years past.
This year’s lineup has become the most diverse in the festival’s history, extensively reaching out to bands of all genders, sexual orientations, and races, and encouraging them to submit to the festival. The results have made this year’s Bled Fest lineup one of the best they’ve ever put together, with more acts that are playing the festival for the first time ever. With over 70 bands playing this year’s Bled Fest, we’ve taken the liberty of letting you know the 20 bands we’re most excited for – and that’s just hitting the tip of the iceberg.
20. Charmer (Marquette, MI)
“Photography Raptor” from Whateverville
In what seems to be the welcome return to form for indie-punk label favorites No Sleep Records, a crop of excellent bands have joined their ranks recently (Hot Mulligan, Alistair Hennessey, Spill, etc). It’s all the more exciting to watch new talent grow over the coming months, with many of these bands playing the festival. Among these newly signed bands include Marquette, MI’s Charmer – a delightful little emo/punk act. Though the Upper Peninsula may be well known for its great views and even greater lakes, there’s little doubt that it’ll have another claim to fame soon enough.
18 (TIE). Jahshua Smith & the Race Card (Detroit, MI) / Nnamdi Ogbonnaya (Chicago, IL)
“Play” from The Fourth Wall / “Hop Off” from DROOL
In Bled Fest’s quest for more musical diversity this year, the festival’s lineup features more hip-hop than ever before. Though there are plenty of acts holding down the front this year – you can’t go wrong with any of them. However, I’m going to recommend checking out either or both Jahshua Smith and the Race Card and Nnamdi Ogbonnaya for your daily schedule. Fresh off of releasing last year’s record The Fourth Wall, Smith’s style and flow are the most accessible for most going in blind this year. However, Ogbonnaya introduced us to a style and aesthetic all his own on his latest record DROOL, released earlier this year.
17. Baggage (Flint, MI)
“Safety Net” from Cheaper Than Therapy
Do you miss mid-Michigan punk outfit The Swellers as much as we do? Well, I doubt it, but I’m sure you’re still pretty bummed that the band decided to call it quits back in 2015. For the past couple years, all four members have moved onto other efforts, with former drummer Jonathan Diener now pulling double duty as bassist and frontman for Baggage, working to create both smart and socially conscious alt-rock jams. Not only this, but the band has heavily contributed to helping their hometown of Flint’s water crisis over the past year and a half, from contributing music to charity compilations to hosting water drives at their music videos. For a challenge of mind, body, and soul, Baggage should be part of your Bled Fest schedule.
16. The Dirty Nil (Dundas, ON)
“Fuckin’ Up Young” from Minimum R&B
For those lost in pre-Pinkerton nostalgia and/or looking for the closest thing to a sweaty, drunken pub show at an all-ages festival at a high school, The Dirty Nil is what you’re looking for to fill the void. Their latest record Higher Power ripped us a new asshole earlier last year, and their latest record Minimum R&B, features all of the great stuff that comprised their past singles and EPs, reassembled to give you a true taste of what the band is capable of in a live setting, matching that same energy.
15. Mover // Shaker (Detroit, MI)
“No Backyard” from Michigania
The Michigan local scene is in no short supply of great, energetic, and exciting acts for the music-hungry public, and this year’s Bled Fest lineup has done an excellent job in putting together a sampler platter of that talent. Finding a well-earned place at the top of the list is Detroit indie-rock outfit Mover // Shaker. Their new record Michigania has quickly found its way into the hearts of devoted listeners throughout the state, channeling a combination of alternative rock, dream pop, and fuzzy distortion into a thrilling end product. If you’re itching for a great up-and-comer, there’s no question about it: Mover Shaker should be part of your day.
14. Pet Symmetry (Chicago, IL)
“Stare Collection” from Vision
The Bled Fest gods were incredibly kind to us this year. We got not one, but TWO Evan Weiss projects to fill out our schedule, in the forms of Pet Symmetry and intimate Into It Over It solo performance. Tough call, but I’m going to give it to Pet Symmetry, partially to also enjoy the efforts of Dowsing guitarist/vocalist Erik Czaja and drummer Marcus Nuccio. With a new record on the horizon and one hell of a live show in their repertoire, the band’s set will undoubtedly be thoroughly memorable, inspiring what will easily be one of the day’s most energetic crowds.
