LIVE IN GAINESVILLE AND YBOR CITY, FLORIDAHalloween Weekend 2014
By Bobby Gorman
To describe what The Fest is an almost futile experiment. The Fest is not something to describe or talk about; The Fest is something you experience. It’s an experience that changes you, impacts you and connects you with all those around who travel across the globe to take in the weekend’s extravaganza.
The Fest is something you do. You live. You love. Until you fest (because it has become a verb itself at this point), no one will truly be able to appreciate the beauty of those three sweaty, beer filled days in Gainesville.
I tried valiantly last year to describe it; and those memories are still vivid in my mind. This year it was David Anthony who so eloquently depicted the ironic nature of the festival for the AV Club; and I’d be hard pressed to find a better descriptor than that.
Yet, here I am: trying once again.
Fest 13 and Pre-Fest 2 took place in Gainesville and Ybor City respectively this Halloween weekend and to first explain the weekend’s bombardment of music, beer and friends I must say what it is that I missed.
Over five days of music, I missed Tim Barry and Ben Nichols. Cayeneta was a packed house and I somehow missed both Captain We’re Sinking and Candy Hearts. Food orders forced me to skip out on Jason Guy Smiley. For their part, Antarctigo Vespucci couldn’t fit in my schedule at all. I missed two out of three Pup shows and didn’t even know Erica Freas did a solo set until this very moment. Hold Tight, Kill Lincoln, Make Do And Mend, Masked Intruders, Melvins, Murderburgers, Only Crime, Arliss Nancy, The New Lows, Protagonist and Sidekicks. I wanted to see all of these bands and I missed them all, I couldn’t even catch a single song.
For most festivals, missing a dozen bands you want to see would be considered a disappointment. These misses, despite all being bands that I’d go out of my way to see, were barely a blip on my radar on the weekend that enabled me to watch 79 bands, 2 comedians, one fake alien-inspired wrestling performance and countless acoustic hotel sing-alongs that featured not only free kazoos from Feed The Scene but guests appearances from Coffee Project, Jason Guy Smiley, Dollar Sign, Everyone Everywhere, The Menzingers, and more. Yes – at The Fest a band will go from being the headliner on the main stage one night to playing acoustically in a hotel lobby at five in the morning the next.
For the second year in a row, The Fest was extended to include their sister city in Tampa – hosting Big Pre Fest in Little Ybor 2 on October 29th and 30th. With eighty bands set to play over two days in four venues, Pre Fest ran way smoother than it did before. By eliminating The Ritz as a venue, everything was more self-contained and, more importantly – much smaller. An increase in attendance (last year they sold 600 tickets, this year they sold out) saw bigger crowds eagerly devouring every band they could.
In terms of crowds, Pre Fest is the more intentional endeavour. When travelling from far flung places like New Zealand and Ireland, it makes more sense to add the extra couple of days and those who made the trek to Florida a few days earlier were treated to the occasional special set from the bands. A Wilhelm Scream did an all Twitter request and finally performed William Blake Overdrive live. Broadway Calls channelled their pop-punk childhood and spat out their Self-Titled album front to back while Astpai went the opposite direction and played their newest endeavour in its entirety.
However, no one can deny that the true highlight of the Pre Fest came with Less Than Jake and their performance of Losing Streak. Never, in all my years of punk shows, have I seen such a perfect, non-stop, skank-filled circle pit. The crowd erupted, danced and sang every line so enthusiastically that the only way to recover was to sit and wait on the sidewalk for thirty minutes afterwards. Even then, we were still in awe.
Prefest 2 was the family reunion. It eased you into it – rekindling the friendships that started years before over relaxing beers on the patio late into the evening, tortillas at Tequilas as Mikey Erg, Franz Nicolay, Chris Cresswell and Matt Woods played early afternoon acoustic sets and random pit stops at the countless pizza joints along the main drag.
It wasn’t all relaxing, as the bands made the sleepy strip come alive in the middle of the week. Many buzzed about Canadian band Pup making their Fest debut at Tequilas, tearing the stage apart and putting everything they have on the line. They’re a band that will only proceed to move forward. Hours before that, Florida’s own gimmicky Wolf-Face took to the very same stage to prove that they’re more than just a band dressed up as basketball playing werewolves. The set was comical, fierce and raucous, pushed forward even more with their cover of Jawbreaker’s Boxcar. Tequilas also saw The Underground Railroad To Candyland end Day 1 with more percussionists than you’d think could fit on a stage like that.
Pop-punk invaded the New World Brewery as Rational Anthem kicked off the entire festival followed quickly by the always loveable Lipstick Homicide; and considering they hadn’t played together in almost three years, Strike Anywhere were far from rusty down the block at the Orpheum.
The Smith Street Band, who for some reason had to cancel their performance at The Fest, still managed to make it to Ybor and created a spark in the air as the packed Crow Bar sang Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams right back at them. They ended just in time to run back and watch The Flatliners make a sweaty mess out of everybody.
It had been two days already and the real Fest had yet to even begin. After a little delay with the Pork Chop Fest Express, the weekend just kept getting better.
Now, The Fest is its own beast – a safe haven for punk fans that has grown exponentially bigger over the years. While all the residents of Gainesville head up to Jacksonville to cheer on their University of Florida Gators in some football game, music fans travel from all over to make the town their own. Hundreds of bands playing through a dozen or so venues spread over a ten block radius, The Fest is three days of non-stop music.
Just as with Pre-Fest 2, The Fest 13 sold out for the first time that I’ve experienced. So despite a bigger venue in the form of Bo Diddly Plaza (more on that later), the line-ups this year were by far the biggest I’ve seen. Longer line ups (along with longer set times) meant having to plan to your escapades a bit more, willing to forsake one band in order to guarantee entrance to another; however, it also created more opportunities to make random friends in line ups.
