Each year Fest brings with it warm weather (in my attempt to escape Upstate NY winter chills just a bit longer), catch-up’s with friends I haven’t seen in far too long, and a plethora of bands all converging on the little college town of Gainesville, FL.
I made my travel plan a bit different this year, opting for a cheap bus to NYC and then a cheap flight to Jacksonville. The main difference being I took the plunge and just rented a car for the week because, honestly, I need a little convenience here and there.
I got into Jacksonville about midnight and picked up the car. I figured I’d drive maybe halfway and just find a rest stop to nap at, but none were to be found. So I just cruised into G’ville, found an empty parking lot, and passed out in the back seat of the car. I’ve done worse.
DAY 1 (10.31.13)
I couldn’t sleep past 7:30 AM. I don’t know why. Maybe it was being cramped in the back seat of a car, who knows. Either way, I came across a small place I hadn’t seen since my first trip down to Fest a few years ago and was happy to see it was still in business. The Coffee Culture café that looks like it was a Wawa at some point, or something. A bit off the beaten path of regular Fest go-ers I assure you, it’s worth a stop.
So at the registration spot my plan of attack, in order to trump the regs, was as follows: record/merch shop first, check in second. It proved to be a good idea because not long after the place was packed tighter than crusties at a 40 oz. giveaway free-for-all. Viruses thrive in environments like this. Human factory farm conditions. I did my biz and then lit out.
Somewhere along the way I made an annual stop to Karma Cream for their delicious vegan reuben and figured ‘it’s hot out, I’ll get some ice cream too’. Wrong move. As much as I vouch for that place, and they have an awesome selection of flavors of vegan ice cream, I did not realize until it was too late that all their ice creams are made with coconut. I thought my mouth was going to tear itself off my face and commit seppuku.
All was redeemed though, when I found Arrows Aim Records. In all my years I don’t think I have ever found a record store where the quality of the inventory was in perfect unison with the size of the store. Just take all my money now. So many good finds, even more that I did not get. A used section beyond compare. I want to take that entire store home and live in it. Forever.
So finally, some bands started playing. I thought I’d start off by giving Old Lines a whirl. They played at this little hole in the wall place called Mars and they played loud, thick, and rough. Motorhead butting skulls with From Ashes Rise maybe? Followed up with Citizen over at the Wooly. There’s a big trend of hardcore dudes exploring 90s alt rock. It works about half the time. They were alright, but didn’t captivate me the way good 90’s throwback bands can. I did, however, have a wonderful conversation with one of the members afterwards about their Talking Heads rip off shirt. Next, was down the street for Diamond Youth. More 90s rock-styled stuff from this very hyped band. But to me it sounded like Foo Fighters. Not sure if I can hang.
So back to Mars to try and see Jowls. Denied. Venue cap is like 6 people at this place.
So I got next door to see Lemuria. The problem with seeing Lemuria in the Florida Theater, though, is that it’s in the Florida Theater. Too much smoking, too packed, security barrier, and all that nonsense. They were excellent as always though. I cannot wait to see them again in a smaller setting playing all those new jams. They even break out “Ozzy” still and that warms the cockles of the heart.
The rest of the night was spent over in the Wooly and I think it’s probably the best venue here. It’s quite spacious, but also intimate and inviting. White Lung kicked it off with their brand of fast and spooky punk. They were quite good, but it got a little redundant after awhile when all the songs have quick, noodly riffs and erratic howls.
Obits followed it up with a perfect sound. They might not be too exciting to watch, but seeing as how lean and crisp they pull off their songs is mesmerizing in and of itself. Still no “Military Madness”, or “I Can’t Lose” though. Oh well.
Torche closed out the night with probably the best mix of material I’ve seen them play, even breaking out four songs from their first LP. I’ve seen them get more wild in the past, but by the end of their set the crowd just looked like a sea of human flesh. I got on top of the crowd for “In Return” and then retreated back to watch the madness.
DAY 2 (11.1.13)
There weren’t too many bands I wanted to see today so I took it easy… except for when I thought I nearly threw my back out losing my mind for FuckingInvincible. And they were the first band of the day for me. That band is so damn good it hurts… literally.
I wanted to see this band Greys play, but they canceled and Jowls took their place. I guess fate rewards me as I missed them yesterday. They seemed way more chaotic and heavy than their 10” sounds. I was digging it. Burly noise rock.
