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Hell Is Ohio or Heaven on Earth: Part 2

We kicked off Day 2 by heading to Jungle Jim’s to fill a cooler with an indulgent yet healthy mix of goodies for a picnic lunch before the gates officially opened. One of my favorite things about this particular festival, at least currently, is that you can come and go as you please. It makes it easy for those with food allergies, dietary restrictions, or sensory processing issues (I have all three) to conveniently meet their own needs.

I know as the festival grows in size, the security risks could eventually outweigh the potential accessibility benefits. Still, I am hoping this level of inclusivity could remain intact. Or perhaps, as my husband suggested: the Hell Is Ohio planning committee could court the independently owned grocer to join the event as a sponsor. Even if this is just a means of providing the bands and event staff with a craft services tent with more diverse and/or healthy snacks, it could help the festival draw more prominent acts.

That being said, the food at Swine City isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. The exterior food truck and the in-house counter service option (we enjoyed both) offered tasty, reasonably priced items. All of which were on par with the pub grub you would find at your average family-owned tavern. I was initially excited about the food options at the brewery based on Yelp reviews. However, those options appeared to have been scaled back, likely due to rising costs and supply chain shortages. Small businesses are being forced to make compromises to stay afloat. Despite these reasonably taken compromises, the food is still better than typical options available at most music venues, especially when you consider the price point.

Now, onwards to the music:

The Obnoxious Boot took the stage first, and I found this act to be quite endearing, to say the least. Quinten Seiter, the mastermind behind this one-man show, extended such warmth and kindness to the audience. The crowd was still pretty sparse, seeing how he was the opening act on Saturday. However, I don’t think this solo artist cared.

The Obnoxious Boot is definitely focused on the message in his music, and that message varies wildly from song to song. Between each song, he explained a little bit of his story, including the fact that he is experiencing kidney failure and had dialysis just that morning. Whether a song was about “un-aliving” your local predator or making the most of the time we have left, The Obnoxious Boot advocated for aggressive positivity in action. While I enjoyed his set, I feel like his act would have been better suited for a more intimate indoor venue where his inspiring intensity could reverberate and build instead of dissipating into the open air. I also think this act would have been more dynamic once the crowd had a few more drinks in them and dropped their inhibitions enough to dance.

Next up came Yard Sign, and this solo artist just keeps getting better and better. Scott Marks claims his music is unworthy of the glowing review I penned about his December performance at Dirty Dungarees. However, I would argue that my review failed to capture his genius. Mark’s music gives voice to our chaotic experience as a generation in the most serene way. His songs beautifully reflect the wounded, pensive stillness echoing in the chambers of our heart and asks a critical question that is inherently revolutionary:

“What if we stop trying to restore the former beauty of something broken beyond repair and learn to behold the beauty in being broken?

The astonishing thing about Yard Sign is that this theme, this melancholic optimism, is pervasive throughout his entire set—even in his timely use of cover songs. From “Saying Goodbye” from The Muppets Take Manhattan to “Champagne Problems” by Taylor Swift, Marks uses covers to complement his originals like Multidimensional Dumpster Phoenix. His carefully crafted setlists, even when spontaneously revised, illustrate the range of complex and sometimes contradictory emotions we must process as dysfunctional people living in an even more dysfunctional society.

The Plaid Disasters out of Cleveland came next in the lineup. After reflecting on this festival for several weeks, I can say their performance made the most significant impression on me. For this reason, I would like to give them the designation of being #bestinshow for Hell Is Ohio.

The Plaid Disasters are one of the most well-rounded punk acts in the Ohio scene right now. I encourage all Columbus and Cleveland venues to start booking them for more shows immediately, as it is a sure way to draw a crowd of new believers. This band has been around for the better part of two decades. However, they are still relatively young and just hitting their stride with this newest iteration. They have the look, the sound, and the attitude. I can’t think of a better local representative of the genre. Since this festival, they have opened for some pretty big acts, and I personally can’t wait to see more.