13. Speak Low If You Speak Love (Westland, MI)
“Knots” from Everything But What We Need
When he’s not slapping bass for pop-punk wunderkinds State Champs, Michigan native Ryan Scott Graham is a man that still keeps himself busy, whether he’s writing, making music, or habitually tweeting, On the side, Graham partakes in the solo side project Speak Low if You Speak Love, who’ll be performing from 2015’s stellar Everything But What We Need. Whether you’ve fallen hard for Speak Low already, or dig Ryan’s chops as a social media personality, Speak Low’s set at Bled Fest is a great equalizer for all attendees.
12. Jesus Piece (Pennsylvania)
“Greed” off Summer Promo ’16
Let’s face it: When assembling a festival like this, you can’t please everyone. As much as we like to put Bled Fest on a pedestal for its metal-tinged glory days, the fest has since changed shape and evolved since then. However, for those who are still looking to throw down in the hardest way possible, look no further than spending a little time with Jesus Piece. The Pennsylvania hardcore outfit may just very well tear the Hartland Performing Arts Center to the ground with their set, as they probably will across the country as well once they put out their split with fellow hardcore act Malice at the Palace in a couple of weeks.
11. Second Best (Saginaw, MI)
“Northwest” from Outgrown
All great things must come to an end. The Saginaw pop-punk quintet unfortunately announced that they would be parting ways, with vocalist Eric Maul pursuing law school this coming fall. With this, Bled Fest marks the band’s final scheduled show – so why not end things in glorious fashion? The band’s material speaks for itself – anyone that’s fallen for the saccharine sweet accessibility of pop-punk acts like State Champs and Seaway should look no further than Second Best, whose EP Outgrown marked a strong initial impression. Find time in your day, and help the band go out on a high note.
10. Bear vs. Shark (Highland, MI)
“Broken Dog Leg” from Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands
The long-requested reunion of legendary Highland, MI post-hardcore quintet Bear vs. Shark finally came to fruition last year, as the band reunited for a benefit in Flint to aid in the city’s water crisis. After running the gambit of shows around the state, ranging from Grand Rapids to Ferndale, the band will finally culminate their tour of Michigan with a long awaited performance at Bled Fest. The amount of hype around such an exciting reunion alone is enough to make Bear vs. Shark a must-see on your Bled Fest schedule, especially considering the band’s prominent influence in the scene since the early-to-mid 2000’s.
9. Petal (Scranton, PA)
“Heaven” from Shame
Some artists are just great at capturing a particular feeling, a moment, or a sound with the music they create for the public – Scranton, PA’s Kiley Lotz, the mind behind Petal, is an expert at this skill just one album into her career. All throughout the act’s debut LP Shame, Lotz taps into the relatability of feeling anxious and overpowered, tapping into the genre’s strongest voices from the ‘90s for inspiration – particularly the vulnerability of the Cranberries and Bic Runga. Petal’s modesty and exposure shines through in her live performances, resulting in a powerful set that will, no doubt, give you goosebumps by its end.
8. Ratboys (Chicago, IL)
“Control” from GN
There’s a lot to love in a band like Ratboys. Whether it’s the unique quality of guitarist/vocalist Julia Steiner’s voice or the band’s dainty, yet incredibly jaunty style of indie-rock they delivered so consistently on Aoid, the band’s potential is endless. The band, who’ll be passing through Bled Fest supporting Pet Symmetry on a short Midwest run, is one of the most prominent up-and-comers on this year’s lineup, with a new record, GN, out on Topshelf on June. See them now, or regret it down the road.
7. Koji (Harrisburg, PA)
“Fury” from Fury
When it comes to Bled Fest regulars, Andrew “Koji” Shiraki is no stranger to the festival. In just this decade alone, Koji has performed at Bled Fest for six different years – and if you’ve ever gotten the chance to see Koji perform at the festival, you’ll know why he’s been asked back again and again. Shiraki is able to bring an incredibly intimate environment to his sets, allowing everyone some much needed down time during the day between aggressive and energetic main stage sets. Better yet, with an extensive discography to work from, you never quite know what kind of a set you’re in store for.
