When the Scallywag! Craft Beer, Food & Music Festival first came across my Facebook screen, I was immediately taken back to my freshman year of high school when my brother had introduced me to the whole punk music genre and I had fallen in love. I then became obsessed with the sounds of bands like Pennywise (who I have seen over 12 times and been backstage and sang Bro Hymn Tribute standing next to Jim Lindberg….but I digress) and the one and only, icons of the punk rock world, Bad Religion.
Knowing some of my favorite bands of all time were going to be playing at the same place near my house, I jumped on the chance to cover the show as media! If you were there, you know that on September 29, 2018, the White River Ampitheater in Auburn set the stage for one of the most epic nights ever to hit the South Sound. If you weren’t there, you missed out on a great party with a couple thousand of your closest friends!
VIP gates opened at NOON and the music began promptly at 3:30 p.m. with Mad Caddies followed by Less Than Jake, The Interrupters, Reel Big Fish, Pennywise (which by the way, their new album came out this past April and you can listen to it here – you are going to love Won’t Give Up the Fight) and Bad Religion ended the evening. The running joke of the day was how old everyone was, not just in the bands, but in the crowds. Looking around, it was so awesome to see that us “oldies” in our 30’s, 40’s and beyond could still survive the circle pits and crowd surfing. I will say, when my friend and I watched The Interrupters we were taken aback by how young they looked, with Kevin Bivona being in his early 30’s and vocalist Aimee Allen being at the tender age of 36! We were all there to watch the legends we grew up with on stage together, and Auburn definitely showed up! Just type “#scallywagfest” into Instagram and see for yourself how much fun everyone had!
My friend Brittney and I had the chance to sit down with Chris Demakes and Buddy Schaub of Less Than Jake backstage before they played. Chris loves festivals like Scallywag because the people that attend are those that grew up listening to all of the bands. As they tend to be an older crowd who have jobs and kids, they can’t come out during the week due to adult responsibilities. Having Scallywag on the weekends is more ideal for the audience. When they first started, their fans were teenagers or in college and they all have grown up and are married with children now. These same fans are now bringing their kids to the shows, creating a multi-generational audience that are all genuine fans. As for the changing music scene, Less Than Jake continued to evolve with it. They started out with cassettes and vinyl, as it was always popular in the punk rock world. As times changed, they went to CD and MP3 and now of course streaming and social media. There are a lot of older bands that had to begrudgingly get into social media. Chris said no matter what career you are in, you have to keep up with changing technology. Less Than Jake always tried to keep up things and never tried to fight it.
For our own personal knowledge, we had to ask what inspired the song Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts. A guy they went to high school with moved to Gainesville and was in an architectural library one night when he saw someone had written on a desk, “Less Than Jake are sellouts,” and then signed it, Johnny Quest. Their friend told them about it and they said okay and wrote a song about it. To this day, they don’t know who wrote that on the desk. It was during the time in the 90’s when selling out was a big deal. Today, kids don’t care. For Chris, “selling out” wasn’t about the dollar, it was more about – if this is something I want to do with my life, why are you going to turn down the golden egg?
We asked what it was like to go out and play songs that have been around for over 20 years. Chris was pretty honest and said sometimes they feel like they are on auto pilot (like at any job!) but most of the time, they feed off the energy of the audience and cherish each of the moments.
When they first started touring, they were gone up to eight months out of the year, living out of a van and that kept up well into their 30’s. In 2011 they started having children and now the longest they are gone are about five months out of the year, but breaking it up differently, with only gone about three weeks at a time.
One of their most memorable albums to make was Anthem. They recorded it in Malibu and were taking every dollar they could from Warner Brothers, which was the second time they had been signed by a major label. They saw the writing on the wall with downloading music, as it was right before YouTube came and they knew where the music industry was going. WB threw a bunch of money at them to record the album and they lived it up! They had $400 a day to spend in Malibu and would see celebrities at the grocery store. Cher lived next door to them in her mansion, even though they never saw her. Their first record also holds a special place because it’s the first and they didn’t know what they were doing and everything was still exciting.
And the age old question, where did the name, Less Than Jake, come from? Drummer Vinnie Fiorello’s parent’s had a bulldog named Jake, and they were less than the dog. And unlike so many bands, Less Than Jake has had the same line up since 1993! That’s a pretty amazing feat in the music world!
We also sat down with Derek Gibbs, Matt Appleton, Aaron Barrett, Billy Kottage and John Christianson of Reel Big Fish before they went on stage.
Asking how they liked Washington, Johnny told us a story about how in 2013 they started the Warped Tour at the White River Ampitheatre. Johnny and Derek wanted to get something to eat and they started walking down the street from the ampitheatre and they came upon a fireworks stand and asked if there was anywhere to eat. The gentleman at the stand said, do you want to eat or do you want a restaurant? The gentleman said, “five miles either way, there is nothing, but the Pow Wow is going on right now and you could eat there!” They all invaded the Pow Wow and ate Navajo Pizza and fry bread and it was amazing. They have a fond spot in their hearts for Washington because of it.
When asked how they have seen the music industry change over the years, they were pretty honest on how they all make less money now with the collapse of the record industry. Bands don’t sell music anymore – they make music and “sell” it, but people don’t buy it anymore and they make all their money on tours and merchandise sales. They all love playing shows so they don’t mind being on tour and playing in front of audiences.
When they go on tour, it’s usually about six weeks at a time and they have to go-go-go. They try to take off as few days as possible because they still need to pay for the tour bus, etc. One of their favorite tour memories was playing in Dubai with Megadeth, Three Doors Down and Testament. While in Dubai, the whole band was taken in a 4Runner into the sand dunes and they let all the air out of tires so they could go up the dunes. The driver was pretty crazy and Johnny was sitting shotgun and asked if they ever roll these things and the driver looked over at him and said, “Sometimes….” At the top of the sand dune, they took out a snowboard and another 4Runner pulled up and it was Dave Mustaine in the passenger seat. In Thailand, they had the chance to feed elephants and watch them bathe each other. Many of their on tour experiences have been pretty awesome.
Having families now and being on tour makes things a little more difficult but when they aren’t on tour, they are at home making their kids breakfast and taking them to school while their wives go to work. Johnny’s daughter has had the chance to do some really cool things, like going on the 311 Cruise and ate piles of bacon and soft serve.
We asked how they choose their set lists for their shows and they said they love playing the hits, which are the songs the audience wants to hear. Aaron said he thinks its worse to play the songs he selfishly wants to play that nobody likes and watch the audience stand there and stare rather than being excited. They want to please the people – how could they not want to play a song like, Beer, when everyone goes crazy? Even after all these years, seeing the crowds at their shows singing along is the best feeling. Johnny said its the best job you could possibly have. He has had other jobs that he didn’t like and he loves this. He knows they are making a difference in people’s lives and they are making them happy. While you can get tired of doing the same thing every night for six weeks in a row, you take a few days off and then you are amped up again.
With so many band member changes over the years, we asked what goes into finding the perfect band member. Aaron said they just got very lucky. Every time someone had to leave, the perfect person was always waiting in the wings.
Congrats to the folks behind the Scallywag Festival and the rest of the bands and crew for an incredibly successful stop on the tour. I’m so proud of Washington for showing up to support the legends of the punk rock world. They laid the foundation for all other bands to follow and to be there and support them after all these years just makes the heart happy.
Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post. I received two comped press passes for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.