On September 23, Sniffling Indie Kids and Mint 400 Records hosted the Second Annual North Jersey Indie Rock Festival at Cathedral Hall in Jersey City, featuring twenty-four bands across five different local record labels. N.J. Racket was fortunate enough to sponsor the event alongside the world-renowned Jonathan LeVine Projects.
As I had been looking forward to this event for months, it is hard for me to really explain what that day was like and how the experience was to me on a personal level. I got to work closely with Sniffling Indie Kids and Mint 400 while they planned the event, and while my personal involvement was minimal, witnessing the level of effort and dedication they put into lifting this event to its full potential and to create a space and atmosphere that was positive, safe, inclusive, and (most of all) fun was truly inspiring. Before we o any further, I want to take a moment here at the beginning to say thank you to everyone that participated in the event, from the festival planners, performers, promoters, vendors, and audience members. These types of things cannot exist without everyone’s passion and participation.
The Festival lineup this year also had an impressive amount of talent, featuring some of the most popular and in-demand performers the state has to offer: The Moms from Bar None; Dentist and Fruit & Flowers from Little Dickman; Cicada Radio from Killing Horse; The Skullers and A Bird from Mint 400; and LKFFCT and Spowder from Sniffling Indie Kids.
Still, for all the bands that brought with them big followings, there were other artists that were surprises to many of the festival’s spectators. Shred Flintstone opened the event at noon with the benefit of being able to play before the crowd split between upstairs and downstairs. The surf-punk trio put on one hell of a show with frontman Dan Barrecchia flailing around on the floor after ripping the kind of guitar solo that he’s echoed through the DIY scene for years now.
A band that personally surprised me was Little Dickman’s Rock N Roll HiFives, the Centeno family punk band with mom and dad on the bass and guitar and the kids on keys and drums. Their energy and chemistry as a band was inspiring. Aside from all just being talented musicians, it was simply a great experience to see a family really just having fun and enjoying each other. They didn’t hold anything back, either, with dad wearing a purple cape and jumping off of amps. There’s something to be said about the distinction between performances that are simply “good” and performances that are something “special.” The Rock N Roll HiFives are special.
Fruit & Flowers’ appearance at the festival was highly anticipated. The Brooklyn band had been making waves all summer with the release of their EP Drug Tax on Little Dickman, an excellent Audiotree performance, and extensive touring across the country, and they managed to live up to every bit of it.
Another performer few, if any, were familiar with prior to his performance was the Duke of Norfolk, a folk singer from Oklahoma by way of Ireland, who, when he took the upstairs stage in the cathedral, sounded absolutely angelic and provided the festival goers with a moment of calm and relaxation that I’m sure everyone needed by that point in the day.
Meanwhile, back downstairs in the basement, two bands very familiar with the setting did what they do best and rocked that church in a way that hasn’t been seen since the world was discovered to be round. LKFFCT, prepared for the release up their upcoming full-length Dawn Chorus, hit the stage with the type of energy that had the crowd of Meatlocker faithfuls begging for “more soup!” Following them, Spowder managed to put on a kickass show even with frontman Declan McCleary having to sit through the entire set with his left leg in a cast.
Eventually, the night came to a close with Jersey City natives Desir Decir rocking out the N.J. Racket stage under dim lights as the sun had already set, leaving the cathedral with a dark and intimate mood for those who managed to stay on their feet by the end of the nearly ten-hour festival.
I’ve struggled writing and rewriting this piece, trying to collect and convey my thoughts and feelings on the day and the event. At the end of the day, the festival was a success for the second year in a row. That’s not to say things couldn’t have been better. Yes, the reverb was bad at times (the cathedral wasn’t built with punk power-trios in mind). Some table vendors cancelled last minute. There could always have been more people in attendance. But what made the festival a success was simply that it happened. When people seem to be more and more preoccupied with negativity and hate, having events like the North Jersey Indie Rock Festival still brings people together to celebrate art and community. Because even though it’s infinitely easier to just stay home and do nothing, people like Neil Sabatino and Frank DeFranco put in countless hours of work to make this shit happen for no other reason than to make a positive difference in this community and to share that with fellow labels, bloggers, and fans.
The Second Annual North Jersey Indie Rock Festival is a representation of the entire indie community. What made it work was the passionate input of everyone involved, and having been able to share in that experience only makes me more psyched for what the next year will bring.
Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.