NOFX controversy can't stop good times
"Tonight, punk rock royalty is in Thornville," Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg said halfway through a thrashing Saturday night set.
Lindberg was referring to legends such as Jello Biafra, the Descendents, the Vandals, Rancid, Goldfinger and more, who played for 20,000 fans at the first ever Camp Punk in Drublic, a three-day craft beer and punk music festival at Legend Valley.
But one punk legend was noticeably absent.
NOFX — whose studio album Punk in Drublic gave the fest its name — was dropped from the lineup the day before the festival started, along with Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, replaced by the Descendents and the Vandals. The sudden switch was due to NOFX lead singer Fat Mike and guitarist Eric Melvin making insensitive comments about the October 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas, which left 58 dead.
“I guess you only get shot in Vegas if you’re in a country band,” Melvin said during a late-May performance at the Punk Rock Music & Bowling Festival in Las Vegas. “At least they were country fans and not punk rock fans,” Fat Mike added.
When Punk in Drublic organizer John Reese tried to address the elephant in the venue, “Where’s Fat Mike?!” chants reverberated throughout the crowd.
“I get it guys. I feel you,” Reese conceded.
The response to both Fat Mike’s comments and the lineup switch were mixed both among fans and bands. Those who weren’t asking, “Where’s Fat Mike?” were left wondering, “Fat Mike, why?”
“NOFX’s 30-year career is based on dark humor. But even I have to say — it was pretty awful. I’m hard to offend,” said Columbus musician Lex Vegas of the Cadaver Dogs. “But it’s cool they can get two high-profile bands — especially the Descendents. They haven’t played in, like, 10 years.”
Greg Brenner, a 52-year-old who organizes a weekly punk showcase at Indianapolis' Melody Inn and went “all in” financially to “do the festival right,” said he was “shaking mad” about the announcement and almost canceled the trip until his girlfriend, Kristen Leep, 41, convinced him to go.
"[Brenner] was pissed off, but there were still a lot of great bands on the bill," Leep said. “I get that Fat Mike has made a career of being a 14-year-old boy. But at some point, you have to decide whether you want to evolve or not."
Bands such as Goldfinger, the Vandals and Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine echoed the same sentiment: Punk’s not dead, but it might be time to grow up.
"I know Mike and Melvin had no intention of hurting anyone, but it came off that way,” Jello Biafra said at one of the late-night campfire Q&As. “Sometimes it's better to apologize, just so we can all stay friends.”
Goldfinger lead singer John Feldmann summed up much of the general sentiment during the band's set when he screamed, “I hate guns but I love Fat Mike” before diving into a raucous cover of NOFX's “Linoleum.”
And once the mighty Vandals delivered a high-energy set, even the most dedicated NOFX fans started to lighten up.
"I wish I would have known I was playing this show,” Vandals lead singer Dave Quackenbush quipped. “I would have done some sit-ups or something."
Though Punk in Drublic was forced to navigate a PR shit-storm, the festival ended up being a testament to punk’s DIY ethos and the communal camaraderie that can only exist among fans. Throughout the festival, people were gracious, chill and just ready to have a good time.
“Even without NOFX, I’m having a blast being with other NOFX and punk fans,” Brenner said. “And now we have something to talk about.”
Correction: An early version of this review identified Cameron Collins as the organizer who spoke from the stage rather than John Reese. Alive regrets the error.