I woke up to hear the faint, pounding screaming of the Phillidelphia neo-crust act Soothsayer, echoing from the Stable, all the way to our camp. Not too far from me, a guy named Walter had cooked up a makeshift stew out of everyone else’s leftovers, and was inviting everyone around to help themselves. It was a pleasant surprise to all the folks who had just made the unpleasant discovery that the state of Indiana doesn’t allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays. So much for the separation of church and state.
On my way to the Barn, I found that the pond had been closed in order to protect its fish inhabitants. Fortunately, even though cooling off wasn’t an option, the festival goers were still ready to unleash a reserve of tremendous energy. I walked into the stable to catch Slugging Percentage delivering their baseball and depression themed songs, not on the stage, but within a circle of pogoing fans.
That’s not to say, however, that the day was dominated solely by the hardcore acts. Later on, I had the pleasure of watching Ladycop preform, a six-piece group that delivered neo-pop tunes layered with funky bass and drum lines. At the front of stage, three vocalists stood dressed in white, with glitter on the corners of their eyes, delivering vocal harmonies that were downright angelic.
I think the two stand-out acts of the afternoon were Jesus and His Judgmental Father, and Michael Jordan Touch Down Pass. Jesus and His Judgmental Father (which definitely had the best band name of the fest) delivered impassioned queer-centered alternative rock tunes, including “Kings and Queens” which, to my mind, stands as one of the most powerful songs about transphobia that I’ve ever heard. Michael Jordan Touchdown Pass, meanwhile, delivered something much more hard to define, blurring the lines between acoustic punk and experimental rock, even mixing in touches of jazz. Part of the power of the performance was provided by an absolutely amazing white-haired trumpeter whom, I would later learn, was actually Charlie Schneeweis, the father of both Michael Scheeweis, the group’s creator, and Patrick Schneeweis (a.k.a. Pat The Bunny). However one would define their music, the audience was absolutely devouring it, with the mostly-shirtless spectators providing the largest and liveliest day-time turn out of I’d seen so far. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to grab a picture of their set. I did, however, have my camera handy when, immediately afterwards, a piñata shaped like the Plan-It-X logo was hung from the ceiling and set upon by the crowd.
After a much needed dinner break, I caught a performance from Loone, another queercore whose identity was almost entirely shaped by the sheer personality of its front-woman. Guitarist/vocalist Noel’le Longhaul preformed the group’s dreamy post-folk punk tunes in a hypnotically rigid style; where every time she hit a major node or struck a guitar chord, it seemed like she was breaking out of the sheer discomfort of her own skin. This actually added to the power of group’s songs, which all explored this very same notion of trying to find comfort with your sense of self. What really surprised me, however, was when, talking to Longhaul after the show, I found out that I’d pegged the performance entirely wrong, and what I saw wasn’t discomfort, but rather a minor moment of transcendence.
“I feel like, a long time ago, I went through feeling really anxious on stage, but I really love preforming,” she explained. “I feel there’s a particular space I can get into with the people in my band, that I think is really special, and I like sharing it with people. I think that our music comes from caring for each other, and so I feel like when I’m preforming about things, that’s what I’m preforming.”
Loone was followed by Tig Bitty, a rapper whose mix of hyper-sexual lyrics and experimental booty-shaking beats probably stood as the strangest act of the entire festival. After she was finished, the stage was taken by Whelmed, an East Bay style punk act that accompanied their bright pop-punk tunes by jumping and shaking across the stage, as if their instruments were electrified.
Later, while I was walking to the backstage area to charge my camera battery, I had a chance run in with Charlie Schneeweis who, in turn, introduced me to Nick Berger, who played dwith Loone, Paper Bee, and Ramshackle Glory. We had a short discussion about Plan-It-X as an inclusive space, and I was struck by the immense love that Berger had for the community they had found within it.
“People from Plan-It-X were some of the first musicians I saw that were queer musicians, and when I started playing in Ramshackle, I felt like one of my biggest goals was to create a space that felt like my teenage punk scene, where the people playing were weird, the people watching were weird, and you could just meet other strange outsiders, and maybe you get a zine or learn about feminism,” Berger recounted.
Interestingly, however, they were still willing to point out some of the shortcomings of the DIY community, particularly regarding the general whiteness of both its musicians and fans.
“I think there are things we could be doing better; things I could be doing better. Because of the level of whiteness that exists currently, it can be pretty alienating for people of color to just step into it, and to go ‘you guys should do this thing with us because we want more representation’ is pretty tokenizing… I dunno, it’s just really hard to walk the line between inviting a group of people into a space and being tokenizing. But even if there’s not a simple answer, I want to keep thinking about it, because it is a problem in every scene I’ve ever been in.”
As a consequence of this interesting talk, I missed the very beginning of Jeff Rosenstock’s set. When I walked in, he was halfway through “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry”, and looked like somethign genuinely inhuman. Absolutely drenched in sweat, he howled into the microphone while laying into his guitar, like it was a beast that needed to be tamed. At one point, somebody threw a shark-shaped life preserver at Rosenstock that managed to perfectly encase his shoulders and bind his arms to his side, yet he kept playing regardless.
The music then took a minor break in order for the fest to reveal its sadistic side. At the back of the barn, a table had been set up for the annual Eating Competition, in which all of the contestants had to tuck away an entire 16 oz jar of Veganaise. I was honestly a little too grossed out to stick around and see who won, but I think the photo below speaks for itself.
