Everyone dreams of a musical festival filled with a bunch of their favorite artists, all their good friends, in a magical place that is borderline unreal. For the members of the 8123 family, that's exactly what they got. When the boys in The Maine first announced the 8123 fest that would take place on their 10 year anniversary, I wasn't sure what to expect. What they and 8123 provided for their fan base couldn't have possibly been expected. The planning commenced the moment tickets went on sale. Where we were staying, what we would do, how we would get around. Little did we know that none of that would matter. That it would all boil down to an unforgettable weekend and a certain Saturday that will hold a special place in our hearts forever.
The anticipation that day was unlike any other I had experienced before. With a quick stop into the 8123 pop-up shop on Friday — everything became that much more real. Even finding a parking spot seemed to take far longer than anyone would’ve liked, but the moment we stepped foot inside of the Cresent Ballroom parking lot, it was all true. It took a moment for things to sink in. After grabbing my photo pass, my eyes wildly searched around me. I didn’t catch everything at first, but it was more than evident that 8123 had pretty much thought of absolutely everything. Right down to having the infamous van to sign, the cactus balloons and inflatable obstacle course, and the adorable purple fest cups. Tents lined the grounds, people already glued to the barricade with no plan to move throughout the entire day. With my merch bought and my camera in hand, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the first musician — John the Ghost.
The Arizona sun hit my cheeks as I looked up onto the stage. It had all come down to this moment. The crowd roared with excitement as The Maine's vocalist John O'Callaghan appeared on stage, being joined by his friends (Jared Monaco on lead, Brennan Smiley on rhythm, Eric Halvorsen on bass, and Andrew De Stefano on drums) shortly after for his solo set. The joy was clear on everyone's faces; my eyes darted all over as John and his companions grinned and the crowd echoed the lyrics from his EP Sincerely, John the Ghost in return. I could only mumble the lyrics to myself as I'd been waiting to hear these songs live right along with them. It was obvious that what we were watching was more than just music. More than people doing what they loved. It was friends, all on stage, sharing the enjoyment of it all together, and sharing it with us too. The energy was contagious, and the day seemed to kickstart shortly after.
John the Ghost’s set was followed up very shortly by Brighten — which was clearly a throwback for most of the crowd. Justin Richards (vocals + guitar), Alex Draper (bass), and Jimmy Richards (drums) rocked the stage like they hadn’t missed a beat in their few year absence and the crowd so obviously hadn’t either. This set was only the beginning of many to come that held a bit of nostalgia as well as huge smiles on the faces of those playing the songs that they hadn’t in a while. With each note, the crowd became more and more anxious for what was to come while simultaneously trying to enjoy what was happening in front of their faces. It was easy to see that the men on stage felt the same. That they were all too having a sweet throwback with the rest of us.
As the nostalgic tunes of Brighten faded, a newer 8123 face was put onto the stage: Beach Weather. Opening with a song off their first EP, What A Drag, the band (consisting of Nick Santino on vocals + guitar, Reeve Powers on bass, and Austin Scates on drums), continued their set with a mix from both their releases — accompanying their older songs with fresher jams off their newest release their Chit Chat EP. With a consistent melody and catchy lyrics, who could deny a bit of a sing-a-long? The vibe was practically being pumped into the air we were breathing, the electricity in the air as their infectious jams moved through the bodies and the feet of those dancing along. It had really only begun and yet, the energy surrounding was already flowing so heavily.
Next up a non-8123 resident, Speak Low If You Speak Love, took the stage — but was made to feel as at home as everyone else. I, myself, was surprised to hear a good handful singing along with Ryan Scott Graham (vocals + guitar), but it was obvious he had a few fans in the crowd. As he explained how he'd just gotten off a plane from Japan and how honored he was to have people singing along, I could only smile. It amazed me that so many people, brought together by this one thing, could share an intimate moment with an artist who took no part. As Ryan and his acoustic played sweet melodies, we watched and swayed, feeling serene in our desert surroundings.
It was then that it was time to make way inside. Many stayed in their places, but personally, I wanted to see this next set. I had loved Joel Kanitz's voice ever since I had heard my first This Century song, so I wasn't about to deny the chance to listen to his new solo project, Gorgeous War. The small, dimly lit room began to fill rather quickly as people shuffled inside to find their spot for his set. Covering the likes of Justin Bieber, as well as singing a few of his originals, Joel’s amazing voice filled the small room and so easily encapsulated the crowd for those few moments. Later on, Joel took the stage again. This time, joined by Alex Silverman (keyboard) to play a few tunes from their past project This Century. It was almost too easy to shout back the words to ‘Love and Back’ while the whole crowd did so too. The room was nearly packed to the brim, everyone humming along to the acoustic guitar that sat in Joel’s hands with his occasional banter causing a laugh to rise from the crowd. It was a bittersweet feeling, seeing these old bands reunite again for one large celebration.
