Southern California’s summer festival season came to a close at Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station last Sunday afternoon with the inaugural Summer Strummer event. Sponsored primarily by Indie 103.1 FM in conjunction with recording studio/rehearsal space Swing House and others, The Summer Strummer brought together over 30 bands to play on three stages dotted across the courtyard of the art complex.
The Summer Strummer’s greatest strength was bridging together varying generations of local musicians. With thirteen-year-old hard rock tykes Drive A playing alongside the current crop of local twenty-somethings and seasoned artists, the line-up alone could provide a day’s worth of fun for the entire hipster family.
Dressed in a brightly patterned ’60s mini dress, Josie Cotton bounced through a set of perky pop songs, including “School Is In” and “Johnny Are You Queer?” from the early ’80s film Valley Girl. Los Angeles icon John Doe of X played a mellow but no less entertaining set of roots rock-influenced pieces while original Southern California punks Agent Orange crammed as many short, blistering songs as possible into a 20-minute set. Matthew Sweet, whose hit single “Girlfriend” charmed teens in the 1990s, teamed with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles to headline the Bud Light Stage. The duo performed acoustic renditions of 1960s and 1970s pop songs, tying in with the recently released CD, Under the Covers Vol. 1.
With voices that can still hit Vienna Boys Choir highs, Drive A proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the day. The junior high students, who have been playing together for less than six months, plowed through their 20-minute set with all of the energy and technical precision of musicians twice their age. Also provoking buzz was The Gray Kid, who relocated to Los Angeles after stints in New York and Washington D.C. This one-man project plays like a cross between Beck and Peaches, combining minimal beats and soul-influenced vocals with the sort of occasional guitar sample that further blurs the line between indie rock and hip-hop.
The scene-stealing award of the day, though, went to Under the Influence of Giants (UTIOG). This falsetto-loving outfit falls somewhere between desert-style stoner rock and the dance floor-friendly sound of Hollywood nightclubs. UTIOG’s obvious love for classic rock and funk proved popular with more than just the adults in the audience, as even the kids in Drive A shirts looked as though they might be ready to follow this band across the country.
Like UTIOG, several of the bands appearing at The Summer Strummer were headed out on extended tours. The Spores, set for a U.S. trek this fall, played a short set of fan favorites, including “Love My Mind,” featuring leggy hand puppet Miss Fishnets on vocals. Meanwhile, The Tender Box introduced a new tune before heading out to the U.K. to play Manchester’s In the City festival.
Structurally, The Summer Strummer will be remembered as one of the best-organized festivals of the year. The smaller Bud Light and Swing House stages featured staggered set times so that performances on stages in close range to each other would not bleed into each other. While show times on the larger Monster stage did overlap those on the smaller stages, this did not prevent attendees from potentially witnessing at least a portion of every set. Despite the size of Bergamot Station’s courtyard, the sound from the main stage did not drown out the rest of festival. Even the raucous pop of The Donnas could not disturb the sedate sound of Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs.
There did seem to be some problems with sound that affected primarily bands with a complex structure. For example, headliners Kinky, who feature electronics and accordion in addition to traditional rock instruments, came across as muddy. Perhaps this is just a matter of adjusting the mixes to work with the courtyard’s acoustics, but it is still only a minor problem and one that will probably be fixed in years to come.
Situated in a comfortable environment and boasting both a solid line-up and reasonable ticket price, The Summer Strummer was the most enjoyable festival of the summer. Here’s to the first of what will, hopefully, become a Westside tradition.