200 bands, seemingly as many beers, and only three nights. Where do I begin my recap? My stomach is still shrunken from not eating right, and I continue to drink water around the clock. It’s a week later and I’m mostly recovered, clean shaven, and my wrists no longer hold a dozen different wristbands. On a weekend that I felt I missed too many shows, some by choice, others by distraction, I still saw 35-40 bands.
I got to town earlier than the previous two years. After a lengthy wait in the airport lobby, I split cab fare with some fellow punks and hit the streets of Gainesville. 1982 was packed as always for the pre-Fest shows, but we got word of mouth that Panthro UK United 13 was playing at Boca Fiesta. The open patio was a pleasant welcome to the Florida warmth and made for a nice, unofficial start to another Fest.
When I got to the Holiday Inn, the registration line was already around the corner and to the point where locals where gawking out car windows and asking what the event was. It’s eight years in and many townspeople still haven’t realized that there’s an international punk festival in their downtown.
Once inside, the ever-expanding flea market was in full operation, as was the hotel’s makeshift bar. There was a little confusion with my press pass, but I got in the door, got my first PBR, and spent a wad of cash with the vendors. The freebies and koozies seem to increase each year and the flea market is growing to be an event in and of itself. Of course, the concurrent pool party on the roof added to the brilliance, sipping beer in 80 degree weather while mingling with other Festers is a great day in and of itself. I should also shout out National Underground, whose free vinyl boxes solved my luggage questions for the trip home. Mere hours later, the music started.
I had modest goals for Friday: to check out new bands in smaller venues. I barhopped and enjoyed myself, but nothing really stuck out too much until I hit 1982 for the back-to-back sets I’d built my evening around.
Psyched To Die
Having never seen the New Brunswick group, I was immediately reminded of the energy that an all ages venue can offer. From their first note, the crowd went crazy, with co-vocalists J Nixon and Mike Yannich hardly breathing between sweat-soaked songs. The air was so thick in the venue that the windows were fogging up and I’m surprised nobody passed out with heat stroke. Even so, the band’s energy kept everybody comfortable and got my adrenaline flowing for the night.
Right after Psyched to Die, I didn’t have time to cool off. Instead, Ben Crew (In Defence) gave a vocal welcome to this Elgin, Illinois band who gave it their all for 10 minutes before they had to take a breather and chat with the crowd. Always entertaining, they filled their set with a mixture of crowd interaction, botched audience requests, and high-energy singalong rawk. If you haven’t seen these guys yet, you’re missing out.
After emptying my stomach, I refilled it with a massive and rejuvenating bowl of pho, before another 12 hour block of shows.
At Fest 6 I was surprised how many people were into Dear Landlord: a band that, at the time, had only a couple of 7”s. 2009 brought their first full length release and, with it, even more fanfare. They hit the stage in full-on Halloween getup, dressed as coneheads, and a capacity early afternoon crowd matched their enthusiasm. Add to the equation the eighty-six degree temperature outside and extremely poor ventilation, and the scene on the floor was a humid mess. I can only imagine how hot it was onstage, as the band drenched their costumes. They played song after song of group chorus singalongs, with the audience seemingly doing more vocals than the band. Leaving to a call for an encore, they quickly changed clothes and half of them returned to the stage as the Copyrights. Dear Landlord was one of the more talked about sets of the weekend and I’ve definitely been listening to <i>Dream Homes</i> more frequently since.
I spent the majority of the day relaxing at Market Street Pub. They have an upper level with couches where numerous people dozed during the mix of Florida punk and Suburban Home alt-country that played throughout the day. It was a scattered, if unspectacular crowd for most of the day—until Tim Barry’s set at 10:10. The area surrounding the stage filled up and, despite hanging around the pub for hours, I could still only manage a spot along the edge of the floor area. Barry quickly set the tone with a spirited “Dog Bumped” before introducing himself and establishing the rapport with his crowd that really sets him apart from other musicians. He maintains an incredibly down to earth, relatable feeling that makes you feel like you know him as a man, not just as a guy on stage with a guitar. Plus, his decision to grow a scraggly beard really suits the tone of his music. Barry played a rousing set, including “Prosser’s Gabriel,” which tells the story of a Richmond slave rebellion. Despite his insistence that he’s “just a white dude in a camo hat on stage,” Barry had the attention of everybody in house and highlighted my Saturday night, making his forty minute set feel like twenty.
