Written by Eric Sperrazza
Photographed by Liv Foltiny
It was a scorching hot day in Eastampton, New Jersey. The air was thick enough to cut it with a knife. The sun unrelentingly beat down with no relief. And yet, in a venerable field at Smithville Historic Park, something magical took place; musicians from Philadelphia to Detroit flocked to showcase their talents and celebrate their peers. What gravitated them together? Distro Fest 2022!
Distro Fest is the brainchild of Robert Schwartz, the owner of Who?Mag Distribution wanted to give a platform to up-and-coming artists and music legends they distribute. It was an all-day music festival that offered attendees over 40 different acts performing for 10 hours. Presented to attendees in almost a playlist format, artists from all genres perform a few songs each, and then the proverbial “shuffle” is it, and new flavors follow all day long.
I could not pass on this opportunity to bear witness. When I say, “I literally climbed down a ladder in my bathroom, covered in spackle, and tore eastbound down Route 38 in Burlington County to not miss this,” not one singular word is an exaggeration!
My first thought upon arriving was that this was no fly-by-night event; there were big sponsors like Bang Energy Drink, food trucks, vendor booths, and even merchandise. As I toured the festival grounds, I had the chance to meet artists before they went on to get a feel for their music. One of those artists was BabyPaul. Hailing from Queens, New York, and with a stiff old-school vibe in his lyrics reminiscent of the glory days of City Underground Mix Tapes. He recently teamed up with Supa Emcee of 8 Mile fame to create a rap duo that mercilessly tag teams the crowd with verbal lightning and thunder – XrossRoads. Their performance did not disappoint. I found it harder and harder to take pictures while the pair’s delivery began moving my body uncontrollably like a marionette doll to the beat.
As I took a second to find shade to climb under from the oppressive sun, I heard this Post-Punk Alternative driving rock that practically pulled me out of the grassy patch I was sitting on and dragged me back to the stage. The band that moved me with such purpose was The Warhawks. A local band to New Jersey with a big sound and phenomenal original songs, I had to pull up with the band and thank them for a hell of a performance. That was how impressed I was!
I would also be remiss not to mention the artists from Otha Wurld Muzik Group. Their performance had me feeling like I was watching The Wu-Tang Clan in their early days performing at grimy clubs in Staten Island with their cipher-style mic-passing and unique personalities. The artist’s stage presence was as professional as you would get watching the Made in America concert. The bars were insanely on fire, and, to be frank, this was the performance I sent pictures & videos to one of my best friends from New York to get down to that field with his family and not miss one more second! I would also like to add that OWM artist, Spade One, took time out of his post-show scrum to take pictures with my friend’s children and even wrote some inspiring words to them. That was just as impressive as the ferocity he fired out his rhymes to us.
As the last chapter of the evening opened, the crowd roared with excitement as Raz B, of B2K and solo hit fame, stepped out from behind the curtain. Igniting the screams of swooning women, he tore through his greatest hits like the Top 40 club-banger, “Bump, Bump, Bump.” Raz B also made a point of meeting every single fan that wanted his attention after his show
One of the biggest highlights for me and truthfully the catalyst to leave my bathroom remodeling project with a putty knife still sitting on my counter with a dollop of spackling still on it was the performance of Test Human. Sean Scott Hicks fronts the band, and, after 20 years of incarceration for falling into the family business of the notorious Winter Hill Gang in Worcester, Massachusetts, he is clearly ready to take his experiences and channel them into something raw, emotional, and even therapeutic, and he has a lot to say! Moreover, Scott’s newfound outlet has two very special bandmates of note; Louiche Mayorga & RJ Herrera of the legendary thrash hardcore band, Suicidal Tendencies. The band’s sound was rage-filled, audibly violent and vintage angst amplified to eleven. They even covered the Suicidal Tendencies track “War Inside My Head.” After their performance, I had the chance to catch up with the band. Scott proudly introduced the Mob Rock Records family to me, including Roland Bank of the band Crazy Town. Incidentally, Banks played drums for almost every act, all day, on top of performing his own music! When asked what is next for Test Human, Scott replied, “Well, we are working on a new album, a tour…Hell, I’m even working on a movie.” Then, Mayorga chimed in and added, “We will be re-recording some Suicidal Tendencies songs like Institutionalized, as well.” Mayorga could see I was visibly excited about hearing that, and after a glance at Herrera, he put his hand on my shoulder and said with a laugh, “Why not? It is my song. I wrote it, and I own it!“
The night ended with the long-awaited arrival of the 90’s dance single juggernaut, C+C Music Factory. Freedom Williams never missed a beat, traversing the stage from corner to corner. The hit singles poured over the edge of the stage and into a crowd moving and shaking to the nostalgic delight of songs like “Gonna Make You Sweat.” Further, the band ensured every single side stage fan got a picture, an autograph, and a handshake. I even dropped into a B-Boy stance for a photo myself. (Thirteen-year-old me would have been thrilled!)
There are a million ways to sum up the day at Distro Fest with a million different adjectives I could use on how the idea of the Festival played out in the application. But there is one moment in my head that is the epitome of what this Festival was about. While getting closer to the stage to see Test Human, I could not help but notice a little girl clambering to see the act. This same girl was taking pictures with Raz B just a few moments ago, so I had to find out what was pulling her back to the front of the crowd for a completely different sound. 12-year-old Katelaya DeLoach looked at me and said, “I don’t know, I want to check out different kinds of music. I am down to check it out.” Her father, Ronald DeLoach, looked at her and looked at me and added, “She is her father’s daughter. Eclectic!”
That, in my humble opinion, was the legacy of Distro Fest 2022. An opportunity to showcase deserving artists on the grind while introducing different sounds, voices, messages & cultures to the masses. It is the promise of events like this. The promise that you can find new ways to be moved and inspired through the artistry of performance.
Distro Fest 2022 lived up to that promise and, for at least one little girl in the crowd, opened her up to new wind in her sails. That, as far as I am concerned, was a successful day.