Punk in the Park
November 4th and November 5th, 2023
Oak Canyon Park
Consider this an overdue recap (with a bunch of righteous photos included) of the third annual Punk In The Park festival that happened last month. The two-day event was held at Oak Canyon Park—a beautifully wooded venue nestled in the Santa Ana Mountains in Eastern Orange County. It is hard to believe that a place like this hosts a punk rock music festival—one with over 100 different kinds of craft beers. So very not punk rock! Maybe it’s just hard to believe that the institution of punk rock has become kind of cushy since its beginnings.
Yet, at this year’s lineup were a few of punk’s old guard, such as Buzzcocks, Circle Jerks, GBH, The Dickies, Descendents, and The Queers. These groups were formed in the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s. With the exception of deaths and tweaks in personnel, these bands have longstanding original members who are still killing it.
With about 40 bands performing on the bill on Saturday and Sunday there was a lot of action spread out over the three stages. Keeping on the lookout for the bands that played on the small ancillary stage proved to pay off with notable sets on Saturday from The Gringoz and Niis to name a couple. Niis, a four-piece hardcore punk band from L.A. fronted by Mimi SanDoe, got up there and destroyed. The tiny stage didn’t allow them to run as wild as they might have if given more real estate.
The bruising 30-minute set from A Wilhelm Scream on the main stage early Saturday afternoon set a high bar for the acts that would follow that day.
Two hardcore punk bands from Santa Cruz, California, Drain and Scowl, energetically worked the stage and dust storms sprung from the circle pits. This was especially true with Drain. Vocalist Sammy Ciaramitaro, raged at the crowd to get moving, then ceremoniously dove over the barricade into the audience, belting into the mic nonstop.
Los Angeles legends The Dickies hit the stage at dusk, capping off the afternoon with a solid set of songs which included classics “(I’m Stuck in a Pagoda With) Tricia Toyota”, “Manny, Moe, and Jack”, as well as a couple of old rock cover songs that helped foster their early notoriety. Founding members Leonard Graves Phillips (vocals) and Stan Lee (guitar) formed The Dickies in 1977. Seeing them and their bandmates play for three generations of attendees was mind-blowing.
More great music from the old guard ensued, first with English punk rock veterans GBH and then Hermosa Beach’s Circle Jerks.
Pennywise was the headline act on Saturday (Day 1).
The next day, Speed of Light, a band of siblings from Santa Monica, drew a crowd near the small stage and put on an incredible show. Riley (vocals/bass) is 16, Tyler (drums) is 18, and Cameron (guitar) is 20. Their musicianship is tight, they engage the crowd, and their energy is infectious. A rising star without a doubt, Speed of Light has been around for a few years, playing the L.A. club scene at places like the Whisky a Go Go and the hallowed Redwood Bar and Grill, which is a punk rock Mecca.
The Side Eyes was the next act to play on the small stage, just after 3:00 pm. Watching this four-piece powerhouse, fronted by Astrid McDonald, made missing one of the more popular bands on the main stage totally worth it. They brought yet more savagery to that tiny stage that sat off to the side.
Punk rock and skateboarding go together like popcorn and Netflix, so Vans had their huge demo ramp on-site. Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero, Lizzie Armando, Bucky Lasek, and other pros dazzled the crowd, pulling off maneuvers that provided yet another example of how to distract from catching a band on the big stage.
There were also standout performances from The Casualties and The Lawrence Arms.
Salton Sea, California’s Throw Rag rocked the Park with a badass, funny, and refreshingly weird performance, mainly due to singer Sean Wheeler’s onstage antics.
As it started getting dark, the Dwarves hit the stage. They kept it fun, kept it brutal, and kept it filthy—meeting, maybe exceeding expectations—considering theirs was a short set.
(Cramming 40 bands on three stages, over a two-day span is no easy feat, even if the average duration of a punk rock song is two to three minutes.)
The bands who wrapped up this year’s festivities were Buzzcocks, then Goldfinger, and lastly, the Descendents, the headliner. These bands gave it their all that night—each of whom a lengthy, blow-by-blow review could be written.
The camaraderie at this event between the attendees and between the bands was truly special.
Check out more photos
(Credit: Charlie Steffens/Gnarlyfotos)
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