SadSunFest brings Rock, Pop, Punk, and ‘Not Band Moms’ to Union Hall!

These Fine Ladies, They Had a Plan, They Went Out to See The Boys (and Girls) in the Bands!

The SuperVillains

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Up From Here

By Brent Michael, Rock At Night Senior Photojournalist

Venue: Union Hall, Lakeland, FL April 6th, 2024

Band Links: (in order of appearance)

Stick Around, Chris (Tribute to The Story So Far), Holy Romance, RoXX XXAVAGE, No One Road, Lifted Riffs, Emerson Vernon, Sky Navy, Operation Acoustic Kitty, These Times, Penny Fountain, Twin Rova, Cassette Crisis, Reckless Giants, Up From Here, Dial Drive, The SuperVillains

Note: Most in-text links do not link to the same places as these links do, these are just the first/primary links where my band research started. Follow them all for maximum fun!

Operation Acoustic Kitty
Not Band Moms

Here’s the thing: I’m an old guy. Many of these band members could be my children, or grandchildren. So when I see a couple of ladies over 30, not dressed in the expected clothing for punk/rock bands (they admitted they hadn’t realized the dress code and left their black clothes and fishnets at home), I tend to assume they are band moms. I know, I shouldn’t assume, and these ladies made it clear to me that they were Not Band Moms, but fans of new music and looking for something different to do on a Saturday! (There may or may not be a new line of T-shirts with “Not Band Moms” printed on them, but if there is, I’ll be expecting royalties!)

And of course, since NBM and I were some of the first to arrive, before the first band took the stage, we indulged in conversations, snippets of which will appear throughout, so now you know what I mean when I mention NBM!

Now, on to the music! First up on the “Cloud Stage” was Stick Around, a pop punk band from Gainesville, FL. Information on the band is sparse, they do have a YouTube channel opened October 2023, so obviously they haven’t been together that long, but in listening to the band members conversing after their set, one thing they were admant about: They do not want to be another cover band playing other people’s songs just to get gigs!

Stick Around

While I have nothing against cover bands myself, I can certainly understand where they’re coming from: No band has ever made it beyond the local bar scene playing only cover tunes. Obviously, if there weren’t cover bands, those local venues would cease to exist, but the music industry also needs a constant influx of new original music. Hopefully, they’ll stick around(yeah, I know, puns are dad jokes!) long enough to make their mark, although a name change may be necessary, there are already at least two other bands – one rom Galway, Ireland – with that name.

Chris – The Story So Far Tribute

 Next up was an acoustic tribute to The Story So Far, by Chris, an employee of Union Hall and a good guitarist and singer in his own right. They put him on the “Swamp Stage,” which I got the impression was going to be solo/duo acoustic acts for the rest of the day – wrong again! More about that later, but for now, let’s just say the lighting wasn’t bad as long as it was daylight and I was shooting from the performer’s left. As Chris noted, he can’t hit the high notes of the original vocalist, but if you hadn’t heard the songs before, you’d never know it! With the two-stage setup, there was only about five minutes between bands until later that night, when they stuck to the Cloud Stage.

Holy Romance

Holy Romance hit the Cloud Stage next. They have a single out, “Nothing More Than a Ghost,” streaming on…oh, YouTube! Maybe somewhere else? Another fairly new punk rock band from Florida, again sparse on info available, but off to a great start! The NBMs and I found their humor amusing and their music enlivening. More to come, I hope


RoXX XXAVAGE appeared next on the Swamp Stage, thus my inductive evidence for thinking this was the stage for small acoustic acts. The man himself from Gainesville, FL, is an awesome Hootie soundalike (yes, he played one) with pipes and presence to carry the crowd as a solo performer.


Apparently well-known at Gainesville’s Punk Pop Emo Nights as DJ RoXX XXavage, he’s wandering into the music scene as a musician as well, and let me say Welcome!

No One Road

No One Road bounced onto the Cloud Stage next, and I mean that literally! Lead singer/ rhythm guitarist Gina Pamplona is like a Jack Russell terrier on steroids (but not a dog, just to be clear) and made us wonder if her side gig might be aerobics teacher! Rounding out the quartet is (bassist) Mark Hernandez, the original second half of the duo, joined by Brady Little (lead guitarist) and Ryan Hildebrandt (drummer). Together the delivered the most high-energy set of the day, I was getting tired just watching them! After Covid-19 tripped them up, they’re hitting the road running with five singles including “Self-Destructive Habit,” on iTunes and Spotify. Give them a listen, but definitely catch them live – if you can!

