Skull Fest began as a birthday party.
In November 2009, a couple of punks — Dusty Hanna (of the band Oh Shit They’re Going to Kill Us) and Jimmy Rose (Annihilation Time, Eel) — celebrated the beginning of their 30s by putting together a show at Belvederes. New Jersey hardcore band Chronic Sick reunited especially for the occasion, sharing the bill with metal bands Midnight and Nunslaughter, and the semi-legendary local band Short Dark Strangers, featuring the late Bobby Porter.
And this was no small cake-and-ice-cream affair: About 200 people showed up. “People bought me, I want to say, between a hundred and a thousand shots,” Hanna recalls, with a grim smile. “I threw up … a bunch.”
The next morning, Hanna and Rose talked on the phone, and despite being hungover and exhausted, both agreed that they should do it again.
Now, Skull Fest — happening this Thursday through Sunday — has matured into something that attracts major headliners and attendees from all over the world. (And you might argue that Hanna has matured with it: He hasn’t thrown up at a fest since that first year.)
While the inaugural fest featured only one big show, Skull Fest 2, which was moved to the summertime, more closely resembled the multi-venue, weekend-long event that it is today.
“The second [year] was when we started incorporating other things,” Hanna says. “We started having renegade-style generator shows, and shows in abandoned areas. That since has become a standard for a lot of other punk fests across the country, but a lot of that was just done out of necessity more than anything else.”
This year, Skull Fest organizers — a small collective which Hanna refers to as “the punk illuminati” — expect to see 1,000 attendees or more. In past years, the fest has drawn people from Australia, Germany and the U.K., as well as Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York City, Chicago and many other cities and small towns within driving distance.
“People come and tell me, ‘Oh I’m from’ — insert name of a town I’ve never heard of — ‘I’m the only punk in my town, this is great to see these hundreds of people,’” Hanna says.