This past year, Borders bookstores filed for bankruptcy and stores closed all over the country, just to open again in Thousand Oaks. Except this time, there are no shelves full of paperbacks and bestsellers lining the carpets. In fact, from one glance today, you’d never guess this place was a bookstore, or apparently a bowling alley as well, at one point in time.
The Open Borders Festival has transformed the once corporate selling space into a sort of a haven for the hip and young and old alike. There’s a drawing wall covered in the art of the community surrounded by professional artwork, photos and the creepiest life-size Bigfoot statue ever. It’s not a place to go and relax but rather to wind up and have fun, which seem few and far between in quiet suburban communities such as Thousand Oaks.
The festival is in its opening weeks and will be running every weekend through August, so there’s plenty of time to catch all the fun. This past Thursday, June 23rd, the space became a mini concert hall, hosting a vintage clothing fashion show. two rocking California bands, San Diego’s The Howls and Los Angeles’ Saint Motel.
The Howls took the stage to an initially shy crowd who eventually warmed up and moved closer to the stage. Their music contains the drawl of a humid summer’s day, but the smoldering heat they bring is uncharacteristically soothing. They bring country rock that makes you want to two-step and grind to it at the same time. It’s raw, not the watered down, syrupy stuff that pervades modern country influenced music today. Exuding charisma, the San Diego four-piece charmed the crowd, now feeling a happy buzz from some great music and a conveniently located bar.
After a short break, LA rock group, Saint Motel took the stage sporting Open Borders’ sponsor Go Pro cameras on their instruments, chests and head. The little video cameras give the perspective of the show from the band’s standpoint. Sadly, the ones worn on the head a la Animal Collective’s Geologist didn’t last long due to too much head-banging. From the moment they entered, they would not allow for anyone to sit down in the provided chairs. Not like you’d want to.
Saint Motel is a band that makes music for the fun of it. It doesn’t have to be a serious endeavor all the time. You only need to watch the four of them, who all met in film school, play for a few minutes to see how much they love performing. The amount of enthusiasm radiating from the stage translated right into the crowd and the dance party of the night began.
Their set included tracks from their debut EP ForPlay and current single “Puzzle Pieces” which is an inescapably catchy and bright tune to add to any summer playlist. They also debuted a new song, “You Do It Well,” playing it live for the first time in what vocalist/guitarist AJ Jackson called the “ghost of a Border’s bookstore.” The whole set could be described as the dance of the bromance with Jackson, guitarist Aaron Sharp and bassist Dak Lerdamornpong never missing an opportunity to have collaborative jam sessions whether it be back to back or on the floor.
Sharp describes their music as “sex and sexploitation,” which only seems apropos as they live for the climax. Many of their songs chug along comfortably until out from behind of the steady beats comes a huge explosion of sound and then an extended jam. At one point, near the end of the set, drummer Greg Erwin was so intensely dedicated that one of his drumsticks flew straight out of his hand and into the middle of the crowd. No worries; everyone was fine.
The night was a wonderful success and it looks like the Open Borders Festival is bound to keep the music and art scene in the Thousand Oaks area. Saint Motel and the Howls are playing another show together in San Diego on July 5th, but that has already sold out. Saint Motel will be going on tour this summer with many shows in California. Check out the dates on their website.