Sad Summer Season, Commence!

(Not actually sad, just so you know. Good vibes only in 2023.)

When Warped Tour came to an end there was a void in the emo scene. No longer were fans attending their punk rock summer camp – the same one they had relied on for all those years. (25 to be exact.) However, Sad Summer Fest decided to rise up, take charge of the alternative rock fun happening during the warmer months. Although its first few years saw them still blossoming and learning the ropes, it is now the definitive emo/punk/rock festival for scene kids new and old. Where else can you see Motion City Soundtrack, L.S. Dunes, and Taking Back Sunday on the same stage these days?

We cannot stress enough how crucial it is to have a place like this in the scene. This genre, despite gaining widespread attention the last few years, is still niche. Festivals like When We Were Young or Adjacent are fantastic, but sell out fast being always in one location over the course of one day (two if you’re lucky and weather permits). Having a touring festival that reaches fans across states throughout the summer gives us something to look forward to; it almost makes the rest of the year tolerable leading up! No matter how rough times gets, at least we know that there’s a Sad Summer show heading our way and waiting for us come June/July/August.

Not only is SSF worthwhile because of how the music shines and how dedicated the fans are who come out, the entire organization behind the scenes aim to be supportive. Chelsea Dunstall leads the team when it comes to adding activism and awareness to the event at hand. She tells us how rewarding it has been to work with Tim Kirch from 8123 for the last 10 years, which includes the very start of Sad Summer and its mindful roll-out. “It’s pretty special to be a part of something from its inception,” she told us via email, “and watch it grow into a meaningful experience for so many people. Sad Summer Fest (and its team) continues to grow every year, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!”

On the topic of charity work, inclusion, and factoring in non-profit endeavors, Chelsea told us that they make sure to give the proper space for the activist experience and the tents set up at each venue of the fest. “This year, we are lucky to have a handful of national partners – and many, many more on a local level! Among our national partners are The Ally Coalition, HeadCount, REVERB, and Can’dAid. We try to have at least two non-profits represented on site at each Sad Summer Fest show, and we start working with our national partners on campaigns well in advance of the tour itself,” she explained to us. “Our goal is long term partnerships that can contribute to real impact, so I start the process by revisiting the organizations we’ve worked with in the past. Then we assess our partnership, take feedback from the team, and see what best aligns for that summer. It’s constantly evolving and there’s a lot of factors that are considered, but that’s essentially where we start.”

How do they, internally, gather these non-profits and charities for the festival? It’s not without care and not without the music! “The artists are a huge part of the process – sometimes through personal recommendations and other times by expressing interest in existing partnerships. We try to connect them with non-profits that align with their views and interests.”

The festival and all it’s wonderful partnerships is making stops at PNC Bank Arts Center in New Jersey and Skyline Stage At The Mann in Philadelphia this year, on July 14 and 14, respectively. Unlike the multiple stages and conflicted set times of Warped, Sad Summer prides itself on one stage. As a fan, you get to see all the bands you came for (No more hard decisions!) without the running around and the occasional clash of pop punk priorities with your friends. With its bubblegum pink color scheme, iconic Saddington Bear logo, and push for endless summer mosh pits, this festival is once again guaranteeing to make your summer anything but sad. 


We had the incredible opportunity to interview some of the bands on the bill this year to highlight what’s to come, what to look forward to, and what to prepare yourself for. Check out some of those conversations below!

Daisy Grenade

This is their first Sad Summer Fest (2023).

Full Interview Linked Here

First off on the Sad Summer bill is Daisy Grenade. They may be small now, but they’re going to be massive. They recently completed tours with Meet Me @ The Altar, Waterparks, and are currently underway opening for the legendary Fall out Boy. This duo also just re-released their EP Cult Classic with two additional songs! Daisy Grenade are a force to be reckoned with, and despite being so new, have already displayed they have what it takes to make it big.

When discussing the tour they said: 

Keaton: We’re super excited. I love Sad Summer. It’s going to be so fun.

Dani: Yeah I remember last year I was looking at the lineup and watching all the gigs happen. I didn’t get to go personally but that would be really cool, and here we are!

Keaton: And we get to do it mostly on the East Coast so that will be really really fun. I think it’s really cool to have a mix of some older bands headline and then having one of the newer bands in the same genre come through. I think that’s a really cool way of merging the whole genre together. We then dove into how a smaller tier band is going to feel playing to arenas full of people! Only 3 years into their career and they’ll be performing to thousands of people every night. This pressure is definitely scary but the band is prepared for the challenge. 

Dani: We will have just done the Fall Out Boy jump. I guess we’ll see how we’re feeling post-that about the amphitheaters and arenas.

Keaton: I think it’s going to be pretty crazy to make that jump from playing 250 cap venues to then going to an arena. I think that will probably be pretty wild. We’re really excited. I don’t know if you ever feel really ready to do that. I think you just have to take the leap and see how it goes. I don’t feel ready but I don’t feel like we’ll ever feel fully ready. We’re just excited to get out there and do our best.

