Every year (almost) I go to Fest, down in Gainesville, Florida. Every year I come back with piles of records, a crappy tan, and loads of stories. This year I started off at Pre-Fest in Tampa before venturing up to Fest official. here's what happened.
Airport anxiety. Not a fear of flying, but of airports taking forever to get through, flights being delayed, connections missed. I dread the hassle. But it’s the Syracuse airport. When have I ever spent more than 15 minutes getting through TSA? Never. This was no different, yet I still barreled down the highway to get to the airport over an hour early, making sure I would not miss my flight.
Florida is the land where everyone smokes. They ought to just hand you a pack of Marlboros when you get off the plane as a welcoming gift to their state. A friend of Glenn’s picks me up. We have a nice chat. I get my registration biz sorted out and he then takes me to Glenn’s new record shop Vinyl Countdown (check it out if you’re in Tampa and enjoy records and comics… a perfect mix if you ask me). It’s a small shop, but all quality stuff. I pick myself up an old Guilt LP. We go back to Glenn’s house. I meet his riled up dogs, and then we head out to Ybor to get on with the business of watching bands.
Self Defense Family is first on my list. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen them play, but I’ve been keeping up with the musical progression. They play a bunch of stuff I don’t know and a couple from the recent LP. Pat’s ramblings are in top form. One of their guitarists plugs an old phone into her guitar and plays harmonica into it. I’m not sure the exact effect this is supposed to produce (the sound here is a little weird), but it sure looks cool.
Honestly, there are not many bands I have an interest in seeing here tonight, or at Pre-Fest for that matter. Flying to Tampa was more of a convenience than the massive headaches I endured in past years flying into Jacksonville. But regardless, I’m a stranger in a strange land, may as well check out some venues. Everyone smokes. Did I mention that already? It’s also like mid-July down here. So the humidity is thick in the air, mixed with cigars and cigarettes, and it’s fucking with my sinuses that have just adjusted to Upstate NY Fall chill. And out of nowhere I blow a nose gasket and blood starts gushing out. I have a weird thing where I tend to get nosebleeds from a combination of flying and sudden changes in climate. Either way, I must have looked like I got into a fight or something because I’m bleeding out into the street, over a garbage can and getting blood all over my hand and face. It’s a truly disgusting sight. I could have passed for a bath salts abuser who just tried to eat someone’s face. I’m certainly in the right part of the country for it to be believable. Eventually I make my way into a venue to wash up and take care of my stupid nose.
Moving on, and wandering from venue to smokey venue I catch parts of sets from Dowsing (minor Superchunk feel), Bear Trade (English No Idea style), and Astpai (pop punk with weird time changes). I stop to get a falafel sandwich at a place where the waitress is too busy with her phone to actually provide service to the customers.
And then a band I had on my short list to see- Cumulus- plays on a patio in an outdoors type venue. They’re very poppy, with bits of synth, and a fun and energetic feel.
Then it’s off to see Restorations. They play a bunch of new stuff and it sounds tight. They play so goddamned well and solid though it’s impossible to ignore them. They really have it dialed in. Stoked for those dudes.
From there I catch back up with Glenn and we bail out. Once back at his house the nose starts up again and I’m preoccupied with making the bleeding stop. I barely sleep the night. Um, this isn’t sounding like a great vacation so far, is it?
When I do wake up its about 15 minutes before my nose starts bleeding again. What the shit. Why can’t I just get FestAIDS instead? I think it would be preferable to a gross and bloody sniffer.
I barely made an agenda for today, and maybe that’s what leads to adventure of the best kind- unplanned.
I was dropped off in front of the Orpheum. Kaiju Big Battle was getting under way and I was excited to see what surely would be dumb, ridiculous entertainment. And was it ever. Consider this scenario- dudes wearing monster outfits and wrestling among cardboard cityscapes while a crazed announcer did the play-by-play through it all. Some of the monsters who partook in the madness: Dust Bunny (dusty space rabbit), Kung-Fu Chicken Noodle (dude with a can of soup for a body), and Gambler Bug (self-explanatory). It was way too much fun.
Yet once it was over I had a good six hours to kill before anything else I was interested went down. I ran into an acquaintance I barely knew from Philly and basically spent the rest of the day tagging along on their adventures, which was great because much of that day was spent exchanging opinions on music, comics, veganism, and other assorted stories… ya know, the stuff that lets you know for sure if you got a solid person in your midst or not. Congrats Kate, you pass with flying colors. Continue being rad. The days travels brought a long walk downtown to partake in the fabled Taco Bus. It was decent, but way overpriced for what I got. I ended up watching several bands I wouldn’t normally subject myself to, and they were met with about a 50/50 ratio of success- The Bennies (and Australian Andrew WK meets weirdo ska hybrid), Dear Landlord (Fat Wreck/Fest style… yeah, ‘Fest’ is now a genre of music), Smith Street Band (not my thing, but I get why people like them, very epic sing-alongs), Laura Stevenson (indie/folksy, but genuine and quite original). Sprinkled betwixt were bands that were on my list to see- the fuckin’ Night Birds (intense raging surf/hardcore rippers), Pale Angels (incredibly loud and manic Sugar-meets-Nirvana rock), PUP (you all know who they are at this point, deserved hype and so godamned wild to boot).
Crisscrossing town all day, it felt good. But by 11 PM I was beat. I gave Glenn a ring but he was going to be a bit so I decided to take a gander at the Screaming Females set. I’ve seen them a bunch, and they always impress, so I guess it couldn’t hurt to see them once more, right?
Finally I get to the crash pad and am ready to pass the fuck out, but am somehow convinced to stay up an extra hour or so while the people at the house chat up about TV and comics (yeah, it’s a running theme this weekend I guess).
DAY 3 (HALLOWEEN)
Get me to the bus. Wait in line for awhile and then jet up to Gainesville for the main event. Rolling into town so many things are racing through my head to try and accomplish all at the same time- drop off inserts for the 4-way split LP to the guy from Community Records I’ve never met, hand out the Hex Records Newsletters, eat and drink something before I pass out, meet up with my Syracuse connection so I know where I’m sleeping tonight, take a massive dump… ya know, essential stuff. Somehow a miracle appeared before me and I was able to take care of all of these things in less than two hours. Sounds like no big deal right? Wrong. Imagine trying to coordinate all this stuff in a city where 5000 punks are all congregating at the same time, all trying to take care of their own shit. Not so easy.
And yet, I am still so hungry. I need food. I also need to hit up the new Arrow’s Aim (AKA, one of the best record stores I’ve ever been in). Which need do you think I satiated first? Before you take a guess just understand that I would not do well in a post-apocalypse scenario. After dropping nearly $100 at the record store I dropped a whopping $4.25 on a couple tempeh tacos from the always amazing Flacos. Needs=met.
Time to see bands. After catching Ma Jolie I swung over to 1982 and took in Brief Lives. I’d say they were the most ass-kicking band of the day. They covered Helmet. I was overjoyed. It’s as if Swiz and Quicksand got busy in a back alley, Cutman perved in on the action and nine months later Brief Lives were birthed. Destructo-rock. Friggin’ singer of Valient Thorr is their vocalist strangely enough.
So let’s see how this whole Bo Diddley Park thing works out. Lemuria playing outdoors in a park to thousands of people. It’s the most ambitious step I think I’ve seen Fest take over the years and it actually works pretty well. Aside from the corny barriers which made things a bit impersonal it was about as good as they could make things overall. I’ll take the band in a club any day over this, but it was still alright.
After a handful of songs I shot over to 8 Seconds to see what I could of Paint It Black. How will this go? Awesome apparently because they took down the barrier! So yeah, Dan Yemin- righteous dude, insane stage dives, sing-alongs, destroy everything evil with overwhelming posi hardcore vibes and harsh riffs. You cannot deny the power of Paint It Black or the chaos that ensues.
Halloween in Gainesville- where it’s totally normal to see a posse of skateboarders all wearing Devo costumes, or a strapping 6’5” dude in a sexy Snow White get-up.
I didn’t see PUP again. I saw the line for PUP. It stretched around the block. That’s a lot of people who won’t see PUP.
I made a stupid schedule for myself crisscrossing town back and forth and by the end of the night I thought my feet were going to fall off. But one more time over to 1982 to catch a little Canadian band called Life In Vacuum who played to a tiny crowd. That’s OK. The small crowds tend to mean the band is usually pretty awesome. And they were. Loud, tight, crazy dynamics and tones, mathy, hard, interesting. Like the sassiness of These Arms Are Snakes and Monorchid, but wound tight and louder with the discipline of Shellac.
Stupid schedule attacks again- back across town, and further, to see Dave from Ex-Breathers play Superchunk songs at CMC. I caught all of 1 ½ songs due to the long walk, but at least one of them was “Hyper Enough” so that works. But now I’m hungry enough as it is (see what I did there?) and I get some snacks over at Pop-A-Top, including my first Fest root beer of the weekend (see last years write-up on that). I roll with a Bulldog brand, which ain’t too shabby, but not terribly original either. It does the trick though.
Finally, it’s over to High Dive to see Prawn. I imagined metal dudes mistakenly showing up thinking Prong is playing and having a similar reaction as the Motherboy fans had in that one episode of Arrested Development. Fuck. Prawn was probably the overall best band I saw today. They sounded incredible and everyone was singing along, as they should be, because “Kingfisher” is one of the best damn records I heard all year.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a Taco Bell and witnessed a gaggle of girls dressed as, I don’t know, either Playboy bunnies or hookers, exit the place. According to our driver Allyson, she saw them earlier in the night and one of the girls was wearing underwear where ‘you could see her vag’. How about that? Imagine the lonely cashier tasked with working the late shift on Halloween Friday night and in parades this gang of broads flashing their naughty bits and buying tacos. Maybe it brightened his day, maybe he went home a bit more sad. Who’s to say?
There’s time to kill early on so I suggest that Mike ought to go see the alligators. He’s never seen them. Heck, he’s never been to Fest. You got to see the gators at some point. But it’s like NY weather out here today (as in, it’s like 50 out today) so who knows if the gators will be out. So we seen some gators and they still look like they’re made out of rubber, but I’ll go ahead and believe they’re real.
Afterwards I convince my crew that they need to witness Kaiju, as they’re performing again today. Some of it was the same as Tampa, but they also threw in a couple other characters I hadn’t seen, like the breakdancing Silver Potato being the highlight. “He doesn’t just pop and lock”, as the man says.
I get word a little bit later that the line at the High Dive stretches back to Tallahassee so I best get over there and use my magic pass to get in before it gets tight. I knew Cayetana kinda had some hype behind them, but this seemed excessive. Nevertheless, I’m happy for them and am excited to see them again. I had to endure a Weezer cover band before Cayetana would begin. Yet when the Weezer band finished half the place emptied out like schmucks. Whatever, more room for me to watch a band that rules. And yeah, Cayetana basically played their whole album and there was still a good sized crowd there, so all was right in the world.
I convinced another crew to go get lunch at Reggae Shack. Why wouldn’t I make at least one trip there this year? My ignorance in years past made me pass them up, I have to make up for it. I ate until I felt dumb. The food was great, the service not so much. Try the Ackee Bruschetta. It looks kinda gross and sorta has the texture of eggs, but believe me, it rules.
Wandering back I figured I ought to queue up for Dangers until I saw that the line was backed up to Timbuktu. Not even my magic pass would save me on this one. I don’t think I’ll even bother. I suppose I’ll go back to Arrow’s Aim and look at more records. It’s like starring into the abyss and having it stare back at you. ‘This is your life, flipping through one record at a time’. Exit stage right I suppose.
Pace around, wander, watch, repeat.
Into Durty Nelly’s to see All Eyes West. It’s a smokey Irish pub and I feel a bit awkward here. But I have ditched out on seeing this band for like three years so I guess now’s the time to finally put up and check them out. They fuckin’ kill it too. The guitarist, who looks at least seven years my elder wraps himself around the crowd, banging and pushing, jumping, etc. Now that’s inspiring.
I jet halfway through to try and catch a bit of All People’s set at 1982. It’s definitely weird shit. They bring up a self-described drag queen during their set who self-identifies as ‘Madonnathan’ to sing a show tune with them and it’s pretty great. Varied sound, weird vibes, entertaining times.
With some more time to kill I finally get over to patronize Karma Cream and get some tea. I catch Dan Yemin and talk that dude up for awhile. Always a welcoming dude and genuine human. Walk back to Pop-A-Top and grab a root beer (an Old Red Eye, not necessarily worth writing home about).
Now I’m chilly and I’m wearing a t-shirt. And I decide to go see the Descendents outdoors. They’re exactly as I’d expect them to be. Now, I’ve never been a massive Descendents fan. I enjoy their music, but don’t celebrate it daily or anything like that. And it’s been approximately 18 years since I have seen them and not much is different, but it’ still pretty fun. So after about 20 minutes and most of the songs I’d care to hear I make a bee line to the Atlantic because I know as soon as the Descendents are done that line to get in is going to get stupid again.
It’s a good two hours before Self Defense plays and every band before them is terrible. And I don’t mean terrible musicians or anything, just music that I can’t understand for the life of me why it is popular. But I’m also old and have sore feet, so not much is awesome at this particular moment.
But finally SDF takes the stage again and play pretty much the same set as the other night, but the sound is better here and everything comes off crystal clear. Pat goes off on fighting internet shit-talkers, and Ecto Cooler. Perfect stage banter for whatever sort of band they’re supposed to be.
Creepoid closes out the night. They go off, but not quite as nuts as I’ve seen them in the past. Then again, I believe they did drive something like 18 hours straight to get here. They broke out a couple older songs that I thought they may have retired and that was a bonus. What wasn’t a bonus: nearly clocking the drunk guy behind me who kept yelling out chauvinistic bullshit during the whole set (met with a sea of rolling eyes), who decided to drunk mosh into everyone during the last song. After getting rammed a few times I took the fella by his jacket, pulled him forward, then threw him back a few yards, and told him to relax. Afterwards he got all sad sack on me and said, ‘don’t be mad at me’. Geez, what a palooka.
I had a dream this morning where I was wandering around a house singing a Black Flag song that didn’t exist. A circa-’83 Rollins look-alike followed me around singing and dancing too. The song was called “Throw You Off the Roof”. It had a pretty catchy chorus too. I hope Greg Ginn doesn’t sue my dreams. And then blobs of blood gunk started flowing out my nose in the dream and I figured that was a good time to wake up.
So, the last day of fest was fraught with concerns of what to do/who to see/ what sort of mischief to get into on this, the day of my birth. Yes, most years during Fest my birthday happens to coincide and generally watching bands is a good way to celebrate.
So I started with Direct Effect. The singer of this band will be portrayed by Javier Bardem, no doubt, should a biopic ever be made about them. Not as wild live as I thought they’d be considering their record sounds like it’s coming apart at the seams, but they were still pretty good. Afterwards I got some lunch across the street at Harvest Thyme, where the tiny dreadlocked waitress looked like a cross between Beth from Walking Dead, a cartoon, and a crust punk. That sounds terrible but I honestly mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
Back to the Atlantic and catch sets from Weak Teeth and Dredger (who were basically the only powerviolence style band I saw, and they all look like older dudes. Into it.) before Ex-Breathers got on, who I was mostly there to see.
I just have to ask though- why does no one go off for Ex-Breathers? This is some hostile/energetic music. What’s wrong with people? Is Fest getting more tame, or am I just showing up for the wrong bands? Is moshing over? Am I old? Regardless, they destroy everything with a non-stop set of thrashy riffs, Fugazi-like dynamics, and weird transitions. Non-watchers ought to be ashamed.
I dash across the street to the Wooly to catch Whores and a scant crowd is present. It soon starts filling up though as the band can probably be heard from miles away with the thickest slabs of noise rock sludge this side of a Melvins show, which, in case you didn’t know, the Melvins are playing later tonight. Fuck my camera for being dead because these dudes are basically the most photogenic band around, carelessly throwing their guitars around and kicking into their cabs, or the air, or other people, whatever. Riff after riff. Avalanche of riffs. Riffy McRifferson.
