WHEN WE WERE YOUNG FESTIVAL WAS A CONTINUAL CELEBRATION OF EVERYONE’S INNER YOUTH
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG FESTIVAL 2017: SANTA ANA CALIFORNIA
While it seems a bit of taboo to remind people of their emo past, the Observatory in Santa Ana decided to do just that on the weekend of April 8 & 9 with the first ever When We Were Young Festival. In the drop of a lineup, they had us all digging into our closets for old band shirts and questioning why we ever shied away from a scene that delivered us some of the greatest music we have experienced in our lifetime.
The inaugural festival had us not only reminiscing in our youthful days, but dancing in revelation as they made all of our wildest emo dreams come true. The unique and spot on title, reflected the lineups ability to target artist’s representative of when we all were young, and whether that was watching Morrissey perform his 80’s hit “Suedehead” or watch Southern Californian bred The Buttertones perform “Baby Doll”, the festival was able to expand itself across a generational timeline with such success that felt cohesive despite a large discrepancy of the age ranges in attendance.
Aside from initial worries of heading towards another festival at the Observatory after Beach Goth and Soulquarius, WWWYF really took note of every doubt that came to their attention and made sure they were addressed. From security concerns to schedule confusions to easy accessibility, the festival was easily one of the smoothest and most organized I’ve ever attended on the fairgrounds.
Although very minor changes to schedule were made early on in the day (The Buttertones playing a second set in lieu of Agent Orange, and a minor schedule switch that made it difficult for fans to catch Mount Eerie), the festival ran on time, the schedule was easy to navigate and it was done in a way everyone could catch as many of their teen heroes as possible. I mean, this might have been the first festival I managed to catch a few songs from most of the acts on the lineup, which is already a major win for any festival.
The theme also seemed to translate into the wardrobes of the attendees as they came adorned in wardrobes fitting for the emo-indie-punk-grunge fest. Band shirts, patches and pins seemed to be the theme of the weekend. The first days fashion clearly fell under reign of Morrissey as you couldn’t take two steps without seeing someone sporting the Moz on some inch of their outfit or bodies. Even Gavin Caswell, bassist for Senses Fail, donned a tee of the icon during their set.
The true fun was seeing how emo fashion has changed while in a multigenerational space. With festivals tending to be a bit more costumed than everyday wear, some of the outfits of the weekend definitely inspired many levels of nostalgia. It was like glancing an iconic angsty teens’ fashion yearbook. From all black outfits to colorful and neon ensembles, the fest was a reminder that there was never a static definition of the youthful spirit in the counter-culture.
The festival also took a bit of a twist on its food and catering options this year with two notable modifications. One was a definite Moz-ification, (see what I did there?) that came along with the long time animals right activists title as a main headliner. Day 1 found all food options to be meat-free and animal friendly for the day of Morrissey‘s performance. The second, came with the new addition of local street vendor carts selling snacks distinctive to Southern Californian culture. The addition and incorporation of the local community with major events in the area was definitely a bonus in our book.
Overall, the weekend was a continual celebration of everyone’s inner youth. And while there tends to be a lot of elitist and ageist mentalities in the music world that can easily manifest itself in festivals, WWWYF was a space where the only hands being thrown around were to support crowd surfers or for high fives. Security was being put to work, but never hampered on fans letting their punk flags fly to create mosh pits or take every single opportunity to crowd surf their ways to the stages during unbeatable music sets.
Fans shouted, screamed and sang along to every set attended, giving all lead singers a great environment for playful banter and interaction with their crowds, as well as almost every long standing act giving praise for the continual and long time support for their music. It was easy to feel the admiration streaming both ways from stage to audience throughout the weekend, only adding to the feel good environment of the weekend.
Sunflower Bean and The Regrettes brought on some of the only but fiercest, woman fronted acts of the weekend. Moving Units and Foxygen brought on the electro-pop dance hits that gave way to a nice dance break in between the thrashing crowds of the sets they were sandwiched between.
Bands like Joyce Manor, Alkaline Trio and Saves the Day, played the main stage in front of crowds of fans accumulated over the last decade. SadGirl, The Buttertones (who played two sets on Sunday) and The Frights brought on their unique takes on the similar wavelength of surf punk melodies to the grounds.
Turnstile, Tijuana Panthers, FIDLAR and No Parents had some of the rowdiest crowds with continuous waves of crowd surfing fans and mosh pits. While Streetlight Manifesto brought on the Ska; Dr. Dog and Silversun Pickups stunned with their alternatively indie, laced with folk, sounds. Homeshake, Beach Fossils and Cat Signs mellowed out the crowd from previous acts as their sonic entrancing tunes allowed for more relaxed sets.
Descendents and The Dickies brought on the classic 80s punk vibes as they played their brands of zany punk. Cage the Elephant had one of the best performances of the weekend, much credit to the lead singer Matt Schultzs’ incredibly electric stage presence that had him consistently jumping on every inch of the stage.
Taking Back Sunday riled up the crowds playing tracks of everyones teen playlist, having one of the most memorable sing-alongs of the weekend to “Make Damn Sure.” A.F.I. played a set fueled by their continuous hit songs with some of the more popular tracks like “Miss Murder” ending the set, but not without Davey Havock graciously thanking the fans for their support and a moment of surreal realization that they were sharing a stage with the Moz himself.
The main headliner of the fest, Morrissey, undoubtedly drew the majority of the crowd the first day as he ran down a 19-track set including hits like “Suedehead” “How Soon is Now?” and “There is a Light that Never Goes Out.” The frontman, per usual, also used his set to share many political statements.
From an opening moment of his band showing off their “F*ck Donald Trump” t-shirts to an image of James Baldwin on the drumset to consistent visuals and videos of socio and political issues playing behind him, the icon performed his set in truest Moz fashion. Lucky for those in attendance, (as he’s known to sometimes even cancel gigs last minute) his set even ran over allotted time, ensuring one of the most memorable performances of the weekend.
The overall beauty found in the festival is that the Young factor in the title was not specifically referencing one point in time, or cultivating one specific audience. The lineup that was met with cult leaders like Morrissey, generation definers like A.F.I. and newcomers like The Regrettes, allowed for an exploration of the depth and definition of youth across a multitude of generations and sub genres.
Overall, the Observatory created a space in which, even for a weekend, we remembered how good life can be when you leave the world behind and revel in the youth that still exists within us all. The bar has been set high for an inaugural year, but you can bet that like all new festivals being produced by the Observatory, it will only get better.