In a matter of punk-rock moments, we became a family. We stumbled, screamed, and sang our way through the streets of Gainesville for three nights, with the promise of PBR and punk in the life-changing experience that is The Fest.
This was my third Fest, and the most incredible yet. It’s an addiction, a lifestyle fleshed out by gut-wrenching performances and long-distance friendships bolstered by social media. In the span of just a few days, I reconnected with friends from around the block and overseas, bonded by the passion for over 300 bands.
Driving into Gainesville for Fest always feels like coming home to family. The moment that we spilled out of the car and into Lot 10, it was the warm reunion I had been craving since driving away the year before. Clambering toward the stage, I catapulted into the best weekend of my entire year.
Driving into Gainesville for Fest always feels like coming home to family.
In an attempt to put words to this experience, I’ll place the experience closest to my heart here.
It was a party from the start. We slung back a few Rolling Rock, courtesy of my friend, Micah, and stumbled to Lot 10 with wristbands brandished. Bring on the party.
Opening our night was mewithoutYou, the enchantingly spiritual act. Instead of relying on new release Pale Horses, there were heavy doses of banged, bluesy-alt energy. It’s a nice warm-intro for the Fest weekend, and we were ready.
I had 10 minutes to reach High Dive to catch Safety, a Tampa-turned-Brooklyn-ite band that boasts alt-punk energy with indie vibes. Stomping through their set, I shook hands with now-friends, the first of many I’d encounter throughout the weekend.
A Boca Fiesta margarita and reunion with SIGT family (Tyler Holland, Rebecca Weinberg, and Garrett East) left us all full of smiles and booze. It was the first time we all sat at a table together, and the banter between us was seamless. It’s like we all were meant to be friends. But back to the tunes, we rushed, after excessive nachos and tacos from Boca Fiesta, Warren place, previous drummer from Against Me!.
Back to Lot 10, I stumbled for my second dose of The Menzingers. The Scranton act boomed endless pop punk waves, cracking and dousing us all with favorites. The Menzingers have this kinetic energy that ripples through any venue, and it was only amplified in the massive Lot 10 stage. Everything from “Mexican Guitars” to “The Obituaries” ripped at our souls and set us afire for the rest of the weekend.
I made my way over Rockey’s, a Gainesville piano bar turned anarcho-punk basement for Worriers. Lauren Denitizio has this powerful, slamming presence the minute they lean into the microphone, beckoning us all to consider the words and personal anthems, wrapped in speedy guitar riffs. My heart was theirs, between Mikey Erg’s drumming and Lou Hanman’s presence in the new record Imaginary Life. I felt powerful screaming “Plans” out to every person who had stomped me down over the course of the year.
I made my way for slow-jams to pace myself for the evening at the Civic Media Center, a gorgeous collective that by day hosts a library of socially aware and historic books with a cozy coffee-shop vibe. I caught the ending of an acoustic set by Max Stern, lead singer of Cleveland’s Signals Midwest and Meridian. His ripping, energetic Midwest punk energy is softened to an acoustic presence, though the timbre in his presence never changes.
I meditated, and attempted to keep my friend Steve awake, throughout acoustic heartbreaker, Koji. His vocals are rasping, wrenching as he belts out personal anthems, which are what craft both his power and persona on stage.
I was anxious to make my way over to High Dive in time for Captain, We’re Sinking. The previous year had lines wrapped around the building to even catch smaller acts, and I wasn’t about to risk catching a favorite. Plus, Tyler and Rebecca were there and that’s persuasive enough for me.
Laura Palmer was shredding the stage upon my arrival. The Melbourne, Australia power punk act stomped through each song, smashing in energy and excitement. But I’ll admit, I was anxious for a long-awaited performance by Captain, We’re Sinking.
From the very first chord smashed by the Scranton act, hearts soared and PBRs flew. As one of top acts of the weekend, Captain, We’re Sinking delivered smashing power pop punk that suddenly transformed the drunken festivities into a choral event. Not a soul in the room wasn’t screaming along to “Montreal” or NOFX cover “Linoleum.” But sweeping the mood was “A Bitter Divorce,” joined by Fest Pineapple Prince and brilliant solo act, Jason Guy Smiley. Haunting and swoon-y, we were all enraptured by the swirling energies on stage and in the crowd.
