For the second straight year, Burger Records has battled through adversity to bring a cheap, high-energy summer festival back to the heart of Coney Island. Dubbed “Beach Bash 2”, this year’s festival hosted twelve exciting bands this past Saturday, July 22nd (with one act returning from last year’s line-up). While the ghosts of the Village Voice’s legendary Siren Fest (QRO recap of final year) haunted the surrounding street of Stillwell Avenue, the Burger Beach Bash worked to revive the spirit and the spectacle of the once highly regarded (and greatly missed) summer concert series.
The most obvious change from last year’s festival came in the form of relocation a mere block east from last year’s MCU Park (QRO venue review) to the more intimate setting of Coney Art Walls. The newer setting provided for a more artistic and inspiring atmosphere than the grassy field infield of the Brooklyn Cyclone’s baseball diamond. However, missed were the soft grasses to lie upon and shade of the stands (not to mention indoor plumbing and ability to order a ‘nacho helmet’ in the grandstand). Instead, concertgoers were welcomed to a hot concrete lot with little to escape the oppressive sunshine.
Additionally, the logistical headache of navigating last year’s hordes of sea-folk revelers attending the annual Mermaid Parade became a distant memory. This fact was likely due in part to an anticipated higher turnout that failed to materialize with the conclusion of the Parade’s end time and location being within the vicinity of the festival proper. The obvious lesson learned from this experience included this downgrade in venue scale while retaining the same beautifully scenic backdrop of the Thunderbolt rollercoaster. Yet, despite all of the trials and tribulations (for better or worse), the festival did have one common thread from last year: a day’s worth of exciting music at a super cheap ticket price (of $20 and $15 in advance!).
While there were signs of growth within its festival operations from its inaugural 2016 kickoff, there were some shades of last year’s confusion present. Although door times posted on the website stated noon, anyone arriving just prior to 1:00 pm found the main entrance barricaded and a security team still working out the details amongst themselves. It was there from out on the street that the short line of twenty or so concertgoers heard the beginning of the afternoon’s first act, Mattiel. Peering through small gaps in the mesh fence you could spy the quartet playing their first songs to an empty lot. Security claimed that once “soundcheck” concluded the doors would open; however, unfortunately, said soundcheck was actually the opening songs of the set.
It was not until the fourth song within their 25-minute set that the doors officially opened and the small handful that gathered at the gates could make their way to the stage. However, slight trouble with the communication within the organization left flummoxed photographers temporarily boxed out of the photo pit (35mm film cameras are abundant in the depths of Brooklyn). Meanwhile, performing with hands-on-hips and a cool countenance, Mattiel commanded the small but rapt audience and set the bar for the evening in terms of rock ‘n’ roll attitude. As the group finished their set and left the stage, an audience member apologized to the band about the situation that left them essentially playing to nobody.
Before the next act began, and in preparation to begin a long day’s festival, a trip to the bar revealed that, unfortunately and unlike last year, there were no free drinks to be had this year for VIP bracelets (whether or not they were supposed to be last year remains a mystery…). Presumably, the small crowd, who almost all appeared to contain either VIP or All-Access badges, was not present last year to realize the disparity.
Following a quick turn over by the stagehands, the next act was able to perform not too far behind schedule despite the early morning issues. Taking the stage, and a page out of the handbook of Tom Verlaine/Television, were the aural stylings of Brian Hill & The Noh Starrs. The post-punk sound dripped with an early New York CBGB’s feel that was hard to ignore.
Sidestepping the hip confines of the evening and ushering in a playfully rocking set were the Toronto-natives Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs. Coffey, decked out in a studded black outfit with a deep, deep, deep, V-neck, sported their signature blue denim vests adorned with their logo as the back-patch. The others wore the same vests (a la their video for “Talk 2 Her”) while they belted out jams that had several audience members citing a probable Thin Lizzy influence.
Surfbort, the Brooklyn-based epitome of punk, thrashed the super hip and expertly tattooed masses. The short two-minute long tracks came one after the other as the bikini clad Dani Miller lolled and convulsed across the stage. Letting it all bare, the lead singer climbed and danced atop a speaker stack before climbing over the railing and dancing along the audience and the various musicians who came out to soak in the experience.
The 2016 Burger Beach alum Cotillon returned in a potential bid to fool the masses that may not have caught the act at the festival its first time around. Strumming the daze away, the trio refocused the audience and provided a welcome respite from the high-energy artists sweating the crowd under the glaring sun. Chilled out tunes filled the air and offered a good opportunity to grab a fresh drink at one of the many bars provided by Coney Art Walls.
