Surfguitar 101 Festival 2023: Sunday

Surfguitar 101 Annual Festival

10am is generally a pretty agreeable time to do anything. Plenty of time to wake up, have breakfast etc. I mean that's noon back in New Orleans time. Yet when doors opened on Sunday it was a bit like a trickle. I get it too -- I still felt a little worn out from The Bomboras the previous night (), and my ears certainly weren't back into shape.

Thankfully, Sunday started even more low-intensity than the day before, without any actual music until Noon. The first event, starting a little late, was a screening of Reverb Junkies for its 10th anniversary. I was aware of this film but had never seen it, and it was kind of funny how it was an antecedent to the film we saw the day before: Sound of the Surf. Reverb Junkies is not really the story of surf music, but a look into the surf scene at the time, with close looks at certain characters and bands, some of whom were present at SG101 that day. A little research showed that it was shot in the summer of 2010, which actually surprised me as it felt a little earlier based the on the "characters" featured and... the mention of Myspace as a place for discovery. My radio show started in 2006 (I think) and a lot of these people were online presences I was aware of but had never met when I was learning about surf. I guess this was a deeper peek at something I was already peeking into, and it's funny how much different it feels compared to when I actually went to an SG101 convention in 2016 and certainly compared to now.

In any case, it's a fun film. Very funny, surprisingly well edited for something so small-world, and of course the music is great. If somebody in 20-30 years wants to look back at the history of this music, they may be able to find plenty of footage of the bands playing, but a glimpse into the people appreciating the music would be invaluable to them.

John Blair and Jonpaul Balak

Next we had Jonpaul Balak sitting down with another legend: John Blair of Jon and the Nightriders. In the interest of time and scope, they narrowed it down from the scheduled description of surf revival to focus on the story of Jon and the Nightriders. It was great, and a success story you rarely hear -- as Blair puts it, kind of the opposite of the hardworking band that worked tirelessly to stand out and achieve their dream. Instead, Blair wanted to put out a surf 7" in '79 as a one-off. Every big milestone after that was somebody offering him a huge unsolicited opportunity, to which he of course said "sure". Essentially it seems he had the right idea at the right time, though it certainly helps that Jon and the Nightriders did it *really* well. A point that both he and Jonpaul Balak made were was that despite the name centered around Jo(h)n, it was an incredible group effort that made that sound, and Jon made sure that we appreciated Dave Wronski and Dusty Watson to an appropriate degree. Really cool interview -- probably only a glimpse of what John's head could provide us in terms of surf history, but that's a whole other weekender.

El Sandeman

The members jam was scrapped this year as the previous events ran out of time (which stung a little considering that portion was explicitly mentioned in Reverb Junkies), so Rocketfish took the stage. They're a trio local to LA and mostly played surf classics. They did it well, but over in the tiki room they were up against El Sandeman and the Sundowns. Who? Chris Barfield playing little scraps of his career -- songs from compilations, songs he did with other groups, songs that never found a place, etc. With bonus Frankie from The Volcanics on rhythm guitar! I only caught 3-4 songs as he was closing out one of his sets (he had a few), and didn't recognize anything, but there was some great mood to it. Chad Shivers was there for an entire set and said it was bordering on a religious experience!

Waves of Steele

Next was Waves of Steele, a band that I had straight-up never heard of, and therefore makes them one of the surprises of the weekend. The first thing you notice was their bassist, who I will dub the American equivalent of the bassists from Mullet Monster Mafia. Goofy faces, always in motion, snuggling up with other band members, and at one point moving out into the crowd, which Dave Arnson took advantage of by crawling underneath his legs.

Waves of Steele

Some friends and I were taking guesses at their name before they went on. Do they feature steel guitar? Then why the extra "e" at the end? Somebody guessed it was somebody's name, and they nailed it: Tyler Steele was on guitar and sounded great. Obviously I wasn't familiar with their original material, but their choice of covers pulled from a tasteful array of modern stuff, including two Phantom Four songs and "Floating" by Laika and the Cosmonauts. Love that song!

Tiki Creeps

Usually, as you can likely tell from the photos, the lighting was generally cycled through a whole rainbow of colors. But it went harsh green for Tiki Creeps. I'd wanted to see them for a few years now, figuring it wouldn't be a stretch since they're from LA. Their punk garb reflected their more loud and raspy tone, channeling monster movie terror and reminding me a little bit of The Bomboras the night before. Loved it, glad I finally got to see them.

Go-Go Dancers!

