After three SurfGuitar 101 Convention appearances I figured I was overdue in participating in the surf event representing my region: the Southern Surf StompFest. StompFest is the annual big event surrounding the smaller monthly Southern Surf Stomp events in Atlanta. It’s a full day of surf & instro groups from everywhere but with a little bit of bias towards groups closer to Atlanta. It’s a free event put on by Chad Shivers of bands like The Squares, Moonbase, The KBK and most importantly The Mystery Men?
I flew in early on Friday and took it as an opportunity to engage in some record store tourism starting at Criminal Records, where I picked up a Bambi Molesters 7”, a split 7” between The Penetrators and Phantom 5ive and a Diminished Men LP that was on sale. I felt happy but quite sated, and decided to check out Fantasyland Records across town. They had a few vintage LPs I already owned and some ventures 45s but it felt like a bust, even asked if they had any specially priced 45s behind the counter. They said they didn’t. I had chosen some other mystery 45s that they needed a moment to price and they said I could dig through some 45s behind the counter in the meantime. Weird that they had just told me that they didn’t have any, but I wasn’t about to complain. Made out like a bandit with some rare surf 45s from The Torqués, The Ho-Dads, The Roemans, “Cat’s Eyes” by The Invaders, and some clean Ventures 45s. I hadn’t seen a single band yet and I already felt like the trip was worth it.
Pre-Party at Trader Vics
I was really excited to check out this famous tiki bar -- enough so that I forgot my camera. This was such a fantastic night though. Admittedly I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to the opener Kinky Waikiki as I was saying hi to familiar faces such as Longboards and Longhorns host Bill Raser, Johnpaul Balak, and Mystery Men Jamie Galatas and Chad. But even cooler was meeting several others including the members of the AmpFibians and Sue Ellen the self-proclaimed biggest female surf fan in Atlanta. It’s really amazing walking into such unfamiliar territory and feeling completely at home, moreso than many shows in my own hometown!
I had also been eyeing Bill’s electric blue drink and at Chad’s suggestion I indulged in a mocktail (not an alcohol guy). Damn it’s amazing having a proper mocktail with some effort in a big fancy glass.
But let’s talk about The Delusionaries. I was already a fan from both of their LPs and maybe I was already in extremely high spirits, but these guys knocked me flat on my butt. As I expressed after the show, I was slightly worried that they wouldn’t sound as shitty live, that they would be a little more hi-fi. Their saxophonist was in earshot and laughed saying “you don’t have to worry about that.” This was the best kind of trashy rock & roll, sounding absolutely savage and completely unhinged. It’s the real stuff y’all, that rare energy that many just try to photocopy. Their guitarist has all the initial sex appeal of a ham radio enthusiast and some of the most bizarre gear handy to back it up, but he was a straight-up deity when performing, making spine-twisting licks sound effortless and imbuing them with a lethal cutting edge. When they broke into The Sonics “Have Love, Will Travel” (a rare vocal) the entire room was moving, and their rendition made the original sound restrained. With guitar, honkin’ sax, drums and upright bass you’d think they’d have a different approach than your average surf fan might be used to, but I don’t think anybody present had a hard time.
Southern Surf StompFest
You wanna know how to be a hit with the people in your Lyft? Tell them you’re going to a surf music festival. Between this weekend and SG101, it never failed to strike up a conversation. The other thing I kept hearing was “You’re from New Orleans? So you’re used to this heat, then?” Not quite, more like I’m familiar with this heat. By the time I got to the Little Tree Art Studios it was a little after noon and the sun was laughing at everyone below. Stompfest is an indoor/outdoor deal with the bands performing in a small indoor space that wouldn’t even accommodate more mainstream acts, but there’s plenty of people outside. Not just vendors but people in lawn chairs sitting in the shade, sometimes under tents. As hot as it was, I like the setup, feels like a block party and I’m definitely a creature that enjoys the light.
I unfortunately showed up with only 2 songs left for Forbidden Waves who like their surf music raw and without a whole lotta reverb. It felt pretty high energy and seemed like a good way to kick things off, even if people were still filtering in.
The MC for the event was Jet Powers of Atlanta surf group El Capitan and he did a great job of hawkin’ raffle tickets and letting people know about what’s going on while wearing a plethora of different shirts. Jet also performed, though, with the Wheel Knockers. There was a disclaimer though: this was a “turf” group, which really meant definitely not a surf group, vocals and all. Their brand of charged-up alt-country didn’t feel terribly out of place, though, and they even snuck in a (very good) instrumental that they wrote specifically for the event.
A lot of whispers about Atlanta mainstays The Surge, a band that I had always heard of but never listened to. They said Eddie Katcher was playing way back in the surf wave of surf and when they play in California the crowd worships them. Right when they ripped into the first song it was pretty clear why. Sometimes when I pick up a 45 of 60’s surf I think “aw yeah, this is the real stuff” and that’s how I felt here. Beautiful 60’s surf sound but with an attack that feels expertly sharpened and keeping hold of that youthful energy. Eddie was such a likeable dude up there, not only clearly enjoying playing but finding so many opportunities to thank everybody that made the event happen. The played a few covers including an enjoyable Mr. Moto, a song that I find tends to lose its luster in the hands of most (and it was a tribute to Paul Johnson who’s fighting Leukemia). I also got a kick out of their cover of Fastball’s “The Way”, that one 90’s hit that everybody loves but forgets. Super impressed with this whole performance.
