Bumpin Uglies New Album “Keep It Together” drops TODAY! Interview with Brandon Hardesty and VIDEO

 

bumpinuglieskeepittogether

If their name is unfamiliar to you, make no mistake, Bumpin Uglies are a band you should now. And there’s no better time to get to know them since their new LP Keep It Together (Right Coast Records) drops today. They’ve toured the nation several times, playing shows wherever they can, while working tirelessly to build up a following. It’s earned them a dedicated throng of fans, and has them poised for their upcoming album release, which is their best effort yet, in my opinion. And I’m not alone in saying so–The Pier also praised the album as Bumpin Uglies best work to dateKeep It Together is out today, Friday September 9th, and it hit the iTunes reggae chart at the #2 position. Get yours on iTunes here. It’s also available via all major digital outlets and streaming services.

I spoke with lead singer/guitarist and song writer Brandon Hardesty about what sets his band and music apart, their work ethic and approach, and the new album.

 

Bumpin Uglies have been around for more than a little while now, but many people out there still need to discover you guys. For the uninitiated, can you sum up the band and what you guys are about?

As far as genres are concerned, I like to describe the sound as ska/punk/reggae with honest lyrics. As far as what we’re about, there’s no social initiative or grand message behind our music. We’re pretty much just three guys that found our purpose in making music so we’re trying to make that happen in our own way. If you like good music without any bullshit or facade than we’re definitely a band you can get into.

 

You’ve got a new LP “Keep It Together” coming out September 9 on Right Coast Records. Give us an idea of what’s coming in your words.

The Beatles have always been one of my favorite bands and Abbey Road is definitely my favorite album by them. I love how the B-side flows together like one long song and I always thought it would be cool to try and capture that vibe in our genre. To be clear, I am in no way comparing us to The Beatles, but I do think we did a pretty good job of creating that experience in our own way with the second half of this record.

This album is a bit harder than a lot of our earlier stuff but it’s undeniably the best thing that we’ve put out. The songs are more mature and I think we did a great job capturing what we’re all about as a live band. If you’re a fan of honest songwriting, the energy of ska punk, or the the ethereal vibe of dub reggae, than you will be an instant fan of these recordings.

 

You come from the thriving little scene centered in Annapolis, MD. How has the area helped shape you guys?

It’s kept us working. A big part of running any business is having steady income and the best way to earn as a band is by playing shows. Annapolis is a gem for working musicians because there are so many bars and small clubs that have bands as entertainment. I waited tables for the better part of a decade to subsidize a very humble lifestyle because we barely made enough money touring to cover the band’s expenses, much less our personal expenses. I was recently able to quit that job because of all the work I’ve been able to find around Annapolis playing acoustic shows while I’m home.

 

You guys have always followed a DIY path very much your own, and it’s always reminded me in ways of Sublime. Mostly that you write really great songs across a range of styles, but authentically. It’s the range you have, from funny to thoughtful to provocative, that is a signature of Bumpin Uglies. With that, you have visited every corner of this country, winning over fans one-by-one. Why do you think more bands don’t take that approach?

I think its the same reason there aren’t more bands that say ‘fuck it’ and hit the road on their own. Its scary putting yourself out there like that just like its scary really putting yourself out there with your lyrics. There’s themes in every genre of music that have proven to be well received by the audience consuming them. Country has trucks and American pride, rap has hustling and materialism, and reggae has good vibes and weed. It’s easy and safe to stick inside of those associations.

 

These days, it seems music, much like surfing, has become more accessible to the masses, which may be a good thing, but in both it seems like that gritty, DIY punk ethic that was inherent in both has deteriorated. How do you see the music landscape today, given that you still carry that ethic?

There’s a lot of bullshit. I feel like there’s a whole facet of the industry that’s more concerned with working out and dressing well than writing good songs and rocking a solid live show. It’s unfortunate but we live in a day in age where there are people who are famous for no other reason than because they’re famous, if that makes sense. As a result social media has redefined where a lot of people find value, and bands are not excluded from this phenomenon. There are bands out there that have more press photos than shows played and that’s a very sad reality.

That being said, there’s still a thriving DIY network for bands that are willing to put in the work. Now more than ever I think people appreciate authenticity, but you really gotta be willing to go out and spread the message yourself. That’s why we tour the way that we do and that’s why I’m proud of every accomplishment that we’ve achieved.

 

I was fortunate to get a sneak peak of your uncut video for “Stop The Fall”, which does a great job of capturing what Bumpin Uglies is all about. Who did you work with on the video?

Our friends at Stage 20 Media shot, edited, and directed the whole thing. We had a great experience working with them and I’d recommend them to anyone in the mid-Atlantic who’s in the market. I’ve always been wary of doing a music video because I was worried about looking like a tool and I think they did a great job in alleviating that fear.

 

Your live shows have gone to a new level in the last couple of years; the last time I saw you guys play, it was one of the best live performances I’ve seen, hands down. Tell us about evolving the live shows.

Thanks man! Wolfie and I have been playing together for almost 7 years now but it took us a long time to find the right drummer. TJ was the missing link. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a singer/songwriter first and a musician second, but my rhythm section is second to none. You can’t be a good live band without a good rhythm section and Bumpin Uglies has that in spades. Another part of it is the non-stop touring. When you’re playing 6 nights a week for 6 weeks straight, you’re doing something wrong if you’re not super tight by the end of the tour.

Van Halen: 2015 Tour Review

Van Halen SurfRhythm
Van Halen SurfRhythm
Van Halen at the PNC Bank Arts Center.

I think I was up for more than two days straight at the time. Five hours of sleep, after getting back to Maryland from New Jersey past three in the morning following the event does not really fix that in one night. My arms feel shredded from the amount of fist pumping I got away with doing in public, and my voice sounds like that of a sixty year old smoker. Raw.

 But then again, if you are going to party, there’s only one group that can take you over the top…

The mighty Van Halen.

Whew.

Glad to have got that off my chest.

Van Halen SurfRhythm
The Venue – the PNC Bank Arts Center.

This past weekend, I traveled up North to New Jersey to catch my most influential and still living rock band: VAN HALEN. Flying high since the original and only true lead singer David Lee Roth’s return in 2007, Van Halen’s tenure as a group has been milking the cash cow each tour, and for good reason. Even without the original bass player, Michael Anthony, these guys still know how to sell out a venue. And on a Sunday night? The place very well may have been oversold with the amount of people that showed up (nobody call the fire chief!). Playing both a mixture of their hits and some deep tracks that have not been seen or heard live since the eighties, something any hardcore fan can respect immeasurably, these guys made for quite the weekend.

But the weekend did not just start on a Sunday night.

After finishing up a late Friday night practice with my own rock group, I left for New Jersey on Saturday with one of my closest friends from high school. Hitting the most depressing of all Bay Bridge traffic, we made it up to Jersey safe and sound with a rocking playlist to keep the energy up and the windows down to feel the summer breeze. After gorging on the pizza and Italian subs already waiting for us and the requisite time spent visiting relatives, we made our way to Point Pleasant for one of the most pleasant surprises I have seen playing live in a long time.

Go Go Gadjet
Go Go Gadjet performing at Jenkinson’s. Blurry action shot? Duh.

Headlining at Jenkinson’s, an extremely popular local bar and dance club, was the group Go Go Gadjet. Coming all the way from Pennsylvania, but self professed to having spent the last ten years touring heavily on the road and fine tuning their craft, Go Go Gadjet was one of the best party rock bands I have ever seen. Simple as that. Combining one of the most eclectic set lists I have heard in a while, from Nicki Minaj’s “Hey Mama” to R. Kelly’s “Remix to Ignition”, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and the finale, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, this group brought the party to a whole new level. I seriously thought that it was just a great DJ who had set up on stage, thanks to the out of this world light show (for a “bar band”, using the term loosely) that could be seen coming through the windows of the venue on the beach, but seeing a live group tear it up like that in front of me? Mind blowing. Looking back and thinking about it, these guys almost reminded me of a much less creative, but still talented, version of Van Halen from back in the day. While the party itself has changed since the late 70’s, it seems that the atmosphere has not. Truly, a great show. While their schedule may not be as easy to access as Van Halen’s, I would definitely recommend checking them out if you get the chance. They seem to play a lot of beach venues like this one, but up and down the East Coast, and they make for a spectacular show.

The fateful day of the concert, Sunday, encompassed an early morning with the afternoon spent at the beach. If I had to have one legitimate gripe about this whole trip, it would come politically: the consumption tax that is so heavily apparent in New Jersey is a straight up shame. After paying twenty dollars (eighteen, if we are exactly counting – I had to break a twenty for me and my buddy and am still bitter) to just sit on the beach and not even swim? I think I am allowed to be a little pissed. I was able to cool my jets as soon I saw the waves that were eight feet high, and with the recent deaths of local swimmers being taken out by the riptide fresh in my mind, just sitting down was for the best. Relaxing on the sand is still nice, and after getting a slight tan on my embarrassingly pasty white bod, I felt calm. Like the calm before the storm.

Van Halen was coming.

Jersey Shore SurfRhythm
The Jersey Shore.

Flying up the parkway and blasting the sounds of Southern California in the 80’s does not paint a clear enough picture for the pump up of seeing another classic rock show in Jersey. Yeah, Jersey has some attitude, but I would rather be there than in Times Square.

A short disclaimer –

I will be the first to say this, although after reading just a few sentences, it should not come as such a surprise: I fucking love Van Halen. Everything they stand for. The music, the image, the attitude, and the girls. Hearing Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” for the first time as at twelve years old blew my mind, as it did to everyone else’s. So much of my own personality fits in so perfectly with the Van Halen attitude, that a comparison made between the two could not find results to be any closer. These guys are the standard bearers for going wild, and for a wildman like myself, it is a match made in heaven. Hell, in my senior year of high school, guess what I band I sang to, to headline the most popular school rock review show as the quintessential male lead singer? Van Halen!

Henry Pazaryna SurfRhythm
I show off this photo way too much for my own good, but if you looked this good in spandex pants, you would too.

But reminiscing about the glory days is besides the point of this review.

Actually, it is the saddest comparative truth that I can make.

The performance of the Van Halen family and the greatest living frontman alive today?

I dislike comparing groups at a high focus, with so much concentration on every aspect that they put forward to an audience. Not only are you, as an audience member, not living in the moment and focusing on what you paid to see in front of you, you could lose some of your objectivity in processing what is immediately happening in the now.

That being said, Van Halen was not as good the last big hair metal show I saw in New Jersey, which was Motley Crue. It was apparent that these guys are over the hump. While anyone using that “classic 80’s” musical tone is standing on the shoulders of the guy who literally invented it, Eddie Van Halen, the first person to put a humbucker in a stratocaster body, the group that built from nothing into the culture that surrounded them, sadly, did not live up to the monuments they erected in the past. Playing the same show they have been doing since 2007, while adding notable deep tracks like “Feel Your Love Tonight”, “Light up the Sky”, “Dirty Movies”, and “Drop Dead Legs”, I had some thoughts walking away from a still great show.

Between a combination of poor sound mixing, somewhat of a lack of creativity, and a little bit of age, Van Halen did not put on the ultimately best objective show that their reputation would bill them as doing.

Van Halen SurfRhythm
The Mighty Van Halen.

Don’t get me wrong. I had an absolute blast. The show was great. Seeing your idols in front of your own eyes playing the hits they wrote before you were born is always mind blowing when you sit and think about it. These are the guys that came on the radio with “Eruption” and “Runnin’ With the Devil” and blew everyone’s collective minds in 1978. Eddie is the greatest living guitarist, and he is second only to Jimi Hendrix, the man who revolutionized the electric guitar, in my own and many other’s books. David Lee Roth is without any doubt in my mind, the greatest living frontman, by a mile. Second only to the Lord himself, Freddie Mercury. Putting those two together? It was very clear, even from the lawn seats, that the sparks still flew like the fires of Vesuvius from these gods of rock and roll playing together. Diamond Dave’s still had a Dionysian stage presence and banter, with a surprisingly good voice for how he has treated it since the 70’s. As for Eddie? Just watch the videos of his guitar solos. They speak for themselves.

The rhythm section was not slouching either, but it was clear that they were the piece that was missing something. Alex, while sadly showing his age, held his own as a good rock drummer. Nothing new or exciting, but still good. This leads me to Wolfgang Van Halen. The son of a rock god. I feel genuinely bad taking any shots at Wolfie. For a young man, only two years older than myself, Wolfie can be the butt of a lot of eyebrow raising, and for a truthful reason. Replacing one of the most underrated rock bassists and crucial back up singers of all time, Michael Anthony, Wolfie can get some negativity just being there, even if he does do a good job. And he does do a good job, make no mistake about it. As someone who could imagine trying to share glory with his son, like Eddie and Wolf himself, I don’t feel right judging Wolfie for what he does. But… I almost don’t even want to say it. Thanks to poor mixing, the bass seemed like it was not there a lot of times. It seems bad to judge one event based on one misstep, but the lack of rhythm really was apparent, and it was not the first time they have ever done this set up. Yes, it would fade in and out, and yes both his bass playing and backup singing is exponentially better from the time he first stepped in to play with his dad. But, and this seems just sacrilegious even thinking about it, I kind of agree with what Sammy Hagar (ehh) has been saying lately in response to Eddie’s pretty nasty interviews. I miss Mikey too.

Let the record show that Sammy Hagar was never in a band called Van Halen. The band called Van Halen lived, died, and was resurrected by David Lee Roth. Eddie Van Halen was the only person responsible for creating some of the greatest rock riffs and blowing collective generations of minds. Not the synth pop he pushed in 1986.

But even as David Lee Roth himself has been quoted to say, Eddie is the man who got you in the door. Diamond Dave sells you the Bibles.

Van Halen Concert SurfRhythm
A lot of people were here. It was a pretty nice set up.

I hold these guys to impossibly high standards. Unrealistic, even. That statement alone should pretty much get rid of any credibility I had, which probably wasn’t that much to begin with. In the two hour show, there was one, maybe two songs that I didn’t know every word to. I know this material better than some of my extended family members. And I would be the first one to point out what was not all there, based on any kind of studio trickery was employed back in the day (coincidentally, one of the biggest complaints of the music industry that I have today – if you can’t do it live, you shouldn’t do it at all). And a lot of it was not all there. Thank whatever deity you believe in for David Lee Roth. Homerism aside, it is clear that he is the reason for their success. DLR was on absolute fire, all night long. Too much wordplay and personality to even write down, combined with the surprise of the night, his voice being in tact?

I could only dream to have half the career that he had.

Hopefully it’s the half where he was killing it with the whole band, not just messing around.

I have had some serious writer’s block thinking about this piece. I could have written a nice review talking about my experience and be done with it, but I had a lot more on my mind than just that. This group means so much to me, and to think about a show that was only damn good? Well, does that make me the bad guy for thinking about it like that? As a musician and objective critic myself, I try to do my best to pick out every piece that I can and fix it. There were definitely some things that needed fixed. I will still, always, give these guys a favorable review, but I do want to be honest. With the bizarre vibe from the crowd, including the fights breaking out during the keyboard solo in “Jump” (Who fights during a synth solo? I am still confused about why that happened, but not really. alcohol + rock music + testosterone = not the best time for the general public) and what seemed to be a lack of dancing in the streets (something I went wild doing myself), there were some notable aspects of this concert that were not as overwhelmingly positive as I usually spin things.

I will still love Van Halen until the day I die. If I stop, someone help. I obviously need it.

This concert was great. But.. it could have been a little better.

 

My thoughts are what they are, but they should not take away from the thanks needed to family living in NJ for giving me a place to stay and food, my bro for coming with me, and most importantly, me, for just being so damn awesome.

As my last words…

“Their career may be in the twilight of what it once was, but you owe it to yourself as an American to see Van Halen at least once. “

It will take some convincing to keep me away from this group again.

Local Waves, Episode Four: Charles Kavoossi

Charles Kavoossi Local Waves
Kavoossi Local Waves Open Mic
Moni's Open Mic, brought to you by Charles Kavoossi of Kavoossi Music.

Since I started riding the local waves, I have been able to meet and talk to many different musicians in the town of Annapolis. From the venues they play, to the work they put in the studio, and the time they take enjoying the city itself, it is truly interesting to be able to discover and document the different stories of the people living in my backyard. While did enjoy poking around, and will be coming back around soon enough, I wanted to expand my horizons to other artists outside of the Annapolis wake. This time, I had the pleasure of hanging out with singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Charles Kavoossi of Kavoossi music.

A native of Bowie, Charles has an interesting story that takes us away from some of the more heavily, Annapolis based groups that we have looked at in our other interviews. From moving up the ranks locally throughout his development as a musician and producer, as well as moving across the country and back, Charles has carved a place for himself and his art. Anyone in the market for all around, good, local music should look no further than the man of the hour himself and this week’s local wave.

Charles Kavoossi Local Waves
Charles the Performer...

Henry Pazaryna: So I have been doing a bunch of interviews with local musicians, talking about their experiences in the area. I started out in Annapolis because that’s where I am from, but I am looking to kind of branch out. Would you mind talking about yourself, taking about what you do, and talking about the experiences you have had?

Charles Kavoossi: Sure. I started off playing music actually in Bowie, with a couple of friends of mine that I grew up with in a three-piece punk band after I learned guitar for a few months. I got into a punk band, learned a little bit about songwriting and the whole being in a band, and then started playing shows, like house parties and stuff in Bowie and Crofton, and then moved into Severna Park, Annapolis area as far as gigs went. We got a little bit bigger, we started a new band in high school, and then kind of reached into the Baltimore scene. We would always kind of come back to Annapolis too, I guess you might have heard that from other people too. The Bowie scene for me was always like house parties and a more do it yourself kind of thing, which was cool in it’s own right. You don’t see that everywhere. Then, you get into Anne Arundel county cities like Severna Park, Pasadena, and all those. You start having more of almost like a hybrid between bars and do it yourself. We had this thing called Manhattan Beach Club that a friend of ours, Laura McKay, would run, and that was in Severna Park.

HP: I know Manhattan Beach Club. I know a bunch of kids that played there. Did you play there as well?

CK: Yeah. We played there a lot, actually. That was with my band called Think. The first band was called Common Addiction.

HP: So what year was Common Addiction, and what year was Think?

CK: Common Addiction was 2001 to 2004 or 2005, and from 2005 on to maybe 2009 was Think. It was like middle school into high school, and then high school into college, were the two. We did a lot, like Manhattan Beach Club was one of those things that we started off getting into, but then the more our band developed, we would do the Ottobar and… what else was out in Baltimore? We never played the Sidebar. We played the Recher a little bit. Just some of those go to venues out there. It was fun. It was a whole different crowd though. A whole different world of real promoting. You have to go out there and learn a little bit about demographics, and where you are going with flyers and posters, but then MySpace came out. And MySpace coming out was like the change of the industry, because all of a sudden, you promote online, easily. You can make little flyers, I had Photoshop, and figure out how to make flyers and put them on different people’s pages, searching people through zip codes and adding them as music and friends and all that. As far as the area, Annapolis has always been a home base as far as having something. The Whiskey, which has come and gone, that was a cool venue. That was some of our best shows. We had our Think reunion show there. We packed that place. But, now it’s the Metropolitan.

Charles Kavoossi Local Waves
...and the man behind the scenes, Charles the Producer.

HP: So right now, because I have seen posters of you doing acoustic sets by yourself, could you describe your style? And what is going on right here?

CK: Sure. The acoustic stuff you have seen; I moved away a couple of times. I moved to Boston, and then I moved to Portland, Oregon. When I came back from Portland, Oregon, actually, backtracking a second, all of Boston and Portland, and the time in between, was a lot of me getting into cooking. I got really into that. I moved back from Portland and I got back into music, and kind of abruptly got out of the kitchen thing. I quit my job unexpectedly and I had to make some money in the time being. I had some friends who were offering up some spots during their longer sets at restaurants, and they said I could make a few bucks. Eventually, I worked my way into that actual scene. And I do that professionally, and my style would be like acoustic, looping, pop covers. Anything from Johnny Cash and Jim Croce to The Strokes, and the Gorillaz, and Coldplay, and everything in between. What you are seeing here, at Moni’s, is an open mic that they actually came to me and asked me about doing six or eight months ago now. It’s kind of grown its own legs and become its own thing. It’s really cool, because there is also another open mic down in Bowie, the Old Bowie Town Grille, and between those two, in Bowie alone, or Crofton, I guess you could say, you really see a lot of awesome musicians in suburban towns that you would not realize exist if we did not have these open mics going on. It’s a lot of really cool discovery of being able to record this and putting the recordings online for their friends and families to see. It has really become something awesome.

HP: Have you thought about the future and what you want to try to do in the next couple of years, or are you just taking it day by day?

CK: A little bit of both. I do have plans, vaguely. One, I have a studio album coming out of my own stuff. I just put a band together to support that, and that comes out at the end of July. We will be doing a CD release show at an undetermined time, probably the end of summerThat band is called Kavoossi. It’s just my last name. From then on, we are going to try to do little bursts and go to Philly, and Boston, and back. Then maybe Pittsburgh, go to Nashville, you know, do little mini tours like that. But in the meantime, with this, I have been getting together and gaining a lot of equipment just from doing this, running the open mic. I have been running my own little entertainment business through playing acoustic. I have my own PA system and equipment, so the more I get into doing that, the more I get into promoting these things, the more that I am learning that I like production. I like live production, like putting together events. That is fun for me. That is one direction that I would like to take it into also.

HP: So do you have website or a Facebook page that people can add you, if they like what they see?

CK: Yes. Kavoossi Music. If you do that on major media, like Facebook, or KavoossiMusic.com, Soundcloud.com/KavoossiMusic, you can find all of my individual stuff there. The open mic I am running is at Moni’s, and the same thing happens with that, Facebook.com/MonisOpenMic, but Kavoossi music is the name I am rolling with these days.

HP: I have heard a little bit about some influences, coming from punk all the way to pop. Who do you have as your biggest influences? Could you talk about that?

CK: Definitely. The first influences I had for the punk world were The Misfits, I love The Misfits, and obviously a little bit of the Ramones. Anti Flag was another big one for me. They were more poppy, but still that fast power chord punk. Sublime also fit in there, which is not surprising for most people. With Sublime, they tied a lot of melody to punk by the way of reggae, which is kind of cool. Growing up a little bit, I got into Weezer, and Weezer is a big one for me. They are one of the definitions of pop rock. As much as people have called them emo or indie, they are a pop rock band. I learned a lot of songwriting from them, and singing. Growing up further, it was The Gorillaz, The Strokes, and Cake. They are my three big guys that I really look to now for influence.

Kavoossi Music Local Waves

 

We at SurfRhythm want to thank Charles for taking some time to sit and catch up with us. You can find the link to Kavoossi Music for updates on his performance schedule and the link to his newest single, “Out of Time” from his album, Repent To Karma, below. If you are trying to catch Charles play and produce, Moni’s Place Open Mic Night is every Wednesday at 8 P.M., located on 1641 MD Route 3, in Crofton, Maryland. Come back for the next edition of Local Waves, and as always, one last thanks to our readers who ride out with us. Catch you on the flip side.

Kavoossi Music link:  https://www.facebook.com/kavoossimusic?fref=ts

Single: https://kavoossimusic.bandcamp.com/album/repent-to-karma

Patriotic Festival in Va. Beach reviewed

Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival Flag and Crowd

 

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Virginia Beach Patriotic FestivalMy name is Henry Pazaryna, and this past weekend I was able to cover the Friday and Saturday events of the Patriotic Festival in Virginia Beach. The Patriotic Festival is a country music festival dedicated to those working in the armed services across the country, specifically those in the surrounding Hampton Roads naval base. From their own words, “The Patriotic Festival – A Military Celebration to honor our armed forces personnel and their families. Patriotic Festival celebrates the military at The Virginia Beach Oceanfront for three days of National Touring Artists Concerts, Military Expos and Displays.”

In short, a great way to start out the summer.

My weekend started late Thursday night in the small town of Onancock, Virginia. Driving down Highway 13 South, I arrived at a close friend’s beach house to be immediately greeted with music, food, and drink around the campfire near the water. Between the time spent relaxing, like the quiet before the storm, one could not ask for a more hospitable spot to clear the mind and enter “vacation mode”.

Virginia Beach Patriotic FestivalThe first day of the festival started on Friday, May 29th. As you made your way through the crowd, it was very clear that people were here to enjoy a good time. More than the usual beach goers, the audience members were ready to have fun. There was an excited energy in the air, and it remained throughout the course of the whole event.  As someone who has frequented concerts throughout a number of different genres of music and sizes of venues, this atmosphere was noticeably different from what I was used to. Fighter jets flying over the water, beautiful weather, American flags everywhere – this seemed like more of a continuation of Memorial Day than a music festival. Once the beat started though, the people made their way towards 5th and 6th streets to either take their place in a paid ticket area or sit and listen on the beach, very ready for the live music to begin.

The first act on Friday night was Chase Rice. The singer – songwriter from North Carolina most famous for co writing the song “Cruise”, performed by Florida – Georgia line, played an energetic set combining his own work with popular, older covers. While not a comparable singer to the likes of Freddie Mercury of Pavarotti, Rice was able to work the energetic crowd for a very entertaining performance. Accompanied by a solid band and visually stimulating light show, for a 7 PM performance as the sun was only just setting, Rice featured parts of songs such as Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”, and Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” much to the delight of the audience around me. By the end of his performance, the musical feeling had hit me. It was time to sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Between the beautiful weather and fun loving atmosphere, I could not help but enjoy myself. Meeting some of the fans during the break between acts, I found myself engaging in once revered collegiate drinking activities that not only helped me get into the mood even more, but kick up the crowd around me. While not the most intelligent thing I, or anyone else has ever done for that matter, it broke any kind of communication barrier between myself and the people waiting around me, helping lighten the already relaxed mood. I had the pleasure of taking a step back and taking it all in – something that was very easy to do thanks to the general atmosphere of the first day.

The second and final performer of the first night, Lee Brice, seemed to be a representation of the entire festival so far. A South Carolina born and Nashville based country music singer, Brice was ready to go from the start. Playing hits, such as “Drinking Class”, “Hard to Love”, “Crazy Girl”, and “I Drive Your Truck”, Brice and his band hit the ground running from moment they entered the stage. A noticeable difference between Brice and previous performer, Chase Rice, was the ease of on stage banter and how well it landed with the audience. Blame the hour of night, atmosphere, or (copious amounts of) beer consumed by the concertgoers, Brice’s back and forth with the audience landed very well. Throughout his act, it was clear that this man was an entertainer, and the perfect performer for this type of show. While not playing progressive or enlightening music by any means, the good quality of the instrumentalists and the performances themselves showed throughout both his songs and their own instrumental breaks.

Finishing with biggest hits “Parking Lot Party” and “I Don’t Dance”, Brice concluded the first day of the festival on a quieter note. Thinking the man who showed the audience personality and flair would have tried for a more explosive ending, the counterpoint between the calm finale itself and the events occurring immediately after could not have been stronger. For regular concert goers, the rush of audience members making their way out of the venue seems like it could be second nature. The chaos that ensued was laughably striking, with people running, biking, walking, drinking, and making much more than merry all the way up the beach. Combined with the usual charge of young people making their way towards bars and dance clubs, the navigation through the sadly huge amount of trash and beer cans left on the beach was memorable, to say the least.

Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival Flag and Crowd

The second day started with poppier singer Andrew MacMahon, playing on 17th street in a smaller space designed for lighter crowds. An all ages event, concert goers ranging from children to adults enjoyed his music happily. Each performance reminded me of how happy the whole setting was. From the first trip to the beach of the summer, the atmosphere was just as pleasant as the previous night.

The first performer on the main stage, Colt Ford, a country rock – rap artist from Georgia, was preceded by a number of events honoring the troops, more specifically a handful of Wounded Warriors from different sects of our Armed Forces. With the flying of the flag, ceremonial singing of our National Anthem and the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon performing for the crowd, the pre show activities paved the way for Ford to take the stage a little later and start the party. Playing hits such as “Mr. Good Time”, “Back”, and “Crickets”, Ford put on an entertaining show for the crowds, who enjoyed it as much as he did. It honestly did not hit me that this was a serious country music festival until Ford played his song “Redneck Rager”. While the songs were as musically predictable as any heard on pop radio stations, the amount of gratitude towards those serving was very present throughout the whole concert. While entertaining, it was clear that Ford had a very simplistic writing style, almost to a fault. While catchy, the songs were extremely predictable, and seemed more along the lines of a party mix rather than the holding the artistic values that the classics seem to have.

As the night progressed, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of the concertgoers were here for one thing: Lynyrd Skynyrd. Drawing more mullets, cowboy hats, and confederate flag apparel that I had ever seen in one given location, the late night crowd was not only bigger in size, but much more energetic than the night before. Using classic rock hits such as Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” to pump the crowd was the most well received introduction of all the acts. Budweiser in my hand and America in my heart, I do not think I could have been any more ready for one of, if not, the most famous Southern Rock act in the history of popular music.

Starting with “Still Unbroken”, the band immediately showed their musical abilities. While Skynyrd had an obviously longer career and much wider variety of popular songs to sing, it was made clear from the beginning that they were a musical cut above the rest of the performers featured this weekend. Later songs such as “What’s Your Name” and “Saturday Night Special” proved to be extremely well received by the audience, with crowd very audibly singing around me and a showing a general sense of awe of the level of expertise presented by the performing musicians. Slightly shifting in and out of musical styles, from classic southern rock, to a little more pop based country style for songs I was not familiar with, Skynyrd was able to balance out their range of expertise throughout the whole performance. One of my personal favorites of the night, “Swamp Music”, flushed out the over produced ballads reminiscent of Nashville pop present this weekend, and brought in slide guitars, banjos, and mandolins into a seriously heavy jam. As a blues guitarist, this was one of my favorite parts of the night, and made up for any low points by the younger artists on the stage earlier.

Finishing the show with their two most famous songs, “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird”, I found myself doing something I had pondered for a long time. CRASHING THE GATE! Watching young men I had just met around me scramble across the sand dunes and evading the event security to make their way from the free viewing section with poor visibility to the sand hill, high priced paid seating section, I thought, as any blue blooded American would, why the hell shouldn’t I do this? Armed with a Budweiser in hand, I made my way to an opening, and thanks to playful banter between myself and the event security not an even an hour before, I was let in much closer to the stage to finish out the performance. Screaming “Free Bird” at the top of my lungs had never felt so right. For the first time ever, I felt it entirely appropriate to request the song at a concert, as is the norm to do so at any live concert – am I right? In fact, the finale of the whole show was the band’s encore, “Free Bird”, with singer Johnny Van Zandt asking the crowd “what is the one thing you want to hear us play?” While the ballad beginning moved every voice to sing with Van Zandt, the 15 plus minute guitar solo caused absolute chaos. A bouncer I had met the day before (and who had presumably spent the majority of the day in the heat and without water) fell to his feet, clutched the ground, and vomited – all thanks to the power of rock and roll. Women were screaming, and men, myself included, were punching the air with such vigor you would think they meant it harm. This song was rock and roll and every collective event in the past two days personified. The quintessential, explosive finish that made me think: “this life is pretty good”.

While I was not able to experience the third and final day of the festival as I needed to make my way back north to watch my younger sister graduate high school, I could only imagine that the rest of the activities and musical acts of the Sunday performances were one in the same as the first two days. Rocking songs, great weather, and nice atmosphere. While I, as someone who has never ventured far into the sonic experiences of country and southern rock concert participation, I did enjoy myself on my first outing.  That being said, there were a number of times during the festival that I just could not help thinking: is there such a thing as being too patriotic, and is this it? Like my favorite writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, there were many points in the two day span that absorbing the whole picture made me think about the American dream and what it means to everyone. Is the American dream just partying, or does it still stand for the hard work involved in bettering one’s life? While I mean to paint the most objective picture possible, that is ultimately for you to decide.

I do not believe that I could have asked for a wilder event to start off the summer. If any readers happen to be in the Virginia Beach area this time next year, as this is a yearly event, I would absolutely recommend going to at least take in the atmosphere for a night. While it may come as somewhat of a culture shock to those not as involved in the more southern lifestyle, as it absolutely did to me, losing yourself in the music from any walk of life will always be worth the price of admission.

“’Cause I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you’ll never change.”