The penultimate act of the night was The Wild, a group I’d always seen as more of a folk-rock group than a punk act, but, boy, did their set make me realize my mistake. The songs that I’d always found soothing when listening on speakers and headphones, were suddenly loud and pounding, whipping the audience into an absolute frenzy. At one point, Jeff Rosenstock hopped back on the stage, seemingly out of nowhere, to join Witt on the mic, before diving into the crowd. Near the end of their show, they subtly revealed that this would, in fact, be their second to last show. Still, this little shock wasn’t enough to taper the audiences sheer adoration as they closed with “Set Ourselves Free”, giving everyone something very strong to remember them by.
The final show of the night was, in all likelihood, the the main reason quite a few people came. It was, after all, not only Ramshackle Glory’s final show, but also Pat the Bunny’s final performance before quitting punk entirely. Over the course of the day, the people around me had been speculating how the set might go down. At one point, someone joked “maybe his heart is actually going to explode,” a reference to a line in “From Here To Utopia” that made us laugh, albeit somewhat nervously.
On the second day of the festival, I had actually, by chance, run into Pat hanging out near the Barn. I asked if he would be interested in doing some kind of final interview, either before or after his final show, and he firmly declined. That’s not to say he was unfriendly- he was more than happy to chat with me for a while about music, spirituality, and Russian history; he even introduced me to his dad who, by a bizarre coincidence, grew up in the same small Minnesotan town as my mom- however he made it very clear that he didn’t want to give any on the record assessments about punk rock or anarchism. He honestly just seemed like he had moved on from thinking and talking about those two subjects.
With that in mind, I’d be lying if I didn’t enter the show with both a sense of disappointment, and high expectations. Would this be a climactic lamentation on recovery and anarchism, or would it feel like an obligatory farewell from someone who no longer felt a connection to his audience? It turned out to be something wonderfully different.
The set began with “We Are All Compost in Training”, and from the opening lines, seemingly every member of the audience was singing along word-for-word. The song started out slow and subtle, but on the two parts of the song where the singing stopped, the brass section of the act- two trumpets and a clarinet- kicked in, and you could honestly sense the shivers going through the spines of every member of the audience, as everyone on stage lay into their instruments with all the power that was humanly possible.
Of course, that intensity was just a tiny sample of what was to come; next, they played “From Here to Utopia”. This may be one of my favorite songs of all time, and I don’t know whether it was the faster tempo brought by the drum set, the mandolin-esque twang that the guitars seemed to pick up when they played the keyboard section, or the constant chirping of the brass section, but they managed to make it pulse with an energy that felt living and tangible. The trumpeters managed to breathe creative little flourishes into small moments of the song, bringing about the sensibilities of a Dixieland marching band. Meanwhile, every time the song reached a point where Pat screamed his lyrics, I swear the volume of his mic and the crowd were at equal levels. I found myself so caught up in the moment, I thought it would be a good idea to try and photograph the band while in the process of jumping off the stage and crowd surfing (hence the sweat covered photo at the top of the page).
From here, they went on to play an unnamed song from their upcoming album, followed by “No Shelter”. When they played “Never Coming Home” the audience swayed, arm in arm, and when they played “Your Heart Is A Muscle” the crowd turned into a rowdy, overjoyed mob, screaming along with the songs titular promise of hope.
Then they announced that the next song would be their last, and people started calling out desperate pleas for the song that mattered most to them. Someone shouted “play a Johnny Hobo song” and was promptly booed by seemingly the entire audience. The band proceeded to play “Time to Wake Up”, a song from one of Pat’s solo projects. At first, the song choice felt like an anti-climax, something subdued and a little more obscure. But as they played, something strange happened. People started crowd surfing, but not in the usual cannonball kind of way; instead, they would lean off the stage and float across the audience like a pilgrim across the dead sea. Even Charlie Schneeweis fell into the crowd, a huge grin across his face as he slowly glided across the barn. When the song reached its climax, everyone chanted the chorus with pat, singing “please wake up now, the world really needs you, desperately/ please cheer up now, we’ve been waiting for you, all your life,” before the entire band chimed in, creating a cacophony of pure serenity. I looked and, to the left of me, saw two lovers were hugging each other tightly. To my right, a man was breaking down into tears. Then, as one of the crowd surfers drifted close, and we all reached out to make their weight feel like nothing, I realized that past all the sweat stinging my eyes, I might have been crying too. But thank god that wasn’t actually the end.
The band proceeded to play a tribute to Erik Peterson, giving their rendition of Departure/Arrival. Then, after the brief “Club Hits of Today Will Be The Showtunes of Tomorrow”, they played “Last Song, Part 2”. The crowd surged forward one last time, to bask in what truly felt like the conclusion of a beautiful punk legacy. They savored every moment, until the show was ended with the same line that concluded the album I fell in love with almost three years ago, “so maybe god isn’t the right word but I believe in you.”
With the last song concluded, the audience started chanting “thank you Pat,” to which he bashfully approached the mike and replied “thank YOU.” It was at that precise moment that a thought struck me. Throughout the set, they had stuck to Pat’s most hopeful songs, avoiding the likes of “More About Alcoholism” and “Eulogy for an Adolescence”. The performance carried no bitterness, and hardly any real anger. Instead, all the musicians just had a constant peaceful smile, like someone reading the great ending to a good book. The final words of “Last Song” echoed through my head, and I no longer felt upset about not doing the exit interview. Over the course of half an hour, with just the hopeful words of his music, he had just given us all the explanation we needed.
And with that, he gave the audience a thumbs-up and disappeared behind the painted curtain.