By Stefny At The Disco
Wednesday was hot, y’all. High of 102º and sundown around 8:30pm.
Let me set the scene for you (get it, scene? lol): Germania Insurance Amphitheater is located at Circuit of the Americas in Del Valle. It’s a race track. It’s got no cover and no trees. The amphitheater itself is in a concrete pit. There’s no roof overhead. The stage faces west, which means the sun sets into the eyes of the performers. It also means that it’s in direct sun for longer, which means it’s hotter for longer.
Doors were at 1:30pm and the first act began at 2:30pm. My first impression was… “There’s nobody here.” Which is understandable given the time of day in the middle of a workday when all of us old emos are in our day jobs. I figured attendance would pick up after 5-5:30, but weirdly enough, it didn’t. Turns out, at least half the crowd left after Hot Mulligan wrapped up around that time. By the time the headliners Taking Back Sunday played, attendance had MAYBE evened out. Although I was able to just walk into the pit.
First out of the gate was Cliffdiver from Oklahoma, fronted by co-vocalists Briana Wright and Joey Duffy. I can’t remember if I’ve ever played them on my show before, but I definitely will now. Briana is such a powerhouse and I love the one-two punch of male and female vocals. They were the first band to promote hydration and definitely not the last. It was brutal out there. I don’t know how Briana had the energy to swing all her hair around and bop across the stage like she did.
Next up was Stand Atlantic from Sydney. No stranger to The Emo Diaries, I was hyped to see them live. They’re also led by a female vocalist, Bonnie Fraser, who sported a trucker hat, oversized tee, and black jeans. (just as an aside here, I know we were at an emo festival but I truly do not understand how so many of these artists wore long pants and head-to-toe black. just… no) Every artist commented on the heat, and Bonnie tried to beat it by doing a shoey. She did mention how disgusting it is to do a shoey out of a real shoe, so she used a little shoe-shaped koozie which was honestly so cute and they should sell them. Maybe they did, I didn’t spend much time at the merch tables tbh.
Third was Mom Jeans, more Midwest emo than the previous two bands, and also in heavy rotation on my show. They’re the first band that has a setlist posted to setlist.fm, and sport such amazing song titles as “Hippo in the Water” (which was super fun), “*Sobs Quietly*,” and “Poor Boxer Shorts.” I strongly believe that nonsense song titles are one of the reasons I love this genre so much. But I think my favourite part of the set was watching this dude in front of me wearing a Mom Jeans shirt with another Mom Jeans shirt slung over his shoulder absolutely just vibing and in his element.
Another brief interjection to say that during Mom Jeans’ set, my phone overheated. I got a temperature warning and couldn’t use it. Mind you, it was IN MY POCKET unless I was using it to post to Instagram stories.
Next up was apparently who the majority of the Gen Z crowd was there to see, Hot Mulligan. I love Hot Mulligan, and I am absolutely not disparaging them, but it really was shocking to see half the (already abysmal) audience dip after their set. They put out a new record about two months ago called Why Would I Watch and did a good job going back and forth between new songs and old hits. And because all of their songs have such incredible titles, I’m just going to link you to the setlist and you can take it from there. You can thank me later. Lead vocalist Nathan “Tades” Sanville commented on the heat multiple times (and again with the long hair with no hairtie!) and made me laugh out loud at one point saying that he was going to pass out, poop his pants, and need to be carried off stage. Luckily, it did not come to that.
Following the mass exodus was PVRIS, the now-solo project of Lynn Gunn, who wore a black tank top, long black pants, and black boots. My friend Brandon from Windsor (with whom I’ve collaborated before for episodes of The Emo Diaries and the dearly departed This Great White North) was seething with jealousy. This set started around 5:50pm and I WISH my iPhone gave weather information in addition to the geotagging because it was HOT. So hot, in fact, that they had to cut their third song short and went silent for about 5 minutes because some of their equipment was literally overheating. Fortunately, they were able to forge ahead, but what a scary situation that must’ve been for the band members. For the last song “Goddess,” Lynn welcomed back Briana from Cliffdiver to assist.