Quickly jogging my way back outside as I began to hear The Technicolors start their set, I made my way to the front. This wasn't my first time seeing them, so I knew what to expect and I was more than excited for it. The lights flashed an array of colors as the crowd was transfixed by the vocals of Brennan Smiley. This band had always had a way of doing so with their sound — a concoction of both old and new school rock and roll. With Sean Silverman on guitar, Nico Nicolette on bass, Troy Lowney on keyboard, and Rob Humphreys on drums, the band so obviously put their hearts into the music. Brennan’s silky voice had the whole crowd swooning as they performed ’Sweat' off their latest EP, Sweat. And of course, the only thing I could do was sway along yet again to the luscious jams of The Technicolors. All was proven as every sweat, tear, and breath was put into their last song — Hollywood. Each member of the band put the last of their energy into the song, viciously strumming guitars and slamming down on keyboards.
If not for The Maine, this seemed to be the moment everyone was truly waiting for. A reunion that had been speculated and begged for ever since 8123 fest had been announced: A Rocket to the Moon. It was the moment Nick Santino (vocals + guitar) walked onto the stage that everyone’s eyes were glued there. So many members of the 8123 family had been waiting for this moment ever since their breakup in 2013. As Eric Halvorsen (bass), Justin Richards (guitar), and Andrew Cook (drums) joined the singer and the chords to 'If They Only Knew' hit their ears, the crowd went absolutely crazy. Eyes were watery, hearts skipped beats — it seemed that so many were in disbelief that this was really happening. Absolute grins graced the faces of those on stage, as well as in the crowd. It was more than clear that the band was ecstatic about playing together again. You could practically inhale the nostalgia that spread wide across the grounds as A Rocket to the Moon played songs from most of their records, but mainly their 2009 release, On Your Side. Tons put all they had into their set; screaming along the lyrics and easily dancing to the nostalgic tunes as colorful lights graced the stage. A beautiful short catch up from a band loved by so many.
With fellow Arizona natives gracing the stage now, fans continued to keep their energy high — and it really was no problem with the likes of Brian Dales, lead vocalist for The Summer Set. His infectious attitude kept not only the crowd, but his band mates (John Gomez on lead, Josh Montgomery on rhythm, Stephen Gomez on bass, and Jess Bowen on drums) happily hopping along with him. Playing songs from the likes of Love Like This and Legendary, alongside songs from their newest album Stories For Monday, the members of The Summer Set continued to capture the crowd's attention with ease. Their high energy continued throughout the majority of their set; not slowing down once for anyone to take a breather. The band’s bubbly melodies and catchy lyrics carried everyone through their set on smooth sails, but it was only a warm up for what was to come.
There's always been something about The Maine. Their passion. Their dedication. Their groovy tunes. What they make one feel is almost inexplicable. I may be biased, but anyone with eyes can see the love and the genuine enjoyment they get out of making music. That was more than proven as they made their way on stage, on the night of their 10th anniversary, in front of 2,700 people. Opening the show with an absolute fan favorite, 'We All Roll Along', the boys in The Maine (John O’Callaghan on vocals, Jared Monaco on lead, Kennedy Brock on rhythm + backing vocals, Garrett Nickelsen on bass, and Pat Kirch on drums) so easily brought tears to the eyes of all their listeners. All the members of the 8123 family that stood alongside the friends they thought they’d never see and the new friends they’d made that day, belting songs that meant something different to each one that sang. The setlist was peppered with songs from most of their albums, including their newest single 'Bad Behavior' off their upcoming album, Lovely Little Lovely (set to be released on April 7th, 2017) as well as something they hadn’t performed in a while: 'Take Me Dancing' off of the b-sides from their third album, Pioneer. Misty eyes filled the grounds of the Cresent Ballroom while old and new fans alike shouted the lyrics to ‘Another Night On Mars’, followed shortly thereafter by a rendition of ‘We’ll All Be…’ that tugged on every heartstring in the entire venue. With a few short ‘thank you’s, the show came to an end, but the adrenaline didn’t cease. The appreciation, the warmth, the happiness simply hung in the air for a while. It felt as though things were over, but knowing that The Maine has never been more excited for their music and knowing how endless the opportunities in the future will be for them, is something not even the best writer could describe.
The day after felt unreal. As if we were all floating on the clouds and in complete shock that the day before had happened. As if they hadn’t done enough, The Maine held a meet and greet that lasted well over five hours, meeting each and every one of their fans that they could. The line wrapped around four entire city blocks and those boys met anyone they could. Much to my surprise, when approaching the band’s manager, Tim Kirch, with my two friends to say thank you — he thanked us. The moment I didn’t think I could be more surprised by their genuine kindness — I was. If there was one thing I grabbed from that weekend, it was the absolute and utter happiness that appeared on the band’s faces as the crowd of 2,700 eagerly sung “8123 means everything to me”. That moment was defining, and a moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life. The Maine and 8123 as a whole is something that I, and anyone involved, is very lucky to be apart of. This weekend proved that.