I spent most of the day seeing where it would take me. And it randomly took me to Reggae Shack with a chance encounter with a few friends I hadn’t seen in forever. I have skipped Reggae Shack every year out of fear that their spicy food would kill me. I ended up having a huge meal that was wonderful, and great conversation that was rewarding. Afterwards I checked out another record store (Hear Again) and scored a Mission Of Burma double LP for $10. Unheard of.
Restorations played a mystery band set at the Atlantic and they broke out a few of their lesser-known songs, especially the long-winded trippy ones. And it was great that they can just go into all that so effortlessly and still sound crushing. I’m very much looking forward to their official show on Saturday.
Caught some of Sleepytime Trio (who were definitely not as wild as the last time I saw them), before heading over to 1982 where many upstate and Philly people convened to watch Cayetana. It’s great to see friends get on stage and just go for it, even if they’re just figuring out how to be a band because they’re having too much fun while doing it. It was a little sloppy, but they had better songs than I had imagined, that had nice plaintive melodies behind them. It was certainly an unexpected surprise.
I spent too much time fucking around, like getting legit vegan soft serve (no coconut!) and couldn’t get in to see Ceremony. It sounded like it got pretty wild though.
Just as I got back to the hotel it started pouring rain, so I just sat on the balcony and watched it come down. A couple from Houston came over and we talked shit for a couple hours while it downpoured. Different worlds, but fun nonetheless.
INTERLUDE I- ROOT BEER REVIEWS
So throughout the weekend I frequented an establishment on the corner of Main and University (also right next to the Atlantic and across from the Wooly) called Pop-A-Top. It was basically a really awesome bodega that had vegan soft serve, all manner of wacky snacks, and a plethora of root beers from all over. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a big soda guy… except for root beer. I love root beer. So, seeing their wide ranging selection made me feel obliged to partake in what they had to offer. I started with Reading Draft, hailing from Reading, PA… which isn’t too terribly far away from me. I should visit there. This is good root beer. It had a nice sharp taste with a good amount of bite and a nice sweet aftertaste. The next day I tried Captain Eli’s. It still had a good taste, but a little on the sweet side, and not much bite. It looked promising, but was overall just OK. A day later I took in a Sioux City Sarsaparilla, a favorite that I don’t get to have all that often. You can’t go wrong with a Sioux City. My man Rory joined in the root beer tasting and got himself a Frosties. Now, I’d never heard of this variety, but man, did he pick a winner. It had a strong bite and, as the name implied, cold and crisp. I should have gotten one of my own.
DAY 3 (11.2.13)
Happy birthday to me. And what a day to get old indeed. Who can say they saw the Descendents film (“Filmage”), The Night Marchers, Braid, Paint It Black, J. Robbins, Soul Control, Restorations, and Creepoid all on the same day? Well, I did and it was the best show ever… even if it took place at different venues.
“Filmage” was a good, relaxing way to start the day. I’ve never been a Descendents fanatic, but I appreciate them and even saw them once about 15 years ago. So the film was a great way to learn their history, as well as all the humor, tragedy, and silliness that went along with it. It seemed more about the story of Bill Stevenson, and his life’s journey seems to have been epic and profound. It was a great window into the lives of people that I had previously only known surface details about.
NoSir was the first band I actually watched today though and they did a great job showcasing loud and grungy hardcore. So much so that I bought up whatever recorded material they had to offer.
And from there I knew I was going to spend the next several hours too busy to eat so I loaded up on Flacos Tacos. Seriously, you can’t beat $2 tempeh tacos. You just can’t. So I got four and ate happily while others looked on, clearly disgusted at my gluttony. Suck it, twerps.
The next four hours were spent in the decrepit smoke-hole known as the Florida Theater. Sure, you get a pretty good view no matter where you’re standing, but the sound can be rough and the indoor smoking makes me want to vomit through my eyes. For every person who lit up next to me I was hoping to return the favor by barfing in their mouth. This is, by the way, no sort of straightedge revenge rant, it’s just common courtesy. Smoke outside, herbs. You’re gross.
So anyway, I saw Boy Sets Fire (by accident) for the first time in over ten years. I wanted to avoid them because their music has not aged well. It’s full-on modern radio butt rock. I’ll give them this though- their singer still has golden pipes. I don’t particular care for the way he sings, but he does it really well.
