Live in Florida (Halloween Weekend 2015)
Ybor City, FL and Gainesville, FL
“It’s Friday night and I’m in the basement,
Screaming out my lungs with my best friends.
I hope when I die, I feel this alive. “
– Beach Slang, “American Girls and French Kisses”
Nicole Kibert is one of many photographers you see running around at Fest year after year after year. It’s weird, after a bit – you start recognizing the photographers. You know their styles, their color edits, the angles they favourite, even sometimes the lens choices they lean towards.
All by stalking their photo albums after the Fest.
(Creepy. I know.)
Kibert was one of many artists (including my very talented friend Kaitlyn Laurel McGann) who took over Anthem Tattoo this year for a Fest Art show featuring photos and artwork documenting our little punk rock scene in the 21st century. On top of capturing the performances that everyone is there to see, Kibert turns her camera onto the audience themselves for her annual “Why Do You Fest?” feature.
In it, she gets Fest attendees to write on a blank piece of paper a few things: name, hometown, how many fests they’ve been to and why they fest. It’s a fascinating look at the appeal of the festival, as it shows a direct insight to the audience’s mind better than any story or promotional item ever could.
Each year I see Kibert doing this and I want to join – but unlike most of her subjects, I’m at a loss of words for what to say. Why do I Fest? I don’t know. It’s a paralysing question due to its overwhelming nature. There’s so many reasons why I fest, why I’ve flown across the continent for the past five years, why I forgo sleep for a week straight and survive on PBR and the odd slice of Five-Star or Flacos. A month in advance I accept the fact that immune system will be shot and I’ll be sick for weeks afterwards – and I’m okay with that.
Because it’s Fest.
There’s nothing more to say.
Fest is a holiday. A pilgrimage. A reunion. An escape from reality.
It’s home three thousand miles away from home with an adopted family full of indecipherable accents – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Today Will Be Over And Done With A Sunrise
But The Way That You Feel Will Be Frozen Forever In Time
You’ll Forget Yesterday
You’ll Forget All The Fears In Your Old Life
Until The End Of Your Days
When You Remember Your Life
You Will Remember Tonight”
– Andrew WK, “You Will Remember Tonight”
Unlike every other year I’ve been, Fest 14 didn’t feature a “must-see” headliner. Conor Oberst’s Desaparecidos seemed to have been a big talking point but cancelled at the last minute due to laryngitis. But even with them, there wasn’t a Hot Water Music 20th anniversary show in their hometown, or a rare Descendents show. The Lawrence Arms weren’t there and Dillinger Four were never scheduled to play Gainesville in Gainesville.
There wasn’t a single band that every person and their dog was excited for; and while that made it difficult to hype it to my non-punk friends – the lack of the so-called headliner didn’t hinder this year’s festivities.
It was still packed – showing that, unlike most festivals, The Fest‘s attraction isn’t a few bands but all the bands. You’re not there to say I saw this band or that band but to simply see bands.
Without that anchor point, schedules for this year were much more fluid. Talking to countless friends and strangers alike, most people had the same mentality: this year, I’m just going to go with the flow. Hang out with friends and see what happens.
Of course, that go with the flow attitude makes for some mixups. I missed Wolf-Face at Fest (but caught their Screeching Weasel cover set in Tampa), Blacklist Royals’ acoustic and full band sets both eluded me, Rational Anthem conflicted in both cities, I straight out forgot Success were playing until it was too late, Empty Lungs couldn’t pull me away from Chumped‘s final show and running into friends on the street saw me miss the final minutes of Protagonist.
But when you can easily rattle off a handful of bands you wanted to see and missed, just imagine who you did see.
For me, it was 84 bands in five days – which isn’t too bad if I do say so myself.
There were bands I had to see, The Menzingers slayed all three sets including their hour and a half set on the first day of Fest and their acoustic show at the next day’s pineapple party hosted by Jason Guy Smiley. The Copyrights played Mutiny Pop front to back – who could say no to that? Bigwig haven’t toured in how long? So you could be damn sure I’d be at Cowboys (which will always live in my heart as 8 Seconds) when they took the stage.
Cayetana could barely contain their excitement as everyone sang their lyrics back at them and Jeff Rosenstock was, like always, hilarious and the perfect showman for his solo act and Antartigo Vespucci. Defiance, Ohio kicked off Sunday beautifully if you were unable to wake up in time for Punk Rock Trivia hosted by the venerable Russian Tim and the entire Fat Wreck showcase at Lot 10 on Saturday was a treat (including Bad Cop Bad Cop dressed up as Ninja Turtles with Splinter throwing candy into the crowd).
Then you also had Spraynard, Address, Dollyrots, So So Glows, Great Cynics, Mustard Plug, Underground Railroad To Candyland, Sidekicks, The Penske File, Jabber and countless others. It was a packed scheduled.
Amongst the big names, Pennsylvania’s Beach Slang were easily the most hotly anticipated set of the weekend. Just like Pup last year and Direct Hit the year before: they were the band you couldn’t afford to miss and if you were lucky enough to get into their set at Tequila’s or Cowboys, you left sweaty and smiling.
In fact, going by word of mouth was sometimes a good thing to do and helped with the whole “go with the flow” style of things. After all, it was how I discovered Caskitt, by far the biggest surprise of the weekend; and it was only because I heard the name thrown around so often that I finally decided to check out Personal Best.
