Fishbone at This Is Not Croydon Fest (photo by Ray Rusinak)
This Is Not Croydon is a ska festival which started back in 2018 as the This Is Croydon Fest and was originally held at Neshaminy Creek Brewery in…wait for it, Croydon, PA. For reasons which I am not aware of, the festival was moved to Broken Goblet Brewery last year, in Bensalem, PA, hence the change in name to This Is Not Croydon Festival. This was my first time attending so I can not attest to what the original two were like but let me start off by saying Saturday’s #4 was everything I had hoped for and then some. The folks at Broken Goblet, along with the other festival sponsors, put on a fantastic day of ska music, craft beer, food trucks as well as a abundance of outside craft vendors and not to mention more band merch than one’s bank account should responsibly support, but nonetheless, us merch junkies did our best to accommodate.
I arrived at Broken Goblet shortly after noon to find a sizable crowd of ska-heads mulling about the brewery and its surroundings. With ample parking out back I was able to check in without a hitch and proceeded into the main brewery building where the stage and main bar were situated. Through an adjoining door was the actual brewery with its brew tanks and what not which you passed through in order to get to yet another room where the bands were busy moving in to set up their merch stands. Out front was a deck area with plenty of tables and seating to accommodate the food trucks and outdoor beer tent. It was out here that there was also another large tent which housed the rather opulent number of outside craft merchants, t-shirt vendors, as well as a copious amount of new and used record bins for all to peruse.
The first band, Hans Gruber and The Die Hards took the stage promptly at 1pm with lead singer and trombone player Kurt Armstrong immediately stripping down to nothing but his boxer briefs. For a band that was starting things off as early as these Austin, TX folk were, they wasted no time whatsoever in getting the extremely stoked crowd up and skanking. With their brand of outlandish punk/ska they plowed through a set of songs mostly from their most recent album, With A Vengeance, that not only prompted an early afternoon circle pit but more amazingly a circle pit surrounding a game of band sponsored Twister to boot. Nonetheless, Gruber and The Die Hards not only set the tone for the day, but they set that tone to an extremely high level.
Title Holder, a band out of Queens, New York had the unenviable task of having to follow the spectacle which was Hans Gruber and the ska/pop-punk band took the ball and ran with it. While their style was not as frenetic, they still managed to have the crowd jumping and skanking virtually from start to finish of their set.
Next up was New Jersey’s own The Upfux. They lean much heavier on the punk end of the ska/punk spectrum and proceeded to play a loud, energetic and raucous set of tunes mostly from their LP, Coastal Collapse, which came out last year on Bad Time Records. I would be remiss if I did not say that Bad Time Records is very much in the forefront of responsibility for SKA’s most recent resurgence.
Faintest Idea who was up next was probably my biggest surprise of the day. I’d only listened to a couple of songs of theirs on a Spotify sampler that the festival had put together prior to Saturday, but what I’d previously listened to by no means prepared me for the set of jumpy, rebellious, anger infused party music. They were easily the closest band of the day to the Two Tone Ska to which I grew up on. Their brand of brass infused topical Brit ska/punk clearly owed quite a bit to the likes of bands like The Specials, Madness and Bad Manners in both sound as well as politics. They managed to slam their way through their set of politically themed tunes with just the right combination of fury and fun. I was completely bowled over by these UK rude boys and girl (alto saxophonist Katie).
Following Faintest Idea was none other than New Jersey ska stalwarts Hub City Stompers. Formed in New Brunswick, NJ out of the ashes of Inspector 7, The Stompers have been going strong for two decades now. Having seen them numerous times over that time, you can always expect lead singer/toaster/rapper and general raconteur Rev Sinister and his merry crew of Stompers to provide you with a skankin’ good time. Saturday afternoon was certainly no exception as they had the circle pit in full speed action for their entire jet fueled set. Of particular note (and enjoyment) was when they broke into “Philly, What The Fuck?” their hilarious rant over the atrociously (in)famous Philly accent.
And just like that, we were at the halfway mark for the day’s musical mayhem. Next up was another Bad Time Records artist, hometown heroes, Catbite. Unfortunately, guitarist Tim Hildebrand found himself experiencing tech issues while he was setting up. After numerous attempts at various fixes, while the crowd didn’t seem to mind the delay one bit, you could see Hildebrand get more and more frustrated by the technical difficulties. It finally came down to having to swap out his pedal board and thanks to Rod Gorgeous from Hub City Stompers for saving the day and lending his pedal board.
