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By David Rolland
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America's musical landscape changed dramatically when alternative rock reared its greasy head in the '90s. Record companies gobbled up these bummed-out, grungy bands, and festivals like Lilith Fair and Lollapalooza popped up everywhere to showcase them. Radio stations could hardly flip formats fast enough to capitalize on the new sound for all the cool, flannel-clad kids forgoing showers.
Even here in South Florida, demand for a channel to deliver the Seattle-cultivated sounds was heavy. So John O'Connell and a few others were sent down from Boston in 1995 by American Radio to start an alternative rock station in West Palm Beach. Enter 103.1 the Buzz, a station for which O'Connell has remained program director/operations manager to this day. Until the birth of the Buzz, the only game in town for alternative rock was 94.9 Zeta, which was out of range to most rockers north of Boca and a bit out of touch, with a playlist bogged down by '70s and '80s hair metal. For those in Palm Beach County hungry for something new, the Buzz hit the spot.
Once the station was up and running, the festival concept followed. The idea was simple: 13 bands for 13 bucks. Since then, the size of the lineup and ticket price have grown a bit, but the organizers have retained the baker's dozen-inspired name, the Buzz Bake Sale. This year, the fest celebrates its 15th year. Before the amps crank up, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at some wacky facts, mishaps, and just plain amusing Buzz background to get you inspired to grab some baggy JNCO jeans and go rock out.
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1. The Mightiest: In the festival's inaugural year, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' set upstaged headliners the Butthole Surfers, and that was a key factor to the festival's longevity, according to O'Connell. In 2000, the suited ska men treated the crowd to two sets to fill the void left by no-shows MxPx. This year, the Bosstones are set to continue their streak of big Buzzing shows. "The Bake Sale was always so much fun," says founding member Tim Burton. "We're not really a full-time band anymore. When we play a show, something sticks out about it that makes it something that we want to do."
2. Green Day: In the late '90s, before their "21st Century Breakdown," Green Day rocked the second Buzz Bake Sale. On the heels of Nimrod, the punkers kicked ass onstage and narrowly escaped death behind it. According to legend, drummer Tre Cool was recklessly tearing through the backstage area in a golf cart. At one point, his attention shifted from the parked semi — and the potential for decapitation — directly ahead of him. When he heard the screams of several terrified onlookers, he finally braked and missed a gory fate by inches.
3. Biggest prima donnas: "We really battled hard to get the Butthole Surfers to headline [the first Buzz Bake Sale in 1996]. Which is great, but they made these crazy demands," recalls O'Connell. Apparently the legendary, psych-noise-punk band was emboldened by the success of hit single "Pepper" and demanded blue gym shorts with white piping and white knee socks for their performance.
4. Buzz Bake Sale fashion: Remember JNCOs, beepers, metal ball necklaces, wallet chains, Mark McGrath's spiky frosted dude hair, and tribal band tattoos? Oh, you still have that tatt? Bummer! Beepers might be on the verge of being hip again, but the closest the metal ball necklace comes to being "the shit" in 2010 would be as an anal sex toy. The Buzz Bake Sale may be your only chance to resurrect, or continue to rock, those beloved grunge-era fashion accessories among fellow lovers of similarly dated apparel.
5. 2010's Most Baked Band: Of the 21 acts on the bill for this year's fest, nine are Bake Sale veterans. This year, the Florida-bred rock act Anberlin joins Local H, Our Lady Peace, Nonpoint, and One as the only bands to have taken the Bake Sale stage four times. Anberlin's eerie and sundry Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place was released in September, so fans can expect some new tunes this time around.
6. The ironic welcoming committee: The words buzz and baked suggest that the Buzz Bake Sale is a stoner-friendly affair — and it may be once you're in the gate with your stash. Before that comfort zone, though, a brigade of cops and doggies fit to keep the Acapulco gold out of American bongs awaits. Though stories of arrests inside the event exist, there are a few accounts of the fuzz chasing kids back toward their cars. Be smart, spliff smugglers, and you'll be OK.
7. Miss Buzz Bake Sale: The pageantry is somewhat less refined than Miss America and more geared toward beauties who want to meet rockers. "We thought it was kind of a neat thing for a male-based rock station to really give women a chance to do something that they want to do," says O'Connell. Whether this is simply groupie glorification or a simple acknowledgment of the supply and demand of rock 'n' roll gender relations is up to you.
8. The side stage: Side stages have a tendency to host the best and worst of a festival. Reel Big Fish, Paramore, Pepper, and the Kottonmouth Kings have all delivered the goods — and other forgotten artists have surely brought the bads — to the little stage that could. In 2004, the English rock outfit Muse, which at that point was accustomed to playing giant festivals in Europe, stacked up three stories' worth of speakers and sound gear behind the small stage and unleashed their anthemic power rock to thousands of lucky attendees.
9. Kid Rock: In December 1998, Kid Rock was just a budding, rowdy rocker desperate for gigs. His posse sent a letter to Bake Sale organizers asking if he could play the show for free. O'Connell obliged, but by the time that year's Bake Sale rolled around, Kid had made it big and tried to weasel out of the deal. Citing the original letter, Bake Sale got their man, tickets were sold out for the first time, and all the radio station had to pay for were the dancing girls and explosives.
10. This year's draw (besides Against Me!): If the prospect of dodging cops, checking out bikini-clad contest winners, and witnessing near-decapitations doesn't fly, there are some other Bake Sale motivators. First off, the local bands on the lineup include Leading the Heros, D.V.N.O, Fall of Envy, Hollywood Love Scene, and Stellar Revival. If they get famous, you'll be getting in on the ground floor. Pepper fans will like the chance to win an autographed surfboard painted with one of the band's album covers. Finally, the weather is nice this time of year, and the lineup is geared for every listener's enjoyment.