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It took an order to Huevos Rancheros from The Jones and a round of mimosas to bring the SIGT team back to life and ready for more shows. The anticipation for break-FEST was enough motivation to whip us back to the forefronts of the crowds.
Launched back into Lot 10, I experienced one of my most anticipated acts: Bad Cop Bad Cop. The gritty pop punk band was “my dream come true,” belting out “Nightmare” and anti-domestic violence anthem “Sugarcane” that left a poignant impression. Plus, they were dressed as the Ninja Turtles and tossed out candy — now THAT’S how to Halloween. 🙂
Prawn swept into Cowboys (venue) as the rich, post-rock instrumental act matched by stomping punk. In Ybor, frontman Tony jokingly introduced the band as “Larry David and the Traveling Prawns,” but their musicianship is nothing to laugh about. From the moment “Why You Always Leave a Note” ripped into us, we were enchanted. But a magical treat happened: Conor Murphy of Foxing hopped on stage for “Scud Running” to lend a trumpet, adding that special flair that is prominent in their recorded work but is often a delicacy in a life performance.
If I were to name a favorite quality of Pet Symmetry, it may be the barking sense of humor that the band oozes. From album title, Pets Hounds, to appearing on stage covered in glam rock make-up, their style is always easy-going and amusing. Though Evan Weiss appeared more juggalo than doom rock star, the Fest-favorite offered the unforgettable performance.
I raced to High Dive to catch some of my favorite foreign band: Astpai. I’ve been watching them perform since my first Fest, and their biting hardcore meets pop punk performance never disappoints. Whether it’s “Biting Dogs Don’t Chew” or “Honest or Sentimental,” these gents are the true gems and part of my annual experience.
With the Dealer release, I excited for Foxing’s oozing indie vibes. It’s the mid-afternoon jam needed, and “The Medic” was almost a boozed healing experience. I turned to Mitch, who was jamming beside me with the biggest grin on his face. I’m always mellowed by a Foxing performance; but “Rory” was an emotional, soul-tugging slap into the reality of a heartbreak. I felt the reverberations of this performance throughout my day.
It took a little persuading for the bouncer at Durty Nelly’s to let me inside, but I fortunately walked in with the aid of a Pabst Smear member. I was there to catch Binary Heart, an up-and-coming Long Island act with the popping performance I needed after my heart was shattered just moments before. I’m addicted to new release Brighter Days, which burst through the tiny bar and revamped the space with gorgeous indie-punk vitality.
Next, I was craving fast, melodic punk, and Heartsounds was the answer. Playing from Drifter, I felt a part of my past come alive with each pop punk chord strike. My heart always soars during “A Total Separation of Self,” and their entire set gave me such pleasant vibes that I was ready to ride them for the rest of the night.
That is, until War on Women ignited the flames inside my angry, impassioned heart. They’re easily one of the most important voices in the scene and impactful with a growing audience of pop punk and hardcore fans alike. The roar burned in my chest when Shawna Potter belted “Effemimania” into the crowd, twisting and turning her stage-rage until everyone would “Say It.”
I walked away with a set list from my friend Malcolm and a guitar pick from their bassist, Sue Werner. She later wrote me on Facebook, “I want you to shred with it.” I can’t shred with a guitar (yet), but I swear my words will bite harder than any other.
Following WOW was my favorite FEST band, Signals Midwest. I’ve been following the band for the past four years, and they’ve been one of the most impactful of my life. It’s Midwest emo with punching alt-punk energy, which could only be contained by the barricades in Cowboys. With an upcoming third album release in 2016, we were teased with “West Side Summer,” a poignant adventure ballad that only teases to the band’s building momentum.
Wrenching, tearing, strengthening hit “St. Vincent Charity” wrapped my soul in a special form of mortar, reinvigorating me in the way that only this song can. It’s the reassuring ease of heartache, the familiar anthemic energy that rocks every essence of a room.
Rolling indie-bunkers The Hotelier were the champions of Cowboys Saturday night, setting spirits free from the moment “Your Deep Rest” burst through the system. The Massachusetts act pounded post-rock with a scream/whine reminiscent of classic emo. They’re easily among the best when it comes to sing-a-long and slam, especially for licking favorite “In Framing.”
[I watched part of The City on Film from under a table at Cowboys — and it had nothing to do with their performance (they were excellent), but more so because I needed to conserve what little energy I had left for Beach Slang.]
All that mattered at the end of the night was the voice of my dirty soul, Beach Slang. The Philadelphia act pouring into every crevice of Fest and punched every beating heart in the room. Balancing favorites from previous EPs and day-old new LP release, The Things We Do to Find People Like Us took Cowboys by storm, but not without an introduction as “The Beach Slangs,” garbed in Simpsons costumes (it was Halloween, afterall).
Beach Slang has produced easily the album of the year (album review here), exposing every scar and ache with unabashed passion. For one night, all souls were “Young & Alive,” passing along French kisses to American girls and embracing the hearts of friends under the wild haze of ecstasy. For one night, a dirty country bar was transformed into the bursting, noisey basement heaven.
An hour later, we were piled into a car driving to the boonies of Gainesville for the Shows I Go To Garage Show / House Party. Which was basically Safety playing the most epic Smashing Pumpkins cover set, and the world record for uncouth jokes slammed over noise-rock, also known as Space Alien, Rich Airchess.
With a full keg and other various unmentionables, we spent the transformation into Daylight Savings in a fit of giggles and wrapped in the throes of friendship in the woods. One extra hour of glitter-tossing, scream-slamming, and stumbled hilarity only ensues the best of moments for our squad. Plus there were cute greyhounds, which always makes quite the party. 🙂
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It was a groggy start. After attempts to make craft coffee in the hotel room, we settled for spicing it up at Reggae Shack. We feasted while we FESTed. After stuffing ourselves with spicy tempeh and smoothies, we were refueled and ready for the final day of Festing.
Among a list of classics are Defiance, Ohio, an acoustic anti-capitalist act famed for their cellos, standing bass, and vocal presence. This year marked their first tour in two years, and their FEST set was well-anticipated. Their folk-punk punch was warm and beloved, like a close friend visiting from far away.
The Palomino played host to one of my favorite newer acts, Alright. I stood up front to bounce along to “Mixed Signals,” and it might’ve been a deeper love I developed after seeing them in person. The three piece was organic and energetic with swooning, wrapping allure. I grabbed a hug from lead singer Sarah, a new friend with so much amazing talent that I can’t wait to watch further flourish.
Clapping, plucky folk punk seized High Dive when The Color and Sound took the stage. I caught about half of their set, but it was obvious that their sound was among the more unique at Fest. With a balanced indie stomp and pop punk bite, the Boston band shows promise as a frontrunner in sound variety.
After a few (or a dozen) sips of Fest Punch, I clambered to the front row for the first full band Meridian set. Composed of brother duo Max and Jake Stern, with Tim Carlson, Steve Gibson, Jeremy Provchy, the boost in band presence was addictive. For Fest 13, I had huddled close to the stage at the Civic Media Center for a banjo and guitar acoustic set. This year I shouted and swayed along to blasted instrumentals brought to some of my favorite acoustic jams. I’ve heard “Laila, I’m Sorry” acoustic since its early plays, and finally to hear it blasted lifted my heart knowing these guys were experiencing full success.
Confession: my heart has been aching since July 2014, when I barely missed catching State Lines because I was out of the country. One month later, the band broke up, but fortunately, frontman Jade Lilitri turned his attention to newer, indie-infused project, Oso Oso. The band stormed High Dive with explosive energy that whipped my heart with so much love for “Josephine” and “Wet Grass or Cold Cement.” Tyler later reminded me that he and Rebecca live just minutes from Long Beach, so I’m destined to catch a hometown show in my future. Thanks, guys. <3
If there were a holy experience in Fest 14, it was in the instrumentals charged Look Mexico set. Tyler, Rebecca, and I were enraptured, and even lured into sharing a swig of bottled water from frontman X. It was the punk communion experience, and we all seated ourselves in a circle as X played to an enamored crowd.
Kings of pop punk energy Spraynard blasted through Lot 10 with so much heart that all felt their silly shy-boy presence. Noted: I may have internally fan-girled when I introduced myself to drummer Pat Ware while I was buying an EP because he knew my name and about Shows I Go To! I’m still reeling.
Spraynard dipped into favorite original tracks like “Spooky, Scary” and monumental new releases off of Mable, my personal album of the year. “Buried” and “Medicine” are the songs that saved me in 2015, and hearing those emotions belted into the Gainesville crowd was cathartic.
In a hustled rush, I raced to Rockey’s to catch the last 15 minutes of Eli Whitney and the Sound Machine, who are the perfect blend of ska-vibes and pop punk. They just released EP Tiny Refuge, which shows off the musicianship and energy the band stomps. Just listen to “Madison” and feel your head immediately bang along to irresistible drum beats. Lead guitarist and friend Matan Uchen promised to trade SIGT koozies for an Eli Whitney one, and I’m proud to rock one for these guys.
The only Boys that will ever matter left me a swooning mess in the Palomino. Stepping up to the front row, courtesy of a kind guy in purple, I fell deeper in love with “E.E. Cummings Sucks So Hard” band. Every rippling riff was another thud of my heart — their command of a crowd shows promise. Give it a couple more rounds of FEST and Boys will be a contender headliner act.
Still twitter-pated over Boys, I didn’t think my heart could take much more until I made it to Modern Baseball. They’re quirky pop punk layered with thoughtful reflection, untangling the first emotions and experiences in catchy jams like “Apartment.” These are the same guys you would envision playing Cards Against Humanity with, and maybe pouring your soul out to on a late night drive. It’s their warmth and openness as musicians that carries into the crowd, making a massive Lot 10 performance feel intrinsically personal.
Then the stage lights burst colors and the ultimate FEST rager commenced. Andrew WK exploded like a cannon with tossed cans of PBR, acting as a free fountain show.
Andrew was suddenly a Viking god and the FEST was his personal Valhalla. With thrash-love for “Party ’Til You Puke” and swoon-inducing “She is Beautiful,” the entire SIGT team was enraptured by the King of Party.
A couple of drunken bros swung fists and bodies toward us, but I’m fortunate that Trevor and Mitch intervened before I could get a black eye. It helps that Mitch has witchy powers that causes the drunks to pass out before causing any further harm to crowd members. 😛
But really, who could blame the viking punks for their wild fun? The party energy was intoxicating enough, and the alcohol on-fueled even wilder, inebriated ecstasy.
The high only lasted so long. I camped outside of the Wooly to catch the final show of Chumped, a Brooklyn pop punk act that unexpectedly declared FEST to be the cap before an indefinite hiatus.
My soul ached as Anika, Dan, Doug, and Drew took shot after shot on stage, thanking friends in the scene for support. Bursting with “December is the Longest Month,” it felt like we were all urged to let Chumped go, but not without shedding our hearts and tears. Every song felt like a building climax, a further pang of pain, as the band embraced on stage and later after the set.
Coming to terms with Chumped’s end was difficult, but the warmth of their final set, the love felt from the band to the fans, made it easier to bear. Here’s a track Anika Pyle debuted post-Chumped, under the moniker Katie Ellen.
The end of Fest was one set away, and I swore I would end it with one of the most Fest voices to play; yes, it’s Evan Weiss. Mellowing out the night in an acoustic set, Evan plucked at his Into It. Over It. songs with with exposed, bursting elation.
Everything felt like it was coming full circle: Evan teased to jokes of the dinosaur-yeller from his Pre-Fest set in Ybor (who of course belted out his dino-yelp). He shared his positive memories of Festing and his happiness to play countless sets throughout Fest.
But it felt as if Evan had saved his very best for that final performance. In spite of my exhausted, hazed state, I stood once more as he belted out “Brenham, Texas,” my personal favorite.
Every ounce of passion and power in Evan’s performance boosted the crowd to soaring, elated energy. We could all walk away from Fest reinvigorated, ready to take on our lives away from our punk paradise. That is, until the line-up for Fest 15 is announced.
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