If you count last year’s Pre-Fest only trip, Fest 17 marks my tenth trip to Florida for the annual event. The Fest is a monster of an event to cover. It boasts more than 400 bands in total and, including Pre-Fest in Tampa beforehand, it spans five days. Fest proper is a 3-day weekend, Friday through Sunday, and that alone is both a great experience and one that can wear a body down.
It’s a big endeavor, but Scene Point Blank was up for the challenge. Despite nine previous trips, Fest 17 was the first time I’d done both Pre-Fest and The Fest together. It was a seamless experience, thanks in part to The Fest’s charter shuttle between cities. Surprisingly, I was event ready to keep going after five days and nights of live music, witnessing at least 65 different sets.
Previous SPB Fest coverage has focused on highlights. This year I considered switching it up for a narrative, stream of conscious piece that gave each set at least a mention or sentence, but the simple fact is that it’s too expansive to do that in a way that captures the spirit. The Fest is about the music, but it’s equally about the people, the city of Gainesville, and a freewheeling air of running from venue to venue, making Gainesville your own for a short fall getaway where the freezing temperatures back home are a distant memory and the banality of cubicle life is replaced with infectious smiles, singalongs, meeting old friends and making new ones, and mountains of PBR empties.
The shortfall of the highlights format is that it downplays just how fun it is to move between venues, hitting large outdoor concerts and dark corner bars, grabbing pizza by the slice and Cuban to-go food in route. The music may drive The Fest, but the in-motion movement defines the experience more than any single venue or headliner. As usual, SPB focused on catching new bands and shows in small, intimate venues. The headliners were great and undoubtedly created lasting memories for more Fest attendees, but with all due respect to those headliners, that just isn’t going to be the focus on this piece.