Also I haven't mentioned the go-go dancers so far, who had hopped on-stage for several acts the day before, and I loved how they looked when the occasional second light was introduced.

Messer Chups during Surf Raiders tribute

I believe every year there's a tribute to an older surf group, and usually that means a 60's act, but this year it was honoring Bob Dalley of the Surf Raiders. Bob and his wife Linda have been a regular presence at Surfguitar101 conventions, but unfortunately he's had a number of health problems and couldn't make it, so his guitar sat on stage in his stead. This was also well-timed as it was coming off the heels of last year's excellent . The backbone here, as is often the case, was Matt Quilter on guitar, Marty Tippens on drums, and Jonpaul Balak on bass. The guest guitarists included Eddie Ugata of the El Caminos, Lewis Bailey, Jim Bacchi (of Tikiyaki Orch. etc), Chris Barfield, Dave Arnson, and for the finale Messer Chups (check out Zombierella in white with red converses!). I think Bob would have been pretty moved by the performance.

The Hellbenders

Next up was perhaps the least expected of the lineup: The Hellbenders. Apparently when Jeff contacted the Volcanos to perform, he asked about their spaghetti western alter-ego as well. I was thrilled about this show, as their LP Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die was kind of my first exposure to surf music done this way, and perhaps made the way towards a love of spaghetti western music in general. I saw a lot of great shows that weekend, but only one gave me goosebumps. It was also probably the set with the vocals I welcomed most. Since that LP debuted, I've heard bands more accurately recreate a Morricone sound, but I don't think that was the idea anyway. That LP is a special one to me, and hearing them played live was pretty fantastic.

The Eliminators

I think I heard several people say something similar about The Eliminators (KFJC's Cousin Mary in particular seems to put hearing "Dawn Patrol" as the highlight of the event). I loved hearing their origin story -- their longboard club thought they could use a band for events, so these guys stepped up. The club voted on a name and a very stupid one (that I forgot) won. They eventually decided to make a decision for themselves and chose The Eliminators.

I gotta say, I'm amazed it took this long for a saxophone to show up! Their rhythm guitarist would frequently sling his guitar behind him to switch for sax, not to mention swapping for acoustic guitar once or twice. The whole set was excellent, I'm pretty sure a highlight for many, a great balance of modern and traditional with great guitar playing and plenty of grit.

Surf Kings

The Surf Kings were up after that, a band whose material I was familiar with but actually had no idea featured a guitarist from The Crossfires! But Tom Stanton was by no means shackled to the early 60's, with a style that, sure, has surf all over it, but sounded impressively muscular live and frequently veered into psychedelic territory. I loved their bassist Ronnie Sarkisian, who had a bit of a lifetime roadie look. He and the drummer were beaming like they were playing Madison Square Gardens... and I guess as far as surf goes, maybe that's what this is!

Messer Chups

And to close out the night we had Messer Chups. At this point I've seen them many times, and every time my photos are pretty disappointing. Why? Because a crowd apparates out of thin air and I'm relegated to the outside, whereas for about everything else I can weasel myself to wherever I'd like.

Messer Chups' crowd

All photos aside, I could at least see the silly movie clips projected onto a screen next to the stage -- they were great. It's hard to say something about them that I haven't said before, having now seen them somewhere around five times. Oleg's playing is one-of-a-kind. Their tone sounds that much better live. Zombierella's delivery of goofball lines like "Insomnia of the Mummies" always kills.

Messer Chups finished and everybody vamoosed. To my knowledge there was no afterparty, and I regretted that that didn't afford me the opportunity to catch up with people that I missed and say as many goodbyes as I'd like. I met up with fellow New Orleanian and SG101 first-timer Jeane, who was staying in the same hotel as me, and we headed to The Bamboo Club to give the weekend a proper epilogue.

As for this article's epilogue, day two felt like a day of overachieving underdogs. Fewer acts that seemed like one-opportunity-to-see, less hyped groups overall, but anybody that just stayed for Saturday would have made a grave mistake. There are lots of things I'm leaving out -- friends I saw, records I bought, raffles, DJs, funny moments I forgot, I completely missed the band Seatbelt in the Taboo Tiki Room. As the event grows, it's getting harder and harder to actually experience and remember all of it. But I hope that it does grow. We're a genre seated in nostalgia, with so many performers thumbing their nose at age, channeling an era fueled by teenage hormones. It's a hard sell to each new generation, but it's absolutely something unique and special, and I think all it takes to really recognize that is to simply see it. Come out and be a part of it, take your place in the culture instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Thanks again to Jeff and everybody else that made this possible. I hope to see y'all next year.



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