Normally the weekend nearest to Halloween is known for lots of parties and dressing up in costume (or attempting to dress in as little as possible). But this year Halloween took on a whole other demeanor with The Fest 7 once again taking place in Gainesville, Florida. Scene Point Blank sent a team of two down to document the three days of drunken debauchery and raging shows. When they returned, they were battered and bruised, and obviously hung-over. After sobering up, they offered up their first-hand accounts of the antics that took place during the weekend at The Fest.
I had all kinds of clever coverage angles: I was going to count how many beers I consumed and make a photo log of all the ill-kept men's rooms I graced, but in the end, after watching thirty-five bands, walking too many miles, and eating nothing but pizza, complementary bagels, and coffee for four days, things didn't turn out as planned. Instead, as I attended my second Fest, the goal shifted to seeing new venues, discovering new bands, and accommodating a friend's sprained ankle.
I arrived on Thursday night and hit Common Grounds for some pre-Fest karaoke. The Young Livers show at 1982 was already sold out, which confirms that the Fest doesn't only capture Gainesville on Friday-Sunday. I would've gone to the warehouse show, but I couldn't justify the cabfare from downtown. Karaoke was about what you'd expect, with a chipper host and various punks singing pop songs, including spirited versions of "Breaking the Law" by Frankie Stubbs and a duet of "Living on a Prayer" that featured Brendan Kelly. My friend notably took a drunken ankle roll that lead to calling it an early night - done around 1:00 am - and a subsequent trip to the ER.
12:00 pm registration and the line was already starting to snake through the reception lobby and down the staircase. Eventually we made our way into the flea market, where glass blowers, labels, distros, books for prisoners, and tattoo artists had all set up shop. There were a number of freebies to be had, with most tables selling some sort of Fest-related koozie. The flea market is a calm startup to an otherwise crazy event, and the centralized location makes it an ideal place to pick up some new music. The distance to non-official hotels makes buying merch at the shows too inconvenient.
7:10pm - Chinese Telephones
I saw Chinese Telephones last year in a drunken mess, and then a few months later at an obscure bar in Minneapolis, but I wanted more. They were the third band to take the Common Grounds stage and things were starting to fill up. They play a Midwest style of pop-punk, more Screeching Weasel than Dillinger Four. The crowd was clearly into it, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure much of the audience was unfamiliar with the band. As the allotted thirty minutes were nearing their end, they announced: "This is our last show with Gorky the drummer. Or maybe it's our last show ever." After a brief pause, he added, "Can we end early?" Of course, this set off a new level of enthusiasm in the crowd. If, indeed, they are kaput then they will be missed.
9:20pm - Ann Beretta
When Underground Railroad to Candyland took the stage, I made the first of the weekend's tough decisions, and I ran to The Venue to watch Ann Beretta play a "final" show. Having seen them before, the sound was much better than on previous encounters, and they had a very receptive crowd. You could see the band's enthusiasm from the back of the crowd and it was clear that they were pleased to be there. There were a lot of older songs that I was more familiar with and, from the looks of things, the audience appreciated as well. I got back to Common Grounds for the last song of Underground Railroad and word of mouth tells me I missed another the weekend's highlights.
11:20pm - This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb
Last year I'd missed This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb because they were playing at a distant venue at an inconvenient time. This year they landed a nighttime slot in the second largest Fest stage. They played a bouncy set with a lot of chatter, complete with cowboy hats, mustaches, and my temporarily lost press pass. They covered the bulk of their discography, playing while facing each other and storytelling back and forth in a manner almost like a radio show. By the time they wrapped up, I was a sweaty mess, and only about six hours into official Festing. Note to self: don't wear poorly secured items into the pit.
I went back to the hotel to crash, missing a Bouncing Souls set, Paint It Black in a u-Haul, and too many house shows. General word on the streets is that the Fest house shows put the club gigs to shame. However, I'm no longer a chipper youngster and I tend to run out of gas before they even start.
Saturday saw slight closure to Thursday's karaoke ankle roll. The mileage we walked on Friday pushed my hotelmate Matt's swelling beyond his comfort zone and, in the early morning, when most Festers are snoring off their PBR we took a cab to Shands hospital, and I sat in the ER while Matt got treated for a severe sprain. Here, I met Alex, the touring drummer for Star Fucking Hipsters. SFH played a Friday house show and, shortly after their set, he fought with a fencepost and lost, tearing his eyelid. When we left, Matt was on crutches and Alex was behind the ER scenes. While I didn't make it to The Kickstand that night, I hear STF played with a stand-in.
Around noon we walked the rest of the way downtown (slow going on crutches in the Florida heat) and got some breakfast before hitting the day's early shows.
1:30pm - In Defence
I wasn't particularly motivated that early in the day, even if I'd been up and sitting in an ER for a couple of hours. At 1:30 we made it to The Atlantic, where I caught fellow Minneapolitan's In Defence to start the day's shows. As always, they put on an energetic show with vocalist Ben Crew setting the tone with an unexpected stage-dive on the hardcore band's first notes. He proceeded to climb speakers, sing from tabletops, and put on an honest and powerful twenty minute set filled with crowd participation and a lot of entertained faces as the previous night's hangovers began to recede. By the time they wrapped up, The Atlantic was near capacity.