But no matter how good those unknown discoveries are – and Ducking Punches are damn good – there’s still a certain joy in seeing those few bands you hold near and dear. Those bands where you can sing along with every word. Off With Their Heads, Nothington, Tim Barry, Captain We’re Sinking – these are bands that make Fest for me; and out of all the bands I saw and sang along to – it was, somehow, Andrew WK that stole the party.
For The Fest is a party.
A booze-filled, chaotic mess of a party full of friends and strangers alike; where you stay up till seven in the morning singing bad cover songs on an ukulele as you lay down in the Holiday Inn parking lot. There’s a spirit of randomness, excitement, and unbridled energy. It’s where society’s anchors flourish and feel at home. It’s a party that you’ll never forget, or one where you drink too much to ever remember. But the sensation lives on. The spirit, the positivity, the love for one another that you can’t find anywhere else.
And, despite being so far off from the generic Fest band sound – Andrew WK personifies that spirit and excitement. Just look at the lyrics above – I’d be hard pressed to find a better descriptor of the feeling of Fest.
It’s something you don’t forget and his set, which featured basically all of I Get Wet being played with a full band, was just one example of yet another unforgettable Fest moment.
Not only was it the best set of the weekend but possibly the best set I’ve seen all year. The energy was palpable, the crowd alive, and turning I Love New York City into I Love Florida just felt right.
“And we drank and talked shit and I was happy.
And we drank and talked shit and I was happy.
And we drank and talked shit and I was happy.”
– Chumped, “Name That Thing”
It wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies though, there were a few moments that tugged at the heartstrings; but those moments of sadness brought you back to life as well.
Amongst the joy and jubilations, a few bands were prepping to bid farewell. Banquets, who’s front man was dealing with the passing of his grandmother, played their final Fest show as part of their farewell tour and maybe it was knowing that, but their set seemed tighter and stronger than I’ve ever seen them before.
Direct Hit! created a bump in the evening’s events as a serious knee injury caused the show to be put on hold and await medical care. It was tough to see, but handled professionally by the band, venue and festival.
Throughout it all though, the most emotional set and the one that made you realized you were witnessing something special was Chumped at The Wooly. Announced the day before, whispers that this was going to be Chumped‘s final show before an indefinite hiatus floated through the festival and the line-up wrapped around the block and back by the time the show came to be.
Front woman Anika Pyle held back tears the entire evening as they told stories, thanked their friends and drank more shots than one should while on stage.
It was emotional, raw and moving and was capped off with a wedding proposal between my new Aussie friend Mikaela and Typesetter‘s Alex Palermo. Standing amongst her friends and hearing the cheer go up is yet another unforgettable memory.
While for many, an engagement in front of a room full of strangers may seem odd – it’s a family at Fest and has become a norm. On top of the Chumped proposal there was another engagement on the main stage at Masked Intruder, a full blown wedding ceremony in the middle of The Decline‘s set and another proposal that I only heard stories off. A year doesn’t go by without at least one engagement.
The bands are also family which is why The Fest is ripped for band amalgamation and incestuous crossovers. Lou Hanman played a solo Caves set after her bandmate was turned away at the border but also played alongside Worriers, Personal Best and Mikey Erg. Erg himself was also in Worriers, The Unloveables (which also had members of Jabber and Boys doing back-up vocals), Fuck Its Pronounced Shit and probably a dozen other bands. For its part, Fuck Its Pronounced Shit hosts Direct Hit!‘s Devon Kay and The Murderburger‘s Fraser Murderburger. Pears‘ Brian Pretus joined Off With Their Heads for Clear The Air, Coffee Project were joined by Kim from Whiskey & Co.; Jason Guy Smiley hopped on stage with Captain We’re Sinking and Mixtapes‘ Maura Weaver joined Masked Intruder for Heart Shape Guitar. France’s Guerilla Poubelle had Arms Aloft help them cover Taylor Swift‘s Shake It Off. Pup went the hard route with Jeff Rosenstock jumping in on a Beasties Boy cover while Mustard Plug‘s Rick Johnson did sound for numerous bands and shared the stage with Dan Potthast for the hilarious Sharkanoid set.
I can’t think of any other festival where bands float from stage to stage so easily, creating one-off performances that are impossible to find anywhere else.
It’s doable because it’s a family affair.
And that, if I think about it, may be the reason why I Fest.
I Fest to eat pizza at five in the morning with friends from New Jersey.
I Fest to bang on the back of my Omaha brother during Andrew WK.
I Fest to watch the sunrise day after day after day, and get up to do it again.
I Fest to lay in the parking lot and talk nonsense.
I Fest to power through six hours of alcohol induced vomiting and go again.
I Fest to see my all time favourite bands.
I Fest to see bands I’ve never even heard off before.
I Fest to hang with Americans, Aussies, Irish men and friends who flew in from all over Asia.
I Fest to make memories.
I Fest for so many reasons, but I’ll paraphrase the Beach Slang lyric at the top of this article:
I Fest To Feel Alive.
Maybe next year I’ll write it down for Nicole and smile for a photo.
“The punks are wired and these records feel tough.
It’s loud and wild, but I swear it feels soft.
Yeah, it’s always enough.
It’s always been enough.
There’s honesty in these neon lights.
We’re animals, drunk and alive
I swear, right now I’m alright.”
– Beach Slang,” Too Late To Die Young”
A Selection of Photos fro Nicole Kibert’s “Why I Fest” Portrait Series