Stand Atlantic

This is their second Sad Summer Fest (2019, 2023).

Full Interview Linked Here

Stand Atlantic are also on the stellar SSF bill. It feels weird calling them an up-and-coming band because they’ve grown massively with every release. They has proven themselves, already, again and again. With three albums under their belt and a fourth on the way, the band continues to find a stride. Their new single, “Kill(her),” is available everywhere now. 

The female-fronted group played the very first Sad Summer Festival in 2019 when the fest was still playing clubs and small theaters. Now, as they on their way to arenas and amphitheaters, we talked to Bonnie Fraser about playing such massive shows this time around as an original Sad Summer alum – and she was “scared shitless but so excited.”

We still think it was one of our favorite tours to date. It was so fun. We never got to play Warped Tour or anything like that so to do a summer festival in the US (obviously it doesn’t have as big a lineup as Warped Tour did, it’s getting there). It’s an honor and it’s super cool. I’m so glad the first one went well enough to keep going and keep doing it. I’m so glad it’s still around. I hope it’s around for a long time. It’s run very well and it’s a very fun tour to be on. It’s awesome. We need something! I’m glad it exists! Fucking sick!

Another funny moment from the interview was when we reminded Bonnie that, back in the day, Stand Atlantic actually covered a Taking Back Sunday song.

I totally forgot we did that! […] That’s actually mad! That’s such a weird full circle moment. Thank you for reminding me of that! That’s awesome. They’re one of the pioneers from back in the day. We’re very excited to be on tour with them! Whether we cover the song or not!

L.S. Dunes

This is their first Sad Summer Fest (2023).

Full Interview Linked Here

We spoke to L.S. Dunes way back in November around the release of their debut album Past Lives, but we must note that the band has a new track out now called “Benadryl Subreddit.” They are a supergroup of astronomical proportions – Anthony Green from Circa Survive and Saosin, Travis Stever from Coheed and Cambria, Frank Iero from My Chemical Romance, and Tucker Rule and Tim Payne from Thursday make up this band. 

We had the chance to discuss their songwriting process with them, and while the idea of what makes a song genuine is difficult to put into words, the band did a fantastic job. We went over exactly how they composed an album and not just 11 singles.

Frank: Yeah, man! Never in my life have I ever been like, ‘I’m going to start a band so it does this this and this,’ checking these boxes. It’s always like, ‘Oh, that sounds really cool. I want to play with that person. I want to write music with that person. I want to create with that person.’ That’s the reason you start a band. Everything else is bullshit. You can smell that from a mile away. There’s a lot of them out there – we all know what they are – and some of them have been on the cover of your magazine.

Tucker: And it’s crazy. I feel like this is meant to be. Everywhere we go we see something that is like the symbol of the band. We were at a vegan restaurant the other day and the server was awesome and she had a scorpion tattooed on her arm. I’m on a boat on an emo cruise and there’s like a triangle with a lightning bolt in it. There were these orange poppy flowers earlier today. They’re everywhere. This was supposed to happen. 

Tim: I think that we put a lot of thought into every song so as you go through it’s almost like sculpture. As things present themselves, there’s obvious places that they should fit. I think that as certain songs came about you kind of get a feel for which ones work together either musically, lyrically, or a combination of the two. At a certain point, once we realized we were able to write songs, they happened very easily – not to say it was easy. You want to put yourself in a position where you’re creating an album. The way that music is right now, you listen to one song from one band and then you make a playlist and you listen to just mixtapes all the time. I think that when we were getting into music initially, the thing that grabbed me wasn’t individual songs but fully fleshed out albums. I think that’s how we all approached it and that’s why it worked so well. 

Hot Mulligan 

This is their second Sad Summer Fest (2022, 2023).

Full Interview Linked here 

Hot Mulligan live up to their self-inflicted branding as the “Number 1 Hot New Band.” They have song titles that will have you in tears laughing with lyrics that will also have you in tears… in a different way. The band has what we can only describe as a genuinely flawless catalog. All four of their albums have no skips. They don’t just write pop punk music to casually listen to; they create immerse experiences. The band’s new album, Why Would I Watch, is available everywhere now.

We got the chance to chat with Chris Freeman, their guitarist and vocalist, about putting together the new record’s tracklist, because, honestly, Why Would I Watch has impeccable flow and pacing by design. He said:

We kind of tried to have these blocks a little bit. There’s almost like a checklist of certain things we want to accomplish with our track-listing. Track 2 [“It’s a Family Movie and She Hates her Dad”] has to sound like a single: our most radio-sounding of the record. People are accustom to hearing that. We’ve had Track 2 as singles for past two records. Track 1 [“Shouldn’t Have A Leg Hole But I Do”] has to sound like Hot Mulligan as soon as you hear it. I don’t think you want to put on a Hot Mulligan record and then wait for Hot Mulligan to happen. So that first song just comes out the gate as us. We want a single in the late half of the record so it’s not front heavy. We just kind of sprinkle some stuff around and play with different orders and listen to it a couple different ways. Trying to make sure we have an ending”.