I loved The AmpFibians’ Enigma from the Deep so they were one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing. Before playing a note you have to like them, they’re wearing matching gold suits… except for their keyboardist in a green shirt, sunglasses and a fake beard. The AmpFibians are known for changing up their style and did so with ease, swapping between regular surf, spaghetti western, Halloweeny stomps, Link Wray-styled yee-haw, you name it. The crowd was loving it too, even requesting the song “Wolf Whistle”. I mean take a look at this guy:
No matter what style they tried those guitars just sounded plump and right. And their stage presence was great too, full of jokes, synchronized guitar movements, and an overall feeling of fun. Totally lived up to my hopes and one of my favorite acts of the day.
Next up were Go! Tsunami who brought two new things to the table: a sorta Friday the 13th gimmick and a keyboardist. I’ve never really understood why keyboard seems to mean “horror surf” and overall I wouldn’t say they were overly immersed in a creepy vibe despite the outfits. In fact, they even did a cover of “Telstar” which I’ve always thought was a nice and sweet song. They did have a bit more of a punk-influenced guitar tone than the previous two acts but overall they fit the reset of the bill pretty well.
Chad is a big champion of The Flying Faders saying he thinks their LP is one of the best surf albums in the past 10 years. While I enjoy it, I certainly don’t share that level of enthusiasm, but I definitely wanted to see if I could see what he’s seeing. First of all, love the way they’ve decked out their amps and the bear’s pretty cool too.
When they started playing, I certainly think Chad was onto something. He described a sort of sweet sadness to them, sort of like Pet Sounds (and as I noted in my head, sorta like his own band) and I heard it and was certainly soaking it up. But they also had that sharp edge, which meant that they can have a sound that at times gave me very light shades of shoegaze and yet they could pull off a great cover of an Apemen tune (“Surf Dracula”, one of my favorites!). They’re one of those bands where the guitarists are trading off flashy melodies so frequently that it’s hard to call anybody “lead”. I think I need to go back and listen to their LP again because I was certainly feeling it.
For a lot of people, next was the most anticipated show of the day: The Mystery Men? playing their finally released album Firewalkers in its entirety. Shamefully I missed most of this performance when they did the same thing at Surfguitar 101 over a year ago but I’m pretty sure this album has changed since then. I was also one of the privileged few in the audience that had already spent some quality time with these songs, so my experience was likely a bit different than others’, but regardless it really felt amazing being there in this moment in a setting that really felt like their community. As I said in my review, Firewalkers has a surprising amount of sweetness, and since every song was played that all came through, but it was the powerful side of the album that really had something to say in a live setting. Hearing their three-guitar setup in person had so much more muscle and complexity to it than I got from my own speakers (and though I listened pretty loud in my car, this was probably twice as loud!).
There were a few extras thrown in: violin, flute, and on the last song the sound that I thought was accordion was a melodica. Nobody expects the melodica. All that Firewalkin’ was accompanied with some fireswallowing for “Hotel Loneliness”, which was such a good song for it -- already a standout on the record but having that visual attached to it has elevated the song forever for me.
It’s such a cool album and I love that I could be there for the moment it finally found its way into the light, and The Mystery Men? solidified themselves as a group of legend for this region.
For some The Mystery Men? might have been the climax of the day but a lot of other people might disagree. Catalonia’s Los Tiki Phantoms were up, bursting with summer fun surfpunk energy. Some might see masks in a surf band and think Daikaiju. For the most part this would be wrong: their songs are short, dancing focused and upbeat, and most importantly they certainly aren’t mute. They were cracking jokes constantly between songs and encouraging people to dance. So why bring up Daikaiju? Because both groups have a way of making the audience a big part of the show. As a “sacrifice” for not dancing, they took a pool floatie and sent a girl crowdsurfing on it. A few songs later they had the whole crowd in a conga line. And naturally, they ventured off-stage and into the crowd on many occasions. Towards the end, as everybody is drenched in sweat, they really made everybody part of the show by throwing out masks similar to theirs to everybody in the audience -- everybody skull-faced and bouncing along to “Tiki on me” a cover of the A-ha classic.
I also want to give them a shout-out for the best handling of an encore I’ve ever seen: as the band walked off the stage, the drummer yelled at them and started counting off for another song, sending the band rushing back on stage. I’m sure it’s rehearsed, but it’s funnier and so much better than the charade of walking off stage for 2 minutes while the audience hoots.
The audience mostly cleared out when they were done, but I guess that’s what you do when a bomb is about to go off. The KBK was next. This was a band that meant a lot to me: back when Storm Surge of Reverb was fairly new to the New Orleans airwaves I put on a benefit show for WTUL and Kill Baby Kill headlined. It was straight-up amazing, they were so much more savage than their recorded material (which I still love) and it was one of those nights I wish I could just tivo in my brain. Then they went kind of dormant as their members had life happen to them. Chad was telling me that he joined as a bass player because he loves this band and he had to what he could to keep them existing.
They started off ferociously loud and convulsing all over the stage as they played (Chris, their keyboardist, would pretty much stay this way for the whole set). This is louder and faster than what you might have heard from Corridor X. Unlike last time I saw them, they had cut out the audio clips, which in this situation I liked -- this was no-nonsense noise for the final few that remained. I also got to hear some of the late-period stuff that never found an album like the unbelievably frantic “Stopoff in Ridgeview”. They hadn’t lost a beat since I’d last seen them, and I felt privileged to have gotten a second opportunity
StompFest 2018 was absolutely great and such a cool way to get to know the Atlanta scene. What really impressed me was the crowd: very young to millenials to the older set and I swear to god a 60-40 male-to-female ratio at worst -- a rare achievement at most concerts let alone this nerdy subset. I suspect that the free entry might be a key here, letting people take a no-risk chance on checking it out, but personally I would have happily paid X amount of dollars for the experience. It’s inspiring to see and I can’t wait to come back next year to see the friends I’ve made and shake hands with some new ones. Thanks Chad and everybody involved for a killer weekend.
More pics here