Local bands sound off at new music festival to support AIDS Ride
When Keith Petrocelli was 8 years old, he was pulled aside and told that his estranged father died of AIDS. It was 1983, he was a Brooklyn kid living in Arizona, and he’d never met his dad. Because of AIDS, he never would. Suddenly he was thrust into a cause he wasn’t even old enough to fully wrap his head around.
“At that time, AIDS was a really scary disease,” remembers Petrocelli, now 35 and at the helm of Santa Cruz’s Carry Yrself Home concert productions. “America looked at it as a gay disease. I grew up in bad neighborhoods and I was put through hell all through school when the info about my dad was leaked out in school. I was known as the gay kid, the bad kid, I got into fights.”
Unimaginably, Petrocelli would also end up losing an aunt and uncle to the epidemic. Despite the social stigmas surrounding AIDS, he was coaxed into volunteer work by his mom (“She told me that my father came to talk to her in her dream”). He’d come to spend his formative years living in Chula Vista, Calif., where he worked in a kitchen that donated food to people dying of AIDS and then got involved in a hospice buddy program. He’d spend quality time with people infected with HIV or AIDS, joining them to see art and concerts—Depeche Mode was one. “Unfortunately, it all comes to an end,” he says somberly.
At 17, Petrocelli and his mom uprooted to Santa Cruz where they’d continue their involvement in a buddy program. Still, the emotional experiences took their toll and after connecting with and then losing 45 hospice buddies, he needed space from it all and went on hiatus from volunteering. “I started working at Streetlight Records and I felt like I got detached from the AIDS cause in the last eight or nine years,” he says.
It was while recently talking with singer Dan Potthast about the meaning behind his slew of tattoos, that Petrocelli casually stirred up the past. “My body is a template of things I don’t know about my father,” he begins. “All my tattoos are dedicated to my father in one way or another, and I’ve got different AIDS tattoos.”
With Potthast’s bandmate Matt Knobbe in rocksteady ska emissaries The Bricks serving as a co-chair of this year’s Surf City AIDS Ride, the conversation ultimately led to Petrocelli’s involvement as the concert producer of a new music festival at the annual fundraising effort for the Santa Cruz AIDS Project. Knobbe, who’d been toying with the idea of a bigger musical element to coincide with the cycling event, found in Petrocelli and Carry Yrself Home his answer. No small affair, the result of the two joining forces will be the Finish Line Festival, which will lure nine local bands onto the San Lorenzo Park Duck Island Stage powered by Real Goods Solar from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3.
Along with his personal connection to AIDS and subsequent passion for awareness, Petrocelli pooled his resources as a mainstay in the local music scene to put together a festival in just one month. “I was pretty much going through bands I know in my cell phone and it all came together,” he recalls. “I knew they’d be down to do the festival for free, especially when I explained what the issue means to me.”
Petrocelli and Knobbe quickly solidified a lineup of acts they feel will both appeal to the masses at the family-friendly outdoor bash and still rock the stage. With Keith Thompson (frontman of The Groggs) volunteering to work as the sound guy, Dan P and The Bricks, James Rabbit, And Hod, Quinn Deveaux, Moon Cadillac, Mystery Lights, Luxury Sweets, Tether Horse, and Harry and The Hitmen will all perform. Speakers bringing attention to the mission of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project will take the mic in between bands.
Knobbe, who says he watched his brainchild grow exponentially with Petrocelli’s help, says the mosaic of musical styles is perfectly fitting for the occasion. “Cycling is kind of like surfing, there’s a huge variance in ages—there’s people in their 60s and 70s, so we just tried to book a really eclectic mix and wide cross section of bands so that there’s a little something for everybody.” The all-day bill will provide a live soundtrack juxtaposing rootsy blues, garage rock, power pop, ska, synth pop, jam-infused Motown, Americana and more.
Petrocelli believes Finish Line Festival has already injected more youthful energy into this year’s AIDS Ride celebration, with buzz about the concert attracting a new audience. It’s even evident in the posters. Local artist Derek Pratt devised an additional flier to promote the concert leg of the day, and Petrocelli describes it as “more modern than the usual flier. We want a flier for a kid to see and say, ‘Dude, I really want to check this out!’ I think a lot of college kids and younger people in this town will participate in the event now.” He maintains that “they can be a very sexual crowd that’s into partying and rock ’n’ roll, so maybe this will make the younger rock crowd more aware of HIV and AIDS.”
Knobbe adds that although it wasn’t his initial intention to book bands to draw in any specific age group, the acts fit in with the context of the history of the disease and where things stand today: “HIV/AIDS definitely affects people aged 18 to 25, and people aged 26 to 34 are the hardest hit demographic. I think the festival will be a reminder that it’s still an issue.”
Plus, Finish Line Festival will be another grand—and loud— expression of community spirit. That’s good to a lot of locals’ ears. “The reciprocation shown to make this happen has been amazing,” Petrocelli beams. “Everyone is so stoked. It’s like a little Lollapalooza in one spot. … I think not only my family, but also all the buddies my mom shared with me till death parted us from them would be extremely proud.”
Finish Line Festival is at 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3, at San Lorenzo Park, 137 Dakota St., Santa Cruz. Free. For more information, call 427-3900 or go to Scapsite.org and Myspace.com/carryyrselfhome.