Words by Erin Mathis, Photos by Eryin Wandel
This past Saturday I ventured out to Millville, NJ for the first ever Pinelands Music Festival. The lineup included a great mix of rock bands, with genres ranging from alternative, to emo, to pop, and more. I got there bright and early, since the interview times were scheduled before the performances, and was able to talk to some truly passionate and down-to-earth bands (interviews to come!).
The layout of the event was pretty simple and easy to navigate: a large lot with two stages (the Pinelands and Timber stages) on the left side, while the right side had a smaller, tent-enclosed stage (the Vine stage), a merchandise tent, and of course vendors. I was pleasantly surprised by the line of Philadelphia-based trucks that provided unique and delicious food options. Some notable trucks included the SeoulFull Philly Food Truck, which brought a Korean influence to American comfort food, and of course the PB&Jams truck, which served up their one-of-a-kind sandwich creations. I was also really glad to see that water bottles were being sold at the fair price of $2, and that concertgoers were not taken advantage of, especially in the eighty degree weather.
The first performance I checked out was the indie rock band Stellar Young at the Pinelands Stage. Pop-Break anticipated that they would put on a great show in our list of “10 Must-See Bands at Pinelands Music Festival,” and we were right! Though they were greeted by a relatively small audience, they weren’t phased one bit, and played with great enthusiasm and confidence. They weren’t afraid to get the crowd involved, and during their song “Animals”, prompted the audience to put their hands on their heads like shark fins.
Next up was a band that I was especially excited to see: Bonfires. They are a relatively new band from Chicago, but already have two incredible EPs out. Lead singer Zech Pluister (whose vocal talents may remind some of A Day To Remember’s Jeremy McKinnon) left it all on stage. Despite the heat, and a few near-fainting moments, he pushed through, and delivered a passionate and memorable performance. They played their lyrically impactful songs such as “Nothing to Hold,” “Waiting,” and finally closed off their set with “Closure.” The band is definitely on their way up.
You Blew It! played on the Timber stage at 5:25. The lowering sun was shining directly on the Florida natives, who were quick to admit that “this is too hot for us.” They played a bit of a low key set, with some borderline uncomfortable moments in between songs, but overall, put on a solid show. On a more upbeat note, the Indie-pop band CRUISR, after some “technical difficulties” was sure to bring the energy back up, as frontman Andy States began their set with the phrase: “Let’s get fucking crazy!” The band’s summery vibe had the audience clapping along and throwing beach balls about.
Finally, a band that throws it back to my middle school days: The Spill Canvas. Lead vocalist Nick Thomas began by saying that he vowed never to do a show while wearing sunglasses, because he wasn’t Bono, but gave up against the sun’s powerful rays, and put on a pair of shades while saying, “Fuck Bono.” They played songs off their 2005 album, One Fell Swoop, in celebration of its ten year anniversary. Notable songs included “Staplegunned,” one of my personal favorites, “This is for Keeps”, a song that Thomas claimed to write “Way before all the Twilight vampire shit,” and their hot and sexy song “Break A Leg.” It was obvious that the crowd was made up of dedicated, long-time fans, as everyone was singing along.
Next was a band that I had not previously listened to, but was encouraged by friends to check out: Vacationer. They took about twenty minutes or so to set up, and “technical difficulties” quickly began to sound like the phrase of the day. And though they had one of the largest crowds of the day, the energy level remained very relaxed and mellow, evidenced by many people lazily nodding and swaying along to the bands nu-hula sound.
The sun began to set during Good Old War’s performance, and the smell of marijuana, along with the number of beers in hand were clear indicators that it was finally “that time of day”. After the sky turned dark, and glow sticks were passed around, X Ambassadors got on stage and wowed everyone with their talent. Pianist Casey Harris, played an insanely beautiful and intricate intro to their song “Unsteady”, and vocalist Sam Harris whipped out his saxophone for an impressive solo that had everyone cheering. They played songs off their new album VHS like the popular “Renegades” and “Gorgeous,” a loud and fast paced song that they stripped down exclusively for the Pinelands Music Festival.
Jukebox the Ghost put on a charming, intimate performance, and played romantic songs like “Postcard” and “Sound of a Broken Heart”. Most concertgoers were waiting for Hellogoodbye, who took some time to get ready due to more “technical difficulties”. At one point I wondered if the show would even go on, since some of the band members had perplexed and slightly panicked faces. But alas, the show finally began at 9:30, and I was glad that I waited it out. It seemed as if every song required a new instrument, and each one of them was able to make swift instrument changes, oftentimes mid-song. Between the synths, guitars, ukulele, and maracas, it felt as if there were more than just the four band members on the stage. After Jukebox the Ghost ended their set, some more fans came to join the party, creating an end of the night finale feel in the air. Some of the songs played were “The Magic Hour is Now”, “When We First Met”, “Getting Old”, and “Just Don’t Let Go.”
Overall, the festival was a good time. I got to see both bands that I grew up listening to, and new bands that I’ve only recently gotten into. Since it was the festival’s first go around, low attendance was expected. However, I was surprised at just how few people were there. Many bands traveled long distances and hassled with unruly sound equipment, only to play a few songs for crowds small enough to fit into a firehall. I definitely think that the festival could have been held in a smaller location, or maybe pushed off until the fall semester, when there would be plenty of college students nearby at Stockton College to draw in. South Jersey is definitely lacking in our music scene, so here’s to hoping that next year’s festival will be better for both the attendees and the bands.