Like its 12 predecessors, Fest 13 offered something new. The growing festival has made a mark in the DIY punk community in its layout, booking, and overall feel and, while it has a certain brand and stylistic focus, the 350+ band event is also able to shapeshift annually, sprouting new venues and trying out new things. The biggest change in 2014 was the addition of Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville, an enormous open air outdoor space that gave a new dynamic to a festival that often sees patrons stumbling blindly of out dingy bars and into the 3pm Florida sunshine to catch a new set in an equally dark location across the street. This time, the event was to be a showcase for the weather—even if that weather took an unexpected Arctic front that saw temps in the 40s.
But it’s not really about Gainesville. It’s not about the size of the venue. It’s about the music, man. In annual Scene Point Blank tradition, the effort of Fest coverage is to talk highlights and big moments, not some bulletpoint rundown of the weekend’s activities. (Hint: It involves bearded punk rock, PBR, and maybe a tequila somewhere in the middle.)
Here are some words about what went down. Missing: many more words, a few memories, and probably a few more bands I caught pieces of.
Dailylisting: Mixtapes, Copyrights, Not Half Bad, Young and Heartless, Too Many Daves, The Tim Version, Tiltwheel, Dead Bars, Shallow Cuts, Delay
The Fest. You can’t see ‘em all. There are days to go to bed early, bands to skip in favor of a hot, sit-down meal, and there are just those pesky schedule conflicts where you have to choose one band over another.
Highlights from Friday included catching Texas’ Not Half Bad who, despite the repetition that they hadn’t practiced, delivered an enjoyable set that got things going early at Loosey’s, which has quickly become a favorite venue since they retooled a few years ago.
Every year I catch The Tim Version’s set. Why? Because, a) they’re great and, b) Fest needs it’s traditions. Whether you know it or not, The Tim Version are one of few bands to play Fest for 13 consecutive years. This year they built the set largely around the soon-to-be released Ordinary Gentleman, with sing-a-longs and mic-grabs from the audience and random people on stage throughout. The set was early enough in the evening where it was still coherent and tight (enough), but loose enough that the true Fest mayhem was starting to reign. Two bands later, Dead Bars played and knocked out a set that had me buying up their vinyl, including a 7” fittingly on No Idea Records. It was gruff at times and forceful throughout, delivering a punk rock punch and introducing me to another new group.
Dailylisting: Rational Anthem, The Arrivals, Worriers, Caves, Arms Aloft, Jetty Boys, Paul Collins Beat, Radon, Descendents, Dan Padilla, Treasure Fleet, Underground Railroad to Candyland
Saturday is the heavy-hitter. Antics start around 12-1pm and run until closing time. It’s a day of endurance and, eventually, headliners.
One of the highlights was the first band I caught, Sarasota, FL’s Rational Anthem. I’d seen them in pieces before, playing at D4th of July in Minneapolis and on compilations records over the years, but they defied expectations. Where I remembered a pretty good band, they were instead great. It’s catchy pop-structured punk, but with energetic sing-alongs and emphatic emotion. It doesn’t reinvent, but it brings a nice new feel to a familiar style that’s right up my alley.
Later, the UK’s Caves showed their growing popularity at the indoor Palomino. This venue is a pool hall where the bands play in the corner, sans stage. It’s usually reserved for smaller, start-up acts but Caves drew a full room and a lot of craned necks trying to see them. While such a setting can lack in sound, the band ripped through a serious set and it sounded great up close where it was packed and sweaty, but also in back by the bar and pool tables, where fans could only listen and take it in. Caves are earnest and powerful—whether you can make eye contact with them up front or across a room.
