The 2014 edition of the long-running punk music event known simply as Fest was held Oct 31, Nov 1st, and Nov 2nd at various venues, restaurants, bars, and public parks in Gainesville, Florida. Bands playing The Fest come from all over the globe–including quite a few from Richmond.
The 2014 edition of the long-running punk music event known simply as Fest was held Oct 31, Nov 1st, and Nov 2nd at various venues, restaurants, bars, and public parks in Gainesville, Florida. Bands playing The Fest come from all over the globe–including quite a few from Richmond. This year Fest expanded its boundaries with showcases devoted to comedy and an appearance by pro wrestling/Japanese monster movie parodists Kaiju Big Battel. It also seemed larger than ever. Around 25,000 people attended last year, and it felt like even more this year. The drive down was long, but when I rolled up to the outskirts of Gainesville and started seeing kids in black band t-shirts, I started getting excited. Traffic was surprisingly not bad, and the weather was sunny and cool.
The first stop for those attending Fest is always the Holiday Inn. There, bands, audience members, and press must register and get their Fest passes. Without a pass, admittance to shows is on a pay-by-show basis–if it’s allowed at all. Registration for those getting general passes meant waiting in a two-hour line (at 3pm). Once you obtain your pass, the way out is through the Fest Flea Market, which showcased the merchandise of many different vendors, including RVA’s Say-10 Records. At the flea market, Fest attendees can also pick up a tangible copy of The Fest schedule. Having a schedule ready before Fest is paramount, as multiple bands you wanna see might play at the same times at various far-apart venues. Generally, all of the venues were located in a central area in downtown, roughly ten blocks from registration at the Holiday Inn.
After registering, I headed to my first show–Typesetter at Loosey’s. The crowd for this set was pretty packed. It was, however, not the most insane venue. Loosey’s is a dark bar that also serves food, and it is relatively a chill place compared to other venues in town. Typesetter was melodic enough, but with grating, throaty vocals, almost in the same vein as Against Me. However, the last two songs this band played slowed down, and were more reminiscent of Jawbreaker. The singer of this band had long, glorious hair. The drums were super loud, which was also the case for many of the sets during The Fest. Ma Jolie followed Typesetter, and moved around on the stage a lot. Their music was less harsh around the edges, and had a nostalgic feel to it.
With Fest starting on Halloween, some people were in costume, but overall I felt more like I was back in Richmond. Lots of black, band t-shirts, tattoos, piercings, and PBRs. In fact, I ran into a girl who was dressed up as a can of PBR! There was a huge difference in the amount of noise in town on Halloween night, compared to the other Fest days. The weather Friday night was the warmest of the weekend, it was a holiday, and people were generally less tired and hungover than they’d be later. They were ready to kick Fest off right.
Gainesville’s own Post Teens at 8 Seconds were next for me. 8 Seconds is an interesting venue. It is incredibly large, and I believe it is normally some kind of redneck bar. Post Teens are always fun to watch. Singer Tony Marquez stage dove during their set, and it was awesome. The venue was super packed, and I could see a lot of locals who came out to watch them. This show really kickstarted Fest for me, seeing everyone wile out. This set also marked the beginning of me running around like a crazy woman to catch as many sets as humanly possible.
I had to run from Post Teens to catch The Hotelier at High Dive. The line was already super long. Once inside, there was a crowded house of cross-armed boppers, fully engaged in the music. In comparison to their studio stuff, this band was actually pretty professional. It was apparent that they practice a lot. The crowd for this set was a little younger than the previous few crowds, with a larger variation of music-goers, probably due to the versatile nature of The Hotelier’s sound. While some of Hotelier’s songs sound like new-age emo, some are closer to hardcore or screamo.
As the bands grew larger, the crowd got more insane. Paint It Black played next at 8 Seconds. It was incredibly crowded, hot, and sweaty. There was a distinct essence of dude sweat in the venue atmosphere. I ran into Adam from Say-10 and some members of Close Talker at this show. Fest is really great for reunions, but they never last long before everyone’s off to the next set! Paint It Black’s music was fast-paced, and the vocals reminded me of Bad Religion. I only got to see part of their set before it was time to head over to see the Menzingers at Bo Diddley Plaza. For The Fest, the whole plaza was fenced off, but you could still hear the music from the outside. This venue offered benches, which was a nice break from all the running around, carrying a heavy purse full of spare clothes, notebooks, water bottles, and such. It was getting colder fast, into the 30s and 40s that night.
The Menzingers were probably the best set of the Fest thus far because the venue was huge and the PA was insanely loud–it all added to the larger than life aspect of the entire Fest. Opening with “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore”, the Menzingers got the whole crowd singing along. It was obvious a lot of people who came to Fest found common ground in this band. This band really brings me back to older pop punk days and bands like NOFX.
I could still hear The Menzingers from behind me down the street as I ran to catch Foxing at High Dive. (Later, a friend said she could hear them all the way from 16th Ave, 17 blocks away!) Foxing had more of a chill, spacey vibe than other bands. They reminded me of The Snowy Owls. Their song “Medic” was a nice reprieve from the blasting I’d been getting. They made me nostalgic for bands like Thursday. Their music is almost sweet, the kind you could hold your date and rock gently to. Parts of their guitar playing were astoundingly clean, the vocals a tad grungy. They played a new song that almost sounded like Radiohead, but with more tribal-sounding drums, very slowed-down.
Next up was Vacation at The Wooly. This set was kinda weird, honestly. I expected them to play garage music, but their sound was actually poppy, lacking the lo-fi quality present in their online repertoire.Though hailing from the Midwest, the band more closely represented a West Coast style of dress. The lead vocalist almost resembled Kurt Cobain in a red and white striped shirt, with long hair, a straw hat, and oversized earrings. The crowd at this show was a bit smaller, probably due to how many people were still at the Menzingers show.
Before Vacation’s set ended, I was on my way to see Timeshares at Rockey’s Dueling Piano Bar. One great aspect of Fest is the way it spotlights venues that some people otherwise wouldn’t frequent. I lived in Gainesville for three years, and I definitely had never been inside this bar. Rockey’s and The Wooly are both a little ritzy for my blood. Timeshares are from New York, and I know I have seen them play with some Richmond bands over the years. The Spraynard dudes were in the audience for them; seeing all these guys get together, you kind of expect things to get a little goofy. There was definitely a sound clip Timeshares played before one of their songs that said “shit burger.”
It started to get super freezing at this point, and going from venue to venue became increasingly unpleasant. I battled the cold and made my way over to Strike Anywhere at 8 Seconds. At this point it was 11:45, and everyone was visibly drunk. The energy was insane. I was pretty far back, but I still got caught up in the mosh pit. The venue was becoming equally as gnarly as the audience members, as evidenced by the soaking wet staircase, complete with rusty metal protrusions that served as a lackluster “railing.” I parkoured up the steps to try and get a good photo. The dude in front of me almost got thrown off the staircase edge by some kids who weren’t paying attention. Upstairs it was still incredibly loud. The music was fast-paced, the drums were crazy, and their vocals were in a repetitive, chanting style for the most part. They were very emphatic for such a melodic band, almost in the style of anarcho/political bands.
After Strike Anywhere, I stuck around for Touche Amore. I wanted to see Astpai back at Loosey’s, but I just didn’t have the energy left in me. Plus it was freezing out, and I figured the venue would reach capacity for the next band. There was a super long line out there already. Touche Amore took a long time to start. I hadn’t seen them before, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. They all came out wearing simplistic, Charlie Brown-esque ghost costumes, and looked like they were having a really fun time. It was an awesome experience. I love this band’s entire genre [which I’m gonna call “emotionally-driven hardcore” since Laura didn’t specify–ed]; the sound of it gives me “the feels.” Later, my friend joked about how he didn’t go to this set because if you were single, you might get a little bummed out about not having a significant other to share it with (and he was right, I did). The crowd was super involved and into the band. The end of Touche Amore was the end of Fest Friday for me. You could tell I was really exhausted at this point; my notes were just ramblings and Lenny Bruce quotes in the margins. I went home and slept A LOT.
Saturday morning was rough. It was still freezing cold outside, and my feet hurt incredibly bad. There is something to be said here about alcohol, and it’s apparent ability in my previous Fest years to make me forget about my aches and pains. I’m off the booze these days, and Saturday morning I could feel the difference. Regardless, armed with a humongous coffee, I was ready for Fest day two.
Luckily, the first set of the day wasn’t too abrasive or in-your-face. It was Kittyhawk! The four piece from Chicago played the inside stage at Palomino. Despite a couple of sparsely shaven guys in the audience toting Bloody Marys to stave off their hangovers, I couldn’t help but notice how CLEAN everyone at this set looked. Who knows, maybe they all wanted to show off for Kittyhawk guitarist Erik Czaja (also of Pet Symmetry/Dowsing). He adds a cutesy vibe to any set he does. Kittyhawk’s music is upbeat and fun, and at some points almost sounded like carousel music. The band introduced their new album Hello Again, which came out about two weeks ago. One new song, “Vaudeville,” really spoke to me. The lyrics included the line: “It’s like my own skin is a costume and I don’t know what’s inside.” I think everyone feels like that once in a while, especially if you’re reading books about meditation.
Saturday was supposed to be the busiest day of the three, and it definitely was. Crowd wise, it was a bustling, erratic mess–but still super fun! Speaking of fun, after Kittyhawk, there was a Weezer cover set by You Blew It! at High Dive (one of several cover sets played by various bands over the weekend, but the only one I saw). Although I was skeptical about a cover set, I have to admit singing along to Weezer songs like “Suzanne”, “Tired of Sex”, “Hash Pipe”, and “Pork and Beans” in a room full of people was great. It was an awesome feeling especially because Weezer are usually one of those “alone in your room” bands. Over a week later, some of these tracks are still stuck in my head.
A street over from High Dive, Spraynard was playing at 8 Seconds. I’ve loved Spraynard for a long time, and for a while I thought I would never see them play. I finally saw them at Strange Matter on their first reunion tour. It was kind of a family affair, and perhaps that is why they dedicated one of their songs to Richmond. It probably also has to do with their ties to Sundials, Asian Man Records, and the fact that they’re playing the Say-10 Anniversary show in Richmond this month. During their Fest set, Spraynard singer/guitarist Pat Graham regaled the audience with a story about how they had spent the morning playing kickball against The Max Levine Ensemble. The band then played some songs off of Funtitled. When they played “Spooky, Scary,” I definitely yelled the “retirement home in Florida” line super loud. This band has been super respectful of the crowd both times I have seen them. At one point in the set, when a guy got on top of one of the PA speakers, Spraynard stopped playing, and Graham said, “Get off of there, dude, because it’d hurt people.” They also asked people to stop crowd surfing, “because those up front looked unhappy.” Graham gave an inspiring speech encouraging everyone in the crowd, especially women, to start bands of their own; stating that to make music, one simply needs to be ambitious and passionate about it. All in all, a super fun(titled) set.
Back at Palomino, Caves were playing. They are from the UK, and are fronted by female singer Lou Hanman, who apparently also played bass for RVIVR during Fest. This set was really crowded for the size of the venue. They played a lot of songs off of their album Betterment, which is worth checking out if you haven’t already. Candy Hearts was another female-fronted band I saw. They played at the Wooly, and were generally upbeat and poppy. The lead singer did not play an instrument, but she danced around a lot. Before “The Dream’s Not Dead,” the singer explained she had “lost a good friend during Fest, and realized that life is better without assholes.” Part of me suspected that this person may have been a former lover, but that’s merely my own speculation.
Richmond’s favorite sons Hold Tight! were up next at Rockey’s. They played a really fun set, including their super-fast EP Call The Zoo in its entirety. They had a lot of energy as always, and got the many RVA kids in attendance singing along. I’ve written about Hold Tight! before, so I’m assuming you all know what’s up, but it’s always good to see those dudes.
After this was the Descendents set at Bo Diddley Plaza. This set was incredible, like stepping into a time machine. I actually hadn’t heard some of the songs they played since Punk-O-Rama compilation albums were a thing. The crowd was a sea of black hoodies, especially ones with Milo on them, and I was behind most of them. They played “I’m the One” and “I’m Not a Loser,” among others. The song “I’m the One” really resonated with me. Out of all the new songs I became aware of through Fest, that one was my most favorite. You could tell most of the kids in the audience were diehard fans, especially the guy next to me. He knew all of the lyrics, and got super pumped and red in the face for each song. Honestly, a big part of my Descendents experience was that kid. It always makes show experiences better when you’re there with someone who’s passionate about the bands.
After hanging out with some friends from St Cloud, I ran to catch Sundials at High Dive. They also played on Sunday at Palomino as one of the “mystery bands” Fest places intermittently on the schedule. It was an honor for them to be picked as a mystery band, but I enjoyed the High Dive set more than the Palamino one. High Dive is a dark bar, and it wasn’t super crowded, whereas Palomino was packed. You couldn’t see anything, and the set just seemed more rushed at that venue. The High Dive set was a more intimate one. They were selling their new album, entitled Kick, at both shows, which they’d just received that day.
After Sundials, I waited in the freezing cold to see Tim Barry. The Wooly was at capacity, but I hoped to get in when some people left. After about forty minutes, it became obvious to me that I was going to miss the whole set, which was quite a letdown, and the only time that happened during the entire Fest. I know some people who were new to Fest were stuck in similar situations, especially when The Melvins played. While in line, though, I did meet an interesting pair of boys from Canada. There were quite a few international travelers at Fest, some even from France.
