This is a post about Furnace Fest 2021, and other things that go along with it, and me.
Where the hell to begin? I suppose the beginning is a good start. How many people have introduced things they write about this way?
Probably a lot.
A lot is how many people attended Furnace Fest back in its infancy and toddler stages in the early 2000’s. It was definitely a scene, and I was literally into it. I was in high school, digging into music and sharing various bands with friends, most of whom were in bands themselves. I had lived in south Florida, Pembroke Pines specifically, and met even more musicians (Into the Moat, Freemartin, Hate Eternal), and had so many good times. So many fond memories and relationships built during this time. Even after I had my daughter, I was still using any of my free time while she was visiting with her dad to make time to connect to the music communities, where ever I roamed.
Further Seems Forever, Thursday, Hopesfall, Every Time I Die, Taking Back Sunday, Minus the Bear, Evergreen Terrace, Anberlin, Copeland, Anthony Green, Mastodon, Hum, Silverstein, Glassjaw, Isis, Haste, Stretch Arm Strong, From Autumn to Ashes, A Static Lullaby, Hatebreed, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Finch, Norma Jean, Between the Buried and Me, mewithoutYou, Underoath, The Bled… all of these incredible bands have played a Furnace Fest stage at some point.
Furnace Fest was sort of like the underground sewer kids congregating together to attend church in one of the unholiest places you could ever imagine, Sloss Furnaces (known to locals as the Furnace) in Birmingham, Alabama. The place is definitely haunted, and with a history and subsequent demise like its own, it would be incredibly dumb to not take advantage of the opportunities to host such festivals, as well as a haunted house each Halloween. It is equally dumb to not go to these festivals, because in doing so, you meet some of the coolest and friendliest and most talented and interesting people on earth.
North Dakota is a state just below the Canadian border, but that is how far one guy traveled to see Furnace Fest 2021. Imagine that guy and a chick from Alabama singing and moshing side by side during Taking Back Sunday after twenty years of not seeing Taking Back Sunday live in person. This festival was a big deal to a lot of people. But it was a really, really big deal to me. So I’m writing everything I can down now, the following morning, a morning that required two cups of coffee, the morning after indulging in the best concert experience of my entire fucking life.
Furnace Fest 2021 was supposed to be Furnace Fest 2020. It was initially this:
And then, a year later, after the pandemic was over (just kidding, it’s still here)…
Anyway, after a year had passed, and requirements for entry (vaccination/neg Covid test) were added, so, too, increased the number of bands. So it evolved into this:
When underground bands become more mainstream, the rates go up. Entry pricing was spiked, like everything else, so rather than spending no more than $200 for an entire weekend of moshing, now, you are looking at closer to $500. I’m still not very well off, so rather than experiencing an entire weekend of live music, I had to pick one day. Several of my favorite bands were playing each day, and I had to also take into account our schedules and stuff. Saturday it is.
Birmingham is about a forty-five minute drive from my house. The gates were set to open at 11, so we had plenty of time to get ready without rushing, which is the ideal situation. I also knew I would have a day to recover before getting back to work, which (obviously) is ideal because I’ve coasted through this morning flawlessly and after having two cups of coffee, doing a few chores and eating some Pigs in a Dreamboat (Pigs in a Blanket on steroids), I’m ready to write and share. It is another beautiful day, so I am sitting outside, listening to the birds while I gather my thoughts. I have so many… so again, I’ll start from the beginning.
Saturday started out nice and easy. I got up, did my usual morning coffee and face washing rituals, listened to music, and prepared for the day. I had gathered all of the things I knew we would need the night before, so my fest prepping only involved getting some breakfast, and getting to the show. My outfit is usually the same when attending shows, so that was no sweat. My American Football tee, some jeans, and my ratty Converse. I showered after coffee and got dressed, and by then, my daughter was in the final stages of getting ready, too.
