A Look Back At Atlanta’s Wrecking Ball 2016: The Punk Rock Festival The South Deserves

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL


The second edition of the Atlanta based music festival The Wrecking Ball served as both a party and a funeral. This year’s festival was the final event held at the Masquerade, a three-stage venue that has been hosting shows in Atlanta for 27 years.

The punk rock community is a truly special communal and The Wrecking Ball is a festival that embraces the best aspects of punk rock that few other festivals are able to capture. People from all walks of life attended the festival. No matter the sexual or gender identity of it’s attendees, the Wrecking Ball was a safe space for people to truly be themselves and unite over punk rock. The sense of community goes much further than just the attendees. It is far from uncommon to see members of your favorite bands walking around the festival among the crowds and watching shows. It is easy to tell how much the bands that played the festival cared for each other. There were even members of popular bands such as Brendan Lukens from Modern Baseball and Nicole Shanholtzer from The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid to Die who were not playing the festival but came as attendees to enjoy the festival.

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL

Photo: Sarah Dunn for Wrecking Ball ATL

The mood among the performers was somber, nostalgic and gratuitous. Many of the bands had played the Masquerade in previous years and they all took time to express their feelings of the venue. Bradford Cox of the Atlanta based band Deerhunter was the most vocal about his feelings of the famous venue’s closing. During his band’s evening set on the first day of the festival, Cox expressed his extreme displeasure with the Masquerade closing, attributing it to the “continuing gentrification of Atlanta neighborhoods.” During their set, St Louis emo band Foxing shared a story of how the Masquerade was the first venue they played after having their gear stolen from their van in 2015, and how welcome and supporting everyone in attendance was that night. Conor Murphy, lead singer of foxing, said “playing the masquerade feels like playing at home” before the band played the final song of their set.

The festival utilized the three stages inside (dubbed heaven, hell and purgatory) the venue plus two outdoor stages in a park located adjacent to the Masquerade. The shows at the two indoor stages were subject to capacity, which was pleasantly rarely an issue due to the flawless organization from the festival.

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL

The Wrecking Ball continued the precedent it established last year by booking both popular touring bands and one-off shows from punk rock legends.

Nashville based rock outfit Diarrhea Planet played a set early in the day that was filled with crushing guitar riffs and The Menzingers played to a packed stage running through their hits from their lengthy discography to a crowd of devoted fans. Popular San Francisco based black metal outfit Deafheaven played songs off of their acclaimed 2015 album “New Bermuda” and their breakthrough 2013 record “Sunbather.” Deafheaven’s tight play and the charisma from screamer George Clark resulted in a crowd that was eating out of the palm of their hands.

The best set of the day came from the California based Touche Amore. Their high energy performance combined with a crowd that knew every word to every song created an experience where a cycle was created of the band feeding off of the crowd’s energy and the crowd feeding off of the band’s energy. After the band finished playing an unreleased song that the audience still knew the words to lead singer Jeremy Bolm said “having everyone singing along to a song that hasn’t even been released yet was really special, thank you so much.”

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL

Other highlights of the first day include a reunion show from Bob Nanna of Braid’s other band, Hey Mercedes, a crowded set from Sorority Noise at the festival’s smallest stage and the recently reunited Drive Like Jehu’s nighttime set in the park.

Day two of the festival was filled with as much energy as the first day. Highlights included Nashville punk rockers Bully who despite not typically being associated with the scene that most of the bands on the lineup occupy proved they can rock with the best of them. Playing only their second show in four years, Wisconsin based emo legends the Promise Ring celebrated the recent reissue of their 1997 album Nothing Feels Good by playing the album in it’s entirety. The band cleverly opened with the song “How Nothing Feels” whose lyrics mention not knowing where Atlanta is.

The blistering heat could not stop Joyce Manor from putting on a set of extreme liveliness with nonstop crowd surfing, moshing and yelling the lyrics back at the band.

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL

Photo: Elena de Soto for Wrecking Ball ATL

American Football continued their string of shows since uniting in 2014. The band played songs from their now iconic self-titled album including every member of the crowd singing along to their most famous tune, Never Meant.

Foxing played a sing-along filled sets with their typical heavy crowd participation, including lead singer Conor Murphy singing their hit Rory while lying on top of the outstretched hands of the crowd. Thursday played their first show on their reunion tour and Dinosaur Jr played both the classics and songs off of their new record.

While the Wrecking Ball may not have had the typical diversity you get with music festivals, it is always a special site to see people from different walks of life come together to celebrate something they can all agree on. From the hardcore kids to the emos to the casual music fans, Wrecking Ball created an atmosphere of inclusiveness and acceptance that is rare to see in this day and age.

It has not been said whether or not The Wrecking Ball will be moving to the new venue the Masquerade will soon occupy. For the sake of community and punk rock, we can only hope Wrecking Ball is here to stay.  

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