I’ve been to a lot of concerts and festivals in my day, but A Day To Remember’s punk–rock festival Self Help had to have been one of the most ridiculous experiences of my entire life. This festival is the brainchild of ADTR frontman Jeremy McKinnon, who created it to provide opportunities for bands in the punk scene that are overlooked by traditional media and other big festivals. This year, Self Help kicked off here in Philly and will also hit Orlando, Detroit, and San Bernardino later this year. The nine–hour festival was a series of increasingly ridiculous moments that wound up creating a festival unlike anything I’ve ever attended.
Even though I arrived 10 minutes after doors were supposed to open, a giant line stretched for blocks and didn’t seem to move at at all. It quickly became clear that the festival had opened its doors late, but that didn’t seem to stop grungy punk band Microwave from taking the stage to what I imagine was a crowd of fewer than 20 people. To make things worse, they opened with perhaps their best song, “Lighterless,” so those of us stuck in line had a jam–sesh to the faint sound of the track from three blocks away.
The crowd really started to pick up with metal group Bad Omens, and people began shoving up against each other as a circle pit opened up. The open space quickly filled with your average rowdy and angsty young men throwing kicks and punches at each other, but a couple characters jumped in there. A shirtless man with sagging pants and a gorilla mask was throwing down, while another guy was wailing on other moshers with the plaster cast on his broken arm, presumably scaring the fedora off of the young man who looked like he should have been at a Nickelback show. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a boy in a fedora, a guy with a broken arm, and a man in a gorilla costume violently face off against each other in a pit.
The energy from Bad Omens carried over into the set of alt–rock band Can’t Swim, and crowd–surfing really picked up. In the last song of the 25–minute set, a guy made it to the front where security usually helps pull crowd–surfers safely down, but instead of making it over the barricade, the crowd launched this poor guy straight into it. Face first. It took him a minute to get back up, but to be fair, he walked it off like a champ.
In the 20–minute gap between the sets of Can’t Swim and Chicago pop-punk band Real Friends, a hearty debate broke out in the crowd over whether Sheetz or Wawa is the better convenience store (Wawa, obviously). Someone near me screamed “FUCK WAWA,” and at least a hundred people started booing. Real Friends took the stage and frontman Dan Lambton started a Wawa chant, so it’s pretty obvious where the band falls in this debate (I’ve also seen Lambton perform shows in a Wawa sweatshirt, but that’s beside the point).
About halfway through Real Friends’ set, I noticed a kid that could not have been more than 11 singing along to every word. Props to that kid’s parents for taking him to a punk festival so young.
While waiting for metalcore band Falling In Reverse, I spoke with a guy who warned me, “If you hear cymbals and then someone hissing, that means you’re going to die.” This set the tone for the entire set.
Falling In Reverse and their lead singer Ronnie Radke are notorious for having as many people vehemently hate them as they have people who genuinely like them, so it was unsurprising that the majority of the crowd was completely unwilling to comply with Radke’s outrageous request for everyone in the pit to sit down. Radke screamed that they were not going to play the next song until everyone sat down, and even went so far as to stop his band from playing when they tried to start the next song. He actually ended up apologizing in a since–deleted Instagram post for not realizing that the ground was completely sand and dirt.
The entire song “I Am Not A Vampire,” especially the lyrics “Hi, my name is Ronnie / I’m an addict / Hi Ronnie.” It was maybe one of the most unfortunate songs I have ever heard in my life.
Metal band Underoath came on next and salvaged the festival from the complete shambles Falling In Reverse left it in. Their set went off almost completely without a hitch, until they walked off stage and someone in the giant circle pit picked up a ripped–out piece of blonde weave from the ground and started waving it around, ultimately throwing it somewhere into the crowd.
About halfway through their full–length headlining set—the only one of the day—A Day To Remember encouraged fans to crowd–surf by literally surfing a friend. As in one person would crowd–surf lying down and another person would stand on top of that person. People actually bought into this, and I don’t think I have ever seen so many crowd–surfers get dropped on their heads.
We'll see if the festival comes back to Philly next year.