Beach Goth Day 2: The Music Saves A Rainy Day

Beach Goth Day 2

Beach Goth Day 2 festival grounds; photo Reuben Martinez

For the uninitiated, Beach Goth is a two-day festival put on each year at The Observatory in Santa Ana by surf-garage kings The Growlers. It’s a hedonistic, grimy (in the best way), mutant display where people dress up in gory costumes and groove along to diverse lineups that always have a sense of humor (Devendra Banhart after Gucci Mane, anyone?). Let’s just put it this way, it’s held in a parking lot, and you’re not gonna see any damn flower crowns.

Before departing for Beach Goth Day 2, I spoke to a friend of mine who went the previous day (headliners: James Blake, King Krule, Bon Iver), and heard the usual complaints: oversold, overaggressive security, and hot as hell with no relief. These are things patrons have been complaining about for the last four years, so I was expecting them. I might even say, prepared for them. Not even close.

11:25am: I arrive. The line to get in is so long it’s offensive and it’s sprinkling. “It will let up,” I think. “It never rains all day in Southern California.” After all, I had dutifully looked up the day’s forecast and was promised a steamy 80 degrees for most of the day, so I dressed appropriately, i.e. sandals, a tank-top, and my soon-to-be-crushed naiveté.

12:20pm: I head over to the smaller of the two outdoor stages to see The Frights. On my way, I pass booths peddling merch, tantalizing fried chicken sandwiches, and whatever the girls in black t-shirts and no pants were promoting. I stop by The Growlers tent and pick up a “City Club” shirt for a reasonable 25 bucks. Reasonable in that it would save my life in about four hours.

The Frights

The Frights – Beach Goth Day 2; photo Reuben Martinez

12:35pm: The Frights went on right on time and slayed. Their high-energy, surf-punk songs about hating your parents and making out were a perfect kick-off. They sounded great, and got into the spirit of the festival by dressing up as characters from the Netflix show Stranger Things.

The lead singer was dressed as Eleven, complete with a nosebleed and Eggo waffles that he tossed out to the crowd, while his bandmate, dressed as Hopper asked the crowd, “Can anybody tell me where the fuck Will Byers is?” Oh, and they did a killer cover of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.” The rain had stopped, the sun was coming out, and I was in a state of bliss as I headed over to the Observatory stage for the next two sets.

1:20pm: There are two stages indoors, the tiny Constellation Room stage, and the larger Observatory stage. I head into the latter with no issue. It’s full, but not stifling, and I can hear the hum of an air-conditioner. I hunker down and get comfy, thankful that I’ll be out of the sun for the hottest part of the day (Oh, blissful ignorance). Smooth as clockwork, freak-folk outfit Timber Timbre went on at 1:35, and cast a spell with their spooky, moody magic. I was entranced by the dark atmosphere inside the venue, accented with red lights and Taylor Kirk’s demented gyrating.

2:35pm: BRONCHO, Ohio pop-punkers responsible for the di-di-di-di-di ear-worm “Class Historian,” were up next. I’ve seen them before and here’s the thing. I love their albums, but the way they mix their live sound, it winds up sounding like mush. There’s no distinction, and Ryan Lindsey’s nasally gurgle of a voice can barely be made out. The same thing happened this time around, but the songs are so good, that it’s still powerful and high energy…when you can tell what song it is.


BRONCHO – Beach Goth Day 2; photo Reuben Martinez

3:10pm: My stomach had started to growl during the BRONCHO set, so I decide to forgo Tops in the Constellation Room and head back to that tasty fried chicken tent I saw earlier. As soon as I exit the cozy darkness of the Observatory, all hell breaks loose. It’s raining. Hard. The exit reads “No Re-entry” and the surly security guards staring at me wordlessly enforce it. Besides, I’m hungry, so I take a deep breath and step outside. “This isn’t so bad,” I think as I purchase my chicken sandwich. I ravenously tear into my food, crouching over it so the rain doesn’t make it soggy. “I’m having a good time.”

3:20pm: I take respite in a port-a-potty. Sad, I know, but I gotta pee and write down some of my notes. I enjoy the dryness for longer than anyone should be in a port-a-potty and head back out into the wet.

3:55pm: Devendra Banhart starts his set at the larger of the outdoor stages. “You’re gonna get wet, but you can keep each other warm,” he tells the soaked crowd. For the current downpour situation, Banhart is the perfect medicine. His feel-good, latin-infused, psychedelic folk music makes me actually enjoy the rain. It’s soothing, cleansing, instead of the reason my toes are going numb. He plays songs off of his new album, Ape In Pink Marble, as well as old favorites that keeps the audience swaying as the rain came down even harder.

4:45pm: At this point, I’m soaked to the bone, freezing, and wanting shelter. Problem is, there’s absolutely none. Also, the number of people in this joint has increased, it seems, ten-fold. I can barely walk without stepping on someone. Add to that the confusion of the rain, and I’m surprised I didn’t get an eye taken out by all the drunken umbrella holders. I make an executive decision. I’ll miss out on some other acts so I can go back inside and camp out for The Buttertones at 6:15. I wait in the enormous, mob-like line to get indoors, putting on my new Growlers shirt in hopes it will stop my shivering.

5:10pm: Finally, I’m about to get inside. Sweet victory. Hallelujah. I can feel the welcoming dryness beckoning to me. I’m practically inside. BOOM. Huge Samoan security guard barrels into me, shoves me out of the way so hard that I nearly lose my balance, and cuts off the line, slamming the door shut. “No one else is getting in here,” he bellows. Shit.

Beach Goth Day 2

Beach Goth Day 2 festival grounds; photo Reuben Martinez

5:30pm: Back in the port-a-potty. Did I have to pee this time? No. Did I have to wade through ankle-height puddles that have made the main drag of merchandise booths look like Venice, Italy? Yes. People are huddling around food trucks for warmth, poor girls who spent hours doing their makeup (bloody gashes included), huddle sadly under upheld sweatshirts. I walk back toward the smaller outdoor stage. This seems to be the only place where there’s actual breathing room, so I take a seat on the cold, wet ground.

5:45pm: A lovely gay couple wanders over and we commiserate. We realize the stage has been shut down and they won’t get to see their beloved Grimes, the reason they bought their tickets in the first place. I won’t get to see The Drums, one of my favorites. We exchange condolences. The sounds of Unknown Mortal Orchestra waft over to us from the main stage. I tell them my plan to stick it out for The Growlers and then get the hell out. We part ways.

6:40pm: After one more expedition to the port-a-potty—during which I saw one poor girl lose her balance and tumble into a huge puddle, as well as a security guard slamming a seemingly innocent man’s face into a taco truck—I head back to the main stage where Future Islands is finishing up. Alas, it has finally stopped raining and I’m enjoying the communal heat of the crowd.

8:10pm: After a 40-minute delay—they had to put in a new soundboard—The Growlers finally take the stage. “Sorry we made it rain,” Brooks Nielsen explained, thanking the crowd for hanging in there through a brutal day. Dressed in matching burgundy suits, the band served a crowd-pleasing mix of new City Club tracks, plus perennials like “One Million Lovers” and “Someday.”

Nielsen is a happy host, part Willy Wonka, part carnival barker, genuinely happy to be there. “This is our festival, but it’s also all of yours,” he said.

As I swayed along to the music, I didn’t care that my toes were numb, that I missed half the acts I wanted to see, that I would probably contract pneumonia in the next few days. There was nowhere else I wanted to be.