How a Heroic Philadelphia Firefighter’s Punk Group Joined a Festival Lineup With Blink-182 & Paramore
On Feb. 25, Randy Ballinger fell off a two-story row home: the 38-year-old Philadelphia firefighter plummeted 25 feet after putting out a fire, and was thankfully wearing a helmet, which saved his life. Ballinger underwent heart surgery; suffered a punctured lung, broken pelvis and multiple leg fractures; and spent a total of 11 days at a trauma center.
Three months later, he will be performing on the same stage as bands like Meet Me @ The Altar, Wheatus and Surf Curse, at a festival headlined by Paramore and Blink-182.
Ballinger’s band, Jersey Calling, will be hitting the stage on Saturday (May 27) at Adjacent Music Festival, the two-day punk, pop-punk and emo summit taking place on the beach in Atlantic City, N.J. As the bassist in the punk quintet, Ballinger says that he’s looking forward to playing on the biggest stage of the band’s career after a painful few months.
“I think it’s going to be a beautiful day,” Ballinger, a father of two from Roxborough, N.J., tells Billboard over email. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done. The best part will be sharing this experience with my bandmates and our friends and family in attendance.”
Ballinger originally formed Jersey Calling with four buddies in South Jersey in 2002. After a long break beginning in 2005, the group reunited under the Jersey Calling name in 2020 to record the album Punk Rock Retirement during the pandemic. Following Ballinger’s two-story fall in February, Kenny Scheffel, a member of his fire department who had previously worked for Live Nation, passed the story on to company rep Ike Richman, who connected Ballinger with Live Nation Northeast regional president Geoff Gordon.
During a Zoom call while Ballinger was still in the hospital, Gordon offered his band an opening gig at the inaugural Adjacent Fest, which will also include performances from Bleachers, Turnstile, Japanese Breakfast, Coheed & Cambria and Jimmy Eat World, among others.
“Randy is a real hero who is inspiring with his courage,” said Gordon in a press statement. “We are grateful for the work that he and first responders do every day. Music has a unique power to bring us together and it also has an ability to heal. We are psyched to give Randy and his band some hope and an opportunity to perform in front of a large audience on the beach in Atlantic City, and in front of some of their favorite bands they adore. I’m really excited for Randy and to see Jersey Calling open the show for us, on what I’m sure will be an emotional day for all of us.”
Ballinger is still recovering from his injuries – he has been practicing his bass riffs from a wheelchair alongside the rest of Jersey Calling – but says, “Physically, I feel pretty good.” He suffered a setback due to the infection of an open fracture and has been home on antibiotics.
“I just take one day at a time while also remembering the bigger picture,” he says. “I’m very lucky to be alive and grateful to everyone involved in my recovery. They are the real heroes of this story. There are too many members in our profession, including within our PFD family, who have not been as lucky.”
Jersey Calling is currently finishing up its fourth album, but the priority this week will be savoring their opening set on Saturday at Adjacent. Ballinger’s band was partially inspired by Blink-182 at the turn of the century — now, his band shares a festival lineup with them.
“The feeling is already surreal,” he says. “I think being able to say that will give us all a sense that our music was shared with more people than we ever dreamed possible. We’re just five musicians with regular full-time jobs, making the best of a bad situation, and we’re more than happy to do so.”
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