Mesa, AZ — The annual Punk in Drublic Festival, held this past Saturday at Mesa’s brand new Bell Bank Park, is built around two things: craft beer and punk rock. This year’s lineup, anchored as always by festival founder Fat Mike’s band NOFX, also featured Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, The Bouncing Souls, Lagwagon, Authority Zero, The Last Gang, The Venomous Pinks, and WinterHaven. It was a lineup that covered several generations of punk and just as many styles.
When the gates opened at 11 a.m., with WinterHaven not going on to open the festival until 1 p.m., the other opener took front stage and center: craft beer, and plenty of it. With breweries from all over Arizona giving out free samples to the 21+ crowd in the free Punk in Drublic souvenir sample cups, cans and kegs were emptied on a consistent basis from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.
What makes a punk festival so different from other all-day festivals is that punks, regardless of era or style, are accepting of everyone who enters the sanctum of punk, as a place of brotherhood and sisterhood for all. Names are never needed, as the t-shirt you wore is enough to identify you. “Hey yo, Black Flag, try that Hazy IPA they got! It’s my favorite!” was shouted at me as I approached one of the many tents. The same guy followed up with me later to get my thoughts.
There’s an inspiring sense of community and fun, like we’re all on the same team, whether we’re toasting a craft brew or slamming into each other in a circle pit. If this day were a musical, it would almost be expected that at any moment the crowd would break out into a punk rock rendition of “Gaston,” sloshing frothy beers from those mini Punk in Drublic sampler cups to and fro in the spirit of a hardy sing-along.
Opening the show was Flagstaff’s own Winterhaven. Made up of singer and rhythm guitarist Jack Hernandez, lead guitarist Brendan Goepfrich, bassist Colton Henderson, and drummer Nick Schira, they brought the right balance of humor and youthful energy to open the show. By their own admission, they have gotten onto the festival by getting in touch with Cameron Collins, who handles lining up the breweries for each stop (Fat Mike handles the bands) who dug what he heard and got them added to the lineup. Though the youngest band on the bill, they came out swinging like old pros.
The band wears its pop-punk influences on their sleeves like a badge of honor. Though you could hear the importance that bands like blink-182 and The Offspring had on their sound (and also some noticeable Ian MacKaye Fugazi-era basslines), there was nothing derivative about WinterHaven. As the opening chords of the first song hit, their music was a magnet pulling people away from beer and merch tents right to the front of the stage. In between songs, they joked with the crowd about Spider-Man and in a hilarious moment, Hernandez said that his mom asked him to remember to wear sunscreen before they went on that day, but he had immediately forgotten and asked that no one tells. (I’m sorry if she reads this and learns that way.)
The Venomous Pinks
It would seem Arizona was the perfect starting point for the festival, since three-fifths of the acts hail from State 48, with Mesa’s The Venomous Pinks playing second. Though the all-female outfit certainly has some Bikini Kill in their sound, they would not be out of place amongst the heaviest of hitters of early 80’s hardcore. The three-piece attack of Drea Doll on guitar and vocals, Gaby Kaos on bass and vocals, and Cassie Jalilie on drums sounded like the sister band to Bad Brains or Minor Threat, playing each song with a fast and furious intensity.
Their second song “Todos Unidos” had some Generator-era Bad Religion guitar and “oohs” and “aahs” on the backing vocals. Their new single “No Rules,” the first from their upcoming debut album Vita Mors from SBÄM Records, was a set highlight (the single is out on 03/24/2022 and the album is forthcoming). They closed out their nine-song set with “We Do It Better,” an absolutely righteous rager and the perfect anthem for the band. They were joined by The Last Gang’s lead singer Brenna Red for the final verse.
The Last Gang
The decidedly more political The Last Gang played next. The California quartet – Red on vocals and guitar, Ken Aquino on guitar, Sean Viele on bass, and Robert Wantland on drums – surprised the crowd throughout their set, as they used the punk rock template as a springboard for so many other styles. Their third song, “Gimme Action,” even opened with a surprising AC/DC-esque guitar riff.
Red admitted to listening to a lot of The Clash and some classic reggae and dub, including Toots And The Maytals and the legendary Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. This was no more evident than on “Noise Noise Noise,” the title track from their 2021 album, which had some very clear Clash London Calling-era dub influence. She is an incredible frontwoman, and the band plays loosely within the punk genre. If their nine-song set is any indication of even a snippet of what they are capable of, they are going to be a band to watch for many years to come.
Rounding out the Arizona triad was Mesa’s Authority Zero. The skate punk legends came out guns blazing with lead singer Jason DeVore leading into the first song (or perhaps warning the crowd) with “Here we go!” He was immediately perched on top of amps (rocking one precariously forward before he hopped off of it) and bounced around the stage with each song. For a guy who’s been doing this since the mid-nineties, he didn’t show even a hint of slowing down.
Though DeVore’s vocals are rooted firmly in hardcore, Authority Zero includes reggae and some very noticeable Bad Religion rhythms in their music. The band’s new song “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free” from the album of the same name was a set highlight.
Mid-set, DeVore stopped to plug Punk Rock Saves Lives, an organization he supports whose work focuses on mental health, human rights, and equality. His passion for their work was clear in the set’s closer, “Lift One Up.”
