Skate and Surf 2014 Returned to Asbury Park with Mixed Reviews

posted by Alyssa Buffenstein on May 22, 2014

Midtown at Skate and Surf 2014 via Alex Remnick / The Star-Ledger

Asbury Park, New Jersey -- If you weren't in the know, you might have been a little confused as to why the festival that took over Asbury Park last weekend was called Skate and Surf - yes, it was technically next to the oceanfront, and yes, there was one half-pipe installed with a few consistent skaters stationed on it; but more talked about the return of the festival to the location where it began in 2004 than kickflips or waves.

So Skate and Surf returned to Asbury Park and proved that, even with perfect weather and a laundry list of headliners that could have once conjured as much excitement as this year’s Riot Fest lineup (10 years ago, maybe), it takes more to put on an A+ festival than a few reunions, a heritage location, and a rapper with a Belieber-like army of fangirls.

The first strike came in the form of technical difficulties. The Game Stage, one of the festival's five stages, only had one reliably-working microphone. New Jersey natives The Moms, who played their brand of witty, angry, Americana-tinged punk 'n roll early Saturday afternoon, were forced to share one microphone between two singers; they also artfully overcame (read: chose to just ignore what they couldn't control) a loud, aurally-painful feedback problem. While The Moms played at 2:45pm on Saturday, the sound issues were not resolved even by Sunday afternoon. Stopping by Patent Pending's 6:15pm set on Sunday, the same stage-right microphone still struggled to work. 

But when the sound did work, it was crystal and loud; so much so that curfew was strictly enforced, cutting Midtown's Saturday night set a few songs short. For such an anticipated reunion, it was disappointing that organizers didn't cut songs from other sets, or stay on time in the first place. Midtown also had some technical mishaps that owed nothing to the festival, though, like singer Gabe Saporta's bass issues on Day 2, which left him to goofily play air bass for a solid 30 seconds. After singing in Cobra Starship for so long, Saporta not only knew how to rock the singer stance, but actually seemed a little liberated for the moments he was free of an instrument. But with the bass back, Midtown performed as well as anyone had hoped, playing cuts from across their discography to keep fans happy for their next ten years of silence.

None of the headlining sets, Midtown's included, were particularly remarkable - they were good, but expectedly so. Saosin with Anthony Green came close - Green's animalistic, near-demonic stage presence was captivating, but the lack of atmosphere made it difficult to really get into the outdoor festival performances. 

A largely-unenthused crowd and lack of festival fun dampened the weekend. There was a beer garden where 21-and-ups hung out until their anticipated acts (Saosin, Midtown, Circa Survive, Alkaline Trio, New Found Glory) played, but the food vendors were just standard hot dog and pretzel carts. The merch section was modest, and bathrooms were rows of port-a-potties (which were actually nice, and plentiful). There weren't any activities to keep attendees occupied if they needed a break from loud music, or even if they just wanted to sit down for a few minutes. 

With only five stages, noise overlaps should have been minimal, but sometimes bands clashed with each other; like the post-hardcore outfit United Nations, led by ex-Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly, who played at the same time as acoustic singer-songwriter Front Porch Step. The two played at the same time and in such close proximity that the opposing sounds distracted from each of the sets, a conflict that could have been avoided by shifting around the times and locations of one of the performances. 

Despite drawing some impressive headliners, the remaining lineup was too scattered to draw a consistent crowd. On Day 1, the “Millertary”, fans of rapper Jake Miller, camped at the Loud Stage from the time doors opened at 2pm until the time the 21-year-old took the stage at 8pm. Meanwhile, metalcore fans gathered at the Aquarian stages to see bands like Emmure and I See Stars. The Game Stage comprised mostly hip-hop acts and DJs, a strange outlier for the lineup that could otherwise be loosely umbrella'd under "punk" and its various sub genres. Another surprise, albeit a welcome one, was the only ska band on the festival, Backyard Superheroes, who defeated the spots of clouds that began to appear on Sunday afternoon with an Aquabats/Less Than Jake hybrid, getting everyone in the proximity excited to skank, at least during their horn-heavy cover of Blink 182's "The Rock Show."

Of course, there were the Anthony Green megafans there to see both Saosin and Circa Survive; the people with heart-and-skull Alkaline Trio tattoos; and plenty of people wearing Midtown’s “three night only” reunion-exclusive t-shirts (the band also played a secret show in Brooklyn the week before Skate and Surf); and New Found Glory drew, if not the largest, definitely the most enthusiastic, crowd all weekend. 

For what was an otherwise nostalgic main stage, New Found Glory ended the festival on a pleasantly forward-looking note - the band had announced their signing to Hopeless Records that day, with a new album due in the fall. NFG's was, even if not the most anticipated set, objectively the most fun. The band puts on a consistent show, so that was nothing new, but the crowd was notably more energetic than they had been all weekend, due in part to the appearance of a couple of special guests - a bride and groom who had just been married at the neighboring Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.

Earlier in the day, the wedding party had watched Midtown from the overlooking hotel balcony, later joining in the fun on the floor by dancing with fans to Alkaline Trio. But nobody expected the happy couple to rush the stage while NFG played - even the band. The groom hi-jacked Jordan Pundik's microphone, leading an impromptu rendition of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, before stage-diving once the band began "Truck Stop Blues."

But few were the fans of bands that played earlier on the main stage, or on the side-by-side Game and Loud Stages. Even buzzy emo-revivalists like Pianos Become the Teeth or Tiny Moving Parts, or promising pop-punkers like the Blink 182 proteges Light Years, barely drew crowds large enough for crowd-surfers and circle pits. Even the audience for Midtown (the band that, for many, was the main draw of Skate and Surf) felt less excited than an audience for a ten-year reunion show, with no future performances in sight, should have been.   

At times, it even seemed like the majority of attendees were wearing red or white wristbands, signifying all access and media, meaning that the audience was comprised of friends, family, photographers, and journalists (i.e., people who didn’t pay to be there). 

For festival organizers whose history includes not only legendary Skate and Surf Festivals but also Bamboozle Festivals, the bar for a good weekend was high; but at the same time, last year’s festival, which took place at Six Flags Great Adventure and received mixed reviews, set a lower expectation. The apparent low attendance and enthusiasm made one wonder if 2013’s festival alienated fans that would have otherwise attended this year. As for the lack of enthusiasm for those who did attend, maybe that could be explained by the age of the fans now - if Midtown, for example, was popular ten years ago amongst 20-somethings, well, you can do the math and realize that a 35 year old might not be so excited about a circle pit anymore.

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