The Fest is a massive undertaking. It's 400+ bands over 3+ days. It's summer in October, as a certain band said. This year may have mostly trended around 70 degrees -- apparently cold by Florida standards, but that's still way warmer than the snowfall I see out the window at the moment in my own residence. It's hard to believe that, a week ago, I was wandering from stage-to-stage to see approximately 40 bands in a region where students are taught how to run away from alligator attacks instead of talking about ice hockey.
Stiff Little Fingers
The first time I attended The Fest, it was all about the headliners. Every year, those headliners include my favorites bands, stacked back-to-back. Through time, I've embraced the choose-your-own-adventure aspect of The Fest, hopping from small to medium to large venue and seeing favorite bands, plus new discoveries along the way.
Nobody wants to read a recap of 3-days and 40 bands (that's right, even with dedication I only saw 1/10th of the lineup), so instead we're going to focus on the moments that made Fest 18 what it was on a personal level. There were moments of transcendence where bands nearly brought us to tears; there were new discoveries; there were fun sets by old favorites. Fest is about a fine balance of community and camaraderie, but it's ultimately about the music -- those moments when you lose yourself whether you're in a dark, dank bar with a backed-up restroom or standing in Florida sunshine and singing along to the songs of our youth.
It's also The Fest where I set is all aside to see American Steel, more than once, because they are that rare band than meant so much to me at age 20...and curiously developed to mean even more to me at age 40 with different songs.
I've long debated doing a play-by-play versus a daily highlight format. In truth, The Fest is a marathon...You'll see bands from 12pm to 2am, sleep in between, and do your best to see friends and eat in between. I summarized to my wife after the fact by saying, "You make friends for life on Thursday. Then you silently hug them in the crowd the next three days." It's morning 'til night action.
This year isn't a play-by-play, it's about those moments that mean things beyond words. What music, what DIY, and what a commitment to the scene really mean.
Bands That Created A Lump In My Throat
I saw 40 bands and they were mostly all great. But as we all know as music fans, some hit above and beyond. It's where cliche comes to life. It's just so good you forget the party, you forget your friends, you just watch...and sometimes cry.
I've seen this band at multiple fests, but somewhere along the way everything clicked with Get Right. Since that record came out in 2017 it's only gotten better. It's emotional, it's driving, and it's one of the more unique band's you'll see that bleed rock'n'roll with heart of sleeve, punishing emotion.
American Steel (twice)
It's hard to believe this band hasn't released a full-length in a decade. With members spread across the world and a low-key reunion atmosphere, both the mystery set at Boca Fiesta and the bigger showcase at Bo Diddley Plaza felt like a band that's only gotten tighter with time.
I opted to see something new and to cement my spot at Boca Fiesta to see American Steel on Saturday night, which meant missing Worriers' full band set on Saturday. Fortunately, Lauren played a solo set on Sunday at Civic Media Center, a book store and community center where you can make catch a small crowd set where it's truly personal. The perfect setting for Worriers' first-person songwriting.
Really, what do I need to say. This was an hour-and-a-half of Jawbreaker live. It wasn't the setting you wouldn't seen them back in the day, but everyone in the audience sang along to a tight set that represented the bulk of their catalog. From "Boxcar" to "Kiss The Bottle" and "Want," there was so much joy to be had while the crowd sang along to every word. Reunions often come up short, but the heart that set Jawbreaker apart in its heyday remains.
Sets I Missed
Resource management is basically the sheer opposite of punk rock. But The Fest leads to hard decisions. I missed these sets this year and it hurts. I bet they were great, but when 400 bands play, you gotta do what you gotta do.
A favorite band with a favorite songwriter. But it was a venue with some limitations, a history where I've seen them lot, and a lot of competition.
What a way to begin a punk rock holiday than a pool party best-of from a quintessential punk band, in cover band form. Yes, this was a NOFX cover band. If time had allowed, it seems like the perfect way to kick things off.
Wolf-Face (Misfits cover set)
A goofy punk gimmick band covers a goofy punk gimmick band. The ironing is delicious.
A standout from Fest 17, but you gotta see new bands sometimes.
One of the best performers. Ever.
Jawbreaker on Cello
A one-time performance of a unique, complicated project with, perhaps, the only audience who will ever truly get it.
I kind of feel like this band was built for throwing empty PBR cans and crowd-surfing every-other year at The Fest. But, there were conflicts and we've been to 12 Fests. Let the newbs enjoys it.
Against Me!/Laura Jane Grace
I missed full-album plays for the second or third year in a row. This band is hard to beat, especially live. Especially in their home turf. And, damn, Laura Jane played a live set that bled outside of Civic Media Center to let those in line enjoy the intimate setting. The Fest is personal, and Against Me! delivers it every time, despite the venue limitations.
Before starting their third song, The Bronx moved off the Plaza stage and into the pit for the rest of their set.
This is what local music is about. Furthermore, Palomino is the place to see unfiltered local music at The Fest in a small venue setting that barely has a stage. The band raged, onstage and off, getting into the thick of the crowd and, quite simply, making it feel like a hometown show instead of something where, two blocks away, thousands of people have lined up and gone through bagcheck to see their favorite bands.
Mariachi El Bronx
The perfect, chill way to start a Sunday.
Spanish Love Songs
A proposal from the stage mid-set.
So much energy, so much passion. I'm looking forward to their full-length.
Maybe I was riding the post-Jawbreaker high, but they were my favorite new discovery of the weekend.
I also watched the Smartpunk Records acoustic porch party on Thursday at High Die, followed by the official log:
- Officer Bradford's Annual Swimmy Jammy Jam Pool Party
- Canadian Rifle
- Career Suicide
- Less Than Jake
- City Mouse
- Too Many Daves
- Jason Guy Smiley (Sam Cooke Cover Set)
- After the Fall
- Tsunami Bomb
- Billy Liar
- The Tim Version
- Rational Anthem
- The Bronx
- Dead Bars
- Lee Baines III + The Glory Fires
- Dollar Signs
- Bullets to Broadway
- Spanish Love Songs
- New Junk City
- American Steel
- Kid You Not
- Mariachi El Bronx
- Screaming Females
- Worriers (solo)
- American Steel
- Stiff Little Fingers
- Captain Asshole
- Sunshine State
- Timeshares (Bearable album)
- Post Teens
So in wrapping-up The Fest 18, it's an amazing event that through nearly two decades continues to grow, evolve, and stay the same. There's a place you can see Jawbreaker. There's also a place you can see 150 people go apeshit to Too Many Daves. It balances the challenges of a festival growing bigger and a festival that's built on its fans who just want a place to belong.
There is no such thing as a Fest play-by-play. You need to live it on your own and choose your own adventure.
Read about Fest history and past memories here.