The weather was incredible. I didn’t see one cloud, and the skies were blue and it was sunny, at 70 degrees. There was a nice breeze and making my way to the car, I smiled, thinking, “This is going to be such an amazing day.” I felt excited for my daughter, who had never before been to see a live concert. Every concert ticket I had purchased since 2020 only became null and void up to this point, and in retrospect, I feel grateful that this was, and forever will be, her first live music experience.
So we get to the Furnace and spend $40 to park, but it is a fantastic space, convenient to the entrance and to the exit, and a small lot, so access was easy. The gentlemen at the lot entrance taking money and a Birmingham Police Officer were listening to groovy funk music and in pleasant moods, and were more than accommodating, friendly, and helpful. I always appreciate a sense of humor and they had it. (I also imagine the weather and atmosphere had a lot to do with it.) So our entry was smooth and fun and the experience definitely got off to a great start, which only got better from there.
As we approached the One Day Pass entry gate, I noticed the line was incredibly short, and everyone around me looked like friends I’ve known since high school. I felt totally at ease as I approached the gate keepers, handing them my vaccination card and ticket. The lady noticed my t-shirt and said, “Hey cool shirt! That’s the first American Football shirt we’ve seen so far.” Which was surprising to me, so I responded, “Really? That’s crazy! But, cool… and thank you!” I got my hand stamped and a purple band was secured around my wrist and then I proceeded to the Security Guard with the metal detecting wand, looking back as my daughter was entering. They noticed her leather jacket that she decorated and painted herself, her pins, her spikes, and her boots. “Wow, you look awesome. Love the jacket!” She replied, “Thanks.” Then she said, “This isn’t really my scene”.
I smiled. Little did she know, it actually is.
My daughter is on another level when it comes to music taste. She is unashamedly into the heaviest/ most gravity defying punk you can imagine. She likes the classic, respectable bands who have undoubtedly earned their stripes. These bands on this Level X ticket are lightweight losers compared to the shit she listens to. We will be watching Bad Religion next month. That is more her scene. This was all she wanted to desperately get across to these softies.
We walked through the main isle, with cool venders along either side. I browsed through the stuff, hesitant to stop in fear I would spend enough money to diminish my pride and result in questioning why I didn’t just go ahead and get three day passes in the first place… so, moving along…
We get to the main stage, which is set up in the yard. We sit down in the grass, and hang out for a while, allowing our food to digest and look through the line-ups for all three stages to determine which stage to make our way to, and when. I see some bands at the Plug Your Holes stage that I never had a chance to see in high school, so we walked across the property towards the furnace. We maneuvered through the light crowd towards the front of the stage to see Better Off and Evergreen Terrace. These bands were amazing live. There wasn’t a whole lot of moshing for Better Off, but their set was definitely a nice warm-up for Evergreen Terrace.
Evergreen Terrace is fucking insane. (Side note- It is so amazing to see how these people have aged. You can tell they have definitely dealt with some shit, and over time, owned it all. They persevered and kept grinding and doing what they love, what they’re good at, despite any differences between themselves and society. I respect that.) The band is named after the street in The Simpsons, and their singer, Andrew Carey, is one of the best hype men I’ve ever seen. He surfed the crowd, stood on the bars reaching for us (I could have hugged him at one point), and totally engaged with the fans. It was just like the scene I had viewed on dvd’s from their small venue days. It was as though nothing had really changed. There was still love, anger, emotion, and plenty of reasons for letting it all out.
After that performance, we made our way to the potties and then bought a water. I wanted to pace myself as I had been awake since 7 am, and my back, knees, and feet aren’t in tip top condition. We walked back to the same stage, with major anticipation to see Hopesfall.