It spoke to DeVore’s love for his audience and to the communal feeling so clear amongst the attendees since the gates opened: “So lift one up/To put one down/We’ll keep singing these old songs our whole lives through/It’s where we’re found/They’ve touched our hearts/They’ve saved our lives.” It was one of the best sing-alongs of the day.
Considering their name was inspired by the band’s unreliable touring van, Lagwagon have been anything but unreliable, recording and touring since 1990. Before they began their set, an audience member complained to the soundman checking the microphones that it was “too loud.” In response, he received a hard laugh from the guy who said, “Don’t worry. Joey’s known for his soft vocals.” Indeed, the start of their set was like a bomb going off (leaving this writer wondering what the kids playing soccer just across the way from the festival at the rather vast Bell Bank Park complex were wondering).
With nine albums spread across their 30-year career, frontman Joey Cape joked, “All we have are old songs,” when an audience member requested they play something new after they played “Bombs Away” from their 1995 album Hoss. Regardless of his self-deprecating comment, the band with a lineup almost unchanged since they started, played each song with an ageless vigor. They dedicated “Surviving California” to all of their fallen comrades over the years, in the highlight of their set.
The Bouncing Souls
New Jersey’s favorite punk sons The Bouncing Souls showed that Lagwagon were not the only 30-year veterans who hadn’t lost a step. The pogoing punk icons brought their trademark lighthearted sound to the stage. Opening with the title-track from the 1999 album “Hopeless Romantic”, the band had the crowd bouncing in unison from the word go (not the song “Go,” because that was their fifth track).
Singer Greg Attonito was a consummate showman, playfully dancing around the stage during each song. The Bouncing Souls have always been a fun live band, and this day’s set was no different. Their song “That Song” was one of the highlights, with the audience singing along throughout. It felt like a fitting summation of the vibe for the day, with the lyrics: And in the end what have we learned? Are we just faces in the crowd? I died and was reborn again today. Hold fast to myself. Make these good feelings stay. On a pleasantly cool Arizona spring day, it felt like many of us were reborn in those moments of community.
Me First And The Gimme Gimmes
“We’re not a cover band,” declared lead singer Spike Slawson, “We are THE cover band!” For the uninitiated, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are like punk-rock karaoke. They are a supergroup, with a rotating cast of members including Slawson of Re-Volts and Swignin’ Utters, Joey Cape and Dave Raun from Lagwagon pulling double duty, Fat Mike, and CJ Ramone. They will cover any genre of music, with the songs poured through their unique filter.
Opening with “Different Drum,” written by the late Mike Nesmith of The Monkees and made famous by Linda Rondstadt, they followed it with “Sloop John B” and a three-song country superset of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and John Denver’s “Country Roads,” with Fat Mike coming out to sing on the songs. With no set genre they will pull from, the set is full of surprises because every song is unexpected. Where else are you going to get Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” followed by CJ Ramone singing Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”? Only at a Me First and the Gimme Gimmes concert. They closed their night with a rousing rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
To close out the night was NOFX, fronted by Punk in Drublic founder Mike “Fat Mike” Burkett. Though their live album I Heard They Suck Live!! might set certain expectations for anyone who has never witnessed a NOFX concert, they make each show unique from any other they’ve played before.
Not to veer into politics, but it can be reasonably inferred by the t-shirts and buttons you see around the festival exactly what the political leanings are of a punk-rock crowd. Regardless, Fat Mike opened their set with “Greetings Republicans!” Throughout their set, he continued to playfully troll the crowd, from saying the only thing Arizona got right was doing away with daylight savings, to telling the crowd the only good thing to ever come out of the state was stand-up comic Doug Stanhope. Mike even attempted to call Stanhope from the stage, but the call went to voicemail.
Some songs were introduced but quickly abandoned. After claiming that drummer Smelly Sandin did not want to play “Liza and Louise,” they moved on to “I Love You More Than I Hate Me” instead. “We’ve only got 5 good songs,” Mike claimed at one point, “and we’ve been doing this for 38 years!” Following “Eat the Meek” and “Franco UnAmerican,” Mike called Arizona “the Alabama of the west.” They closed out their set with a one-two punch of “Don’t Call Me White” and “Kill All the White Man.”
Though the beer tents were all long gone at this point, everyone held tight to their Punk in Drublic beer sampler cups as they headed for the exit. Together or not, the punk community is always united, and maybe those cups will make their way out again on some random night, filled to the rim, and toasted high to the brothers and sisters, before turning the music up and slamming the beer down.
The 2022 Punk In Drublic Craft Beer & Music Festival will continue on through the spring and summer with the following dates:
- Saturday, March 26 –
San Diego, CA – Petco Park – Tickets
- Sunday, March 27 – Ventura, CA –
Ventura Fairgrounds – Tickets
- Saturday, May 7 –
Sacramento, CA – Heart Health Park at the Cal Expo – Tickets
- Friday, July 8 –
Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion – Tickets
- Saturday, July 9 –
Detroit, MI – Masonic Temple Outdoors – Tickets
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Punk in Drublic – Bell Bank Park 3-19-22
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Photography © Reagle Photography
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