The second year of the rebirth of Furnace Fest has come and gone, the weekend flying by even faster than I expected, and I’m probably buying a pre-order ticket for next year after I submit this write-up. I still remember the 2021 iteration as if I attended it last weekend, not over 365 days ago. My ears are still ringing, even though I wore my ear plugs a lot more faithfully this year. My legs still haven’t quite found their full strength again yet, and the less said about my lower back the better. It’s a special weekend and I am so thankful I’ve gotten to experience it twice.
I showed up to a Zoom conference with my freelance client at 6:45pm on the following Monday, still coughing and blowing dust out of my nose every few minutes. My face was slightly sunburnt from three days spent in the Alabama sunshine. Throughout the meeting, I couldn’t stop yawning. Eventually, my client goes, “You look like you had a fun weekend. What were you doing?”
“I was at this metal, hardcore, punk festival thing down in Birmingham.”
“Of all of the things you could’ve said, that is the one thing I wouldn’t have expected from you.”
Earlier in the day, a coworker had confided in me that she had looked up a band she saw on my Instagram posts about the festival and turned it off within five seconds. “That didn’t sound anything like music to me, but I’m glad you had fun.”
After both of these interactions, I couldn’t help but think of Turnstile’s “No Surprise”: And though it comes as no surprise to me, if you don’t wanna look inside of me, you really gotta see it live to get it. You never feel it ‘til you die from it. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to write about. I’ve been attending these sorts of shows for over seventeen years now and watching bands rise and fall, break up and reunite, fade out or implode…there are legacies and stories for each and every one of them.
There’s not as much personal soul searching after attending this year. I saw close to 40 bands and could spend a lot more time talking about the weekend, but I don’t have the energy (thanks to my August bout with Omicron). I don’t have a 5000+ word trip down memory lane planned for this write-up like last year, but there are a few things that I wanted to write about the festival because I can’t stop thinking about them.
Josh Scogin and Dallas Taylor Are Verified Rockstars
Josh Scogin starting Luti-Kriss and then renaming as Norma Jean is a well-known fact. Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child is regarded as a classic of the genre for a reason. Josh suddenly left Norma Jean after a performance at the original iteration of Furnace Fest and reappeared with The Chariot shortly thereafter. If you want to talk about one of the greatest live bands from the scene, I’ll side-eye any list without The Chariot near the top. The bass player once tackled me into the drumset, helped me up, and we screamed into the mic together on “The Deaf Policeman.”
Now, Josh is in ‘68, a duo creating some of the coolest music I’ve heard. Two guys shouldn’t be able to create this level of noise and atmosphere at a live show, but they nail it. One of the most untraditional sets I’ve ever seen, but one that kept you raptly paying attention the entire time. If you have the chance to get to one of their shows, I highly recommend it. There’s a joy in the creation of the performance that I can’t quite pin down, but once you see it live…you get it.
Though, I don’t think he’ll bust out a The Chariot song for you like he did for us…but, I’m still holding out hope for a full The Chariot reunion next year even though I know it’ll never come.
Earlier this summer, I watched Andrew McMahon play songs spanning his three projects and it struck me how much of a genuine rockstar, maybe without the absurd level of fame of generations past, Andrew was. Same with his co-headliner that night, Chris Carrabba. You’ll never be able to convince me that Josh Scogin isn’t cut from the same cloth of performer.
So is Dallas Taylor of Maylene & The Sons of Disaster (and formerly of Underoath). Despite the microphone not working for the first three songs, many in the crowd reported being able to hear him twenty feet or more from the stage giving his all. Once the mic was fixed (it was working in their in ears, so they weren’t aware the crowd couldn’t hear), he commanded the crowd like it hadn’t been six years and two extremely destructive accidents since he last took the stage. Life was back in his bones after such a close flirting with death, and we celebrated. We sang those songs louder than they’d ever been sung before.
As the band blasted through hit after hit, Dallas continued to invite the crowd into the show. Letting us know that we were loved and missed as much as we loved and missed them. The energy and passion was infectious. I hope Maylene tours once more and that Furnace Fest re-books them to give them one more victory lap…particularly one where we can sing “Memories of the Grove” together.
Maybe It’s Time for This Norma Jean To Get Their Due
Last year, I wrote about my complicated feelings with Cory Brandan of Norma Jean in my write-up. Someone directed me to Cory’s longer response and apology to what had caused a lot of my hesitation after my article was published. I appreciated Cory’s honesty and the fact it was an apology followed by just being quiet. A lot of dissonance, I’ve found, can be fixed just by shutting up and listening after an apology. I try to show grace where I can because Lord knows I’ve needed it before, too.
