Back To The Beach: Punk and ska bands grow up, carry on

Tahoe Onstage

Goldfinger’s John Feldmann is the organizer for Back To The Beach.
Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage photos

Ask anyone who was around in punk’s early days – the late 1970s and early 1980s when the music raw, intentionally against the grain, and subversive by its very nature – and they’ll tell you that shows had the potential to erupt into violence, sometimes against police, sometimes against each other.

“People used to tape razor blades to their combat boots and swing around these chains. And the circle pit was just insane,” John Feldmann, recalls. “I got knocked out at a Suicidal Tendencies show this one time. This guy had these steel-toe combat boots and did a backflip off the stage and just knocked me out. I was laying there unconscious for like five minutes. A little sketchy when you’re a 16-year-old kid.”

I feel like if people aren’t going ballistic in the crowd, I’m doing something wrong. But I’m 51 now. I started the band when I was 26. I think about the ‘Star Wars’ prequel scene where Yoda fights Palpatine and he’s just going crazy, but afterwards he grabs his cane and hobbles out of the arena.”

Feldmann is best known for being the singer and guitar player for the Goldfinger, a band that throws elements of pop punk and ska into its upbeat songs. Songs such as “Here In Your Bedroom,” “Superman” and “Mable” may be sound like a far cry from these old punk influences. But Feldmann makes the connection from how that punk past has progressed into going on three decades of writing, playing and producing music, and now putting on a festival.

“Generation X influenced me as much as TSOL and the Dead Kennedys did, and even when I was a kid, I gravitated more toward the poppier side of punk rock. Black Flag and Minor Threat were more about the message, the aggression more than the melody, but for me when I started Goldfinger, I wanted to do something between Elvis Costello, Bad Religion and The Buzzcocks.”

Feldmann grew up in Southern California and continues to live in Los Angeles. Over the years, he’s worked producing music ranging from Good Charlotte and The Used to Hilary Duff and Ashlee Simpson to Disturbed and The Fever 333. And while his versatility in the studio puts his work in demand for artists across the spectrum, it also gives him something to feed off of for his own performances.

Tahoe Onstage

Blink – 182 is one of the headliners at Back to the Beach festival in Huntington Beach.

“Since the beginning of Goldfinger, we’ve always tried to be a super high-energy band. I remember seeing Fishbone play with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction in the late 1980’s, and watching (Fishbone’s singer) Angelo Moore do a double backflip off the balcony and then headwalk across the crowd. Now I started running, thinking maybe I can do something like what Angelo does.”

After years of headline tours, festivals appearances, and just shows in general for punk crowds, Feldmann laughs about his onstage energy. “I feel like if people aren’t going ballistic in the crowd, I’m doing something wrong. But I’m 51 now. I started the band when I was 26. I think about the ‘Star Wars’ prequel scene where Yoda fights Palpatine and he’s just going crazy, but afterwards he grabs his cane and hobbles out of the arena.”

On top of recording seven albums with his own band, worldwide tours, raising three kids and working with other bands in the studio, a couple years ago while Goldfinger toured as a part of Fat Mike’s Punk In Drublic tour. A half dozen bands played day-long festival style shows with free beer and food trucks adding to the festive environment Feldmann got the idea to add “Festival Organizer” to his resume, and Back To The Beach was born.

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Fat Mike of NOFX

“I just thought, if NOFX and Fat Mike can do a tour, why couldn’t I do a ska punk event? I reached out to everyone I knew, and I feel like we put together something magical.”

This year’s festival lineup is a who’s who of bands mostly centered around the ’90s scene. Blink 182, Save Ferris, The English Beat, The Used, Reel Big Fish, Streetlight Manifesto, The Aquabats and Goldfinger, which promises a few onstage surprises.

“The first year turned out better than I could ever have expected. And it’s amazing seeing people bring their kids, all these adults now showing their kids, ‘Hey, these are the bands I grew up on.’ ”

Feldmann talks about there being something special about those bands that had an early affect on you. “I really sunk my teeth into bands that come from that area of Orange County; The Adolescents, TSOL, Social Distortion, all those classic Southern California punk bands.” The festival will take place on the beach in that same area where Feldmann years ago witnessed some of the violent shows of punk’s young rumblings. But today, being older, having a family, it’s a different era and he has a different appreciation and respect of the area, mentioning that the festival is within view of the Hungtington Beach pier.

But before there were festivals co-organized with Blink 182’s Travis Barker, before Goldfinger and his own family members (who he jokingly admits has seen his band hundreds of times but opt for Lil Yachty and Billie Eilish on their own playlists)  there was his best friend and early experiences in the Tahoe area.

“My best friend growing up, Chris Cayton, was in a band Urban Assault from South Lake Tahoe. He pretty much turned me onto every great artist. It’s funny, the first show my old band, Family Crisis, ever played was in South Lake Tahoe with 7 Seconds. It was a pretty cool time in my life.”

Back To The Beach takes place April 27-28 in Huntington Beach, California. The full lineup, details and ticket info can be found at BackToTheBeachFest.com

 — Shaun Astor

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About Shaun Astor

Shaun Astor cites pop music singers and social deviants as being among his strongest influences. His vices include vegan baking, riding a bicycle unreasonable distances and fixating on places and ideas that make up the subject of the sentence, "But that’s impossible…" He splits his time between Reno and a hammock perched from ghost town building foundations. Check out his work at www.raisethestakeseditions.com

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