Gnarmageddon Fest II Is Proof That All Sequels Don't Suck
Getting stoned and having a great idea isn't a rare convergence. Smoke rises to the ceiling, and ideas that begin with "Man, you know what would be really rad?" bounce around the smokers' circle. But it's rare for this type of red-eyed ambition to last after the high fades away.
Apparently, Jason Schwartz and Brad Greenberg are the exception to the rule. Schwartz, singer with OC punk act Media Blitz, had a desire to create a punk and hardcore festival built by local punks, for local punks and made to support the scene instead of capitalize on it. Ah, but what name could possibly sum up an event that promised the most brutal, unifying, gnarly experience known to OC? Gnarmageddon.
He explained his dream to Greenberg during a green haze, entertaining it as a fantasy more than a legit business venture. "[Greenberg] was like, 'Dude, I will loan you like eight grand. You can do it if you want to,'" Schwartz recalls. "I was like, 'Really?' And he just cut me a check. It was just something I had talked about at that point. Then, he was just like, 'Here you go,' and it was like, 'Oh, shit. This is real.'"
With the help of friend Danny Lyerla, Schwartz began calling in favors and hunting people down. "We never really had any venue experience," Schwartz says. "I never had to put down a deposit on a place, let alone a $5,000 deposit, let alone having to pay for plane tickets [for bands] and all this shit."
The duo locked down the Glass House in Pomona and put together a lineup of such hardcore and punk heavy-hitters as DOA, JFA and Ill Repute. They promoted the hell out of it, and then waited for the third Saturday in June 2011, the day when all of their efforts would culminate.
"It went really, really well," Schwartz says. "To the point that we made all of our money back, plus a bunch. All the bands had nothing but positive things to say about it." Gnarmageddon 2011 was just a handful of tickets away from selling out the Glass House.
This year, it moved into bigger digs with two stages. "We went for it even harder this year," Schwartz says of nabbing the Observatory and the Constellation Room in Santa Ana. They could've booked guaranteed OC draws such as the Adolescents and TSOL, but, Schwartz says, he feels that would be a cop out. "There's only one band from Orange County [playing the festival], and that's [Media Blitz]. I want to book bands that people don't get to see and can get excited about."
Instead of going for the guaranteed, they went for the gold. They hit up long-disbanded Stalag 13, who hadn't played for nearly a decade; singer Ron Baird had even moved to Australia. Schwartz and Lyerla told the band members they couldn't offer them a lot of money, but they promised they would have a great time. "[Baird] said, 'You know what? That sounds like a great time,'" Schwartz says. "'People hit me up all the time [about reuniting], but I'm not interested in playing for money. I want to have a good time.'"
They've used this down-to-earth style in practically all facets of putting on the festival. They don't make bands pay to play ("I would never-fucking-ever make a band do that," Schwartz says). They hand out fliers at local shows themselves. When it comes to booking a band, they usually go up to the singer personally and talk shop, instead of doing the song-and-dance with a booking agent.
Schwartz has started having the same dream he had prior to Gnarmageddon 2011, in which he got to the venue and no one showed up. "I'm just there by myself," he says, "and I'm like, 'Uh, guys? Everybody?'" Despite the success of last year's fest, Schwartz is getting the jitters about this year. "People might just stop giving a shit. That's not the first time that's happened," he says. "Remember, if you research what you're doing, if you give a shit about what you're doing, and it's a labor of love—then you really can't fail."
Who says potheads don't have ambition?
This article appeared in print as "Bigger, Better, Gnarlier: Gnarmageddon Fest II goes from pothead pipe dream to hardcore happening."
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