So anyway, I saw Braid for the first time in 10 years (on purpose) and they still have boundless energy and sound excellent. I was rusty on a lot of their songs, but I guarantee they were all good. A lot of old stuff, some new stuff too.
Fuck yeah, Night Marchers came on next. Thin crowd. Those not in attendance lose. Turn in your Fest pass, game over. Speedo’s in-between song banter is unparalleld in quick-witted, off-color hilarity. The music’s not bad either. RFTC minus the horns? Hot Snakes minus Rick Fork? I’d say that kind of sums it up. They played almost all of “Allez, Allez”, which is one of the best records to have come out this year (or was it last year?).
Paint It Black was on the opposite end of the spectrum of awesome. Or, should I say, if Night Marchers were one kind of awesome than PIB was another kind. That sounds more polite. Insane pitting, wild dudes. Dan Yemin is in control, uncrushable. I think he cried tears of stone during “Little Fists”. Go ahead, call him on it. He will stare through you, Rollins style. No fucking around. All serious and all fun, but it’s like you just went to class in a demilitarized zone.
OK, so Dillinger Four. I have been at shows they played and always missed them. So I made it my business to watch some of their set. Good stuff. Unfortunately, when you’ve already seen 10,000 other bands bite their style before seeing the originators of said style it doesn’t quite feel the same.
Now it was time for my annual viewing of a Soul Control set. They played so damn loud, but they played really great and had tons of energy. The newer stuff I still haven’t heard was awesome. Rory puked. They covered “Breed” and I think I might have killed at least three people.
Next I wandered down to Boca Fiesta to see a band called Pile. I’ve heard a number of people tell me I have to hear this band. They said I’d like it. They were right. But I can’t even describe them properly without sounding like an idiot. Imagine the vocal cadence of Neutral Milk Hotel and Tom Waits colliding with weird post-hardcore song structures and riffs, and a strong dose of slacker indie rock. See? I’m an idiot. Just listen to the band. They’re really good.
I raced back to the Wooly to see Restorations for a second time, this being their official show. They were one of the best damn bands all weekend. They have so much passion and energy, and the three hundred-plus people all losing their shit to their music made it all that much better. They so have their own thing happening and are owning the fuck out of it, spitting it back out, and people freak out over it. I know I do. Re-evaluate your life and have it changed by how good these dudes are.
After that life-affirming event I rushed back over to Boca to see what I could catch of Creepoid. This is basically the only conflict I have all weekend- see Creepoid pull off their wild psych-rock/hardcore mix, or see J. Robbins kill me with basically anything he does? I opt for both- half a set from each performer. Creepoid played three or four new songs in a row that were all psychedelic chaos. Beautifully violent. I’m way looking forward to this new record they have coming out. And then I ran back to see what I could of J. Robbins, who was playing to a surprisingly sparse room. Don’t most of these people realize he came up with a bunch of the sounds and music that half these bands bite? Shameful. He was in the midst of a Burning Airlines song when I came in and it sounded like a full band, even though it was just him, a second guitarist also playing a Rhodes, and a cellist. He broke out “Static” and I almost cried. Then he busts into a fucking Lungfish song. LUNGFISH. How I have waited for some band to cover a Lungfish song (because I know I’ll never actually get to see them). “Love Is Love”. Goddamn. Other people even knew it! Did I just go to fantasy land where the world has good taste in music? He closed with “Savory”, of course. Why wouldn’t he? Would stage diving during an acoustic set be improper audience etiquette? All I knew was that was the great ending to an awesome birthday.
INTERLUDE II- ADVENTURE TIME
Just wanted to give a quick shout out to all the people who did Adventure Time costumes during Halloween (and, might I add, did them well). From the fantastic Finns to the fine Fionnas, one stellar Lumpy Space Princess, and a totally acceptable Lemongrab (in fact, probably one of the best put together costumes in the history of costumes ever) I applaud all of you for having great taste in excellent cartoon awesomeness.
DAY 4 (11.3.13)
I had nothing much to do most of the day so I took advantage of having a car and went outside of town for a bit. First, checked out a swamp/forest trail that emptied out into a prairie. Before that exit I saw spiders the size of my fist suspended in-between trees. They weren’t tarantulas. These made tarantulas look like fuzzy teddy bears. These were lethal attack killing machines. The apache helicopter of spiders. T-1000 model.
