“This may be a simulation but at least we’re here experiencing it together, all at once,” John O'Callaghan of The Maine yelled. “Under this big red moon! On the count of three, I want everyone to howl,” he said, pointing to the glowing blood crimson orb in the sky. The entire crowd—which stretched from the stage to the edge of the rooftop almost a city block away—howled in response. “Perfect!” he mused.
If NYC is the capital of unlikely events, then Tuesday, July 21's spectacle fit right in. A muggy night atop a swanky waterfront rooftop made for an extravagant end to a typically normal weekday evening. It was the inaugural run of The Maine’s Sad Summer Festival, a brand new touring fest meant not only to fill the gaping hole left by VANS Warped Tour’s, but also to re-envision a multi-band tour. A touring festival all the same, six bands spend the summer traversing the country, each bringing their own version of punk-rock to venues across the US.
To say the festival’s first run was a job-well-done would be a gross understatement. It was a near-victory for punk-heads out there. It attracted a diverse mix of people, from the younger emo-punk kids of 2012, to the weathered, post-punk Warped Tour crowd now in their 20's and 30's. While the afternoon started out hot and slow (doors and sets were delayed about an hour), everyone seemed to forget about the heat advisory as they donned sunscreen and band tees for a day of moshing and thrashing to the sounds of Just Friends, Stand Atlantic, Mom Jeans, The Wonder Years, State Champs, The Maine, and Mayday Parade, with the Empire State as a backdrop.
Just Friends, a ragtag musical conglomerate that also included members from Mom Jeans (who would be playing later), opened the afternoon with a high-energy to warm up the crowd for the incendiary lineup to come. Stand Atlantic came next, singing gleefully as the audience lurched forward on the bannisters. By the end of the set, singer Bonnie Fraser was standing at the edge of the crowd, fielding desperate, outstretched hands left and right. There was plenty of energy left in the members of Just Friends as they returned to the stage with Mom Jeans, and the group looked like they were having the time of their lives as they witnessed the closing openers' portion of the show.
In almost direct contrast to Mom Jeans’ lo-fi, homemade-sounding rock, The Wonder Years' moody, bass-heavy sound took reign, hurling through a frenzied set that included songs from their newest albums, as well as songs that had become shining beacons of punk-rock hope over the years. The six-piece set the standards high for an energy-filled set despite the brutal sun, running and jumping and bobbing about for the forty-five minutes they were there. Their energy was totally infectious. It washed over the crowd in waves, prompting crowd-surfers to pop up from the far corners of the audience, tiny legs flailing in the distance as they grazed through an ocean of thrashing heads. Mosh pits erupted for “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then,” tears flowing in abundance, while a few surreal moments happened during "Passing Through a Screen Door," where crowd-surfers would get to the front and scream the words with vocalist Dan Campbell.
Mayday Parade fed off the residual energy, providing an unsurprisingly high-voltage set as they tore through a slew of songs from their 2007 debut, A Lesson In Romantics, as well as a surprise cover of “Mr. Brightside.”
Next was State Champs. “Their music got me through moving away from home,” said a merrymaker early into their set. This small but impactful comment was not the first of its kind made that night, and its underlying sentiment is not foreign either. In fact, a quick scan through the teary-eyed audience revealed it was a feeling echoed far and wide, and is precisely why these kind of festivals are always so important, and so unlike anything else. A day of gathering with people that also used these songs to cope, with whatever they were going through in life, can make all the difference—which is why the Maine strove to keep the spirit of Warped alive.
And alive they did. The moment the Maine sprinted onto the stage was one to remember. “How the hell are you bastards doing?” O'Callaghan implored as he burst onstage, holding a 12x12 cardboard sign that read ‘WE ARE ALL THE SAME’. The rest of the band joined him in a similar fashion, launching into a heightened version of "Black Butterflies and Deja Vu” to kick off what would be a raucous set. As we heard the opening notes of You Are OK track “Heaven, We’re Already Here,” a strange sense of irony washed over the crowd—with his sign in the foreground of our minds we realized the song seems to contradict our current political state. But the moment passed and the show picked up again, connection between band and crowd as strong as ever.
“Oh we didn’t introduce ourselves. We’re a band called the Maine. It’s spelled like the state,” vocalist John O'Callaghan told the crowd halfway through the set, and the humor of this humble quip was not lost on us. It wasn't in the least bit necessary—more than half the rooftop had come exclusively to see them, and he could have welcomed the crowd with nothing but a knowing nod, and all 2000 fans would've burst into cheers. But it was clear he wouldn’t allow himself to forget the band’s humble beginnings, which saw them playing sets to 200+ people who didn’t know them at all.
There was a feeling in the air that the crowd had waited nearly a year for this boisterous event— when Warped Tour announced its end, there was no immediate replacement in sight. The advent of Sad Summer Fest was the light at the end of the tunnel for many who had lost an outlet to let loose, to sing and dance with abandon, to look forward to moments in which their favorite bands were—for many of those crowd surfers—just the length of a photo pit away. While the lineup was no longer than two lines on a poster, it was the effort that mattered, the effort to replace something that was a staple of summers past, lost without warning. The Maine are not by a long shot concert planners or promoters. It was a labor of love that, for its first try, delivered what it set out to do. It was the energy of Warped Tour without the weight of expectations, and for that, it couldn't have been more perfect.
Photos by Valerie Magan