On Saturday, September 7, thousands of fans packed into the Worcester Palladium’s outdoor space for the sixth annual Self Help Fest’s first-ever Massachusetts show. The festival, hosted by Florida-based band A Day to Remember, presented an impressive array of rock.
Early in the afternoon, the festivities began on the smaller Black Stage with metalcore band The Acacia Strain. On the larger Red Stage, acoustic duo This Wild Life kept things more mellow. At 5:30, Wage War, another metalcore act, closed the Black Stage as pop-punk band Real Friends took to the Red Stage.
In a 2014 interview with ABC News, A Day to Remember frontman Jeremy McKinnon explained that the therapeutic effects of music inspired Self Help Fest’s name. “At the end of the day, that’s what music is all about,” he explained.
Real Friends, with their emotionally sensitive brand of pop-punk, lived up to that message. “Let your feelings out, let go of your anxieties,” Dan Lambton, the band’s bushy-bearded frontman implored the audience.
The band’s music, with bright guitars and hoarse, plaintive vocals, explores mental health and healing with bouncy energy. Songs like “From The Outside” reflect the contrast between light and dark, with the lyrics “From the outside, I seem fine/on the inside I’m still sick.”
Next, the California-based trio Fever 333 won over the audience with their high-energy blend of hip-hop, metal and punk. Fever 333’s music is overtly political, name-checking Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rodney King in the fiery “Burn It,” condemning police brutality in “The Innocent,” and addressing gun violence in “Trigger.”
Speaking to the audience, frontman Jason Aalon Butler spread his message. “In rock music, we make women feel uncomfortable,” he said in one statement. “On this stage, there’s no room for that misogynistic, patriarchal bullshit.”
Butler also spoke to the fact that himself and guitarist Stephen Harrison, as black men, are not “phenotypically typical” of their genre. “Thank you for making a space for people of color in rock music,” he told the crowd, eliciting cheers.
Between their righteous spirit and a powerful performance which concluded with Harrison ascending the stage rigging to play far above the crowd, Fever 333 left the crowd with many converts.
Falling in Reverse was next to perform. Frontman Ronnie Radke is known for his braggadocious persona and willingness to cross genre lines, which have made him a figure both beloved and hated in the alternative scene.
Onstage, Radke seemed aware of his reputation, even playing into it. Breaking up a fight in the crowd, he joked “I’ll throw this mic stand, I swear to God,” referencing a 2012 incident in which he injured two fans by throwing microphone stands into the crowd at a concert.
“Worcester knows how to show up,” Radke proclaimed, after performing the recent trap-tinged single “Drugs,” before launching into an early fan favorite, “The Drug in Me is You.”
Witnessing the impressive, energetic crowd, Radke declared that rock “is not dead, regardless of what the internet tells you.” He went on to ask the audience to raise their hand if they, or anyone they knew, was “an asshole,” before launching into “Just Like You,” a tongue-in-cheek song whose chorus proclaims “I am aware that I am an asshole.”
After “Just Like You,” Radke and the band left the stage, fifteen minutes before their 45-minute set had been scheduled to conclude, confusing some in the crowd.
Finally, at 9:00, A Day to Remember, the hosts and headliners, took to the stage. Their stage show was by far the most elaborate, featuring light effects, smoke, and more. Frontman Jeremy McKinnon took the role of master of ceremonies, instructing the audience to take part in what he dubbed “crowd surfing on a crowd surfer,” in which one person stands on top of another, held up by the crowd.
Various props tossed to the crowd accentuated the energy of the band’s set. During “Rescue Me,” A Day to Remember’s recent collaboration with EDM DJ Marshmello, enormous beach balls bounced around the crowd, reflecting the track’s summery energy. For angsty pop-punk anthem “All Signs Point to Lauderdale,” the band tossed rolls of toilet paper into the crowd, appropriate for an anthem for angsty teenagers.
After closing the set with “The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle,” a track which, as McKinnon enthusiastically pointed out, was recorded nearby in Westfield, Massachusetts, A Day to Remember left the stage. A few minutes later, however, they returned to the stage to perform the largely acoustic ballad “If It Means a Lot to You,” a song McKinnon said is “about being away from the people you love.”
At the song’s conclusion, the full band returned to the stage, and concluded their encore with the 2009 single “The Downfall of Us All.” After the song concluded in a crash of cymbals, a blast of smoke, and an outburst of confetti, fans filtered out onto the street, riding the excitement the music had brought them.