Lifted Riffs

Up next on the Swamp Stage was Lifted Riffs, a trio from Jacksonville, FL. Okay, now the Swamp Stage had a trio, and none of that acoustic stuff, nosirree! These boys came ready to rock! They’re working on an original song release, “Hey,” be on the lookout! As for photos, the downside of the Swamp Stage was becoming more apparent, due to backlighting and the no-flash rule (something the pros adhere to, regardless of what the amateurs do), the band was both in shadow and backlight, making it nigh-impossible to get any good close-ups! It only got worse as the sun traveled across the sky and sunk into oblivion.

Back to the Cloud Stage, Emerson Vernon took the stage – apparently driving everyone else off with a sword! Borrowing from his bio, “Born and raised in Indianapolis, IN, Emerson Vernon has cemented himself in the indie scene as one of the most multi-talented artists on the internet. Amassing millions of streams across the wolfi and his self titled discography, Emerson Vernon draws influences from various genres to create music that reaches and connects to thousands of fans across the world. A solo artist and audio engineer/producer by trade, Emerson has been creating music since his teenage years and has honed his skills to be the rare form of artist who can create music from thin air and turn it into a hit as well as direct and edit his own music videos. He currently resides in Orlando, FL.”

Emerson Vernon

Well, obviously he had some help onstage from a drummer and guitarist, but there’s no info on either of them, and I’d presume they are hired for live performances only. He’s certainly an intriguing guy, provides loops and riffs for free to other musicians, has a Dr. Doom (the Fantastic Four’s arch-nemesis) background on his site, and writes lyrics with metaphysical and mythological references both classic and contemporary. SadSunFest had no lack of variety!

Sky Navy

After a mid-day break, it was back to the Cloud Stage for Sky Navy, which was apparently started by Gabriel Lugo (who is not the guy in the photo above) as a solo project. And I might have thought that I had the wrong information, until I found this on Instagram. Okay, I recognize Foster and the other guys, so maybe if I follow this link to Gabe’s photos which were taken with gear paid for by bands, I’d find out more…nope, the only photos were of Sky Navy merch! Wait, what if I follow that page’s Facebook link? Okay, that took me to his Facebook photos site, how about Instagram? Still more about his photography, where’s the info about Sky Navy the band? Nowhere, it seems, which is a shame, they are a lively and fun bunch on stage! Follow the links and take the same magical mystery tour I did, and maybe you’ll find out more! Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, they did a very short set!

Operation Acoustic Kitty

Back to the Swamp Stage for more confusion – for me at least, the NBMs were just going with the flow having a grand old time – came Operation Acoustic Kitty, which was a quartet but was far from acoustic, unless by acoustic you mean loud and in-your-face, the way a punk band from Tampa, FL ought to be! They have two streaming tracks, “The Jungle” and “Candy Tuft,” which you can find links to along with other social media on their site. There’s even a link to some videos doing classic rock cover tunes, like Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid!” Same lighting issues in the Swamp though!

These Times

A storm was gathering on the Cloud Stage, just the thing for These Times! They describe themselves as “Heavy hearted pop punk/ easycore,” which is as good of a description as any I suppose! And they include more info: Started in 2015, the current members are Skully Scott – Vocals, Kurt Montroy – Rhythm Guitar/backing vocals, Aiden Headley – Drums, Josh Hannah – Bass/backing vocals, and Evan Dyer – Lead guitar/ backing vocals. They are from Lakeland, Florida, the band consists of five members who share a passion for energetic and catchy music. Influenced by bands such as New Found Glory, Sum 41, A Day to Remember, and many more, These Times delivers a blend of melodic hooks, heavy riffs, and upbeat rhythms that will make you want to sing along and jump around. The band has opened for touring bands including Seaway, won the best band in Lakeland award, and played a ton of shows across the state. These Times is always striving to improve their sound, reach new audiences, and have fun along the way. I’ll concur!

Penny Fountain

Meanwhile, setting up in the Swap Stage we had Penny Fountain, whatevercore band from Tampa, FL, ready to take over the world! I can tell you that I was looking forward to hearing the band before I arrived, as they are on top of the marketing thing: They requested I follow them over a year ago, before I’d ever heard of them! Good move! They have good info on their website, which is professionally done and showcases their quirkiness. Penny Fountain is a three-piece band consisting of high school friends, bassist/vocalist Xavier Wilkinson, guitarist/back-up vocalist Tony Massaro, and drummer Joel Lopez. They cannot be confined to any one particular genre as they are a blend of styles with elements of punk and emo weaved into their music. What sets them apart is their passion for stage presence while telling a story through their music. They were formed in 2018 in a small town in Florida, began recording with Del Couch and the Del Couch Music Education Foundation and playing shows in the Tampa Bay area, and have kept growing. They just released their debut EP “ATTACK OF THE DUCKS”  after a long year of music videos and singles, and look forward to seeing you at one of their shows!

