All images courtesy of Unlife Productions.

Crucialfest has established itself as the event of the summer for fans of heavy music in Salt Lake City over the past 7 years. The festival has grown year after year, expanding from a free one-day event at a local park to a multi-venue experience spread out over several days. This year, the festival’s organizers went all out, and got more national touring bands than ever before–there was no way I wasn’t going to be there. Near the tail end of a long work-week, and after I had already attended one concert earlier in the evening (The Roots, and they were amazing!) I made the trek a few blocks east for night 1 of Crucialfest.

THURSDAY

I arrived just as Denver’s Primitive Man were setting up. I listened to Scorn quite a bit when it was released a few years ago, but I had forgotten just how ugly, mean and loud this band is. Vocalist/guitarist Ethan McCarthy looked as though he had been hewn from a boulder–a massive man with thick dreadlocks he swung liberally in between throaty growls. Bassist Jonathan Campos hunched his back ever so slightly and held his instrument as though it were a weapon–really, it was.

Primitive Man Crucialfest 2017

[Matt Brunk / unlifeproductions.com]

The band’s sound is slow and heavy, almost sickeningly so, as the entire venue rumbled with each movement from the musicians, vibrating from the ground, lingering in my stomach and settling into my ears with ear-plug shattering volume.

If ever a band’s look and sound perfectly fit their name, it’s Primitive Man. The music is almost animalistic–McCarthy even brought his guitar to his face and seemingly attacked it during a particularly heavy dose of feedback. After they ended their set, everyone was talking noticeably louder–seriously, this band had a definite impact on everyone in the room. As they left the stage, McCarthy put on a pair of glasses and instantly transformed, thanking the audience for watching them play and the festival’s organizers for giving them the opportunity to play.

Our evening’s MC was Mike Brown, a Salt Lake institution who writes a monthly column for SLUG Magazine (where I’m also a contributor). He jokingly thanked Earth Crisis for their performance (Earth Crisis and SLC have a long, dumb history) and asked the crowd to refrain from throwing bologna at the next band–sounds like something that happened before my time.

All the while, Earthless was on stage ready to roll, and it seemed like they might start playing before the sponsors could all be adequately thanked. They waited patiently, and before tearing into a 30-minute ripper, guitarist Isaiah Mitchell thanked the audience for coming. The song began as “Uluru Rock” from the band’s 2013 album From the Ages, but where it went from there I don’t think we’ll ever know. The ephemeral nature of Earthless’ music is the bridge between Black Sabbath and jam bands–Mitchell is a true guitar virtuoso who has clearly worshipped at the altar of Iommi, but the knowing glances he trades with his bandmates make it clear that the dude has the improvisational skills of a master jazzman as well.

Earthless Crucialfest 2017

[Matt Brunk / unlifeproductions.com]

Drummer Mario Rubalcaba is a beast behind the kit, propelling the song forward–seemingly out of control at times–and reeling the tempo back in after Mitchell’s lengthy solos. The crowd’s cheers melded with the squelches of Mitchell’s guitar, as hair flew and fists pumped in the air. It was really cool to see two completely different bands embraced so willingly and fully by the show’s attendees.

SATURDAY

King Dude started the day off with some dark acoustic tunes. Clad all in black complete with a matte black guitar, King Dude’s songs were appropriately grim, with the devil and vampires featuring prominently into a few of them. Despite the spooky nature of his music, King Dude was surprisingly funny in between songs–he proudly declared he planned on visiting Morgan Jewelers after his set (we were at a mall, after all) and had a (mostly) friendly back-and-forth with a seated fan in a Chelsea Wolfe shirt who had gotten into the show for free.

King Dude Crucialfest 2017

[Matt Brunk / unlifeproductions.com]

He even took some time out of his set to listen to the locals playing on the indoor stage, who could easily be heard during his sparse acoustic set. “Lucifer’s the Light,” which he dedicated to the kids in the audience, and “Silver Crucifix” were highlights of the set, and he was happy to oblige a few requests from the crowd. His set was definitely an early highlight of the day, even if his Johnny-Cash-in-the-time-of-Swans style might not have been the best fit for an outdoor festival at 1:45 in the afternoon.