After that hike I actually saw a map and noticed that if I wanted to see alligators I was on the wrong end of the park and had to go back towards the city. I drove back, got a little lost, and then came across a public park, where I walked about a mile, went off onto another trail, through a bog of some sort, and then saw a gaggle of alligators chilling about a foot away from me. Risky death scenario. I’m human meat to them and it’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ they will decide to take me for food.
By the middle of the day I was ready to actually see some bands. Caught the last bit of a one-man drum/electronic thing called NAH. While that’s a great name for a band, it sort of also summed up my attitude towards what I was experiencing.
Ex-Breathers followed up. I wanted to see them based on the Fest booklet write-up. Yeah, that’s cheesy, but I’m glad I did. They may have been the best new(ish) band I saw all weekend. They were chaotic in the best possible way, showing technical prowess and not freaking out just for the sake of it. It’s hard to nail down what they were doing, but after some follow up listening I’m thinking they have a sort of off-the-wall technical fury like Keelhaul being overtaken by the hectic post-hardcore wailing of bands like 1.6 Band and Die 116. Sure, obscure references, but that’s what I got. Deal with it and listen to them if you know what’s good for you. They had an agenda, executed it with flair and still lost their marbles while playing it all perfectly. Extremely impressed.
DrugChurch followed, except that they didn’t because they had to drive home for an emergency. That was the biggest let down all weekend. So bummed. So I decided to eat, but couldn’t because of sadness, and getting distracted by looking at records. Depression leads to buying things I guess and before I knew it I was going to be late to see Slingshot Dakota. And if their positivity couldn’t cheer me up than I may as well go back to the gators and shove my head into their gaping maws. So, of course, Slingshot starts and they always sound so big for a band with two people and as they’re playing something sounded familiar and I couldn’t quite place it… wait, are they playing a fucking Title Fight song? That’s ballsy. Nevertheless, they may be just keyboards and drums but they play the shit out of them, and have enough sincerity to re-brand this entire fest as ‘hug your neighbor fest’. Good or bad, no judgment.
Finally, food. Reggae Shack one more time for the win in my stomach. I am a convert. And after walking off that giant meal and spending most of the evening in the company of friends, randomly poking my head in to see a few bands here and there it was time to see the raging party animals in Ramming Speed tear up the Atlantic. I have not seen this band in a few years and they have gotten so incredibly good it’s stupid. There were laser lights, a fog machine, dual solos out the ass, and an alcoholism that somehow makes them all play tighter. Their existence can be summed up in the following between-song banter offered by their frontman: “When a bunch of psychopaths blow up the world with nuclear weapons we will headbang our way to freedom!” Yup.
I accidently wandered into a Lucero show while looking for wherever Knapsack were playing. Good lord. Never have I seen a band that looked more like they belonged in an episode of Duck Dynasty than these Winn Dixie-fed hillbillies. If you are a trucker, chew tobacco, and enjoy wrasslin’ you probably like Lucero. I had an epiphany that you could throw a couple of Disrupt t-shirts on these guys, take a photo, and a casual observer might mistake them for Crowbar. It’s all relative, man.
So the night (and Fest) was finished up with some of each set from Knapsack (once I found where they were playing) and All. Both bands sounded/played excellent, but I think I enjoyed Knapsack more. I watched a bit of All more out of curiosity than anything. But after enough smoke inhalation I had to call it a night.
Yes, this town has thoroughly entertained me all weekend, from the foolish drunk bro’s getting tossed out on their ass one after another during All, to the weirdoes committing to wearing some goofy costume all weekend, to the endless parade of dreamy punk girls that exist in some fantasy world where they all have crazy bright dyed hair and upper leg tattoos (side note: upper leg tattoos are the new swallows on hips… calling it) and buy cool records all day, and, of course, all the kind people I met and the general sense of camaraderie amongst total strangers.
Picked up, last minute, a couple other people to take back to Jax with me in the AM. In turn, I missed my flight by about two minutes, mostly because TSA had one dude working the entire line. Yeah, it’s Monday morning jarheads, people fly places then. I thought these dick doors had budgets the size of Wyoming? Bring a couple more people into work!
I nearly crossed the line into the ‘no fly list’, but kept my cool and sat in the life-sucking vortex of the Jacksonville airport for an additional six hours until I got on a stand-by flight. From JFK I caught the subway to the Port Authority. From the PA I got a Greyhound that left the city at 10:30 PM. My wife picked me up at 3 in the morning, I went to bed, and then got up and went to stupid work. The end.