Descendents were the big draw of Fest 13. Sure, Hot Water Music closed down the biggest venue on Sunday in their hometown, but this was proclaimed as the Descendents’ first Florida show in 30 years. How can that be beat? They’re also a likely reason for the addition of Bo Diddley Plaza, with a capacity that gave most everyone at Fest a chance to see the band. It was a new dynamic for the festival and it’s too bad others had to play in the same timeslot elsewhere, but I’m sure most are thankful they got a chance to see the semi-active legends play. While Descendents aren’t very busy with recording or touring, they definitely weren’t phoning it in at Bo Diddley Plaza. All four members’ raged with manic energy that defies age, with leader Milo charging back and forth on stage and staring wildly into the large nighttime crowd. Coming in, I wasn’t a huge fan of the band. I like them at their best, but I found a lot of their catalog to be so-so. This set delivered the best of the best, all the while igniting my interest in the back catalog further. It was on-point and tight throughout, with the band clearly having fun instead of just cashing in, and that’s seems to be where The Fest shines and some other festivals flounder. While I don’t expect to see the Descendents again soon, I’ll definitely make the effort should opportunity arise.
Dailylisting: Zach Reinert, Direct Effect, John-Michael Bond, Goodrich Gevaart, Power Violence, RVIVR, Iron Chic, Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band, Made Ready, The Marked Men, Lipstick Homicide (acoustic), Counterpunch, Nothing in the Dark, Hard Girls, Hot Water Music, Little Dave Merriman, Davey Tilt (acoustic), The Walking Targets, Empty Lungs
There were really two bands of the 350ish on Fest 13’s list that stood out when looking ahead at the schedule: Descendents and Marked Men. Marked Men don’t play often either—yes, I’ve seen them play at Fest before (Fest 6 or 7, I believe)—but now I knew the full catalog and what to expect. And it was great. Playing tight as ever, the Denton, TX 4-piece showed why they’ve grown so popular. While I enjoy all the new projects, the bringing together of all four members creates some truly special sounds with a nice variety between songwriters. While they aren’t all that active on stage, mostly concentrating on their instruments, it’s a boppy set of earworms that continue to burrow long after the 50 minute set. With Mark Ryan, Jeff Burke, and company playing through much of their material on an unseasonably cold, yet sunny, Florida afternoon, it brought smiles across the crowd and energy to an audience that was clearly in need of some adrenaline.
Come evening, I ventured to High Dive—once one of Fest’s larger venues and now something of an afterthought behind Five Star Pizza—for California’s Hard Girls. Unfamiliar with their work, but knowing the Classics of Love connection, it was a packed house and an enthusiastic performance. Hard Girls slow it down from time to time, playing more of a heart-on-sleeve midtempo punk that is charged with positive energy. They played several times over the long weekend and it was great to catch the final one—and hopefully catch another next year.
Closing out the night (because I was running on fumes and couldn’t go ‘til bartime), I hit Loosey’s for my final few bands. It was the UK showcase, of sorts, and that drew a feisty international crowd that had far more energy than the past few crowds as attendees ran on stage and even formed a human pyramid in the pit area to celebrate their solidarity in the southeast United States. Walking Targets were the second to last band I saw at Fest 13, and they stand among my top new finds with a pop-based singalong punk style build around a lead singer and strong guitar leads. The early and late highlights both came from unknowns at Loosey’s, with a lot of great more familiar work in between. At Fest the headliners definitely pull weight, but the true story comes in the discoveries in those packed makeshift venues and the connection felt in those PBR soaked out-of-the way stops.
Timeshares, Somos, Signals Midwest, Mixtapes, Copyrights, Not Half Bad, Young and Heartless, Too Many Daves, The Tim Version, Tiltwheel, Dead Bars, Shallow Cuts, Delay, Rational Anthem, The Arrivals, Worriers, Caves, Arms Aloft, Jetty Boys, Paul Collins Beat, Radon, Descendents, Dan Padilla, Treasure Fleet, Underground Railroad to Candyland, Zach Reinert, Direct Effect, John-Michael Bond, Goodrich Gevaart, Power Violence, RVIVR, Iron Chic, Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band, Made Ready, The Marked Men, Lipstick Homicide (acoustic), Counterpunch, Nothing in the Dark, Hard Girls, Hot Water Music, Little Dave Merriman, Davey Tilt (acoustic), The Walking Targets, Empty Lungs
(Editor's note: A special thank you to Whiskey & Co, who were originally to assist with a piece of our coverage that did not materialize. Sorry I missed your set, but I was wiped by midnight on Sunday.)