At 3:00, our friends and other Skitchin’ Fest alumni, Grey Matter, took over Stage B. This is a band I’ve admired for years, but I’d never seen live until I booked them for Night 1 of Skitchin’ Fest earlier in May. Their set that night was incredible, but they were clearly the outsiders on that bill. Their set at BLED was an entirely different animal. There was no need to win over the crowd here, as they’re possibly the single band to play the festival the most times. Their crowd was wrapped around and overflowing onto the stage with everyone up front singing along to the break-neck emo-tinged skacore jams. Tino and Lando from PVS and Kenny from Solitary Subversion/Menagerie were in house and thus provided their guest vocal spots just like on the recordings. The energy tossed back and forth from the band and crowd and all around was electric. It needs to be seen to be believed. And what a bunch of heartthrobs to boot.
After Grey Matter, we had about five minutes to get to our spot at Stage A to catch Rozwell Kid. They’re a band I’d heard a lot about and seen on tour posters as the opener for a lot of big name acts such as Jimmy Eat World and Motion City Soundtrack. Alas, I never got around to exploring their tunes until I heard they were playing BLED Fest. Boy, was I missing out. RozKid rips. They play a brand of rock music that has enough tongue-in-cheek emo flavors to compare them to Weezer. In fact, I described them to my friends as “if Weezer were still making records that sounded like they wanted to still be making records.” And then during their set, some dude yelled out “better than Weezer!!!” I rest my case. From me, these guys won the “Definitely Had The Most Fun On Stage” award.
We stayed put at Stage A as Mom Jeans loaded in and set up. They’re probably the band Jason and I have bonded over the most in our year of hardcore friendshipping. Last November we drove to Saginaw – again just over two hours hours from where we live – to see them, which was also my first ever show outside of my hometown. So now not only are they the first band I traveled to see, they’re the only band I traveled to see twice. Last year they signed with SideOne, but something went wrong and they remained on Counter Intuitive Records, home to a collective of really excellent up-and-coming young emo and lofi artists. In the last eighteen months, Mom Jeans have done a major glow up… or whatever the kids are calling it. They mentioned onstage how excited they were to be the same little DIY band but having gotten flown out from native California on a plane the morning of BLED. Early in the first song of their set, when a girl hurt her leg and had to be helped out of the room, the band stopped playing to make sure she was not only taken care of, but also told the audience to calm down and take care of each other or else they’d call off the rest of their set. I, for one, have a lot of respect for them recognizing the importance of being safe while you get buckwild.
Across the hall and immediately afterward, my dearest buds, Pancho Villa’s Skull were playing on Stage E, which I believe was used as some sort of office or something during school hours. When I rolled through the door, it was already packed tight. But I snaked through the sweaty bodies and slipped into a space at the literal front and center where Tino and Lando had their acoustic guitar and cajon set up on the floor. They had a couple special guests with them for this performance: Fusion Shows very own heartbreaker, Aubrey on flute, and the stand-up bass player from Nina And The Buffalo Riders. The lighting was especially cool and ambient in this ultra-intimate room. I’m biased, whatever, this was the most special set of the day for me. To see people I care deeply for play to a room that packed full of singing and dancing people was nuts. Shout out to Lando for briefly speaking on disability issues in his closing statements.
We planned to jump back over to the main stage after PVS to see the end of Remo Drive, but we were starting to feel like maybe we bit off more than we could chew. So we rested out in the hallway to listen to the last few songs and sing along with some like-minded strangers. Once we caught our breath and my crew got their legs back under them, we wandered into ‘68’s two-piece, noise-rock set at Stage B. Josh Scogin fronts this Georgian band. Scogin, better known for his work with Norma Jean and The Chariot, was the first figure in Alternative music that I really admired in my teen years. So while my taste has vastly changed, I can’t pass up an opportunity to see him perform. It’s still jaw-dropping every time.
After stepping back outside for fresh air and so Jason could smoke a cigarette on a nearby hill, we returned to our post at Stage B to see my second top priority band, Slingshot Dakota. Last time they played in Grand Rapids, it was at a coffee and nut shop. Being allergic to nuts, I sadly skipped the gig so I wouldn’t die. But this time the Pennsylvanian husband-and-wife duo wouldn’t elude me. They were especially playful on stage as they made several references to consensual sex with a loving partner. It was weird, but cute and endearing. Musically, their tone was spot on and they played pretty much every one of my favorite songs of theirs, especially from their latest record, Break. They closed with a little speech about wheelchair accessibility and being conscious and accommodating of the people around you. It was then that they stamped themselves in my tiny book of favorite bands in the world.
As much as I wanted to stick around to meet Slingy D, Looming was playing next door at Stage C. So we went over there and slithered through to the front of the crowd to see the last few songs of their set. Jason got me into this dreamy, spacey alt-punk group a couple months ago when he played their album, Seed, in my van. Like I said, we only seen the last two or three songs of their set, but they killed it.
