Feature / Music
The Fest 18: Making FESTory

Words: Loren • October 28, 2019

The Fest 18: Making FESTory
The Fest 18: Making FESTory

The Fest 18 begins this Friday, running November 1-3. Which means that the punk party has overtaken Gainesville 18 times, with literally hundreds of bands playing across dozens of venues in town each year. Some are regular music venues, while others are pop-ups that only do it for a few days each year to accommodate The Fest’s walk-the-town format.

Naturally, many venues have come and gone over those 18 years. As we prep for another pilgrimage, we wanted to take a look back at some fond memories of those not-forgotten venues.

We wanted to do something different as we build up excitement for 2019, so SPB collaborated with Jenarchy or NOMORE, one of the few bands to play each and every year since 2001. NOMORE will play at Boca Fiesta on Saturday (3:50pm), as well as a free acoustic show for SmartPunk’s PreFest Porch Party on Thursday at High Dive.

Jenarchy has been an active member of the Gainesville music community, playing guitar and singing with NOMORE, and also playing in Radon, War On Women, and Greenhorn. She previously ran 1982 (discussed in this piece), and will also perform stand-up comedy at The Fest 18 on Saturday and Sunday. NOMORE will release a new album, See You Next Earth on SmartPunk Records in 2020.

The Venue marquee


My band NOMORE has played every year of Fest so far.  This is probably because we’ve been a band for a long time, we all live in Gainesville and have been involved in various venues and bands and FESTivities every year.  Maybe it’s also because Gainesville didn’t have a ton of other local active female-fronted (or queer/non-binary/trans) political punk bands for too many of those years? It probably didn’t hurt that I practically begged Tony every year to include us. It has grown to be such an epic event with an overwhelming amount of bands wanting to play every year -- so it’s actually fucking amazing to have played every Fest. At times we joked that we were in the running with only a couple of other bands to be awarded an imaginary trophy. We sort of just hopped the train on year one and held on tight.

The Fest 1 - Eddie C's

We barely made it onto the Fest. Tony had just moved to town and brought his festival organizing experience with him. “The Fest” had already filled it’ band line-up at a few of the main punk/underground venues in town and was set to kick off what would become the legacy we know today. I guess NOMORE and some other bands had asked to play and since there weren’t any spots left open for us, Tony endeavored to find an additional venue to accommodate more of us bands. The “usual” venues were already hosting Fest shows, so they commandeered a long time “biker bar” a few miles down the block from downtown known as Eddie C’s. After The Fest broke it in, local punk/ska shows became part of their more regular rotation at Eddie C’s in the years to come. And there we happily played our first FEST showcase with a mixed line-up of friends and bands who would become friends. (We still have the T-shirt from year 1.) The line-up was a lot of No Idea bands and bands from the area along with bands like Cadillac Blindside, Pretty Girls Make Graves, My Hotel Year, The Eyeliners, Har Mar Superstar, Ann Beretta, The Pietasters. 

After The Fest, Tony threw an appreciation party with a few remaining kegs of beer for all of the bands and volunteers (that were still in town that week) and we all fit at a house/porch. Oh yeah, did I mention, it was in May instead of October! Can you imagine Fest in the Florida summer?  

The Fest 3 – The Side Bar

ADD/C at The Side Bar


At The Fest 3 they made a live DVD.  It was quite an endeavor at that time and a valuable souvenir since I don’t think everyone’s phone was a camera back in 2004. (Did they even have cell phones back then?! Had Bill Gates even invented the internet yet?) The DVD had 60 bands at 3 of the venues, filmed during the festival. I remember this because NOMORE got to be one of the bands on the DVD since we played at The Side Bar (one of the venues where they were filming bands. Also,  thanks to the people holding the cameras for not taking a smoke break during our set; one of which I believe was Buddy from Less Than Jake(These were the kind of people you might find volunteering at Fes.t back in the day.) It took two technically inclined camera operators and one sound person to capture each venue…and then I guess it took about two years to edit and release because...2004 problems! (I remember I broke a string and picked up a guitar mid-song. think maybe you can see that on the video?).  

The Fest - 1982 (year unknown)

Street Eaters at 1982

One of our whole band’s favorite Fest sets was the year we played that 1982 Bar all ages matinee showcase with long time friends AAA & the Unlovables. (That’s the day I fell in love with the Unlovables.)  It was packed out with great energy, a good mix of bands, and sweet friends singing along. This is the usual for Fest sets, but that year it was kind of unexpected because it was early in the day and a lot of other shows underway. But 1982 Bar was also one of the only (maybe the only) all ages venues back in that year so as soon as the show started it was packed with the enthusiasm of the youth gone wild and friends of the bands. (Cory thinks this was the same show we played with AAA, can any alert readers fact check this?) 

Fest 10 - Gator Dawgs

I remember there was a Fest where we played an acoustic set in the Gator Dawgs bathroom for the (Paper+Plastick/Fest) “bathroom sessions” video series. Our previous record, Thought Crimes was released on Paper+Plastick, so we were one of the bands in the video series and we literally played in the infamous Gator Dogs (RIP) bathroom. I remember the sound of our drummer Danny playing drums on the porcelain toilet. And that we couldn’t stop cracking up laughing while we were all crammed in there. The vibe was so intimate and connected and the sound was actually fucking tight and massive -- great acoustics in that bathroom. (And great vegan dogs. R.I.P. Gator Dawgs.)