I’ll be honest, when I saw they were booked for the 2022 festival, I got excited because I’d missed the show the prior year. It had been over ten years and those early albums still meant a lot to me and I was starting to spend more time with the later discography. Cory announced a year of sobriety and I felt like that signaled even more changes to celebrate. A few months later, Death Rattle For Me arrived and it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. If you haven’t listened to it, it’s an incredibly dynamic metalcore release with some truly impressive vocal work.
So let’s set aside those outside things for a moment (this is not to say if hesitations still sit with you, you should look past them) and just talk about the music. Let’s set aside the “it’s just a karaoke band because Josh Scogin isn’t in it” rhetoric–Queen with Adam Lambert kinda falls in the same scenario. Let’s set aside that members have changed on every instrument in the band around Cory, who essentially is Norma Jean at this point.
This band, across the last two decades, is a behemoth. Around the release of Redeemer, few metalcore bands established an identity like them. Even as fans have come and gone and band members interchanged, the music has remained within this established identity. Whether you lean towards the earlier records, the oft-overlooked Meridional, or the frankly stellar run of Wrongdoers-Polar Similar-All Hail…it’s starting to feel like Norma Jean might have a stronger discography than we ever give them credit for.
After some lengthy technical delays (one of my only gripes of the weekend was how many of these affected multiple stages), Norma Jean roared angrily into “1994” and we were off. I was over two hundred feet back from the stage, deep in one of the largest crowds of the weekend, but not where the action would be. Maybe it’s being in my thirties, but I don’t find myself moshing or willing to fight the pushing as much anymore. Let me stand and enjoy my music, please. “Angry songs make me feel worse, but happy songs make me feel like a liar.” With that simple lyric, I felt myself being pulled into the set like I haven’t experienced in years. It’s a lyric that sums up a complicated feeling I’ve had with certain albums and songs, on both sides of the spectrum of emotion, for a long time.
A few seconds later, mere notes into “The End of All Things Will Be Televised,” I was three feet from the barricade, feeling a decade younger, and screaming every word.
The crowd was electric. Every song was louder than the last from the band and from the fans. At one point between songs, Cory whispered to one of his bandmates, “Man, I’m not used to this.” I don’t know if he realized the mic picked it up. Norma Jean’s peers in Every Time I Die, Underoath, and others often get higher recognition and praise, but it was beautiful to see the band recognizing what they get from the fans. At the end of the day, isn’t that one of the most important things about creating music? Seeing what you’re given back for what you’re giving others?
Before going into “Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste,” Cory said “These are songs that we will always play, if anything, to assure you that it’s the way it’s going to be.” At this point, Cory’s been singing this song for nineteen years while Scogin only sang it for one, so maybe we can quit with the karaoke comments. Even if I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I kept waiting for Scogin to roar onto stage to finish out the song with ‘68 having finished their set a couple hours before. “Memphis” may be a cornerstone song of the scene and their lasting legacy, but their career has expanded far beyond that five minute masterpiece.
It was probably the second best performance of the weekend for me. I hope the festival gives them a chance to do a full set again next year, because the leaked full setlist would’ve honored their career, their fans, and live music in a very special way. This iteration of Norma Jean honors the legacy of the band while still existing as its own version; and, damnit, it was a ton of fun.
Thrice Is The Best Band In The World
If you had asked me what my favorite Thrice album was as I walked away from their closing set, I would’ve answered The Illusion of Safety in a heartbeat. (The real answer: Vheissu.) One of the special album play sets of the weekend, Thrice headlined Friday night by playing TIOS in its entirety for its twentieth anniversary. And what a set it was.
At a festival that deals in a healthy dose of nostalgia alongside a good mixture of reunions, there are two paths that you can witness a band take. There are those that give it all and there are those phoning it in and cashing a paycheck. Thankfully, play acting has been chosen by far fewer bands than I expected. In fact, they’ll remain nameless, but a band I was a casual fan of actually turned me against them this year for phoning it in. If you’re cashing the check, at least honor the music and your fans by appearing to give a damn. End soapbox.
Thrice took an elusive third option: they elevated everything. When you write an album that catapulted you into fame twenty years ago, a lot of growth takes place–as musicians, as people, as performers. The Illusion of Safety is a legacy album by a band that has evolved far beyond being a legacy act. While some of their peers have albums that are hitting this twenty year mark, Thrice haven’t been riding the nostalgia wave for a long time. It was genuinely exciting and refreshing to have the opportunity to see something rare, unlike say another Full Collapse (I still love you, Thursday) album tour.
During the album play, every ounce of musicianship that Thrice possessed while constructing this album was enhanced, and they brought all of that skill and energy into honoring these songs. New flourishes and small tweaks were made to truly bring the songs forward to today. And, most importantly, they looked like they were having fun. As a fan, seeing a band have fun–especially with older songs they’ve distanced themselves from for one reason or another–really makes a performance feel magical. It shows a sense of pride and acknowledgment.