Where King Dude brought levity to his spookiness, Emma Ruth Rundle was all business. With Jaye Jayle serving as her backing band, Rundle’s sultry voice rose above the their weighty instrumentation to create a striking mid-afternoon set. Even though Rundle’s music has a definite darkness to it, it tends to swell upward, triumphantly rising from bleakness on the wings of her voice.

Emma Ruth Rundle Crucialfest 2017

[Matt Brunk / unlifeproductions.com]

This quality of her music isn’t too surprising, considering she spent time in the underrated post-rock outfit Red Sparowes, who definitely knew their way up and down and in and around a song’s structure. To compare her to Chelsea Wolfe and Zola Jesus isn’t quite fair, but if you like female-fronted music with a dark slant, you definitely shouldn’t miss Emma Ruth Rundle next time she visits your town.

I spent the next few hours wandering the festival and the surrounding area. The fest’s organizers really did a great job of transforming The Gateway, a formerly thriving outdoor mall, into an awesome venue for a festival. The main stages were located directly across from each other, allowing the bands to start almost immediately after each other, and they even utilized an empty store as an indoor venue and another as a local artist marketplace.

Salt Lake’s own Graywhale brought a ton of records to sell to festival goers, there were plenty of places to get beer, and there was even a water-refill station. The lack of food options was a bit of a disappointment to me (shout out to my wife Serema for bringing me a vegan pesto chicken sandwich), but to see this venue grow year after year has been awesome and has made me proud of our city for being able to host such a festival.

I caught a bit of SLC locals Super 78 on the indoor stage, WHY? on one of the outdoor stages (the crowd was super into them, but not my thing), Boston’s Rozamov (who I wish I had seen more of) and 3 or 4 songs from Salt Lake’s The Ditch and The Delta, who just signed to Prosthetic Records (home of Skeletonwitch and Junius, among other metal heavyweights). You always know a band isn’t fucking around when they begin their set by taking off their shirts, and The Ditch and The Delta did just that. Their sound reminded me a bit of a less jerky Coalesce, with some definite sludgy substance over sharp stabs of guitar and shouting vocals. It’s always awesome to see local bands take it to the national level, and I’m super stoked to hear The Ditch and The Delta’s new album this September.

There was a time when I was really, really into Red Fang. They were one of the bands that got me back into metal (after my early high school Slayer days, of course), but I haven’t listened to their recent work too much–I didn’t even know they released an album last year. Nevertheless, these Portland stoners absolutely crushed it. I’ve always been drawn into just how subtly groovy this band is–obviously they’ve got riffs aplenty, but there’s a weird, thick bounciness to a lot of their songs that’s really appealing.

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The crowd was absolutely eating their whole set up, as the many (MANY) bearded bros raised their beers to the sky and faces melted into frenzied blobs of pulsating hair. They even delved into their back catalog a bit with “Wires,” and I don’t think anyone in the crowd would’ve been mad if they had played for 20 more minutes.

I was asked by SLUG Magazine (one of the fest’s sponsors, and a magazine I have contributed to for over 10 years–whoa, I didn’t realize it was that long until I just typed that…) to introduce a few of the bands to close out the night. It was really cool! From seeing a ton of people I hadn’t seen for years, watching bands with members I had seen perform dozens of times before and hanging out with some of my best friends, it made me feel really connected to the Salt Lake music community again and made me realize how good we really have it here.

Plus, I got to introduce BARONESS. The only other time I had seen Baroness was shortly after they resumed touring after the crazy bus accident they were involved in a few years ago, and it was one of the best shows I had ever seen. Now that vocalist/guitarist Jon Dyer Baizley is the only member remaining from that traumatic experience, Baroness feels like a completely new band.

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New guitarist Gina Gleason brought an immediately noticeable energy, wildly whipping her hair during the first moments of opener “Kerosene.” Having female backing vocals also lends a subtly different energy to Baroness’ songs–I’m always excited to see bands I have listened to for a long time reinvigorate songs they’ve performed for years. The set relied heavily on songs from Purple, while peppering in some hits from Yellow & Green (“Take My Bones Away,” “Board Up the House”), and the crowd rocked along with the band for one of the best sets of the entire weekend.