The Maine was next. Since they hail from Arizona, vocalist John O’Callaghan stated that they were used to the heat, but I would just like to point out that the heat in Tempe is not the same heat as Austin. But I digress. I sent a photo of guitarist Jared Monaco to my group chat and said “SOMEONE GET THIS MAN A SCRUNCHIE” because his long, thick hair was everywhere (not in a Dashboard Confessional way) and that would’ve pissed me off long ago. These men were also fully decked out in black and long pants and I just… I know they’re not on stage for THAT long, but good grief. Wouldn’t be me. For their third song, “Loved You A Little,” they brought out Adam from Taking Back Sunday, rocking a burnt orange suit. That song is a collab between the two bands and Charlotte Sands, whom I had the pleasure to interview at ACL last year and ask about that song. After it was over, Adam didn’t seem to want to leave, and let John literally drag him offstage. I’m also very upset with Instagram because it broke and didn’t post the video I shot of that song, and didn’t save it. After that, I started recording everything in the native camera app and then posting to Instagram. That’s not very RAWR XD of you, Meta.
The penultimate performance, and also the first that was remotely tolerable heat/sun-wise, was Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Andrew has worn many bands’ hats over the last 20+ years, and he gave the people what they wanted by including two hits each from Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. He was also the most interactive with the crowd, starting his set walking into the pit with some winding contraption that I cannot identify and sitting on the rail dividing the pit and floor seats. He also ended his set by deploying an elementary school gym class parachute in the pit, hanging out with festival-goers under it, and then coming through the seats. Also he has a Buc-ee’s sticker on his piano.
Finally, and now facing a fully dark sky, was Long Island’s Taking Back Sunday, who played a hit-filled 18-song set. The five members came out in matching rust-coloured suits, but they all lost the jacket eventually. I’ve heard… stories… about their performances in recent years but to be honest, I have 0 complaints about the show they put on. Adam was hilarious, talked a lot, and danced somewhere between Napoleon Dynamite, Pete in the “Dance, Dance” video, and Wednesday Addams. He and the whole band looked like they were having the time of their lives, so who can judge? Also, they had fire rain! I love fire rain! I was terrified that sparks would land in John Nolan’s gorgeous curls, but he seemed to avoid them fine.
People moshed, my friend Jayna said she would “give it all up for Adam,” and one guy yelled “PLAY ‘TIMBERWOLVES’” to which Adam replied “We already played that, you missed it! We played 2 new songs! You could’ve gone to the bathroom and gotten a beer then!” I don’t know, I thought it was hilarious. At this point, I was almost certainly delirious from heat exhaustion, dehydration (even though I pounded untold amounts of $7 Powerade and water), and lack of food (because I spent all my money on the aforementioned beverages). They did indeed play two new songs, “The One” which came out June 30, and an as-yet-unreleased track called “S’Old” (get it?). I leave you with the final 4.5 minutes of their set, with some Adam quips and the song “MakeDamnSure.”
Overall, while I (obviously) very much support the idea of this festival, the location and timing were actual hell. I think it would’ve fared much better at a different venue, maybe something like Moody Amphitheater. There’s at least some kind of shade and reprieve from the murderous sun there. It also just seemed depressingly empty because the venue was so large. Everything and everyone was so spread out, and all of the seated people could’ve been condensed.
Also, in torturous heat like this, it’s just rude to make people pay so much for water. There were two water fountains on each side of the stage, but the two on house right didn’t even work, and one on house left sputtered something awful and made a big mess.
Next year, maybe opt for not a Wednesday? I don’t know, I know they have a lot of dates to get through, but we’re old now. We have jobs. People have kids. Make it a little more accessible.
I hope the organizers and promoters don’t let this get them down. I mean, they might have considered it a rousing success, who knows. I hope they do come back next year, although I pray that it is NOT at COTA in July again.