Named for the digital-only record label founded by Durham's Scotty Sandwich, the annual Death To False Hope Fest shares a mission of making music—particularly the earnest punk and alt-country Sandwich favors—readily available. The label offers its releases for free; the event costs $18 but includes a weekend packed with 35 acts. Now in its third year, the festival seems to have found its most comfortable scope.
Though past years brought bigger names (like the has-been headliner Less Than Jake), this year's marquee features a wealth of regional talent. Wilmington's Museum Mouth delivers whip-smart pop-punk, while local punk veterans The Bastages resurrect late '70s proto-hardcore. The enthusiastic Durham rapper Professor Toon counters the '90s indie crunch of Asheville's Old Flings. DTFH Fest also boasts an increasingly rare appearance by local barroom favorites Red Collar, whose frontman, Jason Kutchma, also performs in his Americana guise with the Five Fifths.
Such locals provide a sturdy foundation for up-and-coming national acts. Austin Lucas of Bloomington, Ind., holds up the alt-country tent pole, evoking vintage honky-tonk by way of Flogging Molly's overdriven folk. Atlanta's Campaign hits the familiar groove of Fat Wreck-style punk rock. California's American Steel earned its own Fat Wreck imprint with an approach to melodic punk reminiscent of Jawbreaker and Dillinger Four.
Comfortable in its niche, with only gentle pressure applied to its boundaries, Death To False Hope Fest has proven a stable gathering with clear intentions. There's little here to challenge the ear, which is kind of the point for a festival designed to introduce bands and fans to each other. —Bryan C. Reed