• Review

Review: Sad Summer Fest 2023

Photo Cred: Jared Bowers

What was meant to be an outdoor festival devoted to all things emo was brought indoors thanks to Southwest Ohio’s notoriously fickle weather, lending an element of the slightly uncanny to the day’s proceedings. While merch tents and food trucks (kudos to hiring two minority owned food trucks for the event, but yikes were those lines long) were outside, along with a few photo opportunities and what passes as fresh air around these parts, the bands were invited to play on the Andrew J. Brady Music Center’s massive (and massively awesome) stage.

Sad Summer Fest asks the question: What is Emo to you? As a thesis or a concept, I think the tour was incredibly successful in not just answering that question, but also getting fans across the spectrum to dig a little deeper to figure out that answer for themselves. What proved challenging as the day progressed - and really, it was a conclusion I came to the following day (hindsight and all) - is that while the new school was an important part of the days programming, those young, hungry bands started playing at 2:30 in the afternoon, likely missing out on a lot of new ears belonging to those who came to see the back half of the show. To me, Sincere Engineer, Mom Jeans, and Hot Mulligan - and after seeing the reaction of the crowd to their set, Stand Atlantic - would have been a great tour on its own. And one that played with a much different energy than the second half of the tour.


Sincere Engineer kicked things off with attitude and gratitude, with their midwest punk stylings laced with just the right amount of emo flair to get the crowd interested. I was so glad to finally see them live!

Stand Atlantic was really impressive - I hadn’t seen or heard of them before, so I was genuinely surprised by their energy, the energy of the crowd, and how infectious their set was. It was also super cool to see another female fronted band on the tour. Bonus points for bringing them stateside from Australia.

Aside from Pvris, Mom Jeans was probably the most outlier-esque of the bands on the bill. Hailing from California, theirs was the most indie rock feeling set, with some quirkiness and general goofballery keeping things light and fun while they played their noodly West Coast take on midwest emo.

Then there was Hot Mulligan, who have become a new favorite of mine. Big Pianos Become The Teeth meets The Wonder Years vibes, all nestled cozily and chaotically within a love for scramz and, like Mom Jeans, midwest emo. It was a hectic and entertaining set - super tight, high energy, loads of fun. Also, they’re from Michigan and did what they could to keep the Ohio/Michigan rivalry alive and well.


Pvris - the most musically different of the festival - played an interesting set of emotive (oh, I get it now) and driving goth… emo? Industrial indie? Another band I’ve just missed the bandwagon on, they had a good amount of fans in the audience as they made their way through what felt like a well planned if slightly calmer set.

The biggest surprise of the night, for me, goes to Motion City Soundtrack, who came out and absolutely ripped. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan, but it turns out I know a lot more of their songs than I thought I did. Their set was just bangers, start to finish. And even with their lead vocalist using a cane as his back heals, the energy on display was infectious and truly a joy to watch.


With The Maine, I was intrigued from note one. Matching outfits, shiny shoes, some big personalities (and great hair) were on stage for a 40 minute set that really did light up the crowd. Super fun lighting and an all around “We’re here to dance and have fun vibe” really brought out the smiles and energy from a crowd now listening to and watching the seventh band of the day.

As we entered the final stretch, Taking Back Sunday took the stage and, I can’t imagine this was anything but intentional, brought serious The Wonders from That Thing You Do energy. Dapper suits (You look great in red! Did I ever tell you that you look great in the red suits?), a spacious and oddly arranged stage setup, and their overall vibe gave their set a slightly surreal air, and allowed them to start in a more reserved manner than I think fans were anticipating. They have their hits, they have their newer catalog, and they have a new single, all of which they wove into a set that wasn’t just all highlights, but managed to capture their career thus far in an hour and twenty minutes.


All in all, Sad Summer Festival is an interesting and malleable concept that I hope will continue to evolve if it comes back around in 2024. There’s a real opportunity to truly bring new bands into the fold, to celebrate the elder states people as well as the new guard, that I think is ultimately what Sad Summer Festival is striving for. It’s almost there - I’m anxious to see them get all the way there - and I think yesterday’s lineup along with the mission statement of the festival’s founders and producers shows they have the right ingredients to make it happen. It was a good time, and a day well spent in and around a scene that I grew up with. But I know it can be a great time.

Sad Summer Festival

Open Album


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