Bloodjinn was up next, and we landed halfway to the stage before I ran into two old friends. One, Lyle, is a musician, and the other, Brian, a photographer. They are both incredibly talented guys, and their creative works have taken them far elsewhere, allowing them to grow in their talents and both have really made a name and respectable reputation for themselves. I am very proud to know them both. Lyle informed me three other friends of ours were there, and I hoped we would eventually run into them. My friend Peter, another incredibly talented writer, musician, and hair stylist, was among them. He had lost his mother, an Asian immigrant, to Covid last year, and had just gotten married, so I was especially grateful to see him given all the heavy circumstances. I discovered he had moved back home to his family farm recently, and we exchanged numbers. He was also blown away with how long it had been since he last saw my daughter. Social media allowed us to keep tabs on each other through the years, but it wasn’t the same. The day was not only turning out to be a great day full of amazing music, but also a reunion of close friends I had not seen since before the pandemic, friends that I’ve been missing for years, who I feel confident I will now see more of in the future.
Hopesfall is a band that I have loved since the release of The Satellite Years in 2002. This band is purely hard. Screaming vocals, poetic lyrics, melodic guitar, crashing drums- ugh, devastating. I had never gotten the opportunity to see them live in our primes, but they were a band I knew I would eventually see if the opportunity presented itself. I didn’t know that it would take nearly two decades for this to happen, so this raised anticipation was now old enough to birth a baby. Luckily, mine had grown old enough to experience them live while in her high school stage. It is something she’ll never forget.
One song they performed was Waitress. Waitress is one those songs that I could put on repeat and listen to for literally two hours straight. The Satellite Years as a whole album is gorgeous. It begins with Andromeda, a spacey instrumental featuring repetitive tones and intricate beats which I absolutely adore. As much as I love this song, I would usually skip straight to Waitress. The lyrics are:
These faces have fallen here before
Tired and blue
A light that bleeds unforgiving shadows
Her olive eyes repeat failure in every glare
A failure that mirrors itself with a foreign stare
Hold it together you’ll find your peace
But the pieces are burnt shells that frame regret on every wall
Reflections of olive eyes pierce holes through her haunted heart
She hates that stare
Her smiling face defense to the world
A world filled with olive eyes that frame regret on every face
This reads like every page in my high school poetry notebook, so you can imagine me in 2002 during that phase, screaming these lyrics right along with Jay Forrest. Hopesfall was incredible then, and they’re incredible now. And I feel so happy and thankful my daughter and I were able to share that experience together, with it being the first time for us both.
After Hopesfall wrapped, we made our way to the LevelX Stage and were able to catch Cartel, Mae, and The Bled. All bands were super good. I exited the front of the stage crowd, leaving my daughter there to experience The Bled as one should (moshing very hard), as I sat on the sidelines with my friend Peter. We did more catching up and then it was time for him to go back to Plug Your Holes (he wanted to see Beloved, Stretch Arm Strong and Glassjaw), while I was pumped to see Anberlin, Mayday Parade, and Further Seems Forev- er, uh… Taking Back Sunday. (We’ll get to this later in the day.)
Anberlin is another band I have loved for years. I discovered them in 2003, when Blueprints for the Black Market was released. They are one of those bands that are hit and miss for me, meaning, I don’t love every song, but the ones I do love, I really, really love. The Unwinding Cable Car (my personal favorite), Cadence, Ready Fuels, Change the World, Glass to the Arson, etc. They are definitely talented guys, and not only that, superb humans. The day before Furnace Fest, they released a new track called Two Graves, which I think is brilliant and beautiful. They played this song as well as other crowd favorites, wrapping up their very short three week tour. My daughter and I were in the very front of the stage, dancing about, having a great time. Mayday Parade performed next and put on a nice show. I don’t have too many personal experiences involving Mayday Parade, but I do like them and was glad to see them play. The next- and final- band to take the stage, however, is a band that, I am proud to say, I was the first to Tell All My Friends about.
The year was 2002 and I was singing in a rock band. My rhythm guitarist and I were big into the emo scene at the time, and Taking Back Sunday was among that scene. Not many people around us had heard of them at the time, but when you dig into certain bands, you might also dig into their labels, discovering similar bands you will probably enjoy. Thursday, Silverstein, Hawthorne Heights, Atreyu, Bad Brains, etc. have all worked with Victory Records, and Taking Back Sunday fit the bill. Did I tell all my friends about TBS?
