Punk In The Park | Ventura County Fairgrounds | 3/25/23

Article Contributed by L. Paul Mann | Published on Tuesday, April 4, 2023

The Punk in the Park music and brew festival returned to the Ventura County Fairgrounds on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, March 25th. After a cold, wet winter, it was a breath of fresh air to see a sunny cloudless sky for the event. About 5000 multi-generational punk music aficionados gathered for the 10-hour concert, many coming early to take advantage of free beer samples from over 80 microbreweries. Unlike last year, when long lines made it difficult to taste more than a few samples, the beer flowed quickly and freely, much to the delight of brew lovers. By the time the 3-hour giveaway was finished, most everyone had their fill of the multitude of free samples.

Ventura County Fairgrounds

Punk in the Parl | Ventura, CA

The mood at the festival was rowdy but respectful, while music fans of all ages packed tightly against the two stages with a mosh pit behind them. The venue is one of the few in the area allowing crowd surfing, and many fans took advantage of the punk ritual. The two stages offered near seamless music throughout the day until sunset, when the smaller stage shut down.

Drain | Ventura County Fairgrounds

Drain | Punk in the Park

The bands kept to a nearly perfect schedule throughout the day. When Santa Cruz hardcore punk band Drain hit the stage at 245, the free beer samples were about to run out, and a large crowd surged around the smaller stage for a fiery performance. The young band played old-school Punk infused with the enthusiasm of youth. Lead singer Sammy Ciaramitaro repeatedly dived into the adulating crowd, sometimes surfing across outstretched arms. Meanwhile, the band played ear-piercing riffs with the mosh pit going for the entire set. With most opening bands having only 30 minutes to perform, the bands gave up the usual banter for mostly short, intense tunes, and the formula worked perfectly for rowdy fans.

Dwarves | Punk in the Park

Dwarves | Punk in the Park

The notorious Dwarves band took the main stage next for an intense set of classic punk tunes. The California-based band, originally from Chicago, had a sordid reputation in the past. The band was reported to have engaged in what some may consider outrageous onstage antics like for self-mutilation and onstage sex. But in what can only be described as punk music moving more into mainstream pop culture, Singer Blag Dahlia actually politely stopped his set to seek aid for an injured music fan in the mosh pit. The band played fearless punk music in their short set sans the infamous onstage antics. The band's bass player Nick Oliveri (Rex Everything) has a ridiculously legendary resume playing for bands like Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age.

The Bronx | Ventura, CA | Punk in the Park

The Bronx followed on the smaller stage with another ear-splitting crowd-pleasing set. Lead singer Matt Caughthran pranced about the stage, belting out screaming vocals. He joked that his guitarist had played an earlier southern California date but wouldn’t come to Ventura because he didn’t like it there, trying to rile up the crowd. Meanwhile, the rhythm section, including drummer Joey Castillo, guitarist Joby Ford, and bassist Brad Magers kept a heart-pounding pace.

Punk in the Park | Ventura, CA

Punk in the Park | Ventura, CA

The legendary Lee Ving took the stage next with his latest incarnation of Fear. The larger-than-life true villain of Punk has performed some legendary concerts including the notorious Saturday Night Live show. That infamous 1981 performance had the group banned from the show but cemented their hardcore punk reputation across the country. Ving valiantly soldiered through lead vocals despite appearing frail and unable to play rhythm guitar anymore. However, he did belt out a few tunes on his harmonica.

Manic Hispanic | Punk in the Park

Manic Hispanic | Punk in the Park

A vastly different set followed as Manic Hispanic closed out the smaller stage just before sunset. The Orange County band infused Chicano culture with a youthful punk presence reworking classic rock songs into faster mosh, inducing tunes. The current band features the three remaining original players, Maurice Torres, Rue Rivera, and Warren Renfrow. (Mo Grease, Chino, and Oso) with new members Efrem “Chuey Luis” Martinez Schulz, Louie “Juan Solo” Perez III, Gilbert “Dreamer” Pichardo, and Elvis Cortez. For many in the crowd, the band performed one of the best sets of the long punk-drenched day.

Strung Out | Punk in the Park

Strung Out | Ventura, CA

Strung Out | Punk in the Park

As the sun faded and a crystal clear twilight revealed a crescent moon aligned perfectly in the sky with the planet Venus, the music returned to the main stage for a triumphant set by veteran punk rockers Strung Out. The band, formed in nearby Simi Valley in 1989, played some of the most melodic punk rock of the day, led by the strong vocals of lead singer Jason Cruz.

The Bouncing Souls | Punk in the Park

After a short break, another veteran punk group formed in 1989 took the stage for a high-energy performance. The Bouncing Souls played one of the first extended sets of the festival, much to the delight of the ever-growing crowd. Lead singer Greg Attonito toyed with the crowd, at one point praising Ventura as the second-best place to play but then riling up the audience by declaring their hometown of New Jersey as the best place to play. Original lead guitarist and bass player Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlen kept up a fierce assault of hardcore rhythms.

Suicidal Tendencies | Punk in the Park

The senior statesman of thrash punk skate music, Suicidal Tendencies, played next. Lead singer Mike Muir, who had led the Venice, California-based band since their formation in 1980, is a true icon of the hardcore genre. Dozens of musicians have come and gone backing his visceral vocals. The current band included Dean Pleasants who has been playing screaming lead guitar since 1996, Ben Weiman on rhythm guitar since 2018, and a youthful rhythm infusion from young drummer Brandon Pertzborn and Tye Trujillo on bass. Tye has an impressive pedigree, as the son of Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo (who was also an early member of Suicidal Tendencies.) The young bassist lived up to his family's reputation and played a stunning bass rhythm that wowed the crowd. The group tore through a fierce ten-song setlist that included classics like “I Shot The Devil” and “Possessed to Skate.”

Pennywise | Punk in the Park

Pennywise | Punk in the Park

Hermosa Beach surf and skate punk rock heroes, Pennywise closed the show. The band performed last year, but this time around it headlined the event. Last year, the band's set was interrupted by a mosh pit fan accidentally breaking his ankle, and the show was paused to remove him by ambulance. Subsequently the band had to cut their set short. But this year, the beloved punkers were able to complete a full set before the 10 pm curfew closed in. Fans began bundling up as the cool ocean breeze blew into the night air. Pennywise finally took the stage, eliciting a roar from the ever-tightening crowd. Original lead singer Jim Lindberg had the crowd moshing almost before the first note was played with his charismatic vocals and vigorous cheerleader style. The band featured three of the four original members, including Lindberg, guitarist Fletcher Dragge and drummer Byron McMackin. Bass player Randy Bradbury took over for original bassist Jason Thirsk, who sadly faced an untimely death. The band had a catalog of at least nine albums of material to choose from and tore through a little more than an hour of mosh-inducing material. It was a marathon of rowdy music drenched in quite a bit of brew and a fun time for all.

Punk in the Park | Ventura, CA - photo by Paul Mann