By this point, it was about 7:00PM and my crew and I had been going hard for close to nine hours. We were starting to drag our feet (and wheels) a bit as we could feel the home stretch approaching. But we still had a couple daunting hours to go. Rather than run to Norma Jean, who we’d all seen at one time or another in our lives, we took it easy for a bit. I made a grown up decision to get a healthy dinner to replenish my energy even though the adrenaline coursing through my veins and the heat swirling in my head had killed my entire appetite. I bought a plate of raw veggies and downed them. Anything else and I might’ve thrown up, to be honest.
Earlier, we’d spotted Greg from Bike Tuff wandering around. He said that he was working merch for a band called LVRS, so we took this down time to go catch up with him and scope out the DIY merch mall. I scored the new Pancho Villa’s Skull re-release CD, an ultra-limited Grey Matter floppy disc, and was informed that someone had bought one of the select zines I had for sale at the PVS table. Not bad! Oh and when I was in the bathroom, this band called Small Talks tried to recruit Haleigh to be their drummer. Leave her alone for two minutes and she goes and joins another band. Typical. Shout out Small Talks!
Speaking of Haleigh, she’d been dropping hints about wanting to see this emo/post-rock band called Foxing all day. I don’t mind them at all, but they weren’t really on my must-see list. But after she tagged along to everything I wanted to do all day long and having water ready at my every beck and call, I figured it was time to repay her selfless friendliness. So we trudged back to the main stage. Wow, was I in for the biggest surprise of the day. Foxing put on maybe the best performance I saw at BLED Fest. The way they interacted with the crowd coupled with their energy and light show was almost overwhelming. They completely won me over. At the end of their set, when they announced that they have a new record due this summer, I swear I cheered as loud as their true die-hards. We definitely put their tunes on on the way home as the vision of them was still burned on my brain.
We might as well have been the walking dead by now. We were physically and mentally exhausted from running back and forth continuously through the muggiest building any of us had ever been in. So rather than try to see a couple segments of Kississippi, Lung, and Solitary Subversion’s sets before the headliners, we just parked our butts at our usual spot at the main stage to claim our territory for the rest of the night. UK 90s-rock worshipping Basement was the penultimate band we’d see play. They played all the hits from across their entire catalog and the audience was loving every minute of it. I’ve never seen security guards crowd-surfing before then, but I’m happy to say that I have now. What a riot.
And, drumroll please, finally… FINALLY, the main attraction, Joyce Manor, took the stage. I feel lucky to have been able to follow and experience this band at every level of their career. From when they were the opening act for bands they are now a million times bigger than, to their first headlining tour that only filled half the room, to packing the house, and now headlining a festival playing to an estimated 700 kids in a gymnasium, they’ve stayed true to themselves and their intentions as a band. They’ve bridged gaps between young emo kids and old-head punks, and I think that’s very cool. This particular set was my favorite one of theirs that I’ve witnessed. People spilled up and over the edges of the stage to create a seamless entity of band and audience. The human sweat fog got so dense that by the time they finished their solid 70 minute performance, I couldn’t see their bassist on the far side of the stage, let alone the people to his right. It was disgusting and I was sure that if there was an airborne disease floating around, we were all doomed to die together. But it was also quite beautiful. The short stage and fun personality of the band made it feel like a basement or small club gig. I’ll never forget being right there, perfectly in the moment with my friends.
But alas, BLED Fest 2018 was in the bag and we were ready to escape the grasps of the thick misty confines of the Hartland PAC and get back to our home sweet Grand Rapids. It was a couple quick and sticky goodbye hugs to our friends we’d seen and made from all over the Midwest before we were out the door and back to the van. Immediately, I cracked open one of the leftover LaCroix from the case we brought that morning. It didn’t matter that it was piss warm. I think it was refreshing enough that I’d have happily taken a shower in it. I slammed it and cracked another before we even left the lot. The two hour trek was a whole lot of recollecting our experiences and favorite moments and devouring a bag of beef jerky we’d gotten at a gas station. It was capped off with us collectively getting pumped when “Grindmother” by Pity Party came on shuffle and we all simultaneously shouted “WE ARE GREATER THAN THE SUM OF OUR SEPARATE PARTS!”
To recap, the trip meter on my wheelchair read 3.2 miles and I seen a total of fourteen bands in about an eleven hour span. The genres ranged from Folk-Punk, to Alt-Rock, Emo, Hardcore, and keyboard-driven Pop. BLED Fest offers a unique place where there’s at least a little bit to be enjoyed for everybody and from all walks of life. They also offer a space to be yourself and feel at home. I can’t speak for Jason and Haleigh, but I know I grew up a little more that day. I had a dear friend of mine pass away a few days prior and hadn’t been doing so hot. To be able to lean on friends and quite literally escape everything for a whole day to focus on nothing but love and music was exactly what the doctor ordered. I can’t thank them both enough for that. That’s what life is, at least for me. I’m already stoked for next year.