The last band I saw Saturday was The Underground Railroad to Candyland outside at the Backyard at Boca Fiesta. The Backyard was always one of my favorite bars when I was living in Gainesville. They have postpunk dance nights occasionally, and they also serve up some exotic food, like gator. URtC sounded like a 1960’s spin on today’s indie music. The crowd was definitely different than shows I had been to that day. Mostly a lot more colorful in dress. From the get go, balloons were floating around the crowd. I think the night ended because the cold got the best of everyone. Even the band asked if they really needed to soundcheck, because it was too cold.
Sunday warmed up a little–the sun was out. Really, it was a beautiful day, but the whole thing was kind of bittersweet. The last day of Fest is always sad because you have to say goodbye to your friends from out of town, and go back to, as Spraynard said, your “normal, boring life.” This was compounded by the fact I had to run errands before the shows that day. As I was racing back downtown to catch RVIVR, out my car window I heard their song “Wrong Way/One Way” emanating from the plaza. I was so bummed! That is definitely my favorite song by them. At least I heard the song from my car, I guess.
After that, I ran to get coffee, ran into an old friend, and booked it to see Dikembe at 8 Seconds. Dikembe is another hometown Gainesville band. I had been listening to them for years, but it was the first time I saw them play. They played a mix of their whole discography–some of their earliest songs and some brand new songs. To be honest, something about this set made me feel like I was at a Brand New show. During the set, one of the band members asked “for everyone to name the best bands they had seen at Fest.” A lot of people said Donovan Wolfington–apparently the New Orleans band’s set at High Dive on Saturday was a big hit.
Marked Men played at Bo Diddley. They were one of the bands I really wanted to see; I had fond memories of my coworkers at the Boca Fiesta Diner (which is sadly no longer there), most of whom were in Post Teens, playing them during work shifts. Marked Men opened up with “A Little Time,” a super fast-paced fun song with elements of older punk music. The speed of the set woke me from the lull of Dikembe’s slower-paced set. Although the plaza was still fairly full of people, by Sunday crowds had died down significantly, and it was apparent that a lot of people had already started heading home.
I wanted to stay at Bo Diddley longer to watch 7 Seconds, but it was already getting dark because of the time change that happened that day, and it was still super cold. So I made my way over to see Close Talker play at Palomino. There were a good amount of people in attendance. Some of the songs Close Talker played must have been new, because I hadn’t heard them before. It was great to see all of the guys play, and even more great to see how long Steven’s hair has gotten! Towards the end of the set, I felt like I was in the “Mop Water” video, because they were playing the song, and I’m pretty sure they had the same outfits on. It was eerie. In any case, the riff/lead that Cory did really makes that song for me; it was so on point.
Later on, I caught Circle Takes the Square at The Wooly. I’d never heard this band before, but they were recommended by a friend. I was pleasantly surprised–they were fucking awesome! Basically, the band is screamo/hardcore, something you would enjoy if you also like the band Ghost Cat. The female vocalist looked a lot like Jodie Foster, but way gnarlier. Her vocals sounded like something out of the movie The Thing. Some of their songs started out with samples, which I noticed is a popular thing to do in this genre. In the crowd, a guy was walking around nonchalantly in a penguin costume. (Halloween was over two days ago, dude!) Let it be said, there were also a lot of serious-faced boys in this crowd. I didn’t take many notes, though, because I was too busy enjoying myself.
At this point I had to make a choice between Into It Over It at 8 Seconds or sticking around The Wooly and catching The Melvins. I was curious about The Melvins but had not heard them before, and I love IIOI, so I chose them. I was kind of nerding out to see them, really. I was surprised there weren’t more people there, but undoubtedly they were all in line for The Melvins. After about five songs, singer Evan Thomas Weiss was one sweaty dude. His glasses were all fogged up. But I love glasses, and I love IIOI. So glad I saw them.
The last two sets I saw at Fest were Rapturous Grief at Atlantic, and Dowsing at Boca Fiesta. I didn’t catch much of Rapturous Grief, unfortunately, because I ran into an ex-boyfriend [uh oh… -ed], but I had seen them at Strange Matter, and they were as heavy as ever. So good! Dowsing was awesome, but it was definitely sad to see the last set of Fest. I thought it was funny that the green sweaters of all the guys in the band matched the color scheme of the back wall of the venue. Dowsing are definitely worth checking out. They have been one of my new favorites, and made me wanna check out the scene in the Midwest. Super nice guys, too.
At the end of Fest, I chugged my tea, said goodbye to all my Richmond friends, and prepared for the long drive home. While I was disappointed to miss a few bands–Pet Symmetry, Lifetime–overall, Fest went amazingly. I saw some old friends from both of my homes (Gainesville and Richmond), saw some awesome bands play, and have some great stories. Fest rejuvenated my love for music and the scene, and made me excited for future Fests to come.