Columbus’ alternative radio station CD102.5 kicked off its annual summer musical extravaganza, Summer Festival, this weekend, welcoming bands like Matt and Kim, Cake and Weezer to the LC Pavilion stage. Blessed with clear skies, Summer Festival boasted an eclectic mix of alternative bands for three days of outdoor music, dancing and all-around smiles from everyone in attendance.
I managed to leave work, fight through traffic on Riverside Drive, park the car and stroll through the LC’s gates just in time to see the purple tie-dyed stage banner for English indie rock band Glass Animals slowly lower to the ground while a flurry of black-clad technicians changed the stage for the next act.
Judging by the relative emptiness of the pit and the ample space on which to spread out blankets still available on the lawn, I was not the only one who planned on arriving later due to work commitments—unsurprising, given that the three-day festival began in the middle of the day on a Thursday.
Although the doors opened at 3:30 p.m., it seemed like only the die-hard pit dwellers showed up that early, vying to stake out a front-row perch close to the stage. The music got off to a late start because of the last-minute cancelation of Civil Twilight, who ran into travel delays in Chicago and did not make it to Columbus.
A roar of excited fans announced the entrance of indie rock band Bear Hands, who got the crowd moving despite the heat. Although it wasn’t the most danceable set, the performance of “Giants,” the lead single off of the band’s second album, “Distraction,” got some in the pit fist pumping and singing along.
Next up was Matt and Kim, an alternative dance duo from Brooklyn, New York. However, before the band — made up of drummer Kim Schifino and lead vocalist and keyboardist Matt Johnson — stormed into view, a special announcement was made, celebrating the marriage of a couple who had tied the knot backstage. The crowd erupted in a massive cheer as the two newlyweds recounted meeting each other at Matt and Kim’s Summer Festival performance in 2012.
Then, in a burst of colorful confetti, Schifino and Johnson took the stage, emanating excitement that brought a smile to every audience member’s face.
“We get asked what our favorite cities are to play,” Johnson called out to the audience while Schifino climbed on her drumset, sporting a massive grin. “And Columbus is always on the top of the f—ing list.”
Matt and Kim’s set was full of songs from the band’s five albums, but the majority of the upbeat tunes were drawn from 2012 album “Lightning” and its newest album, “New Glow,” released in April.
It’s easy to say Matt and Kim was the highlight of day one of Summer Festival, the show a kaleidoscope of candy-colored balloons, upbeat lyrics and a sea of crowd surfing fans feeding off of Schifino and Johnson’s infectious energy.
The set ended with several of the band’s most-loved songs, including “Let’s Go,” “Daylight” and “It’s Alright,” a song recently featured in a series of Buick commercials. The hour-long performance was over in what felt like blink of an eye, leaving the air buzzing with an almost-overwhelming sense of happiness and community.
Unfortunately, the billing of alternative rock group Cake, which brought to the stage a much more relaxed sound underscored by trumpet riffs and the swirling lights of a disco ball, seemed at odds with the bombastic performance that graced the stage immediately before. While the musicianship of Cake’s five members is undisputed, the stage presence differed greatly from Schifino and Johnson’s smile-inducing sassiness and the night ended on a quiet note.
Arriving several hours after the gates had opened once again, I reached the LC Pavilion in time to catch the second band of the day, Saint Motel, a Los Angeles-based group that boasts a hard-to-pin-down sound that stands out within the broad genre of “alternative pop.”
Playing into the setting sun, squinting against the bright streaks of light out onto the already-packed lawn area, the four-person group was joined onstage by a saxophonist and trumpet player, further emphasizing the band’s retro vibe.
Saint Motel was a welcome surprise, playing an energetic set that at times resembled a dimly lit ‘60s jazz lounge and at others called upon beachy, rhythmic aspects that encouraged audience members to attempt to perform salsa-like dance moves.
As the next band, Atlas Genius, an Australian group made up of three brothers—Keith (vocals), Steven (bass) and Michael (drummer) Jeffery — and friend Darren Sell (keyboard), prepared to take the stage, several announcements were made by CD102.5’s radio hosts regarding the station’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The station launched an online effort in July to raise money for the lease and purchase of its broadcasting license and seemed to be using this event to gain more support.
Once the hosts had left, Atlas Genius, another CD102.5 Summer Festival alum, commanded the stage with a confidence that made the show fun to watch, even though the set seemed to drag on a little toward the end. The band’s cover of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” garnered some cheers from the audience as the night air cooled, and following Atlas Genius’ departure, the stage was set up for Weezer to close the show.
This time, CD102.5 got the lineup right by ending day two of Summer Festival 2015 with a band like Weezer. As soon as the massive “W” light fixture was raised above the stage, the atmosphere was charged with barely contained anticipation.
Weezer came out onto the stage with little fanfare and started right into its set, opening with “My Name Is Jonas,” the lead single off of the band’s self-titled 1994 album, which appeased many of the group’s long-time followers. The rest of the show was hit after hit, with the band taking little time to butter up the audience with small talk, instead relying on its music to say all that needed to be said.
From older favorites like “Island In the Sun” to “Back To the Shack,” a song from the band’s newest album “Everything Will Be Alright in the End,” released in October, Weezer proved why it has been such a defining force in the alternative rock genre.
The last day of CD102.5’s Summer Festival started off earlier than the others, with music beginning at the A&R Music Bar around 3:30 p.m. This was the only day of the festival that used more than one stage, something probably done out of necessity because there were 10 bands scheduled to perform.
The sun was beating down onto the grassy area of the LC when I arrived and the last few notes of Digisaurus’ set were still echoing around the amphitheater. Digisaurus, a local band, had won a spot in the Summer Festival lineup after winning the CD102.5 local artist showcase competition held at Skully’s Music Diner.
After several more mentions of the Indiegogo campaign, the next band, Bully, arrived onstage. Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, the group showcased a more hard rock repertoire of songs and lead vocalist Alicia Bognanno blew the audience away with her impressive vocal range.
Looking around the venue in between performances, I noted that, despite the day’s low ticket price of $5, the crowds that had packed the LC for Weezer the night before were nowhere to be found. Granted, it was still early in the day, but I expected more people to show up and take advantage of the warm weather and low entry fee.
My attention was drawn back to the stage when a cheer erupted from the pit behind me. With flaming red hair that matched her Doc Martens, Genevieve Schatz, the former lead singer of Chicago-based band Company of Thieves, was handing out Capri Sun pouches to appreciative fans. After disappearing for a moment to dispose of the empty drink box, Schatz returned and started her set, really shining during the slower, guitar-accompanied song “The Enemy,” which had a haunting melody that showcased the tender intricacies of her voice.
I left shortly after Schatz made her exit from the stage, but after three days of outdoor concerts, I felt like I — and my eardrums — had had enough floor-vibrating bass for one weekend. Although it was no Lollapalooza, I came away from my weekend experience with a Google Doc full of songs to re-listen to and bands to explore, which makes CD102.5’s Summer Festival a success in my book.
Correction: July 29, 2015
A previous version of this article stated that Weezer’s newest album “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” was set to be released in October 2015. In fact, it was released in October 2014.