Twin Rova

Twin Rova has several YouTube videos up of its original music, but what’s more important is our first impression of the band, mainly the lead singer. Now, the NBMs and I are old enough to remember the original Karate Kid movie, but the younger folks would recognize him as Johnny of Cobra Kai! Not a doppleganger perhaps, but definitely giving off that vibe! Now, I don’t think of William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence’s real name) when I think of vocalists, but when he started I was reminded of another famous person: Sam Kinison! Looking like one famous person and sounding like another – who famously sang a stellar version of “Wild Thing” – can’t be a bad thing! (Here’s hoping his future more resembles Zabka’s than Kinison’s!) Seriously, there were times I could feel Sam being channeled via the lead singer! This “Alternative Pop Rock” trio is a must-see!

Cassette Crisis

Cassette Crisis is “Simple Raw Punk Rock” from Jacksonville Florida. POTA (Punks Over the Traditional Age), it’s obvious this group of rockers grew up with the original punk bands. The frontman, Aaron R Leatherbarrow, writes “punkrockteacher’s bad ass blog.” Described as “a way for you to access the passion behind what I do, a chance for you to hear my heart and to read into the world of punkrockteacher,” which among other things describes his journey “from youth group, to punk, to marriage & ministry, to education.” Check them out! And that was the last band for the Swamp Stage! Please, for the sake of future bands, I hope they put a couple lights for the front of the band up! (And any bands that expect to play there in the future, pick up a couple!)

Reckless Giants

Reckless Giants self-describes as “Back-Woods Pop-Punk from Florida,” and I’m gonna go with that. Oh, and we have another lookalike here, Coty, the drummer, is a ringer for Steve Hughes, a comedian whose attitude is perfect for a punk group! Okay, their website says a “3 piece alternative pop-punk band hailing from North Central Florida. A thoughtful, heart-on-sleeve and thoroughly engaging brand of alternative rock/pop-punk, nodding to what sounds like a dexterous array of influences from across alternative. It’s gritty and relatable, driving rock which interplays smartly with the melodic delivery” – [Carry The 4 PR] “Jeremy (lead vocals/guitar) has been on the front lines of the local music scene for over 15 years while John (vocals/bass) has been in it for 13 years and Coty (drums) has just shy of 10 years under his belt. With the experience they bring to their live shows, you will be hard-pressed to find a tighter, more energetic and exciting live show from a local level or even major level trio.” They recently traveled to Nashville for some studio time, so be on the alert for new tunes jumping out and attacking you as you hike through Florida’s forests!

Up From Here

A couple of years ago I caught Up From Here at Tampa’s Crowbar, and I knew they were going places! Okay, it was only Lakeland, but it’s a place! Seriously, they are still a “Three piece pop-punk band hailing from Tampa, Florida, and yes, there was a drummer on stage, although it wasn’t the one from last time, so it’s a temp job for now until they find one they want to make permanent. Nothing new, I know several local bands that have been around for years with only one or two constant members, it happens! And they are moving up in the band rankings, the last show they were the opener in their hometown, now they were #3 from the top, out of 17 total acts! They’ve also put out some music, which you can find through the band links above. As they say themselves, “UNDERRATED POP PUNK BANGERS HAVE TO COME FROM SOMEWHERE!”

Dial Drive

It’s always a good sign when a band doesn’t take itself too seriously, and such is the case with Dial Drive, a Florida Punk/Pop Punk band who would like you to contact them for booking: [email protected]

With that attitude, you just know something good is coming up! They did not disappoint, I’ve seldom heard more power-driven melodic thrash punk, seemed like their drummer was channeling The Flash – yes, I know it’s a fictional character, but you haven’t heard the drumming yet! If you had, you’d know what I meant! If their music doesn’t get you up and jumping, get in line at the county morgue.

The SuperVillains

Last but far from least, The SuperVillains took the stage. Yes, I found the Official Facebook page of The Supervillains, which proudly states, “We got our little check and everything.” Wait, I thought those were for Twit…I mean, X? Does it, or they, really matter? I doubt it. They seem like happy-go-lucky, carefree guys, maybe because they use their sponsor’s products? They brought some more relaxed music to the stage, though not always…neither I nor the NBMs expected and n alternately slow and sped-up mash-up of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out, ” and Parliament’s “We Got the Funk,” along with some bits I’m not sure where they originated! It all came together thanks to the scheming of The Supervillains!

Which brought myself and the NBMs to the end of the night, we wearily trudged out to our respective vehicles, having shared an experience not to be forgotten!

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