This year I didn’t utilize the press pass to its fullest. I’m allowed to cut lines, and the packed-all-day Common Grounds was a place where I did take advantage. Following Ninja Gun, I grabbed a slice of pizza and ran to Common Grounds for Defiance, Ohio. They are a band I’ve been intrigued about for a few years now, but never had the chance to catch live. I’m glad I made it, even if the place stunk of ten hours of drunken punks, with only barn fans to offer marginal solace from the heat. The band came out in painted theatre masks that, by set’s end, had grotesquely run over their faces as they charged through their cello and violin-tinged folk-punk. The set covered a range from all their albums, and most of their best songs, though I was disappointed that they only did a couple of their female-fronted ones. Live, they sounded similar to their records, which is always impressive for a band comprising of so many members and reinforced their appeal as regular people who make music. They were definitely having fun, with large smiles and a lot of positive energy to end the night.
The thing you quickly learn about Fest is that by Sunday everybody is exhausted: eyes are hazy, people lean on pillars and sit on curbs, and the crowds merely bop where they used to jump around, and the bands complain about long set times (even when it’s only 30 minutes). Today, the Common Grounds lineup was so solid I hardly planned to move, save for periodic trips to The Porch to check on the Packer-Viking game.
Underground Railroad to Candyland
Todd Congelliere’s bands keep getting funner. Yes, I know that’s not a word. FYP was great and Toys That Kill continue to amaze, but URTC are all about good times. For your average show, employing a hypeman may be enough, but this is Fest we’re talking about. Instead of coming on stage with a regular ol’ lineup, the band came out with two additional drummers and The Emotron on his sequencer. That’s four percussionists, and three full drum sets, for those not keeping count. To call it a spirited set is an understatement. Congelliere and Jack Blast donned costumes and Blast was pogoing for the entire set, along with two-thirds of the audience. A full venue danced and smiled along with them. I’m looking forward to their next release, as the band is definitely getting more comfortable playing together.
By this point everyone was low on energy: crowd, band, you name it. Even singer/guitarist Dave was holding off the booze until they’d played. I’ve seen the Arrivals play a dozen shows over the past few years and they continue to amaze with their consistency and intensity—even when most of the songs are a few years old. The band alternated between Dave and Isaac songs with a responsive crowd, and a great rendition of “Blood Hits the Ground,” before ending the set with a call that “to everybody who’s offered me a drink all day and I turned them down: I’ll be at the bar” before rushing off stage. I, however, stayed for the last two bands—two that, in my mind, were among the most anticipated of the weekend.
The Thumbs disbanded earlier in the decade without much fanfare. I’d caught their name on a few house shows here and there, but never got around to seeing them. I thought they were history until the Fest 8 schedule went online and their name was there. Sick Sick Birds comprises a couple ex-members and The Fest was a perfect scenario for a one-off reunion, since Sick Sick Birds was already on the bill. While Common Grounds was only at half capacity during the late Sunday show, everybody who stayed was excited as The Thumbs played with a vigor that made the reunion feel natural. They played a solid mix from their discography, including a song off the Snuffy Smile 7”, though I would have preferred a couple more songs off <i>Make America Strong</i>. Afterwards, I saw a lot of handshakes and thank yous directed their way as Tiltwheel took the stage. It might not have been the best attendance, but those who stayed were completely into it.
I may regret what I missed over the weekend, but I did see the following plus, I’m sure, a few more who have slipped my deteriorating mind:
Arms Aloft, Jonesin’, Psyched to Die, Brokedowns, Too Many Dave’s, Altercation Comedy, The Sidekicks, Gatorface, Dead Landlord, The Copyrights, The Measure [SA], Static Radio (NJ), Ringers, PEZZ, Joe McMahon, The Takers, Tim Barry, Ninja Gun, Defiance, Ohio, Drag the River, Grabass Charlestons, The Tim Version, Sick Sick Birds, Underground Railroad to Candyland, Fleshies, This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb, The Arrivals, The Thumbs, Tiltwheel
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