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness

This is his first Sad Summer Fest (2023).

Full Interview Linked Here

With his brand new album out now, Tilt At The Wind No More, Andrew McMahon proves that he is a class act. When artists like Dashboard Confessional were redefining emo with an acoustic guitar, McMahon was doing it with a piano. The way he is able to evoke such emotion while also convey such punk ethos is astounding. He’s like an emo Elton John!

Earlier this year, Andrew talked to us about the struggles of being a modern day artist. With what seems like a thousand different social media forms all at your disposal for marketing purposes it can be intimidating.

It’s nice to have fans and not be starting at ground zero today and having to purely grind it out on social media and try and become an influencer as well as a musician. I don’t envy artists that are in that position, yet I think for a lot of them, it might also come naturally ’cause they were born with a phone in their hand. For me, you know, I had a landline until I was 18 [Laughs], so it comes a little less naturally to me, but that’s the journey I’m on. You take the good with the bad, but, at this point, I am grateful for the fact that I’ve got a good following of people who are paying attention when I put out new music. Hopefully they will lead some new folks into the fold for me, as well.”

When discussing the power of social media and the positives it has had on the industry, he added this:

Yes. I think that the beauty of the changes that have happened over the last several years – and certainly over the couple decades that I’ve been in the business – is that it’s easier than ever to be making something that’s really great, to find your own path, and create your own audience if you’re willing to hustle. I think that has been really good for music because there is so much more available. It can be hard to sift through all of that, but if you’re willing to… the amount of great music and great bands out there that would’ve been throttled by the old ways of the business is pretty, pretty remarkable.

The Maine

This is their third Sad Summer Fest (2019, 2021, 2023).

Full Interview Linked Here

We also spoke to Pat Kirch from The Maine this year. Their new, self-titled album drops on August 1, but fans can hear those songs live all summer thanks to Sad Summer. “How to Exit A Room” might be the epitome of an actual sad summer for how somber the lyrics are yet how fun and festival-ready it sounds. Sad Summer Festival was also the brainchild of this band’s label – 8123. We owe it all to them!

In regards to starting the festival, Pat told us how cool it is and what it has become.

I think the original idea came from trying to fill this void where most festivals you go to, you have to pick and choose which band you want to watch because there’s four stages and people are overlapping on times. What’s always really cool about Sad Summer is, you go and there’s one stage. You get to watch every single band. I think seeing it from where it began to where it is now, you know, to have Taking Back Sunday as the headliner this year who I think are arguably the most important band to come from this scene. They have these songs that to this day are kind of like the anthems of this genre. To think of where Sad Summer began, nobody had ever heard of this thing before, and now having enough brand recognition to attract a band like that, and to have passionate fans that care whose on the lineup is an incredible thing. It’s really happened in a fast amount of time. 

Another point he brought up was how the term ’emo’ had changed. Back in the early 2000s it was used as an insult and no band would ever purposely branded themselves as such. The Sad Summer brand runs entirely on the phrase emo and being emotional and ‘sad.’ This band and the festival wear it as a badge of honor, and for that we are grateful.

I guess people were so scared of the word emo because people were trying to use it as a way to make fun of people so it became not a cool thing to be in an emo band. Once you have perspective on it you can see it’s just a word and doesn’t mean anything. All the word emo is short for is emotional: all music is emotional. It just happened this genre got put with this name. If you play jazz, you’re not going to push back on, ‘I am not a jazz band!’ It’s just a word. You know? More than anything I have fun with it. Like I was saying earlier, it’s so hard to describe a song with words. You can’t do it justice. So any kind of label or a name, who cares? They want to put you in a box so they can explain to their friends what type of music they listen to. That’s why the name emo is so important.

Taking Back Sunday

This is their first Sad Summer Fest (2023).

Full Interview Linked Here

Of course, the grand finale: the emo punk icons of Taking Back Sunday are headlining all summer long. They helped create the genre we all know and love. Embodying all that that scene stands for, they’re wonderful people with a driven passion to just write good music and celebrate life. 

In our interview with Adam Lazzara, their vocalist, we talked about the Warped Tour scene and Sad Summer replacing it.

It’s a pretty wild thing. Since being aware of shows and things like that, it felt like Warped tour was always a staple so it was really sad to see it go. With Sad Summer they’re trying to fill a little of that void. We’re happy to be a part of it. I think it’s cool that they’re still making the opportunity for people to experience more than just one band come through during the summer. That was a big thing for myself and most…all of us growing up. I’m glad there’s still that option there, and they’re filling that.”