This band, which performs as both a three-piece and a four-piece, provides audiences with their own twist on just about every quintessential punk song. From rollicking songs about being blackout drunk to songs about hitting rock bottom, this band can and will take you on an emotional rollercoaster with their setlist while still peppering in some political commentary. I found this band to be incredibly well balanced at all levels, especially with the way they trade off vocal responsibilities. Their bassist can do things I have only seen done by punk rock royalty like Mike Watt and local funk legend Larry Humphrey. At one point during their set, he even played his instrument as if it was a guitar. I was simply captivated as he carried the weight of the song’s melody while emphasizing the depth of despair he was experiencing in a very dark moment in 2009. That particular song has randomly popped into my head almost every day since the festival (it’s been almost two months). I can’t say that about any other band that played.

Unfortunately, I was experiencing some medical issues (including severe chest pains) during LameAss Dads’ set. And sadly, I did not get to engage with their performance as much as I would like until I was able to stabilize. However, I can say that this band is undoubtedly the best example of “dadcore”—perhaps the fastest growing sub-genre in punk currently—I have seen thus far in my career as a music journalist.

For this being their first show as a musical unit, I found them to be incredibly well polished and rehearsed. Like most “Dadcore” acts, their music seems to be heavily influenced by the Descendents. Still, I think you can definitely draw some comparisons to the Bouncing Souls, Methadones, Lagwagon, and maybe even a little Face to Face.

LameAss Dads offered a solid performance, but the most notable aspect of their set was how many of their friends and family members showed up. It was especially sweet to see the band members’ children singing and dancing in the crowd with their protective noise-reducing headphones on. LameAss Dads has definitely landed #ontheradar, and we will, without a doubt, be following their evolution as a band. I think their presence at the festival made the event far more inclusive for all age groups. I hope to see them at other similar events because no other band fits this format better.

If you are looking for a Coachella-style experience on a shoestring budget, then you need not look any further than HugeEuge. The comedic rapper started his set by cracking open a cold one and tossing out frisbees to the crowd from the top of a shipping container that enclosed one side of the stage. The “Bad Rapper” singer also gets points for his daring fashion risks, such as performing his entire set in nothing but an iridescent royal blue speedo.

HugeEuge’s set was quite possibly the most important of the day. By the time he took the stage, the midday sun was absolutely assaulting the audience with its rays, and everyone was beginning to grow tired of the heat. Luckily, HugeEuge’s waggish charm seemed to be solar-powered, and the artist was able to reenergize the entire crowd with his over-the-top silly songs. With choruses easy enough to sing along to and verses incorporating witty sidesplitting shenanigans that corresponded to the lyrics, the HugeEuge set was instrumental in helping the audience catch their second wind. While not the most traditional pick for a punk rock festival, HugeEuge is the first artist to be designated as a guaranteed #crowdpleaser by Bands in the Bus. If this artist is playing a show, I want to be there. And, if for some reason I can’t be there, I will be suffering from a major case of FOMO.

Next up came Cotter, who I convinced my own mother to stay for because I knew she would enjoy this particular band. If you are 30-35 years old, Cotter is sure to deliver a dramatic dose of adolescent nostalgia, which is the primary reason why I haven’t written about them yet. Simply put, the feeling of youthful nostalgia can be uncomfortable on my best days and triggering to me on my worst. My adolescence can only be described as traumatic…but that being said…I don’t think I could have survived my adolescence without emo music.

Cotter is the band that my 14-year-old self so desperately needed. Had they been around then, they would have been one of the biggest acts within the emo scene at the time. Fast-forward back to the present day; emo music is no longer my cup of tea. So I will need to study Cotter within the scene and learn their story before I can write a more in-depth review. However, suppose you are more on the emo side of the pop-punk/emo fence. In that case, I don’t think you will find a more satisfying cup of tea than Cotter, especially within the Ohio music scene.

Prime Directive followed Cotter with a phenomenal performance despite being on stage at the worst possible time. Luckily, the band brought their own branded booty shorts to help them beat the heat of the sweltering summer sun coming in directly at their back. This particular performance was perhaps their best to date, and I am willing to wager it’s because of the time slot. I am used to seeing this band headline and with at least one member (it has been different each time) being three sheets to the wind while still somehow being able to hold their own on stage. But Prime Directive, when they are playing tight, clean, and mostly sober, is an entirely different animal.

