Alexander Sink

April 27, 2024

Orlando, FL

Like late Sublime founder and frontman Bradley Nowell, I don’t practice Santeria and even if I had a crystal ball; I couldn’t have predicted all the exciting news about the band over the past six months. News that introduced Nowell’s son Jakob as the new frontman, an appearance at Coachella, and that their first headline show since 1996 was to be held in Central Florida. That final headline thrust the Inaugural Brightside Festival and Orlando into the national music spotlight, and it did not disappoint.

I was five days shy of my twentieth birthday the last time Sublime headlined a show with someone named Nowell at the helm. I was just a college sophomore trying to figure out my way and still thought that 40 Oz’s led to freedom and not a splitting Saturday morning headache. Like most teenagers in Pennsylvania, I had not heard much Sublime by mid-1996, but what I had heard interested me. Over time, their music would become a large part of my personal soundtrack and music that I enjoyed through the good and bad. It resonated with my soul and has always brought out the happy side of me. That being said, I was more than excited when I heard the news of Jakob joining the band and I jumped at a chance to see some Nowell Magic for myself in Orlando.

Sublime as just Sublime last headlined a show at The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, CA 28 years ago this May, and for many fans like myself, the loss of Bradley Nowell was deafening. This is a band that may represent the LBC (Long Beach Central) in their songs, but even in western Pennsylvania, we felt like the music was personal to our lives. The band was able to make topics like pawn shops and burritos something everyone could sing about and relate to. The lyrics were simple but artistic in the rhythm and delivery, and the music was tropical and mellow with a ska-rock twist. The perfect music to enjoy at the lake or while playing spades with over-competitive friends. These were the kind of days nights that college was invented for, and Sublime was a perfect soundtrack for most any occasion. With the news of Nowell’s death, we all worked to savor that final album and appreciate everything it delivered, expecting that Sublime was over. Little did we know that 28 years later Sublime would be back with a Nowell, Wilson, and Gaugh at the helm.

Change and adapt is the name of the game when life throws you a pivotal moment. Pivotal moments can be good or bad, happen when we are young or old and cause permanent or temporary change. There really are no rules to these moments. My PIVOTAL moment in life happened when I was 23 and the reason my life moved from Pittsburgh, PA to the Sunshine State. Most people are lured in by Florida’s beautiful beaches, sexy people and entertainment choices, but not this guy. For a kid that grew up in the snow belt, I found the idea of cruising in winter with the Sublime cranked and the top down too alluring to pass up. So much that I packed up my Mustang and drove 1000 miles south and never looked back.  A move that served me well when I met the girl of my dreams and somehow, she agreed to marry me. Thankfully she was into dorks with bleached, spiked hair and not much of a plan. While everything in my life had changed after my move to Florida, my CD library did not, and so Sublime became a big staple of the musical bridge from my past to the present.

For Jakob Nowell, his “PIVOTAL” moment happened when his father Bradley passed away before his first birthday. He spent his childhood growing up in a household deeply affected by drug use and he worked hard to pull himself up out of this. This has included not only his father’s but his own addictions as well. He also has worked hard to find his own voice musically, fronting the band LAW and now Jakob’s Castle. Jakob’s Castle’s new album, Enter The Castle, was just released in April 2024 and he will be touring with them this year as well. Both endeavors have produced good music, but nothing stylistically like Sublime. The younger Nowell’s style and voice are a little more edgy and rock based than his father’s but there are still many striking similarities. Enough similarities that when the idea of Jakob fronting the band was seriously discussed, veteran members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh were on board. These two have been part of Jakob Nowell’s life throughout and are considered to be uncles, so it was not a surprise that they said yes. It was just a surprise that after 28 years the idea had reached the surface with merit.

The idea for this rebirth came on a chance happening, but in a way that only this story could support. Jakob was in Petaluma, CA in 2023 and decided to stop by The Phoenix Theater for personal and obvious reasons. Once inside, he came across a support group that was meeting and many of the attendees were Sublime fans. The conversation was an inspiration to Jakob and the idea of possibly fronting his father’s band grew wings and stuck with him. The rest is history in the making as this tour moves forward and we see where it leads Sublime down the road. I, for one, would love to see some old songs finished, with Jakob at the helm, or all new content created. Either option sounds Sublime to me.

On April 27th, the road took Sublime to the stage at the Brightside Festival in Orlando, FL and their first headline gig in 28 years. The exact number of years old that Jakob Nowell is currently, the age Bradley was when he died and also a number in numerology that is considered a master number. It is considered a symbol of personal development and growth. Driving forces that seem to be behind the younger Nowell and his busy music schedule this year. The symmetry is intriguing, to say the least, and adds to the mystique of the band’s return.

