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Summer Meltdown VI: Rockin' with the fans and chillin' backstage

A fan's perspective on this year's marathon music fest

Posted: May 28, 2009 3:12 p.m.
Updated: May 28, 2009 7:12 p.m.

Stephani Osborn, 22, watches Evidence is Here rock the house during the Summer Meltdown concert at Golden Valley High School Saturday, May 23.

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Another tremor rocked Southern California last Saturday.

Centered deep inside Golden Valley High School in the Santa Clarita Valley, this tremor was not caused by traditional seismic mishaps, but by the loud, high-energy rock and hip-hop music of 13 bands and their hundreds of screaming fans at the 2009 Summer Meltdown festival.

Unlike the '94 quake, this was one I was glad to experience.

Covering the sixth annual "Summer Meltdown Autism Awareness and Social Inclusion Concert" was one of the most exciting assignments I could have taken on as an intern with The Signal. My mission was simple: experience and write about the event from a fan's perspective.

However, I was no ordinary fan: I had VIP backstage access, allowing me to interview some of the hottest up-and-coming bands in Santa Clarita and the rest of the state as well as willing fans in the audience.

Armed with the essentials -- a reporter's notebook, pen, digital camera, digital recorder and a pair of ear plugs -- I took a seat on the concrete bleachers and tried to blend in as much as possible with a crowd of middle-school, high school and college-aged young people eagerly waiting to rock out.

The festival got started right on time at 1 p.m. as local band Evidence is Here took the stage. The band's heavy metal sound was a wonderful thank-you for the fans who decided to come early and brave the mid-day heat. With songs like "Write Me Off," Evidence launched Summer Meltdown with power and style.

"They were very into it," said Ronnie Walker, 12, a Sierra Vista Junior High student. "There's good energy here."

BLT (short for "Brave Little Toasters"), from West Ranch High School, took to the stage next at 1:45 p.m. Clearly an audience favorite, BLT quickly got the crowd dancing with their single "Dracula Bunny."

Vocalist Zac was an explosive ball of energy, running off and back onto the stage and dancing ska-style, or "skanking." Shortly after their performance, numerous members of the audience were sporting new BLT T-shirts from the band's merchandise table.

After walking around and munching on pizza and other available refreshments I sat down to watch West Hollywood group Oh No Not Stereo on stage at 3:15 p.m. Dressed very colorfully, vocalist and guitarist Sky Nielson revved up the excited audience to level 10 during their song "Let's Get it Started." The feel-good rock sound of this song could have easily been the official anthem of the day's event.

Judging by the epic roar of excitement from the audience around 3:36 p.m., I could tell SCV's Mission:Black was ready to begin its set. The quartet led by Chris Collier quickly captivated the audience, as fans danced and banged their heads in approval of the music. The band's cover of The Beatles classic "Eleanor Rigby" impressed their fans as two worlds -- metal and classic-al rock -- unexpectedly collided.

After Mission:Black, I headed past the security guards backstage to the dressing rooms, where I met up with one of my favorite groups playing Summer Meltdown, Blue Sky Reality, from Los Angeles.

"We've never played a high school before, so we're very excited," said Zak Stucchi, vocalist and piano player. "It's like a new thing to us. We've played colleges and places like that, but we're always excited to reach new fans."

Blue Sky Reality softened the afternoon's mood when they started their set at 4:12. The audience bobbed their heads and clapped their hands to songs like "Years," a highlight of the band's new album, "The Cabin Sessions."

Kounterfeit Change from Los Angeles hit the stage about the time the audience seemed to have reached its maximum for the afternoon, around 1,500 (the venue can hold about 2,000). The band's "Senorita" was a relaxing tune that made the crowd sway and feel as if they were on a Caribbean beach.

A minor disturbance occurred during this performance which sent some members the audience running to get a look at the action. I found out later it was a couple guys who were intoxicated being thrown out of the festival after one of two punched a member of the security crew. Security was handled by off-duty cops donating their time. They were cool, but didn't mess around, either.

A hard rock atmosphere soon replaced the beachy vibe as crowd favorite and local SCV band Renfue took the stage. The audience happily screamed the words to older songs such as "What You Wanted" and to newer songs like "Dancing with a Liar." Support and adoration for vocalist Yvonne Marder was clear as many teenage boys screamed like teenage girls at the stage.

"It's really weird -- I'm just a normal girl," Marder said when asked later about the supreme admiration from her loud, supportive, mostly male fans. "I have a full-time job. On weekends when I'm not with the band I stay at home and sleep all day. I'm just a normal person."

Marder also compared this year's Meltdown compared to last year's, when Renfue also played.

"This time around the crowd was better," Marder said. "They recognized a lot of our stuff and knew who we were, whereas last year we were the opening band, so the response wasn't that energetic."

