SURF ROCK STILL SWIMMING
And kicking and flailing
Jax Surf Fest II was six long hours dedicated to surf rock that I thought would never end. Seven bands, both local and national, played their own version of the classic Dick Dale genre, most of them pretty standard represenatations of the genre, sticking to the typical mold of surf-rock: a 4/4 rhythm and a fast tempo. Although technically talented, their sounds tended to run together after awhile.
Jacksonville locals The Crowkeepers went on while the sun was still shining. There was hardly an audience this early, but they played like there was one. Full of energy, but not too much. It was very fitting of typical surf music. The second band, Tidal Wave, a three-piece from Tampa, started things off much faster, bending chords, and strumming more chaotically. "Are you ready for a beach party!?" shouted the lead singer, and then played their most popular song "Beach Party." It sounded like a party on the beach or something.
There are long breaks between each band. Too long. Everyone takes forever to set up, and they all have their own gear. The only thing to keep the audience entertained between sets is a merch table with skateboards up for raffle.
The Surge is the band that takes the stage when an audience starts to funnel in. Lead guitarist Eddie Katcher is known in surf rock circles as a legend, and a veteran of the Atlanta surf music scene. A smile is on Katcher's face the whole time, perfectly in tune with the other three members. They perform in uniform, red shirts and all with greying hair. They break up their set of originals with a lively rendition of "Hotel California," which the crowd immediately recognizes. It was a welcome surprise, and the band pulled it off well.
Another Atlanta-based band, MOONBASE, takes the stage and offers thanks to their predecessors: "Eddie Katcher is my hero. I wouldn't be standing on this stage if I hadn't met him." They had more of a punk sound, focusing on loud drums. But then it was back to the same old traditional sound again with the Novarays. Their motto was "SURF MUSIC FOR THE MASSES" and kept saying things like "Squiddaleeey didddleeeey," before breaking into a traditional song. Squiddaley diddaly indeed.
Finally at the end of the night, the last bands, The Mystery Men and Kill Baby Kill, were a little more progressive, or at least a little more interesting. After a night of traditional, somewhat safe music, it was strange to see a group of men dressed in black and creepy clear masks taking the stage. I guess that explains the name "The Mystery Men." And they were a mystery. They didn't speak to the audience, just let a recorded track of a strange voice do the talking.
The headliner, Kill Baby Kill were super energetic and a lot younger, sounding more surf punk than surf rock. They had that same surf riff that was prevalent in all of the the other bands' music — that kind of riff you think of when you hear "surf rock" with an urgency like you're about to race and then spiral out of control — but with more of an aggressive edge.
After the show, I sat down next to Bill Sims, the The Crowkeepers guitarist and curator of the event, and asked him how he felt when it was over. He told me the night was proof that surf rock never died. This was true. It was definitely alive that night, and there was a unifying bond that was in the air, as each of the bands watched and supported each other.