And then, back to the Atlantic (again). Fucking Invincible. Like I’m not going to watch them. They had a younger version of their usual bassist/sometimes guitarist George filling in. I mean, like an exact replica, only 20 years younger. So yeah, people moved for them, because if they didn’t I would have figured a bunch of corpses were watching. They play Infest-styled blast hardcore with plenty of meaty riffs to pulverize you. I mean, their name is Fucking Invincible, they have to live up to it.
I zip over to 8 Seconds to try and catch a bit of the Restorations set and I see them play two songs, which is fine. Both are from the so-far fantastic (and just released) “LP3”. One I know, and will probably be my favorite on the record, the other is one I’m not familiar with yet.
Back to Wooly! I’m finally going to see United Nations. I’ve missed them in years past and I want to know what they buzz is all about. I have to admit- almost every song kind of sounded the same: open with blast beat part, transition into aggressive Thursday/screamy part, repeat. It’s not a bad way to go, just an observation. Lots of snarky chit-chat between songs that sounded sort of like vocalist Geoff Rickly was trying really hard to be hateful about things. I don’t know, maybe he’s got genuine beef against the Beatles.
Time for a root beer. I go with a solid, consistent winner: a Sioux City Root Beer. It’s my birthday, I can drink whatever root beer I want. Once again, it’s chilly, I’m in a t-shirt, and I’m about to stand outside in the dark and watch Lifetime for the first time since 1996. I will not be denied. Life is weird.
I see Lifetime. It’s kind of surreal. It’s like a version of something I really dig. They’re so far away, but the songs are so good. The band is clearly not in their element (which would more likely be a basement, indoors). Instead they’re playing on a big stage in a park to about 2000 people. They still play all my favorite stuff so I’m happy.
Time to close out the night. I return to the Wooly early so I can warm up. On the downside I have to sit through Circle Takes the Square. It’s not my ting, and especially difficult to take in the incredibly complex music they’re playing when I’ve been raging through five days of bands non-stop. But my pals Nate and Sarah help me get through it as they have brought me a delicious birthday cupcake to satiate my appetite, and loads of laughs as we take pictures of people ‘bored at Fest’. At this point in the weekend it’s pretty easy to do, a lot of people are wiped out. I’m almost there.
And then I see Coliseum and all is well. They barrel through solid rock jams that are well known, one brand new song that sounds like Swiz, and even a few real old ones. Always a pleasure to see these dudes.
The Melvins take forever to begin. But they’re the Melvins, so what do they care? To kill time my cohorts and me dance up on everyone who walks by. Finally, the Melvins begin and it’s another set where I know nothing that they play. I have to admit, I really enjoy the Melvins records that I have. But that’s all of about 4 LPs out of the Grand Canyon-sized catalog they have to draw from. And basically they’re going to play whatever the fuck they feel like playing, no matter how bizarre and obscure it might be. That’s part of the ‘fuck you’ charm of this band. So after about 40 minutes I’m ready to check out.
I collect my shit, say my goodbyes to Syracuse brethren who are off to greener pastures in Orlando, and chill in front of the Hampton, where I am to crash with some other folks for the night.
While waiting for my party to arrive I see my pal Brian from Kiss Of Death exit the hotel. I call out to him and we talk for a minute. He asks what I’m doing waiting around and I explain that I’m just waiting for my group to arrive and he just hands me his hotel card. In fact, he just gives me his room. He says he’s paid up to tomorrow, but wants to get back home to Tampa tonight to sleep in his own bed and I can just have his whole room. It’s all mine. No other people. It’s got two king sized beds in it. I can’t make this up, dude just GAVE me his room. At a really expensive hotel. Now that’s birthday gift. Needless to say, after a few nights of weird sleep I finally get the best nights rest I’ve had all week. Fuck partying until the dawn, I’ll take a good rest.
In the AM I get up, get out, get food, and board the bus back to Tampa. I wait around in the airport and board my plane. I make my connection and then get back to Syracuse late at night. It’s honestly the first time in years I’ve flown and had absolutely no travel complications whatsoever.
Thanks Fest, always a blast.