Punk in the Park spread its wings this year and ventured to a second location at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, a venue known to the punk community from past Warped Tour and Punk in Drublic dates. Fans were excited for the two stages featuring performances from Pennywise, Suicidal Tendencies, Strung Out, Fear, Manic Hispanic, Dwarves, and The Bronx, plus all that delicious craft beer!
Set right off the ocean, there was a nice breeze on this sunny, spring day. Sandwiched between days of rain, it was clear the punk gods were looking out for us with a day of “Fool’s Spring.”
Free beer and hard cider tastings were bountiful for the first three hours, and the fun-shaped Punk in the Park logo cups made the tastings that much better. Sipping on free, flavorful refreshments while listening to Raptors, Romper, Slaughterhouse, Deviates, Rotting Out, and Drain set the tone for a day full of fun. Of course, if you chose to not partake in the over 21 beverages, Monster Energy Drinks brought their Vans Warped Tour “Tour Water” out of hiding. Tall cans of deep well water in colorful containers for a very fair price made this a top seller at the bar stands.
Once The Dwarves took the stage and the free tastings had ended, the crowd was well amped up to get their mosh pit legs moving. Front-man Blag Dahlia got the fans going, motioning to them in his black leather, fingerless driving gloves. By the end of their set, the audience was plenty revved up for the next session in their mosh pit extravaganza; The Bronx.
The Bronx hopped on the second stage with their hair on fire and a pep in their step. Front-man Matt Caughthran proclaimed, “What a beautiful day for aggressive music” and then had the mosh pit looking to choose a “pit boss” during, “Knifeman.” Guitarist Joby Ford wasn’t at the festival, which prompted Caughthran use his phone to record a special message to Ford where he had the audience yell, “Fuck you, Joby!” Caughthran joked that Ford was absent because he “didn’t like Ventura.” “Heart Attack American” was played while Caughthran jumped into the middle of the mosh pit while patrons slam danced around him, complete with security standing by his side.
Fear was next up on the main stage and Lee Ving took control in his signature black-leather vest and deep, scratchy voice. During “Let’s Have a War,” what appeared to be a sea of colored mohawks entered the pit. Fear’s finale, “I Love Living in the City,” got a huge reaction from the audience which paved the way for Manic Hispanic.
As soon the music started on stage two, Manic Hispanic jumped into “Mas Chingones.” Co-front-man Efrem Schulz was overseas touring with another band, so Manic pretended Schulz was detained by I.C.E. after being deported.
Multiple times front-men Gilbert Pichardo and Louie Perez III jumped and crowd surfed with their microphones. Sometimes they’d go missing into the crowd and pop back up over people’s heads and other times they’d stay afloat. During “Chancla Abuser,” Pichardo tried crowd surfing on an inflatable cactus, but it was very short lived when the pool floaty popped and became a fan’s souvenir. After their last song, guitarist Elvis Cortez gave his guitar – the very one he just used for their set – to a lucky audience member!
As the sun began to set, it was time for Strung Out. During “Matchbook,” the fans sang in collective melody to the Simi Valley band.
Since the second stage was now closed for the evening, the main stage crowd grew exponentially. If you weren’t standing at the stage, you were using this time to grab your jacket from the locker, use the facilities, or shop. People were closer to vendor tents than before which meant more shopping. Even Erik Sandin, drummer for NOFX, had a vendor tent for his surfboard company. He took photos with fans, signed autographs, and held a push-up contest where the winner got kicked in nether regions… I don’t get it either but I guess it’s a thing he does.
Punk in the Park Organizer’s wanted the crowd to feel extra safe so Ventura police officers were on site. I asked them how the crowd was doing and they told me, on a scale of one to 10, they were about a four or five, which was to be expected and not bad at all. They said the day was pretty mellow.
Up next was New Jersey’s own Bouncing Souls. Hot off the trail of their 2023 album release, “Ten Stories High,” the band played new and old favorites to an ever-growing sea of faces. Just as the setting sun was making the sky glow pink, the band had the first longer headlining set of the night.
As they sang “That Song,” the crowd harmonized in what you would have assumed was a chart-topping occasion. Later the band played “True Believers” and it was at this moment 99% of every mouth in the fairgrounds sang along. I’m pretty sure I saw some of the police mouthing the words, too.
Suicidal Tendencies started off their set with their favorite show beginner, “You Can’t Bring Me Down.” Audience members went flying through the air as fast as shoes and water bottles.
The crowd was electrified in all the right ways. Front-man Cyco Mike Muir worked the stage in signature motion from left to right, tensing his muscles and shaking in a way that sounds crazy but perfectly matched the music. Once they played “War Inside My Head,” they sewed in “Subliminial” so perfectly most people didn’t realize they were listening to a different song. At one point beach balls went bouncing around the crowd like pinballs looking for a home.
Ending their set with “Pledge Your Allegiance,” the band quickly left the stage to make room for Pennywise to set up. Muir must have walked off stage and directly to the exit, because he was immediately available to greet every fan that came by and took photos with each of them.
Pennywise jumped on stage next with their classic moves and loud cheers from the crowd. By this point it was getting late, now dark, and the crowd was growing a bit tired so the energy was down a tad, but you could still feel the love and excitement in the air. Pennywise played a song by one of their favorite ‘80s punk bands, The Weirdos.
Front-man Jim Lindberg had a yelling competition between the stage right and stage left during “Society.” We aren’t sure which side won, but we know that warmed up audience members’ lungs and people started getting their second wind. There was a huge open circle for people to get slam-dance crazy. After “Straight Ahead,” Lindberg remarked on the large onstage crowd presence, “I think there are more people on our stage than in the crowd!” This crowd took advantage of the space and enjoyed the stage during their usual show ending song, “Bro Hymn.”
Throughout the set Lindberg sounded like he was a bit under the weather and guitarist Fletcher was a little quiet. Later, Lindberg posted on his Instagram account that the band had just lost a good friend the morning of PITP and they were all playing with lumps in their throats. It must have been really hard for them, but shows us that their love for their fans is as strong as our love for the band, and we are thankful for their performance.
We don’t know just yet if Punk in the Park Ventura will be a regular thing, but we do know that Punk in the Park Orange County is still happening. We can’t figure out how the masterminds at Brew Ha Ha Productions continue to outdo themselves at every festival, but they do! We can’t wait for what comes next!