Festival Review: Day 2 of So What?! Music Festival 2023 in Dallas, TX

Even hotter than yesterday, the final day of the festival saw the heat index reach up to 110+ degrees. The heroes of the day were So What’s impeccable security team, who not only kept everyone in the pit hydrated but also entertained them between sets. Security brought their own water guns and drenched everyone in the crowd during sets. Shrieks of laughter filled the air as security began spraying one another, running back and forth in the pit, having water gun fights just like kids. Between the water shooters and their dancing to the between-set playlist, it’s clear that the security loves their jobs and are passionate about what they do.

Sunday kicked off with an explosive set from Houston-based band Omertà. Fun fact: “Omertà” is Italian for the mafia’s code of silence. The only way that Omerta’s performance can be described is animalistic. The bassist paced back and forth across the stage like a caged tiger, while the singer yelled for the audience to “Start swinging, I want you to ruin someone’s day!” Without hesitation, a massive pit opened up, filled with people stamping their feet in time for the breakdown. At the center, a guy wearing a hotdog costume and a guy wearing a muscle Morph-It suit spun one another around—both of which could be seen at nearly every set over the weekend. Without a doubt, Omertà gave one of the best performances during the entire festival. If you haven’t heard of them, do yourself a favor and check them out.

Another highlight of the weekend was Ballista’s performance over at the “Hot and Heavy” stage. Lead singer River Elliot started her band’s set by yelling, “If you’re standing in the shade, that’s homophobic.” The Dallas-based metal group thrived with their scathing political commentary over the various anti-LGBTQ bills circulating the country right now. “Write your local congressmen, and tell them to kill themselves.” Queer rage sums up Ballista’s earth-shaking set.

About halfway through their set, Elliot brought out her fiancé Chloe Hoffman to perform a song with the band. Hoffman joined the mosh pit after screeching and screaming along with Elliot. In a sweet moment, she even “moshed” with a group of five little kids in the pit.

The Starting Line immediately won over the audience in the scorching sun at the Jack Daniel’s stage. Singer Kenny Vasoli began the band’s performance by saying, “I know all these bands are coming up here and asking you to open up the pits and dance around; they’re asking a lot of you. We aren’t going to tell you what to do. Do whatever you want. Rest! Dance! Just have a good time.” Loud cheers rang throughout the crowd.

The Pennsylvania-based band surprised fans with a few rare performances at the behest of a fan in the audience, who kept yelling the names of songs off b-sides. Vasoli laughed and said, “OK, deep cuts McGillicutty.” In another funny moment towards the end of the band’s set, Vasoli—fed up with the heat and staring directly into the sun—took off his shirt before chuckling and saying, ”I’ve never done this, and this has never happened before. I’m 39!”

Next up, Head Automatica took over the stage. Dressed from head to toe in black—and what appeared to be silk—Daryl Palumbo sauntered around the stage while dazzling the audience with his silky voice. Perhaps the highlight of the entire set was getting to hear “The Razor” live. All-in-all, by the end of the set Palumbo proved that he just might be one of the most talented musicians in the scene today as he’s seamlessly able to switch from the rich, alt-rock sound of Head Automatica to the intense and nearly primal post-hardcore stylings of Glassjaw.

Performing War All the Time in its entirety, Thursday’s set was one not to be missed. From “Division St.” to “Asleep in the Chapel,” Thursday treated fans to a couple of songs that they don’t often play live. Drummer Tucker Rule put everything he had into this special performance. During the set, Geoff Rickly wandered over to Rule’s drum set and stuck his leg on the kick drum. The two smiled at one another and laughed as Rickly said something into the dead mic. Their set drove home just how close the members of the band are after all these years.

The rest of the evening was completely stacked with a killer set after set. Sleeping With Sirens took over the main stage and dedicated their performance to those going through a difficult time. “Keep your head up and your heart open,” singer Kelli Quinn encouraged the audience. Quinn also said that Dallas is one of the band’s favorite places to play because the “shows are always next level.”

At the same time, Alesana began their set over at the “Hot and Heavy” stage. Perhaps one of the highest energy sets of the entire weekend, the band helped to end the festival on a high note.

Finally, it was time for Neck Deep’s set, closing out the festival. In a poignant moment, lead singer Ben Barlow dedicated one of the band’s songs to an unhoused person he had met the previous night. He said, “I had one of the most profound moments of my life yesterday. While waiting for an Uber, a homeless woman called Sarah Lee came up to me, and you could tell she was struggling. At that same moment, someone drove by in an expensive Porsche. How can the fucking gap, the disparity, be that fucking big. Nobody should have to live like that. You don’t have to look far to see that it’s a systematic failure. Show a little love,” he told everyone, “You have a lot more in common with homeless people than you do with CEOs. This song goes out to Sarah Lee.” The moment stirred the audience as shouts of agreement and approval filled the air.

A few songs later, the atmosphere changed completely as crowd surfer after crowd surfer was tossed in the air and into the arms of security. In fact, Neck Deep’s set probably had the most crowd surfers at the entire festival. During the same moment, security guards decided to dump the contents of a water cooler onto those at the barricade, giving them the MVP treatment as if they had just won the Super Bowl. Barlow, watching from the stage, cackled as the fans screamed with laughter.

The band ended their set by teasing their upcoming album, saying that it’s full of “Posi-songs, angry fucking political songs, songs about aliens, and two-step songs.” Neck Deep’s set was the perfect end to So What!?

So What?! Day 2

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