If one was deaf and could only observe the crowd, you honestly wouldn’t have known this was a punk rock festival until Prime Directive hit the stage and the circle pit started churning. I will say that until this point, the sun was shining directly on the crowd, and it was blazing. I also 100% believe that The Plaid Disaster could have got the crowd going if given a later time slot. However, once the sun dropped behind the canopy that sheltered the bands on stage, it cast a perfect semi-circle shadow directly in front of the stage. This created the ideal environment for attendees to slam dance without collapsing from heat stroke.

A small handful of teenagers attempted to get a pit going throughout the day. However, it wasn’t until the usual suspects, including bassist Mikey O’Keefe’s sibling and ASMR bandmate Phoenix, arrived about halfway through the second song for it to really get rolling. Prime Directive made the crowd come alive, and the other bands that followed only benefited from their incredibly strong set.

Next came Tiger Sex, a band that cannot be thoroughly enjoyed until you have experienced them live. This was my first time seeing Tiger Sex, but prior to Hell Is Ohio, I had heard nothing but rave reviews from any of my friends and acquaintances who have seen this band perform live. Because of this, I have tried to learn the band’s material via streaming services and YouTube videos. However, I feel like what makes this band so electrifying gets lost in translation. This is a band that needs to be more than just heard. They MUST be experienced.

I think a big reason I struggled to understand the appeal of Tiger Sex is because I am such a simp for the lyrical aspect of songwriting. Quite frankly, this is not an area where Tiger Sex excels, and that is okay. This powerhouse of a trio captivates audiences with their own raw, unrefined brand of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s sexy, sleazy, and absolutely sensational to witness.

Kelly, the lead vocalist, is without a doubt the central figure of the band. I am reluctant to use gendered terms like “front woman” to describe her role within the band. That kind of terminology creates unconscious bias and narrows our frame of reference. Comparing Kelly’s masterful showmanship and unbridled charisma to only one side of a socially constructed gender binary is selling her short. Walking the line between trashy and titillating as if it is a tightrope, she ensnares audiences in such a masterful way. If you are only comparing Kelly to other female artists, you are doing her, yourself, and the entire music scene a grave disservice. She is ravishing, risqué, and so absolutely riveting that you must compare her stage presence to that of legends, including Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop (who may be the better comparison considering Kelly accidentally cut herself while destroying a television during her performance).

I must elaborate that while Kelly is the crown jewel of Tiger Sex, the act only works because of the absolute savage ferocity of her backing band. It can be challenging to provide any sort of counterbalance to such an over-the-top charismatic vocalist. However, the guitarist (Kei) and drummer (whose name I can’t find) can hold their own and would quite possibly be the stars of the show if they were in any other band. Their roles in the band are vital because Kelly’s showmanship would lack substance if she wasn’t backed by two musicians who absolutely shred.

As the evening progressed, I was beginning to feel like an out-of-shape athlete dancing on the precipice of exhaustion. I hadn’t attended a music festival, let alone a two-day music festival, in over two years. I must understand that even though this was routine for me in 2019, it will take some time and adjustment before I am back in fighting shape. Towards the end of Tiger Sex’s set, I began to experience some lower back pain, which is relatively unusual for me. Luckily, Brandon Alan Lewis and the team at Swine City Brewing were able to attract some unique vendors to this event, including a massage therapist. So, as Trash Knight prepared to take the stage, I decided to treat myself to a massage.

And let me tell you something—you haven’t truly lived until you have had a massage with a thrashcore band playing live in the background. Seriously, hearing Trash Knight play allowed my body and mind to release so much tension simultaneously. Also, if you tend to fall asleep during a massage like I do, it certainly helps keep you awake.

That being said, I consider myself lucky (and privileged) to have the opportunity to experience at least one band in this manner, and I am so glad it was Trash Knight. I frequently write about how I can be so enthralled with lyrics. I have also extrapolated on how I sometimes struggle to “get into the music” when seeing any variation of a hardcore band for the first time. This is especially true if I haven’t had the opportunity to engage with their music in a meaningful way beforehand. It can be challenging to process lyrics I have never heard before in real-time while overstimulated. Usually, the solution to this is to get in the pit and just feed off the energy of the crowd. However, I knew that wasn’t an option on this particular day, but hearing the band play while face down in a massage chair allowed me to truly listen to the band without experiencing sensory overload.

