Perhaps the last thing anyone wants to do in the midst of the Southland’s worst heat wave of the year is go to an all-day outdoor music festival, but, on September 2, throngs of people did just that for the second annual Summer Strummer event at Bergamot Station.
Sponsored in part by radio station Star 98.7 FM, Lucky Brand Jeans and beverage company Monster Energy, the festival featured over 40 bands playing on four stations in the courtyard of the Santa Monica arts complex. The festival’s line-up consisted primarily of bands from the alternative rock, punk, rockabilly/psychobilly and singer-songwriter spectrums, with singer-songwriter Matt Kearny, Southern California-based five-piece Augustana and punk group Zeke serving as the headliners.
The high school-aged hard rockers of Drive A seemed unfettered by the blazing sunlight as they played shortly after noon, playing fast and loud while decked out in heavy black clothing. Despite handling one of the festival’s earliest time slots, the band drew well, bringing together a group of ecstatic local teens, many of whom were sporting the band’s t-shirts. Sonically, the band channels artists whose heyday was well before the band members’ births, like the New York Dolls, the Stooges, AC/DC and Mötley Crüe.
Playing across the courtyard just following Drive A’s set was Rocket, whose glam rock-inspired sound came across as far more jumbled on stage than on the EP “Girls with Candy Hearts.” Despite this, Rocket played with great enthusiasm, winning over the small crowd that formed around the Monster Energy stage. A few young boys clamored to have photos taken with the group after the show.
The most surprising show of the day was from Canadian psychobilly outfit Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz. Bates and band mates sCare-oline (upright bass) and J.T. Massacre (drums) played impeccably. Whereas many psychobilly bands find hearty inspiration in the B-movie-infused punk sound of bands like the Misfits and the Cramps, Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz are more blues-based in sound, although the lyrical references to things that go bump in the night are present. Intensifying the band’s performance was the presence of the Voodoo Dollz, burlesque dancers Little Miss Risk and Lil Luvroc. The two dancers popped in and out of the set with skimpy outfits that were mostly removed by each song’s end. Working around the concept of the striptease as an art form, these two dancers created scenarios involving Bates’ lyrics that they then acted out for the audience.
Although LA-based indie rock outfit The Tender Box took to the Star Stage at just after 5 p.m., the heat was still unbearable. Only two band loyalists and a few photographers stood directly in front of the stage. The rest of the large crowd of supporters hid on the sidelines, trying to take refuge in some of the shade. The heat took a toll on the band as well. Some of guitarist-keyboardist Ric Moon’s equipment melted on stage as the band played. He furiously attempted to rewire gear in between and sometimes in the middle of songs, but the situation remained dire. In spite of this, the band played remarkably well, showcasing songs off of its last CD The Score and a few additions to its repertoire.
Rezurex front man Daniel deLeon seemed prepared for the heat, even though his band played just before sunset. The Summer Strummer veteran ditched the ghoulish make-up for this performance. Like Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz, Rezurex stems from the psychobilly scene, but is more punk-rooted than the aforementioned band. With mohawks standing at attention, the band combined macabre kitsch (songs bear titles like “Graveyard Girl”) with furious rhythms for a set that would have been highly danceable were it not so hot.
Augustana seemed to pull in the largest crowd of the evening. In recent months, the band’s piano-based ballad “Boston” has become one of the most frequently played tracks on Star 98.7 FM. Naturally, when the hit was played, the crowd roared with excitement, but for the rest of the set people stood listlessly. It wasn’t the band’s fault; the five members played a solid, if mellow, set. It seemed as though the heat had drained just about everyone at Summer Strummer, and, by 8 p.m., it was nearly impossible to muster up the energy to appear fanatical about any band.