Back to the Beach Delivers a Wave of Ska, Pop Punk and Emo Nostalgia

The crowd at the inaugural Back to the Beach (Credit: John Gilhooley)

As Goldfinger played songs from its seven-album repertoire at last year’s inaugural Back to the Beach event, friends like Aaron Barrett of Reel Big Fish and Tony Kanal of No Doubt joined the ska-punk band for its early evening set on Sunday night.

Now, for the event’s second year on April 27 and 28 at Huntington State Beach, Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann expects even more friends to grace the stage at the festival that he co-produces with Travis Barker of Blink-182 and Synergy Global Entertainment.

Feldmann touts a personal connection with most of the bands playing the event this year, stemming from his career as a music producer and more than two decades of touring with Goldfinger.

John Feldmann of Goldfinger (Credit: John Gilhooley)

Blink-182, which headlines Saturday’s event and features Barker on drums, opened for Goldfinger in the early 1990s.

“It’s cool how things have come full circle, and I get to produce the band and Travis and I have gotten so close,” he says. “Having this festival together with them headlining, it’s just kind of a testament of… treating people with respect and always being kind to your opening acts because you have no idea who you’re going to be opening for someday.”

Sunday’s headliners, The Used, have a nearly 20-year history with Feldmann, who began producing the band for its debut album in 2002.

The outfit has arguably remained a staple in the emo scene for singer Bert McCracken’s commanding stage presence, catchy tunes and acts as a wall of death during harder songs.

“John Feldmann feels like a family member, maybe a corduroy cousin at times, but that’s still family,” says Jeph Howard, bassist for The Used. “We all love him and have had some great times together and will have a lot more incredible times in the future.”

Saturday’s roster is rounded out by Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Streetlight Manifesto, The Aquabats, Save Ferris, The English Beat, and The Drowns. Sunday boasts acts like The Story So Far, Anthony Green, The Wonder Years, Less Than Jake, Story of the Year, Teenage Wrist and Lowlives.

While some may be confused by genres on the lineup, which was dominated by ska and punk at last year’s inaugural event, they make sense given Feldmann’s background in Goldfinger and the bands he’s produced, including The Used and Story of the Year. Of course, Barker has become largely known as the drummer of pop-punk leaders blink-182, but he also got his start as Baron Von Tito in ska outfit The Aquabats.

“Initially, we really talked about a ska festival last year when we were doing it just to have it just be a fun time,” Feldmann says. “There’s so much stuff happening in the world that’s just sketchy and weird. We wanted to put together a really positive, fun festival. We never really thought it would be an all-ska festival, though, just like my band isn’t really a ska band but we have ska influences. … Because of 311, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Sublime headlining [last year] — with all three of those bands playing ska and reggae — it did really end up being kind of a ska festival. That was never the intent; the intent was to make a really positive, fun festival. To me, pop-punk fills that.”

Travis Barker (John Gilhooley)

Barker, who also produces Musink every March, considers Orange County the proper home for the festival.

“We want to give back to the community that we were brought up in, and Orange County really bred punk rock and ska music,” he says. “Being able to have these shows and festivals here while including those Orange County bands is really special.”

Local OC acts this year include Save Ferris, The Aquabats and Reel Big Fish, the latter of which was noticeably missing at the inaugural event.

However, Feldmann said one of his greatest memories from last year’s festival was bringing Reel Big Fish frontman Aaron Barrett out on stage for a performance of the band’s hit song, “Sell Out.”

“I found Reel Big Fish at The Barn in Riverside when they were opening for The Skeletones,” Feldmann remembers. “Having Aaron come out and play last year was such a huge moment. I felt like that was probably the biggest moment of our set, which could be offensive… but ‘Sell Out’ was such a huge Orange County song in general. I remember hearing that song 40 times a week on KROQ back in the day. It was so good.”

When it comes to the Aquabats, the group’s locality comes into play but also their connection to kids, including Feldmann’s who watched the band’s “Yo Gabba Gabba” TV show as children. The quintet of goofy superheroes also opened for Goldfinger in the late 1990s.

Christian Jacobs, a.k.a. the MC Bat Commander and frontman of The Aquabats, said it was “ideal” they would return to the festival that takes place in their backyard.

“It’s a great festival that’s put on by old friends, great people, and former band members,” he says. “I think what this festival did was it brought back the fun in a way. Not that it was ever gone, but for a long time, I think, ska had this real corny stigma over the top of it thanks to Orange County and bands like The Aquabats. We were always having a joke at ourselves to the expense of ska because, obviously, we’re ska fans but I think we’re more of a satirical, musical thing anyway. I think what it did was it showed there are a lot of new, incoming bands like The Interrupters and people that are still playing the same music and having a good time.”

Jacobs also considers the event a reunion of sorts for the ska-punk bands of the 1990s. He pointed to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ set at last year’s event when the band brought several other groups on stage for its mega-hit “The Impression that I Get.”

“For them to share that with everybody, it kind of exemplified that we’re all a family,” he says. “Whether it’s our age group or because we’re all parents, I think it was just a cool vibe. It felt like we did something cool and fun for everybody.”

Both days of the festival will also feature a carnival midway, beach games, food — including more vegan options — craft beer, cocktails and more.

Families can also explore the Lil’ Punk Kid Zone, which offers activities — like face painting, beach games and crafts — for kids 10 and under who are accompanied by an adult. It will feature healthy food options, including a fruit cart. The area also provides a shaded tent zone for new mothers to breastfeed.

“There’s always a big part that’s just for kids because it’s very family-oriented,” Barker says. “Every year, we put our heads together to figure out what kinds of activities we can do for the whole family. Last year was amazing, and I feel like this year’s lineup even outdoes last year’s lineup.”

Feldmann expects this year’s event to be bigger than last year’s, which was attended by more than 30,000 people. Single-day tickets for Saturday’s event sold out weeks ahead of the gig.

“Obviously, it’s a really new festival, so we were learning last year, and any mistakes we made, we definitely squashed this year,” he says. “To me, it’s like Blink is such a massive win for the festival, and having such a big band play is the thing that’s helping this festival more than anything.”

Back to the Beach featuring Blink 182, The Used, Reel Big Fish, The Aquabats, Goldfinger and more at Huntington State Beach, 21601 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, Sat-Sun. Aug. 27-28, 12 p.m., $39.99-$199.99, all ages, www.backtothebeachfest.com

By day, Brittany covers hard-hitting city news in San Diego. By night, she’s prowling the Orange County music scene, and is usually a regular attendee of local ska and punk shows. Reporting and music have always been Brittany’s passions. She wrote for her middle school and high school newspapers and studied journalism at Cal State Long Beach, where she graduated in 2012. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her French Bulldog, watching probably too many Disney movies for someone her age and napping.

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