As you might expect, a large amount of the crowd left after “Deadbolt.” Idiots. “Where Idols Once Stood,” “To Awake and Avenge the Dead,” “The Beltsville Crucible,” and “That Hideous Strength” were all gargantuan. These songs that I’ve known since my teenage years took on a new life, full and booming, in that field. I kept singing to myself, long after the guitar had faded, “you’ve got to, you’ve got to play it again…”
If the rumored The Artist in the Ambulance tour comes into fruition, you can expect me at the front of the show. If Thrice continue to bring this much care and enhancement to records that we as fans might cherish more than they do as artists, it’ll be a night to remember.
Spiritbox Could Rule The World If They Want To
It’s weird to include such a young band in a conversation about legacy, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to see a legacy in the making. As I stood in the crowd as Spiritbox took the stage, I saw two fathers and their teenage daughters take their place on the side stage to watch the show. As vocalist Courtney LaPlante roared into “Circle With Me,” both of those young girls’ faces burst into pure joy. This was a community for them, too. This was a community where they could be the lead singer.
I remember my high school friends talking about Hayley Williams after we saw Paramore in early 2006, well before they exploded to international stardom. We’re doing much better than we used to be about diversity and inclusion in the scene than we were back in the mid-00s, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Spiritbox seem like one of the bands that can help lead that charge.
Eternal Blue is one of my most-listened to records of 2021 and their 2022 EP expands on their sound in such a way that you can’t help but be excited to see which way they go next. Their shows are a ton of fun, her vocals absolutely gorgeous, and it just seems like every single thing needed to blow up is there. Casual fans were won during performances of “Yellowjacket” and “Holy Roller” all around me in the crowd.
I remember what it was like watching a new band become discovered and explode when I was younger. How that drew more people into the scene as fans and creators. Sometimes, as an old head who has a hard time discovering new music, it’s lovely to remember that the scene will go on. Music will continue to grow, be discovered, be transformed, be influenced and influence, and there is always something new.
Maybe It’s Not Just Nostalgia…
My final thought on legacy is simply this: maybe it’s not just nostalgia, maybe it’s just actually great music standing the test of time.
When We Were Young Fest sold out in minutes. My Chemical Romance is trotting around the globe playing to nearly sold out arenas. Andrew McMahon did a Something Corporate song heavy tour with Dashboard Confessional who didn’t play a song written in the last decade. Nostalgia is the money making name of the game right now. It’s time to just say it: just because it came out when we were young, doesn’t mean that it can’t be timeless. Just because it came out from one of our favorite bands, doesn’t mean we can’t objectively proclaim its greatness. Our generation, our favorites…they’re allowed to be in the conversation, too.
If you love something now that you loved twenty years ago, it stood the test of time. You are living proof that it’s more than just happy memories. You are not the same person you were then. You’re not loving the song for all the reasons you did then. Just because we’re in a small niche community of alternative music lovers and listeners, it doesn’t mean that our songs or albums can’t be considered a classic.
To bring it home to Furnace Fest bands: Alexisonfire, Norma Jean, and Underoath put out some of the best work of their careers this year. They’ve been around a long time; they’ve earned better than being called a nostalgia act. Maybe “My Friends Over You” still hit so hard as New Found Glory closed their set because it’s a nearly perfect pop-punk song and we can celebrate that we’ve had it for twenty years. Five Iron Frenzy and Squad 5-0 are still out here putting on exceptionally fun performances. Quicksand, Stretch Arm Strong, Advent, Pedro the Lion, The Appleseed Cast, Sunny Day Real Estate… these bands have been around most of our adult lives, if not longer! There are dozens more between the two years of the festival lineups that I could name, but I think my point is getting across.
We have an easier time accepting and witnessing the rise of a superstars like Taylor Swift or Billie Eilish than we do with witnessing the rise of more superstars within our scene, too. Spiritbox could do it. Look at the year Turnstile has had since Glow On came out. I think the musicians and bands we love deserve better from us in how we talk about them. If you love them, say so. If they’re new, tell your friends to check them out. If they’ve been around since before the Obama presidency, still share them with others. We’re not here to gatekeep. We’re here to welcome, introduce, and explore.
The hardcore and punk ethos has always included community, inclusion, and love. In the world we’re living in today, I can think of nothing more counter-cultural than continuing to push this ethos. Invite people in, and I know I’m one of the worst at this. They’re gonna have to see it live to get it…but hey. Isn’t that all where we started, too?
Furnace Fest has been my favorite weekend of the last two years, and I can’t wait to see what new thoughts I have while screaming along with some of my favorite bands next year. To all the promoters, bookers, and volunteers, thank you for putting it all together. To all the bands, we literally wouldn’t have the lives we do without you. See you at a show somewhere real soon.