Forrest Day from San Francisco and his group took the stage at 6:15. Performing with a solid seven-piece band, Day and his music could be heard echoing throughout the hills surrounding Golden Valley. Fans danced to the staccato beat of "Secret" and laughed along with Day's jokes between songs.

"(Forrest Day) was really high-energy and had such great spirit," said Jordan Wageman, 18, a College of the Canyons student. "They just made everything so much fun."

Taryn Manning and her brother Kellin of the Los Angeles group Boomkat sent the concert into the night, kicking off their performance as the sun began to set. The audience seemed to be transported into another land by her vocals on the soft, breezy single "Run Away." While there were many faithful Boomkat fans in the audience, the group picked up new ones Saturday with other catchy songs such as "It's Not My Fault."

After Boomkat, an unannounced surprise was in store for the fans. The full-of personality Los Angeles band Tha Tooonz took the stage and filled the amphitheater with catchy hip-hop riffs and hooks. Their music was as vivid and colorful as their attire that evening, and their positive lyric messages resonated with the crowd. By the end of Tooonz' dance-friendly songs "Adrenaline" and "Jock ‘N Me," the audiences wanted more, yelling "T-t-tooonz!"

While all the other acts on the Summer Meltdown bill were booked by the Yes I Can students, Tha Tooonz were a suggestion of Bret Lieberman, the program's director at Golden Valley, and Summer Meltdown's executive producer, who met the group at a recent concert promoted by radio station Power 106.

"Bret reviewed our band and got in touch with us, saying we're really positive and we'd be perfect for the Summer Meltdown," said Martii, Tha Tooonz' co-lead vocalist.

The last three bands played as the night sky deepened over the valley. Los Angeles band OPM (short for "opening people's minds") got the crowd dancing once more with their ska-flavored song "Dirty White," and everyone in the audience seemed to know the words. The fans were glowing during OPM's show - literally - armed with glow-sticks purchased from one of the festival vendors.

The Dirty Heads from Huntington Beach took the stage at 9:10. The near-capacity audience started tightening up in front of the stage, making it a little harder for fans to dance to fan favorites such as the reggae-tinged "Stand Tall" and "Believe." The Heads certainly made an impression on the Summer Meltdown audience, who were happy to hear the band would be on the Vans Warped Tour bill this summer.

After Dirty Heads' performance, I made my way backstage again, this time to talk with Shwayze and his partner Cisco Adler before they went onstage. Ready to get the interview of a lifetime, I was escorted into their dressing room, where I took a seat between them.

We touched on a variety of subjects. I asked them if there was a time when they ever felt excluded from a group in high school, which is how some of the kids with disabilities feel sometimes.

"Well, yes, I'm sure there was -- we're both quite weird dudes in our own right," Adler said. "Like me, I was always sort of connecting every clique -- that was my vibe. I would hang out with the jocks one day and the cheerleaders everyday."

Shwayze also commented in high school, he was "the same exact way."

I also asked the duo about their upcoming album, slated for an August release.

"It's just the old sound expanded," Adler said. "We made sure that we'll please the fans who really love that style but we also want to take them along a couple of new paths. You want to grow with your audience. Since our first album came out we've gone through a lot of crazy stuff. So you can't help but come back a little bit different and with different influences."

As I returned to the audience, I noticed the atmosphere was full of anticipation for Shwayze. But first, there was another pleasant musical surprise.

Shwayze's cousin, Chris Young, just signed to a production deal with Cisco's company, hopped onto the stage first and pumped up the crowd with his upcoming debut single, "Stadium Rap."

After Young introduced the headliners, the packed audience erupted with applause and screams as Shwayze and Cisco Adler ran up on stage, accompanied by their DJ, Prints Hornsworth Delay, who handled the tracks, beats and special effects, and even played bass and trumpet on a couple of tunes.

Singing "oldies" such as "Polaroid" and "Roamin'" and new songs including "Get You Home" and "Rich Girl," Shwayze and Cisco had the crowd from the first note. The duo made an even more direct connection to their fans during "Corona and Lime," when they jumped off the stage and leaned over the barricades separating the stage and the audience, and lucky fans could touch them and shake their hands.

The duo was also quite talkative on stage. Cisco talked about how cool the whole festival is, and that it took them about 10 seconds to say "Yes!" when they were asked to headline it.

At one point during "Buzzin'" they joked that everyone should join their awesome "Shwayze School," and Shwayze playfully changed the lyrics to fit the Summer Meltdown scene, singing "I got a rep to protect down at Golden Valley High School."

When the duo wrapped up their set and exited the stage a few minutes after 11 p.m., they left the audience wanting more. Still feeling pumped up and ready to go, Shwayze and Cisco returned for a spectacular encore, "High Together," a song about sharing an infamous green herb. "Metaphorically speaking, of course," Adler said from the stage, aware of their young audience.

The festival definitely exceeded my expectations, and I think those of everyone who attended. The superior lineup of artists set a new standard for future Summer Meltdowns.

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