Sublime came on stage to a crowd that was already energized and ready to rock, but once the lights came up the frenzy intensified. Nowell even calling for fans to form a pit early on.

For the record, the crowd and staff at Brightside were great. This was a crowd that was hungry for nostalgic music but packed with nostalgic comradery. Fans and staff were quick to attend to those in need and they were quick to get right back to rocking, once those in need were tended to. Pits formed, stage dives happened and everyone left their worries at the gate.

Sublime kicked things off with Garden Grove, and an instant plume of smoke filled the night air right on time. Many fans found themselves in awe of the similarities between Jakob and his father, and rightly so. It was is if Orlando had unleashed it’s newest, greatest attraction and discovered what Ponce De Leon could not, The Fountain of Youth. Jakob is by no means a cookie-cutter version of his father musically, and it serves the band much better than if he was attempting to karaoke his way through the night. He is a true musician with his own style that meshes well with the Sublime catalog. While the majority of his vocals are spot on to the originals, Jakob has a little more edge to his voice and a style that has been influenced by modern artists as well. You might also notice his upstrokes on the reggae guitar parts. A variant from Bradley’s playing visually, but nobody is here to nitpick playing styles. Jakobs voice gives great bite to many of the songs and injects a youthfulness that Sublime possibly would not still have if they had been touring these last 28 years. Instead the crowd was treated to seeing a front man that clearly is like a kid on Christmas and enjoying every new memory along the way. All the while, having the ever-solid instrumentals of Eric Wilson, Bud Gaugh, and Trey Pangborn rocking behind him. At the end of The Ballad of Johnny Butt, Nowell smiled to the crowd and said

“…You guys are all so f**king cool…we love you. We don’t know how much time we have, but we know we have right here, right now so let’s make the f**king most of it!!!”

Jakob is clearly enjoying the ride and the new car smell following Sublime around the country, almost as much as some fans were enjoying the skunky cloud that loomed over the night. This kept the energy high and while Two Joints was not on the setlist, they were definitely a big part of the show. Eric Wilson led the way with his bowl placed on his keyboard throughout the performance.

Things continued after Johnny Butt with Doin’ Time and it was at this point that the band really looked like they were settling into a comfort groove. The jitters were out and the fun was on. Jakob’s theatrics were on display throughout songs like Doin’ Time and Date Rape and really made each song so much fun. You could see the joy in performing these songs and the lyrics with the crowd, with an energy that you normally only see in new, younger bands. This is the best of both worlds. Fresh energy with a well-known, extensive catalog of great songs. You don’t get to enjoy that combination in music very often. Sublime’s full 15 song setlist was:

Garden Grove, The Ballad of Johnny Butt, Doin Time, Burritos, Pawn Shop, STP, Romeo, Date Rape, Badfish, Jailhouse, What I got, Wrong Way, Greatest-Hits, Same In The End, Santeria.

Something really kicked in for Nowell on Same In The End and he rocked the song like no other for the night. I don’t know if he is more familiar with that song or if he was just firing on all cylinders by that point, but the change was noticeable and the performance was amazing! The band finished the night with Santeria and followed it up with Wilson ripping off his bass strings and throwing them into the crowd. Not to be outdone, Bud Gaugh tossed his drum heads into the crowd like frisbees and made the night of many lucky fans. A pivotal moment in their fandom and a big memory in the history of this great band from the LBC.

Saturday night’s performance was a pivotal moment in the history of Sublime, and one of the first chapters in of the rest of their story. It was also a pivotal moment in the life of Jakob Nowell. One that was set in motion when his father passed in 1996, but earned through his hard work and determination. While I don’t think that Bradley Nowell followed Bon Scott’s “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.” Mantra, I do think that his addiction haunted him in a way that he knew he would not be around for the long haul. This is evident in the lyrics he wrote for Pool Shark and Badfish:

“One day I’m gonna lose the war.”, from Pool Shark and

“Ain’t got no quarrels with God, ain’t got no time to grow old.”, from Badfish.

My brother and best friend lived and died by the good time / long time mantra, and the reason for my pivotal moment that brought me to Florida. The happy memories of him have followed me and are quite frequently accompanied by my personal Sublime soundtrack. Their music has now truly transcended time and generations; and brings so much happiness and joy that I hope Jakob, Eric and Bud keep this thing going. The world is a better place with Sublime’s music in it so let’s all hope that Sublime’s live performances are here for the long haul.

Like I said, I don’t practice Santeria and I don’t have a crystal ball; but if I had a million dollars, I’d spend it all… on Sublime tickets!

Sublime will be touring throughout North America during the Summer and Fall of 2024.

Photo Credit Alexander Sink @A.G. Sink Photography

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