Introducing harmonica-laden blues-rock to the evening was three-piece outfit Daddy Long Legs. Comprised of bare-bones singer/harmonica player, guitar, and drums (no cymbals, mind you) the trio shook up the evening with the early rock n’ roll grooves in the vein of the ‘50s predecessors of the genre.
The ‘B’ Girls offered up the first nostalgia trip of the evening. The punk-rocking women, who helped shape the scene back in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, rattled off tracks from their earliest releases. Decked out in sleeve-tattoos and leather jackets the ladies’ iconic looks highlighted their trendsetting legacy. Yet, despite the nearly 40 year gap since their formation, the ‘B’ Girls seamlessly felt as new and fresh as if they were a newly formed group hitting the scene.
The latter half of the evening brought the surprisingly entertaining Village People celebrity, and night’s MC, Randy Jones to the stage. Jones, better known as the Cowboy, walked out to his ‘70s hit-song “YMCA”. During part of his amusing introduction for Habibi, the MC noted the physical beauty of the women to a collective awkward groan from the audience.
Habibi’s underlying surf-rock musings paired well with the sunny beach vibe Coney Island offered. While the ladies of the all-female group slightly swayed on stage the audience matched their movements to the softer grooves. At this point in the day, the crowd started to appear to have filled in a decent amount, much to the credit of the all-female performers.
After Nobunny stalked onto the stage to the sampled sounds of clinking glass bottles and the theme song from The Warriors (can you dig it, suckers?), the group dashed into a frenetic, high-energy set. With each member styled in some sort of bunny-chic attire, the group blasted through, jumping, rolling, and climbing the lighting truss as they whipped the audience into a fury. It was towards the end of this set that a light rain started to fall for a brief handful of minutes.
Hailing from Beijing, China, the biggest deviant in the aural landscape was the synthesizer-infused leanings of the band re-TROS. Delving into synthetic rhythms and digital landscapes, the band expertly capped these textures with layers of drums, occasional bass guitar, processed guitar riffs, and vocal lines. Captivating the attention of the audience, re-TROS offered the closest semblance to a Burger Beach Bash dance party.
Taking to the stage amidst the returning rainfall, indie darlings Sunflower Bean drew the largest of the evening’s crowd. A quick soundcheck riff or two (sounding of T. Rex’s Bang A Gong [Get It On]) coupled with another charming introduction by MC Randy Jones, left Sunflower Bean to enrapture the crowd. Backed by beautifully inky azure skies the bandmates faced off and let loose the jangly-pop infected tunes as the audience danced in the rain.
The steady rainfall preceding punk rock trio The Zeros caused for a mass exodus from the open-air festival grounds. While a majority of attendees fled, a small loyal contingent of music lovers decided to stick out the rain to catch the rare appearance of the punk rockers. Perhaps in response to the light crowd, the photographers pit was flooded with a healthy amount of VIPs and band members from other acts mirroring the attendee count on the opposite side of the security barrier.
Before making the final set of the night, MC Randy Jones hilariously capped his talking-up of the group’s accolades by erroneously introducing the band as “re-TROS!!” A visibly exasperated reply from Zeros frontman Javier Escovedo questioned: “WHO?!” The leftover crowd and remaining members from the evening’s previous bands received a rousing closing set of back-to-back catchy tunes. The love was apparent between The Zeros and Daddy Long Legs as the bluesy frontman supplied some backup vocals and a few licks on the harmonica for one track. Unfortunately, not much of the crowd remained to soak in the rain and classic tunes.
As the Burger Beach Bash 2 came to a close, many questions remained for the future of the record label’s attempt to claim the summer streets of Coney Island. True, the musical draws have consistently been extremely interesting acts each year with enough variation to draw a diverse crowd. And, true, the sights and locations offer much in terms of aesthetic value for the festival. Although Burger Records is not a freebie as Siren Fest once was, a $20 ticket price is still one hell of a bargain. Will the festival be able to draw the crowds that can sustain another year’s growth? Do people care to visit a festival that is something other than the sponsor heavy corporate machine that is a Coachella, a Lollapalooza, or a GovBall? Do people even care to support a fun and small-scale music festivals anymore? Will Burger Records be able to return to Coney Island for another round?
-words & photos: Derek Klevitz