I love this band. Tell All Your Friends was one of my favorite albums to listen to at the time. It was so fun. I remember driving back from Tennessee with a group of my friends (Braver by the 2nd) after they performed (I photographed) and while heading home, we all scream-sang this album together. These are the moments that stick with you. These are the moments that matter.
However, I had many more moments like this involving the band Further Seems Forever. Further Seems Forever was my all time favorite band when I was in high school. When The Moon is Down was released in 2001, I fell in love with Chris Carrabba (who later broke away to form Dashboard Confessional). I wasn’t mad because I also loved DC, and the second singer for FSF wasn’t too shabby, either. In fact, when How to Start a Fire was released, Further Seems Forever became a band that means more to me than I could ever describe.
Further Seems Forever had a message board on their website, and being such a huge fan, I participated in this board. I had just moved to south Florida, where the band originates, and my mom (who I was living with at the time) suggested I might meet up with some of the local FSF fans from the message board so I could make some friends. That is how I met my friend Shaun, and later, my SoFla crew. I won’t get into all of this now because that would take Forever, but for now, just know that this was a special crew who I still keep in contact with and love to this day. My friends were mutual friends with Further (as we called them), but I never got the opportunity to see them perform. I was working and going to art school, and then it wasn’t long after that, I moved back to Alabama and not long after that, became pregnant. Once again, it would be nearly twenty years into the future before I would see them play in Atlanta for their damn near perfect reunion tour, where they performed songs from How to Start a Fire, as well as a tribute to Jon Bunch (the third and final lead singer, who later killed himself).
Further was due to perform at the Heartsupport Stage from 9:25 to 10:15, while TBS was scheduled to play from 9:55 to 10:55. I had an incredibly personal and difficult decision to make. I began looking at and weighing the pros and cons as early as Anberlin’s stage breakdown. “Would I have time to catch Further and then make it back to wiggle through the crowd to get back to the front and see TBS?” was my first internal question. After deciding, hell no- that’s crazy, I thought things like, “Your kid wants to see TBS more, and you know you would rather see the show with your kid than leave her here to watch them without you,” and then followed it with, “you know Further put on a hell of a show, but you’ve seen them before and you haven’t seen TBS.” In between this form of rational thinking, I also thought things like, “But it’s Further!” and “But you would probably enjoy their set over TBS’s set!”, etc. I dismissed the thoughts and stayed in the front and center of the LevelX Stage, beside my child. And we watched the lights go completely down. When they came back up, the music started. Taking Back Sunday kicked right into it.
Aside from Adam’s bleach blonde hair, there was nothing about Taking Back Sunday that didn’t appear any differently than what I had known throughout the releases of seven studio albums. Adam talked about his upbringing in Florence, Alabama, and interacted with the crowd. Someone who had dressed as Waldo was among us, popping up in various locations in the crowd, the band announcing his location after wrapping up a song or two. It was a fun show. It was a great performance. Everybody moshed, danced, surfed, sang. I felt like my daughter and I experienced this together and it was amazing.
Yesterday, I got kicked in the head, shoved, had my hair pulled, had my feet stomped on, had beer splashed on me, fell down on hay and gravel among a sea of people being physical, didn’t buy any merch, and missed my favorite band performing live.
On the other hand, I had people screaming to help me back up, people reaching down to me to pick me up and support me until I was stable again, I laughed my ass off, I cried happy tears, I moshed (it’s been a while), I screamed, I reunited with dear old friends, I sang my heart out, I danced, and I had the best concert experience of my life… with my kid.
Adam said TBS had to wake up at 4 am to make it to the show on time, and then he went on to say “Totally worth it.”
To my old friends from Alabama to my new friend from North Dakota, I whole heartedly agree.