31 Dec 1969: 6 September 2002 San Diego, California
ong lines at the Porta-Potties. The pervasive smell of marijuana. High-school aged girls acting like fools. Drugs. Drunks. A sweaty, heaving soup of flesh.
As could be expected, San Diego’s Street Scene 2002 was everything an annual music festival is supposed to be.
Normally, one perceives San Diego’s historic downtown Gaslamp District to be the city’s tourista center of nightlife and entertainment. With the invasion of the three-day Street Scene festival, that perception changed only in its hyperbolic excesses.
The atmosphere here September 6 was akin to being thrown into a pressure cooker set to “high.” Then throwing said cooker into the middle of a clothes washer’s spin cycle. Then removing, letting the lot bake in the sun for a day, then repeatedly getting puked upon by the town drunk. It was just that much fun.
OK. So this year’s Street Scene did feature some great artists. Stone Temple Pilots showed up. So did the Violent Femmes. And Save Ferris. Bad Religion. Social Distortion. Rabbit in the Moon. De La Soul. They showed up, too.
Mind you, this was just September 6’s—the first night’s—luminaries. In all, over 100 artists representing a whole spectrum of musical cultures came out to support the event, from local favorites Rochelle, Rochelle and The Dragons to more specialized standouts like techno’s Christopher Lawrence and hip-hop artists Blackalicious and Dilated Peoples. Even James Brown showed up (albeit an hour late).
Boasting nine stages and encompassing nearly 12 cordoned-off downtown city blocks, Street Scene 2002 did accomplish what it set out to do—that is, provide a well-rounded slate of artists that appealed to nearly everybody’s musical tastes.
But the festival, in terms of area, was just too small. Twelve city blocks sounds like an awful lot of space. That is, until mindless throngs—about 35,000 of them, according to festival promoter Rob Hagey—horde at least three of those blocks right off the bat to see early-performers Violent Femmes, muttering things like, “The Violent Femmes only had one good song,” and blowing pot smoke in every direction they saw fit.
It got better later, as the inescapable smells of burning joints and sweaty frat boys were joined by gangs of screaming teenaged girls wearing matching Street Scene T-shirts jumping up and down on concert-goers’ feet. Mixed drinks were spilled down the backs of strangers’ legs. Asses got touched. And one began to wonder if the sweat soaking their shirt was really their own.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t even up against the stage, where one should rightly expect such things. This was the experience standing about a city block away from the stage, where one could stand and watch the bigger shows via the wondrous technology of massive overhead screens.
For the bands’ parts, they almost all turned out stellar performances. Violent Femmes turned in a powerful set, centering mainly on songs from their first, self-titled album and causing an uproar at “Blister in the Sun”, apparently the band’s “one good song”. San Diego locals Rochelle, Rochelle surprised the crowd with its prog-rockish Bush distorto-sound. And ska-rock outfit Save Ferris totally blew the little girls away with its party ready anthems and an attitude that shakes other girl-fronted ska-rock bands by their . . . er, balls.
The night had its standout moments, as well. Dennis Rodman joining Live onstage, for instance. The audience sing-alongs to De La Soul’s old-school rhythms, as well. Violent Femmes drummer Guy Hoffman jumping around like a lunatic and putting drumsticks up his nose. That was good, too.
But it was hard to enjoy it all when strangers are snuggling up closer than your wife on a winter’s night in Maine, when the armpit of one’s neighbor meets his nostrils as they reach high to snap a photo, when one begins to wonder if they’ve stumbled into a huge frat party rather than a yearly music festival.
It’s just too bad it was such a packed, sweaty, rude, stinky affair. Many music lovers would have had a better time listening to their favorite albums in a warm Porta- Potty than brave the mindless masses who turned out for this show, seemingly just for the hell of it. Well, they would have had a better time if they could have gotten to the Porta-Potty . . .