As far as ways to spend a day go, seeing every legendary punk band left still kicking is not a bad option, even if the next day you are coughing up clods of mud from all the dust you inhaled, rubbing in aloe to salve the burns you sustained, and constantly wondering what people are saying thanks to the ringing in your ears.

I never thought I’d see most of the bands on the It’s Not Dead fest lineup, which took place in San Bernadino at The San Manuel Amphitheater this weekend. Nearly every band is the equivalent of The Rolling Stones for the punk genre and seeing them all at once was nothing short of incredible.

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I showed up when 7-Seconds started their set. Turning up exactly when one of the most important songs of the genre, “Not Just Boys Fun,” was being sung by one of the most under-appreciated of the original ’80s hardcore bands, 7-Seconds, was not only moving, it also proved to be somewhat prophetic of the day ahead. After an impassioned speech about the importance of female representation in punk and hardcore, 7-Seconds delivered an equally compelling and energized set that was followed, unfortunately, by 10 more hours of almost solely boys fun.

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Strung Out was up next. I just saw them play a few weeks back at Fat Wreck Chord’s 25th anniversary, but they put on an even more energetic show than before. I’m not as familiar with their catalogue, but nearly every song was greeted warmly and they rocketed through their short set. It was also starting to get hot. Really hot. The hundreds of bodies were starting to kick up a little bit of dust as well, but it was only a taste of things to come…

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I have seen Reel Big Fish countless times, and watching them play live has nearly always ruined their music somewhat for me. Their snarky sense of humor, which comes across as good-natured and irreverent on tape, generally has translated as sour and somewhat bitter in live settings.

However, their set at It’s Not Dead marked the first time I’ve been struck by how much these guys actually enjoy their job. Gone were the traces of bitterness and cynicism that I have grown accustomed to during their admittedly great sets. In their place seemed a vivaciousness and thrill. It could have been the festival crowd, or the huge setting, or the family-reunion feeling of the lineup, but whatever the cause, it was magic.

My first foray to one of the side stages was to catch one of my favorite local acts and one of the bands that got me into the gruffer side of punk, The Briggs, play a totally sweet set. From the deep, gravelly tones that I have been listening to since high school, I pictured a giant Dropkick Murphys-sized blue-collar bruiser as the band’s frontman, but the man growling out anthems was actually slim, waifish, and had clearly stolen that blue-collar bruiser’s mutton chops.

The Briggs were a motley crew of men; competing with the mutton chops look were eye patches and full body tattoos. They were mesmerizing in both looks and energy. I don’t know why we’ve heard so little from them in the last ten years, but their presence is sorely missed and their inclusion in the day’s festivities was more than welcome.

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I got back to the main stage in time to see Anti-Flag toss an effigy of Republican candidate Donald Trump into the crowd. I’m not sure what happened to it after that as it disappeared into the mounting clouds of dust and ravenous hands of concertgoers. They brought all the usual fury and played all of their biggest hits: “Turncoat,” “This Machine Kills Fucking Fascists,” and even “Fuck Police Brutality,” the latter ironically while security roughed up an overly zealous Anti-Flag fan who had climbed the scaffolding.

I wrote an article for another website about how Anti-Flag’s new record, American Spring, not only firmly establishes their legacy, but highlights how relevant the band’s message continues to be today. It never did get published, but I stand by those statements: Anti-Flag has been one of the most important punk bands for the last twenty-plus years. While their popularity (and some say relevancy) has waned over their last several releases, American Spring has brought them roaring back to the forefront of the scene.

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Less Than Jake, one of my favorite bands and favorite live shows ever, was up next. The members of LTJ are the consummate showmen. They’ve been doing this for decades and have polished their live show to a gleaming sheen. The group delivers every single time, every single night, and always seems to enjoy themselves while doing it.

The Bouncing Souls took the opposite approach and were the ultimate laid-back cool dudes of the fest. Watching them lounging through with style and making everyone scream their lungs out for “True Believers” made me seriously think about the ramifications of a “True Believer” tattoo.

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