You can usually find sophomore Jenny Williams in front of Phelan Hall selling fair trade coffee or Krispy Kreme doughnuts for an Erasmus fundraiser into the wee hours of the night, desperately trying to get drunken students to pitch in for the cause. It was exciting to see her abandon the traditional method of fundraising ignored by students and shake everybody’s ears, hearts, and minds by bringing a five-hour rock festival to the USF campus: the Festival For Freedom. The lineup included local favorites such as Ty Segall, Travis Hayes Busse, Ghost Town Refugees and Man/Miracle. The real treat was to see Santa Cruz bands on the bill. This was not all too surprising of Santa Cruz native Williams, who is a devoted fan of all the Santa Cruz bands she invited. Williams should have dropped the doughnuts and applied what she loves, music and culture, to help benefit others a long time ago.
The Santa Cruz bands that conquered Phelan’s McLaren Conference Room were Quantum Visionary, Depth Charge Revolt, Koalacaust, Vox Jaguars and James Rabbit. The music from both Northern California regions crafted an eclectic set. Each band sounded different from the others, bringing its own flavor, sound, attitude and style. Williams’ intention was to showcase varying modes of sound, but it was disappointing to see that most of the USF students missed out on some mesmerizing bands, mainly showing up for the latter part of the festival to see popular local acts Travis Hayes Busse and Ghost Town Refugees. The space was filled with Santa Cruz fans, friends and families for most of the night.
Depth Charge Revolt left me in awe. Fans of the Melvins, Butthole Surfers and Swans would rejoice at their sense of sheer brutality. Duo drummers laid down rhythmic chaos while the guitars built up walls of sinister melodies only to have breakdowns destroy them with their sledgehammers of relentless distortion. The voice of lead singer Hector Lee Heaviside was agonizing, not only to hear but to watch as he heavily stomped around the stage, his face getting redder with every ferocious bellow. Depth Charge Revolt does not want to criticize people through fear, but help them find meaning in the absurdities of personal emotions and social problems that one faces daily such as sex, anxiety, and the meaning of identity.
Besides the psych-metal of Quantum Visionary, the rest of the acts weren’t nearly as heavy as Depth Charge Revolt, but they all had their own unique kick. Rowdy punk folk boys Koalacaust finally got people’s knees moving and gained a following of moshers. Instead of guitars grimed out by distortion, Koalacaust kept it clean and acoustic. Somehow within the swift riffs of the acoustic guitar, the trotting drums, the deep melodic breaths of the accordion and the gravelly but sweet vocal harmonization, Koalacaust seemed as tough as similar acts the Dropkick Murpheys or O’Death.
Everybody got a chance to cool off with the crooning of Travis Hayes Busse. San Franciscans and Santa Cruzers huddled around the stage. No one was standing, all sat down before Busse. The crowd was attentative, yet reflective during the personal songs he sang. An intimate performance capped off with a cover of The Smiths’ “There’s A Light That Never Goes Out.”
Ghost Town Refugees engraved their “psych-jazz-rock” infusion into every open mind around campus with consistent performances at Crossroads, Harney Plaza and venues around the city. For this show the band members collaborated with Kevin Kunze to make experimental videos that put the Ghost Town Refugees’ music into new depths. In terms of performance, this was the Refugees’ tightest and most confident set.
When Vox Jaguars were around 17- 20 years old and have been playing music for years. They had off-the wall energy mixed with Elvis Costello coolness that ripped away from their garage rock sound. They demanded the attention of the audience and lured them even closer to feed off their energy. Their youthful, vigorous energy and their refined skills will spark even greater and more matured hits, like their song “Swagger,” later in their career.
It was impossible not to dance to the sensational group James Rabbit, one of the two headliners. They had infectious melodies, rhythms that would tear your sneakers apart, quirkiness that slaps the brain silly, and dance moves that compete with a churchgoer overcome by the Holy Ghost. The biggest regret of my night was telling the lead singer, Taylor, that they should make it big while asking for a copy of their latest album. I realized mainstream success would ruin them and any chance of high-energy acts like theirs to stay unique and autonomous.
The crowd was wincing away by the time Ty Segall, the final headliner of the night, took to a dark corner of the room for his set. Everyone was exhausted from the four-and-a-half-hour music marathon. Only the committed and the true stuck around. The lone cowboy of furious garage rock, Ty Segall, with his guitar clutched in steady hands and drum shackled to his feet, buckshot the senses right back into primeval. The skull-snapping kick drum, the filthiness of the guitar and the lividness of Ty’s hollering reminded us why we came to the festival in the first place: to listen to some awesome music.