Harvest of Hope Festival
St. Johns Fairground, St. Augustine, FL • March 12-14. 2010
To paraphrase San Francisco punk band Dead to Me’s outspoken co-vocalist, Chicken, a lot of music fans listen to political punk rock, and then don’t do anything else to further the causes they shout about. The Harvest of Hope Festival, in its second consecutive year at St. Augustine, Florida’s St. Johns Fairgrounds, allows those fans the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are – while simultaneously enjoying three days of music.
All money raised, through ticket sales as well as through text-messaged donations, goes directly to the foundation to be distributed to migrant farm workers and their families for essentials like medical care and education. The non-profit organization is run by Phil and Ed Kellerman, who were in attendance promoting their cause as well as watching the bands. Those guys teamed up with Ryan Murphy of No Idea Records, whose digital Rolodex was packed to the gills with bands willing to help raise money for the cause (bands like Against Me!, who not only headlined last year’s festival but did fund-raising shows prior to that), and the Harvest of Hope Festival was born.
Though the weekend event bears a definite leaning toward the punk rock side of the music world, sprinkled throughout the five-stage/200-band bill were enough indie, metal, Americana, and hip hop acts to satisfy every taste bud. So while your friend may be diggin’ on the hip-hop beats of Dead Prez or Kid Sister, you could churn up some dust and mud in the pits over at the Off With Their Heads or 7 Seconds shows… Or you could hunker down with the kiddies and see some afternoon acoustic sets by the likes of Anti Flag’s Justin Sane or Kimya Dawson. And though they remained mostly empty all weekend, there were also carnival rides and a mechanical bull to entertain fans in between sets.
Friday’s torrential downpour and the muddy mess that followed couldn’t dampen the spirits of concert-goers who arrived by the thousands, but it was on the remaining two days that the gods smiled down on the tattooed masses and gave us the most gorgeous weather we could ever hope for. For those able to drag their tired bodies out of bed early, Saturday morning started off with a bang on the main stage.
After A Wilhelm Scream woke everyone up with their high-spirited hardcore, Dead to Me played one of the best sets of the entire weekend. Weaving elements of early ska and reggae into California street punk, this trio has tapped into the sounds of The Clash while still retaining an identity all its own. The near split position that bassist/co-vocalist Chicken found comfort in for much of their set was just one of the many reasons why I couldn’t pull myself out of their sizable crowd to venture off to other stages! Midway through, they brought out Sam Johnson, singer/guitarist for Virgins (who tore up one of the small tent stages later that day), to beef up the sound on a few numbers, including “Nuthin’ Runnin’ Through My Brain,” which was rechristened “Nuthin’ Runnin’ Through Sam Johnson’s Brain” for the day.
The always crowd-pleasing Strike Anywhere anted up the political punk, leading seamlessly into Anti Flag’s sun-baked afternoon performance. The forever black-clad foursome opened up with “The Press Corpse,” delivered a never-take-a-breath set that included a cover of “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and culminated with the band inviting a dozen fans onstage to join in on the fun. It was a hard act to follow and though there was a lot of anticipation for veteran punks 7 Seconds, their performance wasn’t nearly as impressive – though it was still pretty awesome to see them play! (They’ve been around since 1980!)
As sunset drew nearer, the barefoot daytimers made way for the steel-toed booted nightcrawlers and the metal commenced. Torche led into ’70s rockers Anvil, followed by wish-they-were-‘70s rockers High on Fire, and Senses Fail closed out the night.
Daylight savings time and a comparable mellow Sunday morning roster found the grounds pretty sparse as the gates opened. The indie rock-heavy brunch – brought forth by Glint, Stars of Track & Field, and Gringo Star, and leading up to the event’s main stage closers Broken Social Scene – had me running for the tucked-in-the-corner tent stages for some good ol’ fashioned noise! Orlando’s The Angst tapped into the sort of hardcore that was going on when these guys were in diapers, and a surprise combo of O Pioneers! and New Bruises had a ball knockin’ it out in front of a hefty crowd.
All of that was just a primer for the afternoon punk explosion on Stage 2, beginning with the pop punk guilty pleasure of Broadway Calls. The masses have yet to discover the Green Day-catchy melodies of this young trio, but even before a modest crowd they held nothing back – offering up a juicy cover of Jawbreaker’s “Boxcar.” Coincidently, Jawbreaker’s front man Blake Schwarzenbach played a few hours later with his new band, forgetters, before a crowd that could barely be contained beneath the small tent that housed the stage.
Off With Their Heads, with their field-packing performance, proved to me for the second time in a week that they’re a band worth scheduling your whole agenda around, even if their two-minute songs made filling a 45-minute time allotment a mighty task. “Shout out a song, even if we’ve already played it. We’ll play it again,” joked vocalist/guitarist Ryan Young midway through their set, after goofing on a Hendrix-style solo to kill some time.
Maintaining the energy level were blue collar melodic punks The Loved Ones, a band that fans of The Gaslight Anthem should be eating up with a spoon. Each time I’ve seen them play they’ve seemed more and more sure of themselves, and this performance was so good that even members of other bands came out to see it!
If the field before them seemed surprisingly light, it was only because the unique, gotta-see-this 20-piece punk rock marching band, Mucca Pazza was taking over the main stage at the same time. Earlier in the day the strange collective from Chicago marched through the fairgrounds, leading the curious on an impromptu parade and creating enough of a buzz to pack the grass in front of their stage.
Every great annual music festival started off as a germ in some music lover’s head. The Harvest of Hope Festival has found an innovative way to merge that love with a desire to help those in need. Not many festivals can say that! If they keep it going for year three, four, and so on, they could not only become a major A-list festival, but they could improve the quality of life for a lot of migrant farm workers.
Harvest of Hope Festival: http://www.harvestofhopefest.com/ ◼