Two pool parties – one at the Paramount and one at the Holiday Inn – commenced the weekend’s festivities with The Interrupters starting it all at the HI. The ska-act was the sole to play original material that evening as Lee Corey Oswald dressed up as Masked Intruder to do a Weezer set (which they also performed at the after party) and members of Prawn, Foxing and Two Knights pulled out the best Rage Against The Machine hits.
By then, the warm up was over, the beer was pouring and the festival was on.
Mixtapes were the first to grace the new stage at Bo Diddly Plaza for their penultimate performance (their final show being a secret set at 1982 performing Maps front to back later in the weekend). For Fest 13, Bo Diddly Plaza replaced the Florida Theatre of Gainesville as the biggest venue in town. While The Lunchbox previously held small performances outdoors, this was the first time The Fest left the shadowy walls of a dingy punk venue for the bright sunlight. (Yes, I’m ignoring Boca Fiesta because that’s still technically walled in). This left behind some of the close nit nature of the packed shows, but it sounded great and still held host to some of the better shows of the weekend (I’m looking at you The Menzingers, The Flatliners and Dear Landlord).
The addition of the bigger venue also made it possible for two of the most anticipated performances. After last year’s successful All performance, Bill Stevenson &co dragged Milo out of his labcoat for an hour long, 25 song Descendents gig that had everyone talking while Bo Diddly also hosted Hot Water Music’s 20th anniversary hometown show. It was a set that featured numbers from every one of their albums but it was Dave Hause’s cameo for Trusty Chords that truly made the gig memorable.
Just like any show, the small, unplanned events are the moments that stand out. When Rvivr asked for a minute of silence in honour of all the police killings, it was powerful and moving to have a thousand people stand still without making a single sound (ironically, the only noise you could hear was a police siren in the distance). A wedding proposal slowed down the frenzied activity at Red City Radio at The High Dive and you couldn’t help but smile when Laura Stevenson jumped onstage to do a dance number for Fake Problem’s Songs for Teenagers. Pup’s lead vocalist gave up on playing the guitar when one of the countless stage divers unplugged the full system, he opted to climb the speakers and crowd surf with the rest of them. The Hotelier played a secret show at Loosey’s to fill in for the now cancelled Smith Street Band set; and theree was your annual spot Mikey Erg game that was almost matched by countless appearances from Direct Hit’s Devon Kay. Zack Gontard also seemed to be in every Minneapolis punk band, playing in Dear Landlord, Banner Pilot, The Copyrights and The Unlovables. Plus, there’s something undeniably satisfying to stand watching The Copyrights and see Maura Weaver from Mixtapes eagerly jumping around to your left and Red Scare’s Toby Jeg to your right singing along. These moments are small and miniscule, but they’re the important moments that leave an impression.
On Saturday, Loosey’s held the first every official pineapple party hosted by Jason Guy Smiley after last year’s successful hotel itineration. This enabled a jubilant crowd of friends to enjoy a nice non-PBR beverage in a hollowed out pineapple as Ma Jolie performed an impeccable Loved Ones cover set to kick start the day. It was a set that Dave Hause himself talked about the next night at the Hive Dive as he performed a spine-tingling set that featured as much banter as it did songs.
After hearing so much hype about Modern Baseball’s performance last year, and having finally listened to their album, there was no way I’d miss them at Fest 13. So even though pulling myself away from Lifetime was tough, the set that Modern Baseball delivered at 8 Seconds was worth it – and lived up to the hype that I’ve anticipated for the past year. Now it seems that The Bennies ,who’s sets at both Fest and Pre-Fest were discussed with such admiration, are the band I can’t wait to see next year.
Loosey’s was the go-to place for international affairs hosting a full day’s worth of non-American acts on Sunday. Starting slowly with UK’s Andrew Cream, the day ramped up with each on going set. Some sets I had planned to see – like Singapore’s The Caulfield Cult’s early evening gig – but others happened haphazardly – like running to see Fake Problems but being distracted with awesome music from Germany’s The Detectors pouring into the streets that just forced me to stop and catch a few songs.
Even though it was SOFX that technically ended my Fest 13 – a horribly bad NOFX cover band that was simultaneously entertaining and laughable – my final non-after party show will forever be Ireland’s Empty Lungs. Initially going in completely blind in order to watch a friend bang the drums, I left in awe of a new favourite skate-punk band.
That’s what happens at The Fest. You go to see your favourite bands, and they kill it like always; but in the middle of all of your must see acts, you discover your new favourites. Sometimes you’ll go to support a friend’s band, sometimes you’ll stay based on a friend’s recommendation, and sometimes you’ll just stay to have a beer with a friend. Because as much as The Fest is about music – after watching 79 sets in 5 days, I’ll attest to that – The Fest is about friends. It’s why you go year after year after year and it’s why I’ll be back next year.
As David Anthony said earlier, The Fest is the perfect music festival for people who hate music festivals. Yes, there’s something noteworthy of seeing Alkaline Trio play to 90,000 people on the Plains of Abraham for Festival D’Ete, but I’d choose watching Less Than Jake play to five hundred people and singing along with two dozen of my best friends over that any day of the week.
“There’s these people that I know that I’ve met at three AM
And we all know each others’ names even though we aren’t friends
But we talk most every night, and I know about their lives
So I keep on coming back because it makes me feel alive.”
– Maura Weaver, Mixtapes – “I’m Wearing The Device (Bridge, Water)”
Photos by Nicole Kibert – See more here.
Fest Band Count
PreFest Day 1
Prefest Day 2
Fest Day 1
Fest Day 2
Fest Day 3