3:40pm - New Bruises
Heading back to the scene of the weekend's damage thus far, I returned to Common Grounds for The Measure [SA], New Bruises, North Lincoln, Armalite, and Pink Razors. All of whom were impressive, with New Bruises catching my attention. I'd seen them last year, but didn't have much memory of it. Onstage, the singer adorned a fine handlebar mustache and talked some shit about O Pioneers. Generally, the band played some peppy, pop-fueled Tampa punk - but mostly as an accent to what felt like a stand-up routine. At some point, singer Byron finally acknowledged that the band hadn't practiced (although I suspect they were merely hung-over, as things sounded pretty good). Overcoming their lazy talk, they launched into "Suburban Home" with a simply stated "I want to be stereotyped. I want to be classified." The crowd went pretty crazy and they finished things with another three Descendents covers.
7:20pm - Paint It Black
Somewhere in here I lost track of time, but I ended up utilizing the SPB press credentials to circumvent the line at The Venue and hop backstage for Paint It Black. The crowd at the largest Fest stage was pumped, and Yemin and company pounded out some furious hardcore for almost an hour, complete with waves of stagediving and fist pumping singalongs. From my perch, the drums were loud as fuck, but the energy was palpable and the stream of constant crowdsurfers was fun to watch. After a stopover to catch Nothington, I returned to The Venue for perennial Fest headliners Dillinger Four.
I crawled out of bed on Sunday thinking of breakfast, coffee, and more Sparks. I got the latter wish once I made it to the day's first show, Used Kids at 1:50. I'd seen them before, and they rocked appropriately, with singer Nate addressing the afternoon crowd with "Does anybody know the score of the Packers v. Titans game? We're not kidding." As the day progressed, it showed just how worn down people were becoming. Several bands voiced frustration with having to play 20-40 minute sets.
6:20pm - Toys That Kill
In a curious bout of scheduling, this weekend twice forced me to decide between projects fronted by Rob Huddleston and Todd Congelliere. This time I sided with Todd, and seeing Toys That Kill wasn't a disappointment. The band rarely plays live these days and I'd missed them at last year's Fest. This time they had the large stage at The Venue and a prime slot between Off With Their Heads and The Ergs! They played nearly flawlessly for forty minutes, alternating attention between Todd and Cole. From where I stood up front, there were members of Arrivals, Brokedowns, and Vena Cava, among others. While most of the audience wasn't going crazy, the energy from the stage was of that rare breed that makes you giddy with excitement.
8:50pm - The Tim Version
More tough decisions followed afterward: since Dead To Me cancelled, the Ergs! were given back-to-back sets...yet I still missed both so I could catch the Tampa-based Atlantic shows: Tiltwheel. What more is there to say? Vaginasore Jr. came out and, to my surprise, featured members of Watson and Tim Version. They rocked an energetic crowd, consisting of many of the Atlantic's other Sunday performers and melded perfectly into the whirlwind that was The Tim Version's fist-in-the-air half hour.
While The Tim Version don't have nearly the following of many of the Fests other acts, they are a local staple and have now played all 7 Fests. Besides, after finding out about them last year, getting a chance to see the band when I knew their material was all the better. The floor was very active, with fans running onstage and singing, band members in the pit, and generally a chaotic, beautiful feeling that leaves you feeling hoarse, thirsty, and grungier than Kurt Cobain. I had the feeling that I'd just experienced Tampa's greatest house show, except it was in a venue in Gainesville instead.
9:20pm - Leatherface
UK hero Leatherface was this year's headliner on a rare and minimal US tour. I hadn't seen Leatherface in seven years, but very little has changed. Frankie Stubbs was onstage and the first song was underway when I got in and made my way toward the front bar to grab a good sightline and a PBR for the hour-plus set. Leatherface delivers consistent and thought-provoking punk with curious dance moves and a fun stage presence unlike other punk groups. It's really impossible to describe Stubbs' stage moves: he does something of a shuffle while playing his guitar, moving from side to side and kicking his legs about. His interactions with bassist Davey are spirited and natural, and seeing Stubbs around town over the previous three days reiterated how down-to-earth he is, regardless of the near rock star aura that fanzines have christened upon him. If it weren't for the couple who decided to make babies directly in my sightline, Leatherface's tight set was a perfect way to wrap up the official activities of Fest 7.
Again, I was beat and all but forgot about the alleged Holiday Inn show that followed the activities. Instead, I managed a cab with my broken hotelmate and we passed out at the Days Inn. I woke up several hours later and fought a terrible hangover until I boarded the plane for a painful trip home.
Bands seen: Virgins, Ringers, Chinese Telephones, The Falcon, Ann Beretta, Underground Railroad to Candyland, Grabass Charlestons, This Bike Is a Pipebomb, In Defence, FC5, The Measure [SA], New Bruises, North Lincoln, Armalite, Pink Razors, Paint It Black, Nothington, Dillinger Four, Cheap Girls, The Blacklist Royals, Pretty Boy Thorson, Used Kids, Dan Padilla, Vena Cava, Hidden Spots, Arrivals, The Brokedowns, Off With Their Heads, Toys That Kill, Dukes of Hillsborough, Tiltwheel, Vaginasore Jr, Tim Version, Leatherface, probably more.
Read all SPB's Fest 7 Interview: