Ariana, a 13-year-old Lawrence Middle Schooler, never thought tying a shoelace could be so painful. Kneeling down to lace up her pink Vans as Salt Lake City “deathcore” band Chelsea Grin plays Extreme Thing 2013 at Desert Breeze Skate Park, she nearly loses some teeth as her friends battle to protect her from a chaotic moshpit.
“My shoe came off and I got punched in the face,” she says, wiping eyeliner off her cheek. “This is my first big festival, [but] I wasn’t scared.”
The incident makes me nostalgic. The last time I attended this kind of festival, Bill Clinton was president, my hair was dyed some weird color and, like Ariana, I tried to tie a bootlace too close to a moshpit. I still have the chipped front incisor to prove it.
But I’m not 16 anymore. I’m nearly 30, and after four years in South Korea I’ve been back in the U.S. for less than a month. Culture shock, total ignorance of non-folk/indie/experimental-tronic music and a hangover cloud my brain. Teens and early 20-somethings wander in the heat like refugees, many with visible blood and bruises while I try not to get punched in the face, too. I’m terrified. Is this really what punk rock has become?
Local chugga-chugga metal band We Gave It Hell belts out an aggressive set early in the afternoon, and as singer Taylor Adsit commands the crowd to separate down the middle to perform the “Wall of Death,” I get more anxious. As hundreds of people run into each other and knock each other senseless, it dawns on me: This is what punk rock has always been about. Not giving a sh*t. I mean, from a critical perspective, it would be easy to write off so many of the bands on today’s bill, but there are 17,000 people here who don’t care.
The Aquabats, one of the festival’s headlining acts, clearly don’t. During their late-dusk show, frontman the MC Bat Commander comments repeatedly about the crowd’s demographics, which strikes a note with me. He and his band feel old, yet that doesn’t stop them from throwing a surrealist superhero party that puts the agro crowd into a partying state of mind. As the mood lightens I remember, I was a pissed-off, rail-thin teenager not so long ago. And who cares if I’m not as pissed-off, or thin, as I once was? I’m here, and I’m feeling the intense energy of those around me. Maybe that’s all that really matters.