If you're in the North Park area this weekend and see hundreds of strange-looking punks staggering around, you'll have Jay “Wang” Elmore to thank.
Elmore is a San Diego musician who plays in local bands Tiltwheel and Dan Padilla and runs Fast Crowd Records out of his North Park home. He's also the organizer of the North Park Awesome Fast, a four-day blitz of under-the-radar punk rock that will take over The Office, U-31, Soda Bar and Radio Room this Labor Day weekend.
Nine months in the making, Awesome Fast is completely sold out. All 600 tickets were snapped up a few weeks after they went on sale. And they did it without corporate sponsorship of any kind, which even the most jaded hipster has to admit is pretty awesome.
“We did everything word of mouth,” Elmore says, “just through the bands themselves or through the record labels involved. It was instantaneous.”
I caught up with Elmore earlier this month in his bandmate's driveway in Golden Hill, where he and Davey Quinn were repairing the doors on their 1994 Ford Econoline 15-passenger van. Tall and thin, Elmore plays Abbott to Quinn's Costello. Elmore is affable and enthusiastic and peppers his speech with intensifiers like “super,” “really, really great” and, of course, “awesome.”
“We really, really tried to not have money involved in anything,” Elmore says. “So, with all the sponsors, everything was trade. We tried to do that as much as we possibly could. We really didn't need anything but us to put it together.”
Many bands lay claim to a do-it-yourself ethos, but for Elmore, Quinn and the bands in their scene, DIY isn't something you put on your MySpace page but, rather, a way of life. The mish-mash of tools, spare parts, beer cans and a door salvaged from a junkyard that lay spread out in the driveway spoke louder than any lip service.
“The only money involved is people buying tickets,” Elmore adds, “and it's all going to the bands.”
That includes bands like Toys That Kill from San Pedro, This is My Fist from Oakland / Chicago, Drunken Boat from Portland, Off with Their Heads from Minneapolis, Cheap Girls from Michigan, Used Kids from New York and a whole raft of Florida bands, including Grabass Charlestons.
The first time “Replay” Dave Drobach of Grabass Charlestons came to San Diego, he was expecting “Hollywood glitz” and instead found “down-home regulars having a good time.” To Drobach, it makes perfect sense that people would come so far to see their favorite bands—and it has nothing to do with San Diego's perfect weather.
“Geographic regions are kind of bullshit,” he says via e-mail. “There's good punks everywhere, people that could care less about how bad you sound, but care about how easy you are to get along with.”
Of course, Awesome Fast will also feature a ton of local bands, like Behind the Wagon, The Bugs, Bumbklaatt (from TJ), End of Power, Sunnyside, Vena Cava and Jon Cougar Concentration Camp, who broke up in 1999 and will reunite to celebrate “10 years of not being a band,” says founding member Chris Fields.
To Fields, Awesome Fast is going to be lot like a typical weekend in San Diego, only with more people. “I don't know how different it's going to be,” he says, downplaying his band's reunion.
But for Elmore, that's precisely the point: “Hey, here's this scene that's been in your town for 10 years, and no one knows about it.”
Although Awesome Fast has roughly the same number of bands as Street Scene, they couldn't be more different. No beer sponsors. No major labels. No price gouging. And no “dirty, hot parking lot,” Quinn quips.
Awesome Fast doesn't even have a comp list. That means no free tickets for roadies or press. Even the organizers are paying for their own passes. This is not a show for people who like to stand on the sidelines and feel cool. That's why so many band—and their fans—are traveling from all over the country to be a part of it.
But there's no question that North Park is changing. Elmore is aware that the festival venues have supplanted the bars where they started playing shows back in the '90s—places like Buster Daley's, Scolari's Office and Chasers.
“Now you've got a dance club on the corner of my street that brings in 500 people from outside the neighborhood. I probably won't be able to live here in a year.”
“This could be our last hurrah,” Quinn agrees. “You don't want to think of it in those terms, but it could very well end on those terms.”
Like the van Elmore and Quinn have fixed, Awesome Fast is held together with available parts, a little ingenuity and a lot of can-do. It won't be San Diego's slickest festival this summer, but it will be a hell of a lot faster and louder. Although North Park Awesome Fast is sold out, Bible Children, Audacity and The Bugs will play a free show on Sunday night at Bar Pink, and Vagina Sore Jr., Too Many Daves and Madison Bloodbath will play a free show on Monday night at the Tower Bar.
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