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San Diego’s Johnny Rad Fest returns for its fourth year

July 26, 2011 |  2:40 pm

Johnny Rad Fest 
In the last decade, garage rock festivals have blossomed across the U.S. like unruly weeds from a cracked sidewalk. Dedicated to spreading the gospel of the raw and hedonistic rock 'n’ roll exemplified by acts such as Nobunny, the Black Lips and the late Jay Reatard, Portland, Ore.’s Slabtown Bender, San Francisco’s Total Trash Fest, Memphis, Tenn.'s Gonerfest and Atlanta’s Mess-Around staked claims for their respective regions. That may be well and good, but what’s a Southern Californian to do when seeking out a beer-soaked, blown-out weekend of rock 'n’ roll?

The brightest hope is San Diego’s three-night Johnny Rad Fest, which returns for its fourth year this weekend. The diverse, all-star lineup includes costumed keyboard punks the Spits, Indiana’s garage pop Half Rats, the vocal-driven Shannon and the Clams, psych-leaning hard rock from one-time Reatard Ryan Wong’s Tokyo Electron, and legendary garage rock icon and founding member of the Oblivians Greg Cartwright with his soulful Reigning Sound.

Indiana transplant and Lurkville skateboard entrepreneur Tyrone Taylor started the festival in 2008, when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to make it to that year’s Gonerfest. “It was kind of far away,” he said in an interview Monday. “There were a lot of bands playing I wanted to see that weren’t really local California bands.” Rad Fest, as it is affectionately known to regulars, was intended to correct that omission –- and hopefully enrich San Diego’s anemic garage music scene.

“There’s definitely becoming a better scene then when I first started putting on shows,” Taylor said. “Seems like probably about five years ago, a lot of bands didn’t want to come play in San Diego. They thought it was kind of lame, kind of bro-ish and stuff.” Some better venues popped up, including the Tower Bar and the Ken Club, and homegrown acts such as the Stalins of Sound and the Kabbs (both of which are featured in this year’s festival) helped create a thriving local culture that lent support for touring acts. “The last couple of shows I’ve gone to have been pretty packed,” Taylor said. “Bands like Hunx and His Punx, I booked their first show in San Diego, and there were probably 20 people when they played, and now they sell out when they play here. Same with Nobunny. Each of those bands now has a crazy following here.”

Tickets for this weekend’s shindig are close to sold out, thanks to Taylor’s desire to keep the festival on a medium-sized scale with capacity around 200 each night, plus high-level sponsorship from skate apparel company Brixton, Filter magazine, Fender guitars and others. The amped-up financial backing enabled Taylor to fulfill one of his dream bookings: “One of the main reasons we started Rad Fest back in the day was to try to get Reigning Sound out here,” he said.

But despite bigger names on the marquee, Taylor wants to keep Johnny Rad Fest intimate. “Everybody keeps trying to get me to change venues, make it a bigger place, but I really don’t want to do that,” he said. “I want it to still have the feeling of a sick underground rock show, not some huge venue. The shows get wilder if you have that many people in such a small place. It’s a lot more intimate, because everything is right there. If three people start moving, the whole place is moving.”

The three-day festival will be held at the Til Two Club and the Kensington Club, with a lineup that includes 15 bands, plus DJ sets and a Saturday pool party at the festival’s unofficial out-of-towner headquarters, the King’s Inn. “It should be a pretty wild, 'Animal House'-style weekend,” Taylor said.

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-- Jason Gelt

Johnny Rad Fest 4, Thursday at the Til Two Club, 4746 El Cajon Blvd., and Friday and Saturday at the Kensington Club, 4079 Adams Ave., San Diego. Shows start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 per night. For a complete schedule and tickets, visit johnnyradfest.wordpress.com.

Photo: Johnny Rad Fest 3. Credit: Marco Gonzales.

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