I have to apologize in advance for how long these next 4 or 5 posts are going to be. I remember everything, and these are still some of the defining moments and bands of my life. God help you.
I've saved discussion of Less than Jake until now, mostly due to the piecemeal way that I got into them. 
  • 1998: due to repeated play, we develop a dislike of a song we don't know the name of on a playstation skateboarding video game. ends up being "All My Best Friends are Metalheads"
  • 1999: for my birthday I got a random free cd certificate from a publishing house from my grandma, and had no idea what to get. I don't remember any sort of research process, but for some reason I semi-randomly selected "Hello Rockview". I think I knew they were a ska band, and because I was already down with Mighty Mighty Bosstones I figured it wouldn't be bad to expand that direction. 
  • 2000: In the process of starting to explore punk music, I download a lot of punk/ska covers on the internet. Included in this is tracks from "Greased", the LTJ Grease soundtrack.
And now it's 2001. I'm wrestling again, and listening to a lot of the same old stuff, as well as all of the weird stuff you could now find on the internet. Songs from south park, Wesley Willis, King Missle, all of the random one-off joke things that I got into when everyone was listening to Floater and Tool. But also, finally lots of ska. 
I also need to note my absolute love from an early age of the high school pep band at football/basketball games. It's powerful, its energizing, and when taken in context with my love of heroic sports moments, was always a really exciting thing to me. I would go nuts whenever they played "Louie Louie", "Fat Bottomed Girls", secret agent man, really anything. Couple that with the excitement that comes from getting to roam free as a kid and play around with everyone else while the adults watched the game, and I get a huge awesome nostalgia buzz from thinking about it. 
So I was no stranger to upbeat music with horns, and as a mostly positive hyperactive kid, ska was absolutely designed for me. At this point, I was starting to understand some other elements of the punk scene, like "selling out", and was starting to turn on blink 182 as the backlash against their success began. Which was a perfect time to shift my obsession to this unknown (to my peers) punk ska band out of Florida with a penchant for Pez, an insane live show, and a back catalog full of ska punk greatness. I reached full fandom in late 2000, when the underrated "Borders and Boundaries" came out. It was their first album on Fat Wreck Chords (after a brief stint on a major label), and while I had not yet exhausted myself on the absolute majesty of Pezcore, Losing Streak, Hello Rockview, and all of the early stuff, I was fiending for more.
We had already had one successful run at a concert, so when LTJ came to Portland in March of 2001, Kyle convinced his dad to drive us to the show. In preparation, I checked out the THREE opening bands: 50's throwback pogo-punkers Teen Idols, anarchist straight-edge band Anti-Flag, and pop punk up and comers New Found Glory. What a lineup! Here's a review from the PSU Vanguard.
We made the 5 hour drive in M.L.'s Volkswagen Rabbit early one morning, and upon getting to Portland, drove across the river to eat at the Byways Cafe. My family and I had been to portland before, but I had no idea how it was laid out or where anything was. I remember distinctly being surprised that we had to cross a river! We then checked into our hotel (Convention Center Econolodge), and Kyle and I walked from there to the show. This was my first time walking around a city without an adult, and it was exhilarating. 
The show was at the infamous Pine Street Theater (and at other times La Luna, or Solid State Theater), a now defunct all ages rock venue in inner SE. It was full of mohawked punk kids in jean jackets with patches, dyed hair and piercings, etc. I bought two shirts right away, and had to hold them throughout the show. The excitement added to my enjoyment of all 3 openers, but in retrospect it really was an incredible lineup. I listened to all three of those bands for years to come, marvelling at my luck at getting to see them in one place. It was the first mosh pit I was ever in, the first sweaty punk show I crammed myself into. It was loud, and exciting. The guy in the skull mask blew flames. The whole night is one of my favorite musical memories of all time. After the show we hung around a little bit before walking back to the hotel. Riding high off of the energy, we detoured and got some water and maybe a small bite to eat at the Denny's on Grand. It was my first genuine adult Portland experience.
The coming spring is a blur. We had made a new friend in Utah transplant Matt Jager. He had a similar musical mentality, and a basement complete with guitar and drum kit. What's not to love?! Here are the two of us that summer:
As the school year came to a close, we began casually trying to learn songs that we liked and playing them in his basement. Between Matt, his brother Ben, Kyle, and I, we were able to string together a basic traditional band lineup. I wasn't willing to sacrifice much, so when it came time to decide who had to sing and who had to switch to bass (we all played guitar), Matt and Kyle both really stepped up to the plate. More on that later...
