The stupidest thing the city of Fullerton ever did was welcome a bunch of rowdy kids from La Habra into its city limits to play some punk rock. In 2000, bassist Eric Bootow and his fellow bandmates in local band Fourth in Line were invited to perform at a city sponsored dance for all the high schools in the Fullerton school district at Independence Park. On the surface it sounded like a pretty typical occurrence–a band of graduating high school seniors strumming a few tunes for the kids between DJ spinning hits by Eminem, 3 Doors Down, and *NSYNC.
However, within minutes of setting up their gear in venue’s spacious auditorium, it was clear that Bootow’s band and the uninvited hardcore fan base that followed them there brought slightly different energy to the party–the kind that turns a high school dance into a full scale riot.
“We started playing and the crowd started going crazy, one of our friends was upfront singing along and security pushes him, next thing I know our friend is punching the security guard, next thing I know the security guards are beating up our friends,” Bootow says. The band added to the chaos by jumping off stage to join in the melee. “I almost kicked this dude in the face and then I see he has a Fullerton PD badge,” Bootow says. “Our friend was filming it and a security guard tackles him and stars ripping the film out of the camera, some friends got maced in the bathroom, another friend’s girlfriend got her teeth knocked out, our other friends are beating the shit outta security.”
Shockingly, the band wasn’t kicked out of the dance on the spot for sparking the riot. The organizers of the dance told them to finish their set after everything was broken up…and then they kicked them out. The city subsequently banned the group from performing in Fullerton ever again–until now. Eighteen years after their break up, one of OC’s craziest, most beloved local punk bands is making a comeback.
To be fair, grey hairs, fatherhood and over all maturity have diluted some of the caustic teenage rage that bonded Fourth In Line together when they started in January of 1998. Amidst a wild west era in the OC punk scene, Bootow and Jr. High Friends Chris Griffith, Eric Lopez and a handful of other members who’ve come and gone over the years were unique streak of lightning that burned bright until they burned out.
“We were 20 years olds talking about everyday life, frustration, typical changes you go through at that age,” Griffith says.
During their two year stint, the band headlined shows at venues like Chain Reaction in Anaheim and the Showcase Theater in Corona and shared stages with every big OC band of the day–Avenged Sevenfold, Thrice, Straight Faced, even a random show with Linkin Park.
“We didn’t even know who the fuck they were,” Bootow says of the former alt-rock band that went on to become FM radio giants. “It was in Brea at a show called Jam at the Dam, [Linkin Park] literally just showed up and played.”
Known for their crazy live shows and a mix of skate punk, hardcore and metal energy akin to their mutual favorite band Sepultura, Fourth in Line occupied their own niche in the punk scene that at the time felt wide open to anyone who wanted to add something new.
“It was a mix of so much stuff. All the New York stuff, the stuff were were listening to like Strife, Ignite, Straight Faced and the the emo stuff like Far Side and At the Drive In and Boy Sets Fire that were kind of in the middle,” Bootow says. “I thought the scene at the time was cool cuz you’d see a band like Strife with The Aquabats.”
After releasing their first and only album Open Wide in 2000, the band created lots of unrecorded songs and created a legacy stuck around for almost two decades, eventually calling it quits years before the era of social media. The band didn’t end so much as it faded away as the members got older and had less time to practice. On top of that, Bootow and his brother/bandmate Troy were dealing with the failing health of their mother who was stricken with cancer and later passed away. One of the band’s last songs they wrote together, “Search Light” was inspired by Bootow and his brothers talking to Griffiths about their struggle to cope with watching their mother slip away before their eyes.
After Fourth in Line fizzled, Bootow and his bandmate/ brother Troy eventually went on to join other local bands and form their own outfits (Sederra for Eric and Death Hymn Number 9 for Troy). Eric also toured with bands like Guttermouth and Jughead’s Revenge, while Troy did stints with As Hope Dies and Backside. Meanwhile, other members like Griffith and Lopez kept relatively low profiles outside of live music.
“Literally everyone I hang around with minus the band has never seen me play before. No one knows,” Lopez says. “My group of friends, no one has seen me do this.”
Griffith concurs with a sly grin that belies his role as the band’s loud, relentless lead singer. “My wife has no clue, I tried to explain it to her.”
It wasn’t until meeting up at the funeral of one of their mutual friends and former jamming partners Greg Henry (who jammed with them at their first eighth grade talent show and died from a heart complication) that the guys began talking about getting back together again.
“Eric and I were talking and said we should jam for fun and see where it goes,” Bootow remembers. “I thought it was gonna be an immediate no from somebody and Chris was like “Fuck Yeah!” and everyone was like let’s do it.”
The majority of the original members, now including former fan-turned-lead-guitarist Jimmy Joyce, began practicing together in May without any intention of announcing their return until they felt ready to play a show. In the meantime, the band started writing new songs and took their debut album Open Wide to get mastered by celebrity OC punk producer Paul Miner, formerly of Death By Stereo. The band also pressed a limited number of custom vinyl LPs to sell at upcoming shows.
When the band finally announced they were reuniting last month, they’ve received an overwhelming amount of support from loyal fans, some of whom don’t even live in OC anymore but are flying out from other states to see their first gig in 18 years at Slidebar this weekend. Apparently Fullerton is finally ready to let bygones be bygones. After all, the band’s show couldn’t still be as gnarly as it once was…could it?
“I’m a little worried it’s gonna go nuts,” Griffith says. “There’s definitely people who’ve been waiting for this to happen for a long time.”
Assuming the fans are also hitting their early 40s, maybe there’s a chance they can avoid a riot this time. If not, some punker parents are probably gonna have a lot of explaining to do to their kids the next morning. For Bootow, the only thing more powerful than the teenage angst that allowed that bonded them together is the joy of reliving it for however long it lasts.
“These are the guys I literally learned to play music together with,” Bootow says. “So the fact we get to do it again almost 20 years later is pretty cool.”
Fourth in Line perform with Chaser, Echovox, and Courage You Bastards at Slidebar Rock N Roll Kitchen, 122 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-2233, www.slidebarfullerton.com, 8 p.m., Free, 21+.