Memories, Movements & More

  • As it has grown, The Fest has had to commandeer some additional venues to accommodate all of the Fest shows and fans in one weekend. It needed sizeable live venues with full production capabilities. This continued to influence growth in Gainesville’s music venues and more of an open-ness to the punk and live music scene. This also led us to play Fest sets at unusual venues like Side Bar (which was better known for raves and dance nights st the time) and even at “Fat Tuesday’s” (also called Rum Runners). Playing inside a Fat Tuesday’s would have been wild enough, but it was also Halloween so the whole band was wearing full '80s hair metal costumes. Heather Tabor (from Bullets To Broadway/Teen Idols) was on bass and backing vocals at the time. I think it was that same year (or the next?) that Heather played our Fest set pregnant -- never missed a show. 

Schedule at 1982
  • The Fest brings a lot of extra people to Gainesville that weekend. 
  • Around 2009, wild house parties hosting un-sanctioned Fest shows were discouraged. Our numbers had grown so large that a downtown neighborhood, street, or house couldn't support the potential attendees. But I think that also led to Fest collaborating with and utilizing more venues and free shows to accommodate -- venues like The Midnight porch, Big Lou’s, Lunchbox porch in plaza, or the Civic Media Center courtyard. 
  • Our friend Randy remembers the year AJJ played at Civic Media Center and it was so packed that not everyone could get in, so they also played a 2nd set across the street at the neighborhood park.

The Brokedowns at 1982

  • In the last five years especially, The Fest has played impetus to band reunions and rare performances like Descendents, Braid, Planes Mistaken For Stars, Hum, Piebald (and this year Bullets To Broadway). And that means technically bands like mine have gotten to play (on the same Fest and sometimes the same stages) with some of our favorite bands. :-) The last few years, with the addition of Downtown Plaza Stage, The Fest has been able to host even bigger shows with more audience space making the event more accessible to greater Gville.  
  • I remember the year they had to start including a line on the Fest band form asking with which other bands you share members. NOMORE, like a lot of local bands, shared members with multiple bands playing Fest. I’m personally performing 7x this year and always find it pretty impressive that they schedule so many overlapping performers and load in times without more conflicts. Or( at least before they had apps for that sort of thing.)

This year, NOMORE is playing Saturday at Boca Fiesta 3:50 p.m. We’ll be announcing the new album (Smartpunk Records), and a new video filmed at last Fest by Open Ended Films. 

At the time of this article there has been no comment from The Fest HQ regarding our trophy. ;-)

Scene Point Blank:

The music and the people are undoubtedly the main components of The Fest, but the city of Gainesville is a major player too. Every year, a dozen of more places become venues for a weekend, and many of businesses don't play that role the rest of the year. It adds to the DIY vibe and it keeps things low key for those who don't want to stand in a large crowd with stage barriers and security guards.

Some of these venues were only part of The Fest for a short time, some have been staples for periods of the festival's history. Jenarchy was kind enough to share her own memories with an insider Gainesville-resident point-of-view. I've picked out five more venues that left lasting memories.

The Side Bar

I only went to Side Bar at Fest 6 and Jen already noted that it wasn't a typical punk bar by a longshot. I remember it because of the lineups and the people who were there for that weekend back in 2007. I think I spent half of Fest 6 inside the room and half the people watching those sets were in other bands I adored -- many of whom I've seen in Gainesville almost every year since. It was centrally located, had a good layout, and was easy to both navigate through the crowd and also to hang out and talk with friends.

Common Grounds

I was hesitant to include this venue, as the building is still open and a big part of The Fest, but High Dive just isn't the same, even if the layout and patio feel similar. Before Bo Diddley Plaza, Florida Theatre, 8 Seconds, and The Wooly, Common Grounds was the large stage at Fest. The vibe in the back half of the room during a popular band is a little challenging, but it's hard to beat the feeling up close to the stage and the patio outside is a great place to bask in the Florida sun and recharge after catching a sweaty set.

The Lunchbox

Dave Decker at The Lunchbox

Much like I just praised the patio at Common Grounds, being outside and having some space every now and then between smoky bars and packed crowds is important. The Lunchbox is a sandwich joint and coffeeshop in the shadow of Bo Diddley Plaza. Now that Fest takes over the plaza, The Lunchbox has been absorbed in a new way, but at one time it was a place to caffienate and wait out the morning hangover to some low-key acoustic tunes from punks who were playing the stageless corner while working off those same morning pains.

The New Top Spot

In so many ways, The Woolly marks what The Fest has become. Sure, taking over the plaza downtown is huge, but building a new venue from the ground up is a real accomplishment that also benefits the community year-round. Sharing ownership with The Atlantic, those who attend each year and watched it grow from humble beginnings at Fest 11 where it was a homemade stage in the middle of a vacant building next to The Top restaurant. Now it's a professional venue with a beautiful, centralized bar that divides the merch tables from the action. There's room to move, room to mingle, room to support bands, and a place to grab a drink.

Wayward Council

It was already Fest 6 when I started attending the event, but at that point I already missed the punk record store's official involvement in the party. For a few years Wayward was still an unofficial gathering spot for checking out records, zines, vegan breakfasts, and getting a feel for what everyday Gainesville may be like. There were unofficial shows with a house party vibe and a general community-type vibe. While most of the list is focused on the idea of how Fest changes the town for a weekend, this entry somewhat does the opposite.

The Fest 18: Making FESTory
The Fest 18: Making FESTory

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