And I was quite pleased with what I heard. Trash Knight combines all the hallmarks that make a thrash metal band together with all my favorite attributes of grindcore to create an overtly aggressive sound without melodramatic and overtly sinister and/or nihilistic undertones. The drum fills and bass lines allowed the tension to build up precipitously before a breakdown and were meticulously timed in a way that allowed the crowd to go wild when desired and rest as needed. The guitar riffs were what I call “chunky but crunchy” but never sounded rigid. Instead, the aggressive muddy guitar riffs, despite being deliberately over-distorted, were still neat, clean, and tightly played without feeling inorganic or overly polished. Overall, Trash Knight might not have been a band I would have intentionally sought out. Still, they did win me over and landed #ontheradar. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for them in future show lineups.

Now, it was no mystery to me why Brandon Alan Lewis chose Bundy and the Spins to close the festival as headliners on the main stage. If you read my review on the Prime Directive EP release show, you know that Bundy and the Spins were absolutely clutch that night and handily the best in show. But sometimes, even the sure bet can still win big, as was the case at Hell Is Ohio. I knew what to expect with Bundy and the Spins, yet they rose to the occasion and delivered far more.

As a band, Bundy and the Spins make their home in the murky confluence where the streams of influence created within the punk and hard rock scenes mingle. While their name and merch are both heavily influenced by horror stories (of both the campy and creepy true crime variety), the band itself looks like a randomly generated assortment of miscreants gathered from 90s after-school specials, where they could portray a group of no-good punks, metal heads, or a biker gang. Their sound also reflects a similar vibe. That being said, this musical act packs a punch with its unique brand of high-octane, zero-frills rock ‘n’ roll.

It was rather fascinating to watch this band perform at a festival. I was amused by the fact that it was remarkably easy to decipher who in the crowd had seen Bundy and the Spins before and who was seeing them for the first time, especially since it seemed like a near 50/50 split. Those who had seen them before were up close, either moshing or pogoing in front of the stage from the jump. I had to be fairly agile to photograph or film the band without injury as this group, made primarily of other musicians, was undulating with the music. However, once the band started their cover of White Zombie’s Thunder Kiss ’65, the more reserved newbies in the crowd were fully engaged. Having experienced this exact “Ah-ha!” moment just a few months prior when the band performed at Summit Music hall, I couldn’t help but smile.

As the sun sank below the horizon, I had a distinct feeling that I would be covering this festival next year, especially if Bundy and the Spins is the new baseline of what it takes to headline Hell Is Ohio.

After Bundy and the Spins finished their headlining set on the main stage, it was time to head back inside for one last hurrah with Sepia Heyday before the night came to its natural close. Unfortunately, Sepia Heyday got the short end of the stick in terms of set times. After the high-octane thrills of Bundy and the Spins, the gentler, more melodic rockabilly-inspired cowpunk of Sepia Heyday was a bit too relaxing for a group of tired punks who had spent two days drinking craft beer and moshing in the hot summer sun.

In my opinion, Sepia Heyday should have warmed up the crowd before 500 Miles to Memphis rather than used as a nightcap after Bundy and the Spins. There is no denying that Sepia Heyday lacked the novelty and youthful adrenaline of The Reedy Weeps (for obvious reasons). Still, they were forced to play for a crowd that was twice as tired as the one the young rockers wooed just one night prior and on the eve of Father’s Day. They just didn’t get a fair shake, especially since they were so charming.

That being said, I consider Sepia Heyday to be my second favorite band of Day 2. I have every intention of booking them for a “Bands in the Bus Presents” musical showcase soon. I loved this act, and if I wasn’t completely wiped out with exhaustion, I would have been dancing my ass off to their tasty toe-tapping tunes. This was definitely a case of the right band at the wrong time, and I hope to see them back next year in a far more congruent lineup. However, if that is my biggest complaint about the inaugural year of a music festival, then I think Brandon Alan Lewis can consider this an unprecedented success.

Check out live performance videos from Hell Is Ohio on our YouTube channel.

Until next time, stay safe in the pit.

P.S. You can help keep Bands in the Bus free for everyone and prevent the use of pay walls by donating when, how, and what you can to our cause. Your local music scene thanks you for your support.

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