Mecca Vazie Andrews of Sex Stains at New Alternative Music Festival 2016.
The New Alternative Music Festival was based on a simple idea: three days of music without multi-nationals. It was intended as an active response to the dilution of what it means to be "independent" in today's music industry. That was enough for me to buy a ticket.
The original lineup for New Alternative included over fifty artist acts spanning multiple genres and styles over the course of three days . Unfortunately, the last day of NAMF was canceled due to "unforeseen circumstances" and refunds were given for Sunday. In spite of that, the lineup for Friday and Saturday, which featured bands like Aye Nako, Girlpool, P.S. Eliot, Jeffery Lewis, Sammus, Laura Stevenson, Sex Stains, Moor Mother, Ought, and Screaming Females, showed the potential of a weekend like New Alternative Music Festival. And it was a lot of fun.
The Convention Hall at Asbury Park holds over 3,000 stadium style seats, but attendees and bands watched the split stage from the floor, gathering close to the stage. The building dates back to the late 1920s with upstairs windows facing the Atlantic. Inside the hall, walls were free from any large banners or signs put out by some corporate entity. The only outside sponsorship I saw was the "Stage A Revolution" Stage which was affiliated with a local "music and mentoring program that empowers girls and women through music education, volunteerism, and activities." Also worth mentioning were the all genders bathrooms outfitted with colorful signage: "All Genders All Bodies." Suffice to say that this was a far cry from other festivals I've attended.
The whole weekend felt like a montage from some alternative DIY teenager's dreamiest day dream. The music was varied and non-stop enough that it was really difficult to be bored at NAMF for any length of time. The times I did duck out were only to catch some fresh salty air or grab a quick bite on the boardwalk. Outside the convention hall, groups of NAMF-goers hung out by the beach.
The event participants themselves were an assortment of folks from all over the East Coast (Brooklyn, Philly, DC, Boston, Chicago) as well as a slew of West Coast bands who came out to play NAMF. There were a wide range of attendees who drove out for the fest mixed with locals who came to check out the event that had turned their post-tourists boardwalk into a punk rock promenade by the seaside.
The energy during the weekend felt less like a crowded room of people and more like "punk homecoming" as Friday performer, Lætitia Tamko of Vagabon, put it. It felt like for a couple of days I was a part of a wider community that were choosing to do something that was deeply rooted in the place where our ethics and our art meet. At no point during the weekend did I feel negatively judged for my either my femme or queer presentation. The lineup included people that I could identify with and went beyond an unending parade of 4-5 dudes playing straight driving rock in 4/4 time.
New Alternative Music Festival showed that there are other ways of running festivals on a big scale, an alternative to the "Alternative", a viable option for artists and fans alike looking to divest their art and money from The Industry. It showed the potential for a label like Don Giovanni to do a large, ambitious DIY fest on its own terms -- bringing together a community connected by the common thread of trying to exist outside of corporate artistic-industrial complex and all the hangups that go along with that.
NAMF hearkened back to a simpler time, where festivals were really all about the music and the things music makers believed in. In retrospect, maybe such a time never existed, but there is still something to the idea that we can make space for art and artists to say what they want, the way they want to. All I know for sure is that when Victoria Ruiz of Downtown Boys started to speak from the stage about how this festival would be remembered as the place where we began to find our own way back to an alternative music scene that reflects us, as a community, I believed her. Or at least I really wanted to.