Gainesville’s Grabass Charlestons are one of few bands to have played all nine Fests. What initially seemed like an overly ambitious idea to bring bands to their hometown has turned into an annual rite that helps everyone in the scene, from local record stores, venues, labels, and restaurants to artists on a global scale. Scene Point Blank talked with Dave Drobach, also known as Replay Dave, in effort to recap Fest 2 way back in 2003. Drobach plays bass for Grabass Charlestons and Stressface, and also works for No Idea Records.
Grabass Charlestons released a split 12” with Toys That Kill in 2010.
Scene Point Blank: Since you’ve played every Fest so far, do you remember many specifics about each year’s set or do they blur together?
Dave Drobach: I have vivid details about each one. I can give you a nearly minute-by-minute account of Fest 1 at Market Street on Saturday. (Would that be The First Fest? World War I wasn’t called that until the second one came around, it was The Great War. Does that make Fest 1 “The Great Fest,” perhaps?)
After thinking about it, I am able to get solid anchor points to memories of each time I’ve performed during a Fest weekend. After Fest 9, I have played bass at 21 official Fest performances. The trouble of blur comes with the time off stage. I can tell you about making friends with a Canadian named John in the stairway of the Holiday Inn bonding over our mutual respect for the Joe Lally solo records, but that could have been Fest 6, 7, or 8. We still keep in touch, by the way.
Scene Point Blank: What was your highlight of Fest 2?
Dave Drobach: My Fest 2 highlight was when we drank all the bottles of beer from The Side Bar. This was right after one of our many summer tours with The Tim Version out to California to meet up with Tiltwheel. This particular trip was when we met North Lincoln. The lineup for Fest 2 was Tiltwheel, Grabass Charlestons, Billy Reese Peters, The Tim Version, Dukes of Hillsborough, North Lincoln, Stressface, and The Y. The Side Bar didn’t really have punk shows. Honestly, that was my first time walking in that bar. We caught them off guard—in a good way. That crew of bands, and our fans, have a different kind of thirst. Looking back it feels kind of gross but, as it happened, it seemed like we had just put a man on Mars. The room was full of so much pride that we accomplished something almost inconceivable.
That barely beats out Stressface taking over Small Brown Bike’s timeslot. Small Brown Bike decided to break up instead of driving down to play Fest 2. By the time Tony heard, it was easier for him to have Stressface fill the stagetime. It was easily the best crowd we ever had…but still a #2 highlight for me next to the Side Bar.
Scene Point Blank: What kinds of changes did you see between Fests 1 & 2?
Dave Drobach: Between Fest 1 & 2 saw the biggest changes for me. The first time, I thought Tony was kind of over-reaching with the idea of multiple venues with overlapping schedules. I couldn’t understand how that could be a good idea. It worked surprisingly well. For Fest 2, I believed in his plan and was real excited to help the lunacy become a reality.
With Fest 1, the showcase we were a part of was so concerned about playing over our set times. We all had big respect for the clock and shared amps, had quick changeovers, etc. After the first four bands, it was actually running 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We later learned that some folks were arriving to see bands play at the scheduled time and had already missed most of their set. So, I learned then that off schedule is bad, even if it’s early.
Scene Point Blank: Fest has grown and people now come from every corner of the planet. Was this the case early on, or were the crowds closer to a “typical Gainesville crowd”?
Dave Drobach: Naturally, the early days had a bigger concentration of locals. Or at least locals, and bands / friends of locals that had played in town a bunch. The growth has been steady and solid.
Scene Point Blank: What is your role in setting up Fest and making sure it goes off without any catastrophes?
Dave Drobach: These days I have almost nothing to do with setting up the Fest. In the early days Tony used to give me a stage and let me fill it with bands I liked and had me manage the stage. These days there are so many bands clamoring to play that he doesn’t need to ask anyone to help him fill up spots. Tony is real good at getting the most out of his crew and he has a good handle of who is up to a specific task. These days the work I do for Fest is interviewing bands for the guidebook, and I run the photohunt with Matt [Sweeting, No Idea mailorder]. That’s official Fest work.
As No Idea’s Production Manager, I make sure every band that has records on No Idea, or through a label that No Idea distributes, has the records they need to have that weekend. Careful: if you actually think about all those bands, your head will hurt. Any band coming through that is anywhere close to having a new record out wants it in time to pick up before they play. It’s easily the busiest month of the year for me. Luckily that work is normally all wrapped up by Friday afternoon so, once Fest is underway, I can relax and enjoy myself. Unless it’s the Saturday No Idea yard sale, when I’m driving gear around to play, or if I get an emergency call from a band that needs something they forgot about.
Scene Point Blank: Do you think Fest has helped Gainesville bands reach a wider audience?
Dave Drobach: Absolutely. They grew mutually. Early on, it was Gainesville bands touring out to the world convincing other bands to come to our town during this magical crazy weekend.
The Fest has grown enough that it has let Grabass tour a whole lot less, yet our fans still can see us. They make it down to Gainesville instead of us driving all over. The last few years we have played, I can spot in the crowd almost all of the faces that would show up to see us play if we drove from Florida to the West Coast. No joke, scoop up everyone that would come see us on a two week tour, and they could fit in 8 Seconds…and they do. I thank them for saving us the gas. Leatherface headlined Fest 7. They packed out the largest venue, cleverly named The Venue. A week later Grabass played with Leatherface, Tiltwheel, Former Cell Mates, Anchor Arms, and Dirty Money at a bar in Jacksonville. There were more band members than concert-goers, so yeah, the Fest matters.
Scene Point Blank: Moving away from Fest and more toward Grabass, when did you switch to a four-piece and move Will out from the kit? Was this something you’d been planning or did it just come up?
Dave Drobach: We started playing with Ryan on drums and Will on guitar last year. That idea had been tossed around for a bit. Believe it or not, the first practices had two guitar players. We started as a four-piece, but that only lasted a couple practices—we never performed with two guitars.
Some of the songs kind of called for two guitars, every once in a while we would toss around the idea of adding a guitar player. It never happened. Will writes the songs on guitar, so it was easier to add a drummer than bring in a new guitar player.
Scene Point Blank: The band has released two full-lengths and a heap of splits. Do you have a preferred release format?
Dave Drobach: Each format has its good qualities. 7”s are quick, satisfying little bursts. We have recently has the fortune to have labels that have asked us to do 7”s and bands wanting to do splits that has kept with our writing schedule. 12”s are a lot more work, but are really satisfying.
Scene Point Blank: It’s been 6 years since Ask Mark Twain. When is the next full length coming?
Dave Drobach: It’s coming at its own pace. Will is constantly writing great songs. The trouble is that we are more of a casual band when it comes to learning them. To our credit, we have put out 19 songs on 7”s and splits since Ask Mark Twain. We currently have over a dozen songs and we’ll record when we have an album’s worth. I don’t want to jinx anything by giving out a date. A good chunk of our set at Fest 9 was songs for this new record.
Scene Point Blank: You just played your 60th (and final) show at Common Grounds. How big a piece of Gainesville’s scene has that venue been? [Editor’s note: Common Grounds has since re-opened under a new name.]
Dave Drobach: Common Grounds can’t be understated. It was a great place for the city. Nigel booked every show we played at Common Grounds, both locations. History will look kindly on that place.
Scene Point Blank: It was also your bachelor party, right? How did that go?
Dave Drobach: It was a blast. A great way to say goodbye to a great venue and to leave behind my bachelorhood.