The inaugural ‘When We Were Young‘ Festival took place in Santa Ana April 7th and 8th, expanding the Observatory’s usual indoor location into an open area outdoor experience. Two outdoor stages were built across the venues parking lot, titled ‘Heroes Stage’ as the main attraction and ‘Dancing In The Street’ stage as the second appeal. Inside the primary venue, ‘Observatory From Mars’ stage provided a darker ambiance for music and adjacent to the setting, ‘Let’s Dance’ DJ room featured night and day spins from various artists. Fusing punk rock, pop and alternative rock, 44 artists performed throughout the weekend headlined by Morrissey Saturday night and the Descendants on Sunday.
Fortunately for concert attendees, the weather provided a stellar atmosphere for everyone present as cool temperatures encouraged hundreds of people to scurry about stages in an attempt to see various acts. Attendance began to expand as ‘Alkaline Trio’ appeared on the main stage mid-afternoon. Lead singer Matt Skiba basked in the afternoon sun as the band began their set list with ‘Noose Over Nail’ off their debut album. Fans of their early work rejoiced as they continued with ‘Emma.’ Opposite end of the festival, Brooklyn-based ‘Beach Fossils’ attracted a large audience, blending dream and shoegaze pop with soft and mellow harmonies. ‘This Year’ proved to be a fan favorite as they promoted their upcoming third album ‘Somersault.’ Inside the venue, Orange County natives ‘Guttermouth’ channeled anarchy and chaos as lead singer Mark Adkins traveled wildly across the stage, often reaching the general public and drinking amongst his fan base.
As the daylight began to fade, ‘Cage The Elephant’ took the main stage with brute force. Lead singer Matthew Shultz erupted with excitement as they crowd turned into a frenzy. Performing the latest fan favorite ‘Trouble,’ people began floating towards the stage as they surfed throughout the crowd in an attempt to gain a closer position. Shultz on stage character personifies the rock star moniker, making the Kentucky band a must see attraction. As night took full force, ‘AFI’ appeared to a thunderous reaction. Davey Havok kicked off the hour set list with ‘Girls Not Grey.’ Focusing predominately on their hit tracks, ‘The Leaving Song Part II’ and ‘So Beneath You’ drew massive ovations from the audience. Havok took advantage of his surroundings, climbing the stage supports as he suspended over twenty feet in the air before ending the night with ‘Miss Murder.’
Those in attendance wondering if ‘Morrissey’ would make an appearance were quickly silenced as he graced southern California with his presence. The founding member of ‘The Smiths’ took the stage on schedule, beginning the night with ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ off The Smiths catalog. Audience members flooded the night with backing vocals as the concert continued with a sing-a-long participation from everyone present. ‘Suedehead’ continued the evening, as he vividly pressed an anti-administration position of the current government. With on stage protests and visual deliveries and global injustices, Morrissey conducted every sense of uplifting encouragement with subtle notches of emotional vulnerability. For those in hopes of nostalgic references, ‘How Soon Is Now’ quickly received one of the loudest ovations. The night concluded with Ramone’s cover of Judy Is A Punk, fusing music performances with political messages.
Sunday’s festival continued with a variety of genres, fusing emo tunes with punk rock overtones. New Jersey Natives ‘Saves The Day’ began drawing larger crowds on the main stage. Lead singer Chris Conley provided his high-pitched signature vocals to stir up excitement for the crowd. ‘Firefly’ and ‘Shoulder To The Wheel’ kicked off their set list. Los Angeles natives Silversun Pickups continued the main stage excitement, with lead singer Brian Aubert and bassist Nikki Monninger relishing in the crowd’s dedication. Aubert fed off the live energy by teasing Monninger who appeared to be slightly shy, yet gracious. Aubert encouraged everyone present to photograph and record her performance, causing Monninger to blush before performing their hit song ‘Panic Switch.’
Continuing on the main stage, Fidlar received arguably one of the largest crowd surfing reactions of the festival. The Los Angeles natives fused their punk rock roots with anarchy and destruction, quickly establishing themselves as one of the toughest acts of the festival. Taking Back Sunday waved farewell to the sunlight as they took the stage to a massive ovation. Lead singer John Nolan took the stage, thanking everyone present for their festival participation. ‘Death Wolf’’ began to draw a large reaction from the crowd as the Observatory crowd dialed back to their yesteryears for nostalgia and heartache. With hardcore overtones and passionate lyrics, they concluded their set list with ‘MakeDamnSure,’ receiving one of the largest fan participations of the weekend.
Closing off the festival, Southern California natives ‘The Descendants’ arrived with high praise and respect. Providing the original punk rock presence of the weekend, lead singer Milo Aukerman unleashed a rabid onslaught of punk rock and hysteria that festival participants waiting anxiously to release. Aukerman played an homage to Southern California punk rock bands of the past, citing NOFX, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and The Adolescents as founders of their scene. ‘Everything Sux’ captivated young and old listeners with anti-authority and uprising reactions, quickly making everyone present a punk rock honorary member. Aukerman constantly thanked the audience for their response and interaction, basking in the warm reception of the crowd before signing off.
When We Were Young Festival proved to be well organized and successful, fusing a healthy ensemble of genres and entertainment. With their successful turnout, it’s safe to speculate 2018 will continue with another well-balanced lineup.
Photos by: JACOB GAITAN