I had just begun to heal from the first day of The New Alternative Music Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey, thrown by Don Giovanni Records, when I plunged straight into another full day of music and debauchery. The historic beach-adjacent Convention Hall once again was loaded with bands that stretched across the wide spectrum of artists on Don’s roster. All was going smoothly so far, as the anti-corporate sponsorship centrally behind this fest was still in full effect, the bands were all sharing one huge stage, one setting up as the other one played, and zero anxiety about everyone using unisex bathrooms.
My day started with the modern L.A. riot girl pop-punk of Upset. They have a sunnier vibe than you’d expect, seeing as this is a largely a group of musicians from some dark and gritty female-fronted punk bands, with lead singer and guitarist Ali Koehler being the former drummer of the bands Vivian Girls, and then Best Coast, and drummer Patty Schemel played with Hole and the Death Valley Girls. Upset’s 2013 album, She’s Gone, was pure magical gold, and most of their set featured new songs they’re working on. The result appears to be the same high-level of catchy low-fi garage-pop with harmonies that seep into your brain. The awesomely high-octane guitar/drum duo, Trophy Wife from Philly, followed, and it’s clear after my first time seeing them that they shadow no one. Guitarist Diane Foglizzo and drummer Katy Otto trade off vocal leads and produced powerful tones that reminded me of the greats like PJ Harvey, Hole, and Sleater Kinney, evident in their howling harmonies, roaring solos, and earth-shuttering climaxes. Baltimore’s Outer Spaces mellowed things out, with an edgier indiepop that flowed pristinely. Front-woman and guitarist Cara Beth Satalino is the embodiment of witchy enchantment, as her smoothly swerving harmonies harken back to the likes of Liz Phair and Belly-era Tanya Donelly. I could really get used to curling up and living forever within that ethereal voice of hers.
Afterwards, it was time for that Olympia, Washington, stripped-down and raw garage rock with Dyke Drama, who came packing some darkly captivating songs that combining all the proper elements of punk, country, and garage in the right amounts. NYC’s Jeffrey Lewis was next, and I was bowled over by this guy’s overflowing talent. His music has a colorfully wacky brand of indie-folk, with a voice that starkly reminded me of John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, and like that fellow madcap indie songster, he also does a lot of children’s educational songs that appeal to adults. I’d seen him once before, but this show was made extra special as he projected his wonderfully complex cartoon illustrations behind him to carry you through some rather brilliant songs explaining historical events like the Vietnam War and Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in a very uniquely frank way. I’ve seen Mal Blum in Brooklyn many times now, and the band always charm the hell out of me. Their sense of humor is so genuine and hilariously self-deprecating, and have rather folksy tunes so full of darkly hopeful lyrics, you just can’t help but want to hug the hell out of them after you swoon to their tunes.
Brooklyn’s Aye Nako brought back some real guitar crush that I’d been craving for most of the fest. Their anti-capitalist, LGBTQ-friendly, and middle finger to the establishment rock rebellion fit right in with the ethos of the fest and brought on some much-needed mid-90’s punk flavor. Their sound stretched all the way from catchy pop-punk end to skater hardcore. One of the biggest surprises of the whole fest turned out to be the madcap anarchy that is L.A.’s Sex Stains. This is a band that formed by ex-Bratmobile singer Allison Wolfe, who pranced around gleefully in a hot Rolling Stones dress pairing off the molten hot mess that is Mecca Vazie Andrews, who has been a premiere dancer and instructor over the years, her trance of wailing and stomping around wildly proved to be absolutely mesmerizing. Obviously, Wolfe being an old-school riot grrrl warrior, you got a large dose of early 90’s female-fronted fantast. It was such an explosive mix that it felt like the stage would fully combust at any moment, and this kind of set is exactly what I go to shows so obsessively for. While we’re on the subject of rock n’ roll royalty, the next band really showed how real veteran punk can really shine. Rye Coalition is a Jersey hard rock band from the mid-90’s who knows how to keep the party dirty and the riffs gut-wrenching. They’ve been back out tearing it up for the last few years proving their prowess at mixing metal, punk, and hard rock, all in that distinctively classic Jersey anthem-rock style with a sweaty frantic frenzy that you just have to experience for yourself if you know what’s best for you.
When Laura Stevenson took the stage it was like the air had been sucked out of my chest and my heart turned to putty. She is an indie folk singer who radiates dreams of heavenly ascension as she strums her guitar and lets out a voice that feels like being lured into the rocks by the most angelic mermaid imaginable. Every time I’ve seen her play I get massively wooed by her darkly spellbinding songs, so I certainly wasn’t surprised by her swooning powers. Philadelphia’s duo Girlpool seemed like a strange band to put on next, as they were much more of a slow burn rather that the high-octane of the music that had been building up. Still, I must say I did like the brimming darkness of the sound and how it would creep up on you like a killer in a pitch-dark alley. I still think they would have been better being placed elsewhere in the line-up though.
The dissident punk band from Providence, Downtown Boys, was the perfect choice to end the second day of the fest. With all their anti-corporate rage, they genuinely have something to say about a unique music festival like this. They were so amped up and ready to rock, that they decided not to even wait and started a whole 15 minutes early, which may very well be a first for any headliner I’ve seen at any festival ever. Their sharp political edge notwithstanding, their eclectic brand of punk is so full of contradictions and unexpected combinations, it’s hard to place what’s going on at any one time. From blaring saxes, to chainsaw guitars and flash-speed drumming, this music is just as infectiously groovy as it is explosively roaring. Then you have lead singer Victoria Ruiz, who is perhaps the boldest and loudest protest megaphone roaring in rock today. I feel that the circus-styled rowdiness of the production sometimes makes you wonder if some of it is meant to be more tongue-and-cheek than intended, and that conflict can kind of distract from the political activist part, but it’s still a wild ride. Nonetheless, their anti-corporate message rang out loud and clear and proved to be an ideal way to drive home the point of the whole festival – don’t trust the cooperate music man as they’re only out to suck you dry and leave you dying in the gutter. This festival may have been a nightmare and a treasure to make happen, but you have to give Joe Steinhardt and the whole Don Giovanni label their credit as they truly demonstrated the unity and love of family that burns brightly with this crew.
Article: Dean Keim