What began as a little party in its hometown of Dayton, Ohio, a couple of years ago has morphed into a full-fledged music festival series for emo rock band Hawthorne Heights.
The quartet’s Is For Lovers brand of events, which got its name from the band’s 2004 hit “Ohio is for Lovers,” has grown out of their beloved home state and is hitting places like Iowa, Tennessee and Massachusetts later this summer, and finally making a stop in California at Oak Canyon Park in Silverado on Saturday, Aug. 26.
“Orange County has one of the best fan bases in the entire world,” Hawthorne Heights singer and rhythm guitarist JT Woodruff said in a recent phone interview.
As the band broke into the mainstream back in the mid ’00s, Woodruff said it ventured west and found wildly enthusiastic crowds at venues like Chain Reaction and House of Blues in Anaheim, as well as The Glass House in Pomona.
Hawthorne Heights’ California Is For Lovers Festival with Alkaline Trio, Thrice, Bayside and more is coming to Oak Canyon Park in Silverado on Saturday, Aug. 26. (Photo by Courtney Kiara)
“We had no idea it was such a hotbed (area) that would just welcome us from the very beginning,” he continued. “The whole emo, screamo and ska and punk scene there, and really everything in between, it’s just been a wonderful place for us to play and definitely one of our favorites in the whole world.”
Though their hearts may forever be with Ohio, Woodruff said there are definitely pieces of their hearts scattered in Southern California, which is why the band partnered with Orange County-based Brew Ha Ha Productions (which also produces the annual Punk in the Park Festival at Oak Canyon Park) to bring the festival to the area this year. Each of the stops features a slightly different lineup; the California edition includes Alkaline Trio, Thrice, Sleeping with Sirens, Bayside, Thursday, Atreyu, Touché Amoré, Norma Jean, Emery, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Further Seems Forever, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, Diva Bleach, WinterHaven and 82Fifty.
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It was important to Hawthorne Heights to incorporate as many local mom-and-pop businesses — coffee shops, restaurants and food trucks, breweries and various other independent retailers — as possible into each event and the lineup certainly has a local lean with Thrice hailing from Irvine, Atreyu from Yorba Linda/Placentia and Touché Amoré coming from Burbank. In the ultimate throwback, there will also be a “MySpace Your Face” booth at the event, which will apply very familiar makeup styles — dark and heavy eyeshadow and liner, anyone? — from all the selfies emo fans took and posted onto the then-popular social media platform.
And though it’s their festival, Hawthorne Heights isn’t headlining, but rather placing themselves midway on the schedule.
“People have asked like ‘Dude, why aren’t you headlining your own festival’ and it’s easy, I wanna play with Rise Against and Jimmy Eat World,” Woodruff offers as some examples of acts headlining other stops of the tour. “I don’t wanna invite them to a festival and then act like we’re bigger than they are. This is all fun for me and for us. At the end of the day, these are just bands I want to see, too.”
The fact that they didn’t want to headline and they were taking a very punk rock DIY approach to just about every aspect of the Is For Lovers shows was what was so appealing to OC Brew Ha Ha president Cameron Collins, who had already been on the lookout to produce an emo-style music festival in the area.
“What I liked was that there was no ego,” Collins said, also noting that Woodruff is on every planning call and heavily involved in the California edition of the fest. “It wasn’t about, ‘Look at me, I’m so cool, I have my own festival,’ it was more them just being part of the bigger picture and they place themselves appropriately where they think they’ll fit. They aren’t trying to bolster themselves, they’re trying to bolster the scene and that is pretty cool.”
Emo and Screamo music has definitely enjoyed a wave of resurgence over the last few years — ever since genre heavy-hitter My Chemical Romance announced its mighty return to road and the massive When We Were Young Festival took over Las Vegas in 2022 with My Chem and Paramore topping the bill and the likes of The Used, AFI, Taking Back Sunday, Dashboard Confessional, Bright Eyes, Mayday Parade and All-American Rejects also performing. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic-forced lockdowns, Woodruff said he felt like fans of a certain age — mostly elder millennials — were eager to get out and experience some of this music live again.
“Every band has this little lull in their career when their fans start to grow up a bit and they get married, have kids and they start their careers and they can’t go to as many shows anymore,” he said. “But then once they hit some of those life check points, they can start to have some fun again and it’s awesome that we’re in this emo revival time where we see these fans coming back out and they get a babysitter for the night, or they bring the kids if they’re old enough now, and it’s just all smiles out there.”
Emo music, which is short for emotional and is categorized by the inclusion of deep confessional lyrics, blossomed out of the hardcore punk and post-hardcore scenes in the mid-’80s. And while emo and smiles may have not always been synonymous, the genre did bring a lot of people together to sing — or scream — out their collective misery.
“It’s wonderful to see the tide turn like it has and see the music that got people through the hardest times of their lives — which they thought were the worst times of their lives — and it’s awesome to see it now and know they made it through those difficult times because of all that music,” Woodruff said. “And now I look at this resurgence and it makes me smile. Like this used to be the soundtrack to crying or getting through something emotionally and now people are realizing like ‘Wow, these songs have been happy this whole time, weird.’”
This newly sparked interest in emo isn’t all nostalgia-based as the majority of these artists are still touring consistently and releasing current music while making new fans along the way.
“We equate it to the fact that we’re trying to be like the emo Grateful Dead and just last for another 40 years,” he said. “That takes fan support from people who just continue to go to shows well into their adult years and start bringing their families and kids — and what a wonderful thing to do. I think when you’re in your 20s, you’re always in search of something new, so your favorite band may not be your favorite band anymore because you found something else that maybe people think is cooler … but you know what? You always come back home. You come back to your best memories and that’s kind of how we look at this.”
When: Noon-10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26
Where: Oak Canyon Park, 5305 Santiago Road, Silverado
Tickets: $109 general admission; $300 FOMO four-pack general admission tickets; $225 VIP admission; $350 Lovers Experience VIP Package. Tickets are available at isforloversfestival.com/california.