The delay suited Catbite just fine as they ultimately put on a set which best be described aptly as feral. First of all, Hildebrand, being the ultimate pro that he is, put the frustrations immediately behind himself and came out firing on all cylinders on guitar. Singer Brittany Luna was a ball of energy as she sang and danced all over like a whirling dervish and the always boundless Kenny Malloy on keys was even more ramped up than usual, leaping up and down behind the keys like an olympic high jumper. As an added treat the band brought Vic Ruggerio from The Slackers for some guest vocals on a cover version of The Silencer’s “Policeman”. When all was said and done, Catbite, as they always do, had the crowd delirious for 45 minutes.
Catch 22, another New Brunswick, NJ ska band was up next. Dating back to the late 90’s Catch 22 do not play all that often anymore and as such were a treat to have on the Not Croydon bill. With founding member and former lead vocalist,tom Kalnoky having left the band a long time ago to form Streetlight Manifesto, the bulk of the singing duties have fallen on Ryan Eldrid who is also the band’s saxophonist and trumpeter, Chris Greer. Anyway, Ryan and Chris led the band on a siege like 11 song set which opened with 2003’s instrumental “Lemont’s Lament” and ended with the swinging up tempo “It takes Some Time. ”And in between these two chestnuts, we were treated to a bouncy and buoyant cross section of the band’s (and the crowd’s) favorites.
Following Catch 22 was the Against All Authority which formed in the early 90’s as a politically charged ska/punk band ingrained in the DIY ethos. Over time the band gradually moved more to the punk side of things, slowly getting away from the ska leanings they’d started off with. Saturday night had AAA welcoming their ska roots back into the fold with the help of Fin Leavell on trombone and baritone sax as well as Marshall Wildley on trumpet. With the help of the horn section, guitarist Joe Koontz and bassist Danny Lore led the band on a tour de force of a set that had the crowd singing and shouting the words to virtually every song. Blasting their way through what turned out to be an 18 song set performed at breakneck speed, AAA ultimately had the crowd pretty much going ballistic by the time they forged their way through set closer “Walking Revolution” from 1996’s Destroy What Destroys You.
By the time The Slackers took the stage, the sun had already set outside and the rains had started to fall. None of which mattered one iota as Vic Ruggerio, Glen Pine, Dave Hillyard and crew stormed the stage and kicked things off with “Wasted Days” from their 2001 album of the same name. From here the band took the crowd on a lover’s rock, reggae and rock steady tinged trip through their catalog. With Ruggerio’s throaty croon and Pine’s campy ‘bone playing, The Slackers were in classic Slackers mode even before Hillyard took over the mic for his funky and jumpy rendition of “The Fool,” a little romp done in the first wave ska style which he’d recorded years ago with David Hillyard and The Rocksteady Seven.
Capping off what was already a fantastic day and evening of music was none other than California ska/funk icons, Fishbone. What can I possibly say about Angelo Moore and the rest of Fishbone? They pioneered the west coast ska movement of the late 80’s/early 90’s and took it into the realms of funk and jazz like no other band could ever imagine. Its been a long time since I’d seen the band and to put it bluntly, Moore et al are no spring chickens. The idea that they might still be capable of putting on the frenetic crazed shows of years gone by was really not on the table. But with the band kicking off their set with their seminal debut hit “Party At Ground Zero,” I immediately started pondering the idea that just maybe the boys were indeed capable of pulling it off. With a career spanning set which included such stalwarts as “Ma And Pa,” “Everday Sunshine,” “Bonin’ in Da Boneyard” and “Skankin’ To The Beat,” Angelo and crew proved they still had it. Were they as crazed as years gone by? Of course not. Who amongst us (that are still breathing) are? But none the less, they can still bring it.
And I’ve got to add that as much as the older stuff was fantastic to hear again, it was the new song “All We Have Is Now” that really brought a smile to my face. After all, it’s always refreshing to see one of those bands which were so meaningful to you back in the day show signs in this present day that they’re still viable, that they’re still relevant, that they’re much more than just a nostalgia act. Fishbone proved to be all of that and more.
When all was said and done, Not Croydon Fest 4 was a resounding success. It did a fantastic job of mixing the old school with the young guns in the ska world. It pulled that all off within the confines of organizing and running a festival with just the right amount of peripheral attractions to make things interesting without creating a distraction to what was the main attraction…the music. Way to go Broken Goblet and everyone else involved. I’ve already marked next year off on my calendar for This Is Not Croydon Fest 5 (4/20/24 by the way😉🍃💨).
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)
HANS GRUBER & THE DIE HARDS
HUB CITY STOMPERS
AGAINST ALL AUTHORITY