Three generations of Punk Rock music fans gathered at Vina Robles Amphitheater on August 18th, many dressed in full punk regalia, for a trio of crowd-pleasing performances. The three bands appearing represented three different eras of the punk genre and were all met with an enthusiastic response from the multigenerational crowd.
Vina Robles, the most beautiful outdoor venue in Santa Barbara County, offered the perfect backdrop for the punk marathon. Chairs were removed from the front sections, allowing for a general admission pit in front of the stage. The arrangement lent itself perfectly for the show creating an optimum space for an ever-growing mosh pit, much to the delight of dance-crazed concert goers. A cool breeze kept the venue comfortable throughout the four-hour show. As usual at the pristine venue nestled in the oak-lined mountainside in Paso Robles, smiling music fans arrived early to sample the winery's wares, local beers, and yummy snacks, including wood-fired pizza. In addition, many arrived early to secure the best spots on the much-coveted general admission lawn area in the back. Music fans can bring blankets, chairs, and their own picnics, making every concert an even more festive occasion.
As a bright orange sun loomed over the amphitheater, the newest of the three Punk-inspired groups, The Menzingers, opened the show. The Menzingers, a punk rock band from Scranton, Pennsylvania, formed in 2006, wasted no time getting the dance party started. Many in the crowd sported T-shirts with the band's logo emblazoned on them, testifying to the band's popularity. Although the group has its musical roots planted firmly in the punk genre, the sound generated by the foursome is surprisingly melodic. The band's short eight-song set featured tunes familiar to the crowd, culled from their seven studio albums. Songs like “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” and “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” brought the mosh pit alive. Beaming lead singer and guitarist Greg Barnett dashed wildly about the stage, inciting an ever more frantic response from the crowd. The group also featured Tom May on vocals and guitar, Eric Keen on bass, and Joe Godino on drums. The band ended with their signature finale with the title track song from their After the Party album. The short set left the crowd screaming for more, but the best was yet to come.
After a short intermission, the last rays of the summer sun bathed the venue in an Orange glow made even more prominent by smoke high in the atmosphere from the Northern California fires. Amidst this colorful backdrop, the original lead singer of the Descendents, Milo Aukerman, bicycles onstage. Original drummer Bill Stevenson followed him. The two original members were joined by bassist Karl Alvarez and lead guitarist Stephen Egerton, who have been in the group since 1986. Then the quartet broke into the song “Sailors Choice” from their new 9th and Walnut album, and WTF! Shades of Frank Navetta, who wrote many of the Descendent's early songs before leaving to be a fisherman back in 1983. Well, it turns out that 11 of the new songs were written by the punk pioneer, and this minute or so intro song launched an audience starved for traditional live punk music into an instant frenzy.
Along with bands like X and The Sex Pistols, the Descendents are the real deal. They have been blending California surf music with primitive punk rhythms into perfect per functionary masterpieces since 1979. Led by the rambunctious 58-year-old Milo, the band instantly connected with the three generations of punk fans at the Vina Robles show, seeming to bring out the teen angst pent up in everyone regardless of age. Milo is a larger-than-life character who left the band early on to become a bonified biochemist. He returned to the band periodically for short periods before ending his successful career with Dupont and returning to the Descendents full time in 2016. Drummer Stevenson survived severe health issues, including a brain tumor removed in 2010 and heart surgery in 2016. In his own words, “he felt reborn” after recovering and at the concert in Paso on this night played like a man possessed by the spirit of Keith Moon. Alvarez and Egerton are also veteran musicians, and the foursome tore through 26 or so songs in less than 90 minutes, sounding like the punk rock legends that they are.
After another intermission which saw a star-filled sky emerge from the summer twilight, Rise Against took the stage amidst an explosion of stage lighting. The Chicago-based band has been producing their own brand of hard-core punk rock since 1999. The four veteran rockers had a tremendous task to follow the near-perfect punk rock set by the Descendents. But buoyed by an elated supportive crowd, the group proved that they were up to the challenge, producing a raucous 90 minute set of ear-piercing hard-core rock. The band had plenty of material to choose from off their nine studio albums, including their latest, Nowhere Generation. Lead vocalist and guitarist Tim McIlrath connected with the audience early on, whipping them into moshing madness, launching into songs like “The Violence,” the lead single from the group’s eighth album, Wolves. McIlrath also spoke passionately about the mutual isolation brought on by the pandemic before launching into the appropriately titled “Audience of One.”
Towards the show's end, McIlrath performed two solo tunes, “Forfeit” and “Swing Life Away,” bringing some of the first quiet musical moments to the evening. Later he was joined by bassist Joe Principe, guitarist Zach Blair and drummer Brandon Barnes for “Make It Stop (September’s Children),” a poignant song of hope for LGBT youth. The band ended their set with the equally poignant and relevant song “Prayer of the Refuge.” But the crowd was in no mood to leave for home and screamed for more. The band obliged, emerging for a three-song encore playing past the scheduled 11 PM end time. No one in the Punk-satiated crowd seemed to mind. Punk rock is alive and well! Live music is alive and well!