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So What?! Fest 2023: Neck Deep, Sleeping with Sirens, much more close out this year’s festival

It’s hard to believe that Texas could get hotter but surviving the elevated temperatures was the name of the game on the second day of So What?! Music Festival. Sunday’s crowds avoided the outdoor stages initially, but plenty of diehard fans braved the glaring sunlight for a chance to catch their favorite acts up close. Once again, Atlas was in the thick of all the action to close out another stellar year.

Open Up This Pit!

Hardcore dominated day two as the Monster and Hot Topic stages were overrun with heavy moshing fans looking to stay out of the sun. The absolute killers in Omertà played early on the Monster Stage and blew our expectations sky high. The Houston metalcore group bills themselves as “America’s Most Hated Boy Band” and their energy dominated the first part of the day.

The Monster Stage also boasted some hip hop crossover, with Jeleel and Jasiah near the end of the roster for the night. Word spread about Jeleel’s set and his antics onstage- including multiple backflips and launching himself into the crowd- ensured that no one left the room disappointed. Jasiah played off that vibe as well, keeping the party going with stomping beats and plenty of movement.

Throwback Thursday (on a Sunday)

The Jack Daniels main stage had our nearly undivided attention on Sunday, starting with the wholesome indie dance vibes of Hellogoodbye. Decked in his best resort loungewear and a Shrek mask, Forrest Kline took the afternoon audience on a journey through over 20 years of scene history. Security kept everyone cool with water guns and damp towels so the party didn’t have to stop.

Elder emos got a reality check at just how long their favorites have been making music when Head Automatica took the stage during a stunning sunset. They’re another group that had quite a few of us frantically checking the release date of “Beating Heart Baby” (it was 2004 for anyone applying for an AARP membership) but that didn’t stop us from screaming the words like it was album release day.

Thursday (the band) is celebrating 20 years of the iconic War All the Time and treated So What?! to a performance of the album in full. Geoff Rickley hasn’t lost a step in more than two decades and it’s such a privilege to watch the godfathers of New Jersey post-hardcore. Their stage had a vast audience of fans in the front and bands in the back all vying to get a glimpse of the legends.

Pop Punk Royalty

We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge up front that The Starting Line was our favorite set of the day- and for good reason. The reclusive east coast outfit rarely makes the journey west but it’s such a treat when they emerge to deliver all the early 2000s hits. The heat was really getting to the band and singer Kenny Vasoli threw his whole body into the performance, pushing through the sweat for a nostalgic and memorable performance.

We the Kings would like you all to know that they never left and- despite major technical difficulties marring the first song- “Skyway Avenue” and “Check Yes Juliet” went as hard as ever. As their families watched from sidestage, the scene staples reminded the audience that there’s some music that will be ingrained in our corner of the music world forever.

Closing out the main stage was Sleeping with Sirens and UK rockers Neck Deep- both of whom attracted the same crowd and the same vibrant intensity from the fans. Kellin Quinn is a magnetic frontman and his signature soaring vocals had everyone from the front to the back screaming along to “Kick Me” and “If You Can’t Hang”. 

Neck Deep brings a different kind of mood to their performances but the general goal is the same- get the people going. Bodies were flying, the band was jumping and the lights illuminated the steaming Fair Park grounds and attendees finally got some relief from the sun.

With so many artists playing back to back on day two, we did our best to absorb as much as possible, leaving Texas after another incredible year of music, camaraderie and the joy of sharing this experience with so many amazing fans.

Check out all the photos from day two!

Story and photos by Olivia Khiel