What is a Bottomfest? And whatever it is, doesn't it sound vaguely unappealing? If not slightly salacious?
That's what I thought when I first heard of it, but as it turns out the "Bottom" in the fest came only from Dr. Drew Peabottom, Ph.D., who despite his passing resemblance to Harry Potter and his childlike obsession with obscure Queers vinyl, is not only a genuine scientist (who studies, you know, science), but also is turning 30 years old this month.
Which prompted his devoted consort Ms. Sarah Peabottom to organize a two-day fest in his honor in a remote corner of northeastern Pennsylvania where about a dozen pop-punk bands could wail away to their hearts' content and the usual fest-related tomfoolery could ensue, all without any risk of alienating the neighbors or incurring the wrath of the authorities.
The first night's event actually took place in not-so-nearby Wilkes-Barre, and I managed to miss most of it, but things kicked off again before noon on Saturday with solo performances by Rapid Randy (of the Backseat Virgins) and Pat Termite (Beatnik Termites) before the full-fledged bands took over. It's always seemed a bit weird to me to see bands whose natural environment seems to be dimly lit night clubs and bars playing on green grass in broad daylight, but by the time New Hampshire's Guts, Maine's Leftovers, and New York's Steinways finished tearing things up, things like stage lights and walls and ceilings seemed thoroughly superfluous.
Some of the sets were sloppy and good-natured fun - especially the Guts' runthrough of a dozen or so punk classics in addition to their own songs. These guys are just so, so good, even missing vocals from Geoff, who had mysteriously mislaid his voice somewhere that weekend and could only croak along in the background. Others were more straight-ahead, like the Steinways, who debuted some of their best new songs yet. Who else? Project 27, Be My Doppelganger, Nancy, Dead Mechanical among others: a veritable treasure trove of pop punk circa 2007. Oh, and a "surprise" (Dr. Peabottom was one of the only people there who appeared to be genuinely surprised) appearance by the mysterious Jerkingtons, who first rocketed to prominence in 2005 with their merciless lyrical scourings of some of the PPMB's leading personalities (I hope I'm not being too vain in using that description, since I myself have been the subject of one of the Jerkingtons' verbal brickbats: "Larry Livermore Is 80 Years Old").
Unsurprisingly, given the participants, the locale and the nature of the occasion, there was a fair bit of drunkenness, though none so flamboyant and flagrant as that exhibited by Matt Lame, who seems to specialize in this sort of thing at fests of all sorts. Sporting a fishing hat of the style featured by Wilson on Home Improvement and wielding, among other implements of destruction, a purple air mattress, Matt wreaked several strands of havoc on festgoers for pretty much the entire 24 hours he was on the premises. Apparently he passed out at one point inside the tent that had been set up for him by less inebriated companions, but for reasons as yet unexplained, the tent proceeded to collapse and envelop him, as Chadd Derkins put it, "like a cocoon."
"It was awesome watching him struggle to find his way out of the collapsed tent this morning," observed Doctoracula, another attendee, "It was like he was being born." If, of course, being born entails being greeted with a cream pie to the face, which was Pete Repellent's payback for Matt's antics of the previous day.
Pete, who journeyed all the way from Chicago with his devoted partner Simple 81 (he actually refers to and addresses her as "Simple," and she occasionally even answers, though not infrequently with vulgarities or obscenities) also helped orchestrate one of the fest's other highlight when he dressed up in a yellow Peep costume (you didn't know there was such a thing? Neither did I) to confront Chadd Derkins over the latter's thoughtless boast that he could "probably" match the world record for Peep-eating (103 in half an hour). Chadd got through 30 before staggering out behind the garage to vomit; his orange (these were special Halloween pumpkin Peeps) puke pile proved to be a popular tourist spectacle for the rest of the weekend.
Someone, apparently relations to Ms. Peabottom, thought it would be a good idea to order 15 pizzas, which arrived sometime around 9pm, a few hours after dinner and just before a massive birthday cake was served. Then came the campfire singalong and marshmallow roast, though I suspect more marshmallows were thrown than roasted, especially once the aforementioned Mr. Lame arrived on the scene.
The singalong turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the day, not so much for its quality - it was a rare song where anyone could remember all of the words - but for its enthusiasm and the realization that the last couple decades of pop-punk songs had turned into - at least among this group - genuine classics. The group went through pretty much the entire Queers catalog, and large segments of Screeching Weasel, the Riverdales, Weston, MTX, and, of course, the Ramones. At one point there were competing singalongs, with the larger group carrying on with "Punk Rock Girls" while Oliver Poopsounds and I unaccountably tried to drown them out with our own version of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out." Oliver was rather drunk; I had no such excuse.
Chadd and Oliver also serenaded me with their own ribald renderings of several Potatomen classics, apparently in an attempt to persuade me to pick up the guitar and do a few tunes myself, but I wouldn't fall for it. I'd seen Matt Lame dodging enough marshmallows to not want to take his place as the principal object of the crowd's ire. Afterwards, of course, I regretted my reticence; it's not often in 2007 that I'm likely to encounter people - drunk or not - bellowing for Potatomen songs. Maybe next fest.
It wasn't all goofing around - well, yes, actually that's pretty much exactly what it was - but the whole weekend just left me positively glowing. It wasn't a massive fest on the scale of Baltimore; probably no more than 50 or 75 people were there at any given time. And although some of the best bands of our time were in attendance, it wasn't primarily a musical event. The crucial element was just a lot of good friends getting together and having the time of their lives, and while I'm sure your friends and their friends and everybody's friends are just as nice and just as fun, these are my friends, and they're the best, and right now I feel so lucky and privileged and blessed to know them all.