It was summer again, and it was hard to deny the allure of the possiblities to come. First and foremost on our minds was the Vans Warped Tour. Now that we were bonafide punks AND concert goers, it was a no-brainer. The linuep is so big, and we were so new to everything, that I remember at one point before it just trying to download the most popular song by every punk band from the lineup, in addition to every punk band NOT on the lineup that I could think of. It was the first time I heard songs from Nofx, MXPX, Saves the Day, Flogging Molly, The Dropkick Murphys, Rancid, AFI, The Vandals, and dozens others of the greatest punk bands of the late 90's - early 2000's. Almost at no other point in my life did an entire world of music open up to me like this. I could take what I liked, drop what I didn't, and expand out from there. I was also spending a ton of time on punknews.org, a relatively new music website from which I heard about everything there was to hear about in the music scene. 
I can't remember who all went to the show- we all stayed at my aunts house in Boise and were ferried from the venue by my mom (none of us could drive yet). I'll guess: Me, Kyle, Matt, Cody, Ben? I think Nathan had something going on. This would become an annual ritual, but none of us knew that yet. 
In consideration of how long this post is already (and how much I know there is to come), I'll just say that it was a memory to be cherished. It was hot and sweaty, but there was free cold yoohoo. We learned about new bands, saw good music and bad, and each walked away with a huge haul of comp cds, band shirts for the upcoming school year, and assorted other stickers, pins, and keepsakes. Also, I took pictures with Less Than Jake, who were more than excited to have met me.
Also as a quick note, later that summer we went BACK to Boise and caught Saves The Day, featuring Hot Rod Circuit, Hey Mercedes, and Dashboard Confessional. This is when "emo" was kind of a popular new thing, but before it became so hated, and we were on board. 
School was soon approaching and we were actually starting to call ourselves a band. We decided to schedule a first show at Matt's house as an end of summer party. I don't think we had a name yet- at one point I think we almost settled on "Wired". We had Ijust one original song at this point (maybe 2), and a ton of pop punk covers. Here's what I can remember from that first setlist:
New Found Glory- Passing Time
Blink 182- Dammit, Waggy, Aliens Exist
Less than Jake- cover of 867-5309
American Hi-Fi- Flavor of the Weak
Mest- Drawing Board
Saves The Day- Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots
Unwritten Law- Cailin
Ataris- San Dimas High School Football Rules
Green Day- When I come around
originals- Product of Society, another one?
There were maybe a couple more. I spent a medium amount of time practicing and learning songs, but the summer had other demands as well. I had an opportunity to go on a week long road trip with my buddy Craig, down through Utah to the Grand Canyon and back up through Las Vegas. Since this is a music blog and not a travel blog, I won't get sidetracked except to say that I burned a cd of the songs we were covering, printed out tabs for most of the songs, and brought my guitar to practice when I was in the passenger seat. 
We got back from that trip I think the day before or even the day of our first show. I had bought a big floppy foam cowboy hat at a gift shop in vegas, and it would become my trademark stage outfit for years to come. 

The turnout of the show was decent, assisted a bit by the other band, who played covers of another blink 182 song and an inventive version of Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It". The show was a success, and also at that point I was introduced to Julie, the girl who would become my first girlfriend. Life was looking up!
And then, on 9/11, it all came crashing down. 
Haha, not really. I can't cover 2001 without mentioning it, but the only relevant point I have is that due to punk music, I was starting to have "opinions" on world politics and policies. I remember this sort of being the first time when those would play into my opinions about the world, especially in my hatred for the current US administration, our foreign policies, and etc etc etc boring teenage punk political opinions. 
That fall was dominated by Cross Country, and I had the opportunity to go to my second and final state championship. I was very close with my team from the previous year, but most of them had graduated and I didn't become as close with some of the people who took their spots. As a result, Nathan and Matt came along with my mom and I rode home with them instead of the team. I remember that Nathan had been checking out some new bands, and had brought burned cds of Yellowcard and The Get Up Kids two bands who would be instrumental (pardon the word choice) in my 2002. 
Up Next- The Rise and Fall of Faction. 

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