Self Help Festival kicked off to a heavy start as Knocked Loose opened the outdoor Red Main Stage. Their heavy breakdowns and hardcore punk beats got the crowd riled up in the hot California sun. It was a smoggy 85 degrees in San Bernardino, California and the crowd had just started to drink. I witnessed a few people playing beer pong outside in the parking lot while As I Lay Dying’s new album blasted in the background. The front gates of the festival had only opened fifty minutes before Knocked Loose went on stage, so the size of the crowd was lacking but the band managed to convince the crowd to form a circle pit or two. Knocked Loose easily had the most screaming from any band at the Red Stage of Self Help Festival.
Self Help Festival was split into two different stages, the Red Stage and the Black Stage. The Red Stage was the main stage where A Day To Remember would eventually headline and the Black Stage, which was indoors, had Motionless In White headlining along with a slew of other bands. It was tempting to go inside to cool off and watch other bands, but the lineup at the Red Stage was so great that I ended up staying there the entire night.
The day took a more calm turn with the band This Wild Life. Sporting Hawaiian shirts and flowers on their mic stand, This Wild Life was a breath of fresh air as the wind began blowing through the massive Self Help banner behind the band. The guitarist with head tattoos put down his guitar after a song or two and moved behind the drum kit as another guitarist came out and took his spot. This Wild Life opened for The Ghost Inside at their legendary come-back show and TGI jokingly requested This Wild Life play “Wonderwall” by Oasis. Embracing the joke, This Wild Life also played “Wonderwall” at Self Help as the crowd belted out the lyrics with them. The chill vibe that the band brought to the festival ended with This Wild Life’s set because Periphery was scheduled to play next.
The next two bands were my favorite of the night because they were the most progressive bands at the festival and I hadn’t seen either of them yet. Those bands were Periphery and Animals As Leaders.
The sun was brutally hot and the venue seemed to be going through technical difficulties as Periphery’s set was over thirty minutes late. Grammy award-winning band Periphery, who doesn’t care about the award, opened with their 15-minute song “Reptile” and it was glorious in its entirety. After concluding the song vocalist Spencer Soleto acknowledged its lengthiness and how it took up over half of their set. Next, Periphery played “Follow Your Ghost,” which was also off of their 2019 album PERIPHERY IV: HAIL STAN.
Luckily the wind was with Periphery as it blew through guitarist Mark Holcomb’s hair during the rest of their three-song set. Concluding their set with “Marigold,” Periphery stood out as one of the best brands at the festival.
Continuing the progressive music was instrumental group Animals As Leaders. Due to their lack of vocals, the crowd wasn’t interacting very much with the band who stood fairly still on stage. Their technicality and musicianship made up for their on-stage performance though. Their progressive music invokes emotions through the music instead of conveying it directly through lyrics and vocals. Animals As Leaders likes to switch between emotions rather quickly adding to their progressive sound. Guitar virtuosos Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes sported beautiful 8 string guitars that played indescribably beautiful music next to rhythmic gangster Matt Garstka.
The progressive element died after Animals As Leaders’ set as Beartooth arrived to the stage. The light was dying and for some unknown reason, nobody turned the lights on for the entirety of Beartooth’s set. For that reason alone, it was lackluster. Caleb Shomo’s performance was great and the crowd seemed to really love the music, but the sun had already set and the show wasn’t being lit for the intensity that Beartooth was providing. A new guitarist was on stage for Beartooth’s performance, but this mystery man was never introduced. Beartooth played hit songs like “The Lines”, “Hated”, “Aggressive,” and “Disease” which the crowd went crazy for. I think Beartooth’s spot should have been switched with I, Prevail’s set based on performances and lighting choices.
I, Prevail was the first band to have lights on after the sun had set at Self Help Fest and they absolutely abused their lighting privilege. I put my sunglasses on and sat down on the parking lot pavement after my first three songs in the pit due to the intensity of their lights. From there, I, Prevail tried to get the crowd hyped up for A Day To Remember, but they kept breaking the fourth wall by saying things like, “we’re supposed to get you guys hyped for A Day To Remember so show them that we’re doing our job!”
Underoath put on a great performance but unfortunately, the crowd didn’t have much energy left in them. Was this due to I, Prevail’s retina scorching lights, the brutal heat from the gigantic ball of fire in the sky, or the fact that water wasn’t free at this festival and people were forced to pay $4 for a bottle of water?
People weren’t allowed access to clean drinking water for 10+ hours because… capitalism! Lollapalooza in 2010 had water stations where you could refill water bottles for free with clean drinking water at any time during the festival. Why isn’t this standard for concerts now? Self Help Fest, please remedy this for future festivals.
Anyway, the dehydrated crowd wasn’t really feeling it anymore. The crowd was also split into a bad horseshoe shape with the soundboard connecting to the stage with a pit in the center. There wasn’t a stage jutting out into the crowd like other big festivals, it was just a meaningless pit in the center of the crowd that greatly divided the energy of the crowd. Many bands throughout the night mentioned how the right section was very energetic and the left section wasn’t doing anything. Underoath played a great set despite the vocalist’s various flight cancellations and travel problems while getting to the venue.
The last time I was at Self Help Festival, A Day to Remember blew my mind with their performance, showmanship, and crowd interaction. This time I was kind of over it. They turned down their level of spectacle a bit and the crowd seemed less than enthusiastic. This could be due to Beartooth’s placement in the lineup compared to I, Prevail, but who really knows.
A Day To Remember opened with their hit song, “The Downfall of Us All” followed by “All I Want” and the crowd went wild. Confetti and smoke blasted into the sky during their set and later on, fire was added behind the band. A large video wall staged behind the band played graphics and live footage from the concert. A Day To Remember played most of their big hits off of their albums Homesick and What Separates Me From You over the course of the night. “Paranoia” and “Bullfight” were the only songs ADTR played from their most recent record Bad Vibrations. Additionally, they played their newest singles “Degenerates” and “Rescue Me” which I found to be lackluster.
I noticed at this show specifically the more I was on my phone the less I enjoyed the show. I wasn’t living in the moment, singing along to the lyrics of “2nd Sucks,” but rather recording the songs to post on Instagram. A lot of people were recording the show so I assume someone else felt the same way. My dehydrated brain was aching and I was itching to leave as their set was coming to a close. The show ended with “All Signs Point To Lauderdale” and “The Plot To Bomb The Panhandle” as the exhausted crowd slowly shuffled out of the gates they entered in 10 hours earlier.
To my surprise, Self Help Festival wasn’t very self-helpful. While a lot of bands played songs that were written about mental health issues, none of the bands really discussed these issues on stage. No speeches came up about the crowd being a family, music helping with depression, or how we can help one another. I think the low energy of the crowd can be attributed to the heat of the day, drunkenness and dehydration of the audience, the division of the crowd, and the lineup of the bands.