There are few bands who are able to improve this deep into their careers, but Baroness is definitely one of them. With sore feet and smile on my face, I left the venue thoroughly satisfied with my Saturday at Crucialfest.

SUNDAY

Sunday was my wife’s birthday, and since I dragged her to Denver to go to Riot Fest on her birthday last year, I figured it was probably in my best interest to spend my time at Crucialfest very wisely on Sunday. I arrived near the end of garage rockers Deap Vally’s set, just as a furry cat-headed dancer flailed around the stage, weaving in and out of the band members.

I didn’t see much of their set, but I really liked what I heard, and I read that their bassist also plays with Vancouver punks White Lung, which seems like a perfect fit. I’ll make it a point to see them next time they come to Salt Lake.

Able Baker Fox was one of the most anticipated sets for a lot of the crowd at Crucialfest on Sunday, and it was nice to see the crowd a bit more fleshed out earlier in the day. Forming after Small Brown Bike and The Casket Lottery released a collaborative 10” in 2002 and after each of those bands’ temporary breakups, Able Baker Fox released their first album in 2008 before going on a hiatus of their own after Small Brown Bike and The Casket Lottery reformed.

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This was a band I never thought would reunite, let alone record a new album and tour, so it was super cool to see them be part of Crucialfest. The set leaned heavily on the new album Visions, which came out about a week before their set, but the band did pepper in a few classics like “Twenty Centuries” and “Stuttering” to appease longtime fans. Even though the crowd didn’t know the new stuff, they still ate up Able Baker Fox’s set. Utilizing three vocalists and channeling the likes of Hot Water Music and Planes Mistaken For Stars, their set was definitely a highlight of the weekend.

I watched Toronto’s The Flatliners, who seemed like a bit of an oddity on the fest’s lineup as they were the only punk-ish band. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to this band much since they were teenage ska punks, but recognized a few tunes here and there and enjoyed watching a small contingent of hardcore fans belting along every word and even starting a couple of small circle pits. The highlight for me was watching one particularly excited fan full-on sprinting back and forth from the nearest beer station, which he did no less than four times during the band’s brief set. I’m just glad that dude didn’t fall.

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I kept one eye on the stage behind me to make sure I would get a good spot for P.O.S., and spotted him sitting on stage wearing a Kilby Court shirt, paying tribute to SLC’s long-running all ages venue and a stage where P.O.S. has performed many times. I must’ve not been looking too hard, because by the time The Flatliners’ set ended, the crowd was about 15 feet deep and I settled for an elevated spot on the splash pad.

After killing some time talking about his favorite New Zealand-based crime podcasts and chatting with DJ Fundo about which podcast sponsor products they’ve tried (Squarespace and MeUndies, FYI), the Minneapolis rapper started his set early with “Let it Rattle” and “Bumper.” He paced the stage frantically, and I thought he was about to jump off the stage a few times. Sure enough, before “Born a Snake,” he got into the crowd and didn’t leave for the rest of his 40 minute set. He invited the outliers of the crowd closer to the stage so they could be in the shade (it was 97 degrees in Salt Lake) before he himself went into the sun on the stairs above the crowd and launched into “P.O.S. is Ruining My Life.”

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He made the crowd get interactive during “Never Better” as they yelled “EVERY NEVER IS NOW!” as loud as they could right in P.O.S.’ face.

After downing three bottles of water almost instantaneously, P.O.S. got back into the middle of the crowd for the last three songs of his set, capping it off with “Purexed,” a perfectly cathartic song that had the crowd throwing their hands in the air, and even ended with a “TA-DAAA!” at the request of P.O.S. himself. It was easily the most fun and interactive set of the weekend, and it was the perfect way to cap off my weekend at the festival.

There were a few bands I didn’t get to see, like local SLC legends Loom and Subrosa, Weedeater, and Minus the Bear, but I was still totally satisfied with my Crucialfest experience. It was awesome to see the festival grow and be bigger and better than ever this year.

Here’s to hoping Crucialfest 8 is just as awesome!

Crucial Fest 7 2017 Lineup

Ricky Vigil
Ricky Vigil spends a lot of time thinking about punk rock and playing video games. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT, where he works with teenagers and wonders what could have been if he had followed his boyhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler. He also makes comics you can read at rickyvigil.tumblr.com