Rock! Away! Music Fest Highlights the Musical Renaissance Taking Place in this New York Community
There is nothing I love more than a dedicated local music scene. The musicians and fans of Rockaway Beach are responsible for one of the most refreshing and potent local scenes that I have had the pleasure of witnessing in far too long. From July 14-16, Max Power Productions brought together a community of artists and admirers for the extraordinary, beach-set weekend that was the first-ever Rock! Away! Music Festival.
The musical weekend kicked off with a change of plans due to unpredictable weather. The party was moved from Riis Park Beach Bazaar to Rockaway Brewing Co. on Friday night, which clearly made no difference to all who came out to drink and dance. The tap room has all the makings of a DIY art space, in others words, the perfect vibe for what would go down that evening.
Picnic tables surrounded an open “dance floor,” a graffiti-style wall painting served as the stage’s backdrop, a huge open garage door allowed the packed-out crowd to mosey back and forth between the outside and inside, and really good beer kept us all fueled throughout a powerful four-band lineup. (Side note: Next time you find yourself at Rockaway Brewing Co., I personally recommend the curiously titled and distinctly delicious Asparagus Ale. Just try it.)
Vic Thrill was first to take the stage, and pure rock-and-roll weirdness ensued. In a pair of boxers and mismatched socks, the solitary musician gave the crowd an eccentric and spiritual performance that brought all of us to our feet. Vic Thrill is Billy Campion, co-founder and former lead singer of Long Island’s the Bogmen. I think of him as one of music’s best-kept secrets, as his projects remain largely below the surface while also deserving legendary status in their own right. The wonderfully obscure set ended with howls and praise from a crowd that was now officially ready to freak out.
Next up was the ferocious Rockaway Beach three-piece Arson Welles. It has become increasingly rare to hear an original, tenacious punk rock band these days, even in NYC. But, Arson Welles took care of that problem with a savage set that led to an all-ages, all-out mosh pit.
All eyes were on bad-ass, chicks-only rock band Black Widows as they entered the scene next. The Minneapolis natives have a little bit of everything going for them. Melodic, moody and harmonious, Black Widows fuse together elements of surf-rock, funk, punk and psychobilly. They absolutely ruled the stage with an iron fist… and a spiked heel. Be sure to check out their recently released EP March of the Human Hotdog/Escape to Tortuga Island.
Closing act Hastings 3000 made an explosive entrance wearing his signature gas mask and leaping on top of a table. The artist was not about to allow the crowd to catch their breath. He dove right into a set that you could not look away from.
It turns out that the attention-grabbing gas mask is not just some quirky prop. The ultra-conceptual artist seeks to point out “humankind’s loss of respect for air, food, water, fire, and earth.” If you ask me, Hastings succeeds at provoking thought both through his experimental, spacey sound and visual performance.
Friday night was wild, but we wasted no time making our way to Riis Park Beach Bazaar to do it all over again on Saturday afternoon. There wasn’t a rain cloud in sight. In fact, the sun was blazing all day long as Benjamin Cartel, Lorena Leigh, Blame Mercury, The Forms, Rattrap Bumpkin and the Jason Loewenstein Band played to a diverse crowd of beach goers and music fans.
Indie-folk up-and-comer Benjamin Cartel kicked things off at noon with an easygoing, beach-friendly set, followed by Lorena Leigh who kept the sunny, tranquil vibes rolling.
After noticing that more than half the crowd seemed to be drinking out of these lovely looking coconuts, we had to take a brief break to visit ByTheBeach Co. on the boardwalk. This growing business is a must-visit and a Rockaway Beach staple. The founders began their venture following an inspiring trip to Thailand, after which they decided to bring a piece of the exotic country back to New York. ByTheBeach serves out-of-this-world, delicious rum beverages in fresh coconuts shipped straight from the shores of Thailand. Plus, the staff is delightful to chat with. We can’t rave enough. Don’t miss out on this authentic treat next time you’re in the area!
Alt rockers Blame Mercury were onstage as we made our way back to the music. The upbeat quartet started the crowd moving, especially during their cover of Pixie’s “Gigantic,” a highlight of the set. Energy was rising, and vibes were beginning to transition from low-key to kinetic at this point.
The audience was whipped into shape just in time for high-energy, uber danceable duo The Forms. As the band mesmerized us all with dreamy indie-pop, a pair of artists painted below the stage.
The Forms’ drummer took things offstage and onto the boardwalk for a bit with a pair of makeshift steel “drums.”
The entire festival was filled with art of various forms. This wildly talented painter was a standout of the weekend. At first glance, it seemed that he was simply inspired by the live music to put a brush to canvas. Eventually, we had to sneak up behind him and check out what he was creating. He was in fact painting a portrait of each band as they played onstage. A live art memento of each show that weekend exists thanks to this artist… now that’s cool!
Self-described “pirate rock” trio Rattrap Bumpkin and Jason Loewenstein, a member of the genius ’90s indie-rock band Sebadoh, closed out Saturday’s show at Riis Park. The fest raged on at the A/B Studios afterparty later that night.
Sunday brought even more beautiful weather to Riis park, where Blac Rabbit started the day off on the main stage with their infectious blend of psychedelic rock originals mixed with Beatles covers that sound just as good as, if not better than, the originals. Over on the busking stage, Omaesh Persaud created a pseudo super-jam with a few local musicians who were hanging around the festival. The group put unique spins on Vampire Weekend‘s “Step” and The Grateful Dead‘s “Sugaree.”
Later in the day The Disfunction, a band that hails all the way from Rincon, Puerto Rico, took the stage. Their upbeat indie sound was complemented perfectly by the band’s high-energy performance of original tracks that were very reminiscent of early The Killers. Next up were local favorites The Skells, who put on their usual high-energy performance that always gets the crowd moving. The band combines the grit of growing up in New York City and the carefree vibe that can only be found by the beach to create an incredible unique sound that leaves you amped, buzzed, and humming sexy hooks.
Max Power put together a brilliant inaugural local fest in Rockaway Beach, and we hope to see it become an annual event. This area of New York is undergoing an artistic renaissance that demands and deserves attention. Thank you for having us, Rock! Away! Music Festival. We had a blast celebrating your spirited and unique local music scene!