6. Chris Farren (Naples, FL)
“Human Being” from Can’t Die
Part-indie/punk musician, part-Internet celebrity, and part-self-proclaimed meme, Chris Farren is a man that goes by many identities – all of which will assuredly be on display at his set at Bled Fest this May. Currently supporting his equally engaging and genuine debut album Can’t Die, Farren’s knack for writing straightforward, yet enjoyable poppy hooks with an indie-rock edge is always on display, be it through solo work, or either Fake Problems or Antarctigo Vespucci. No matter what side of Farren we get at the end of the month, however, it’ll undoubtedly be a captivating and unique 30 minutes to say the least.
5. Tancred (Maine)
“Control Me” from Out of the Garden
In a year as stacked as 2016, it’s understandable that a great album or two might have sadly gotten lost in the shuffle. Everyone has that one album they wish would’ve gotten more consideration – for me, it was Tancred’s incredibly catchy, heartfelt, and personal new album Out of the Garden. Filled to the brim with dazzling indie-pop hooks and bouncy melodies, nothing would have made last year better than for the album to receive more praise and attention. You’ve been warned – grab it now, memorize every word, and don’t be surprised to end up a fan well before its end.
4. Chase Huglin (Nashville, TN)
“Hell” from You Deserve an Island
The growth of now Nashville-based (formerly Fort Wayne) indie/acoustic soloist is nothing short of astounding. From self-booking tours and recording music, to touring nationally with the likes of everyone from SayWeCanFly to Homesafe, the InVogue artist has grown progressively, while still maintaining an admirable drive and humble mentality. Fresh off the release of last year’s powerful, intimate, and incredibly effective debut album You Deserve an Island, Huglin is able to bring that same atmosphere to a live setting. Get to the classroom a set in advance – you’re not going to want to miss what Chase has in store.
3. Free Throw (Nashville, TN)
“Randy, I Am the Liquor” from Bear Your Mind
If there is one band on the entire lineup that I can practically guarantee you will kick yourself if you skip this year, it will be Nashville, TN indie/emo quintet Free Throw. Up until they recently announced their new record, Bear Your Mind, out the day before Bled Fest, their album Those Days are Gone acted as the majority of what the band has toured off for nearly three years – and it’s held up incredibly well. And if the first few singles from Bear Your Mind are any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for one of the 2017’s best. Make no mistake: Free Throw is here to take over the world – either get on board now, or get out of the way.
2. Shortly (Detroit, MI)
How does one even begin to describe the emotional heft, instrumental bliss, and sheer beauty of the music Detroit native Shortly produces? Though her discography is small (but growing), Shortly – the project of Alexandria Maniak – has already been able to clearly demonstrate her emotive power and vulnerability through both her recorded music and live performances. Though comparisons to artists like Julien Baker or Angel Olsen are easy to make, Shortly is still has a unique quality and style all her own that’ll make even the biggest sourpusses melt just a little bit. No local artist at Bled Fest will give you a stronger reaction – and maybe even a few tears.
1. La Dispute (Grand Rapids, MI)
“I See Everything” from Wildlife
You all knew this was coming – especially if you’re a Michigander and reading this list. We all know that La Dispute’s presence at this year’s Bled Fest is a big-ass deal – not just because the band doesn’t tour as actively as they once did, but the crowd reception they receive in their home state of Michigan is something that truly has to be seen to be believed. And that madness concentrated into a high school cafeteria, all to the soundtrack of their best record played in full, is only going to add to the insanity. Let’s face it: The future is uncertain, and the world is a really scary place right now. But if one thing is written in stone, it’s that La Dispute’s set at Bled Fest will be one for the books.
Bled Fest will take place on May 27th at the Hartland Performing Arts Center in Howell, MI. For more information and to buy tickets, visit bledfest.com.