Looking down the aisle I saw flannel shirts, Dickies pants lopped off above the knee, vans slip-ons and converse all stars; within seconds of stepping on the bus to the Greyhound bus to Gainesville, I could tell the casual travels apart from the Festers, people like me coming to celebrate their favorite, or soon to be favorite, holiday. No, not Halloween, the Fest!
Last year being my virginal fest experience, I came in knowing a little more: the quickest routes to the venues, the best places to sleep outside, cheapest food, coldest drinks, the survival skills. But I knew the unexpected would happen, shows would break out in the wee hours of the morning, surprise sets would be played, fun would be had at levels I thought unimaginable. The question was obvious: could I handle it for three days straight?
3:00PM - Arriving at the Holiday Inn check in point at three in the afternoon, my first site was a line that snaked from the entrance doors all the way up to the registration room on the second floor. Luckily the hotel staff was serving beer in the lobby, because the punks, with their waxed up liberty spikes and patched up denim vests, were already suffering some serious ennui. I sighed a little, fearful that the success of previous Fests led to an increase in ticket sales, which would no doubt lead to longer lines and less time standing in front of speakers, furthering the degree of my hearing loss.
7:00PM - My notions were true, later in the day as I arrived at my favorite of the Gainesville venues, Common Grounds, to see a line that stretched out the door, around the corner, and into the road.
"I hope the whole weekend doesn't end up like this," I thought to myself while wondering if I should use my press privileges to jump the line and secure a spot to see Chinese Telephones. I kept my place among the other fans, entering to catch the last minute of the band's set to my major dismay.
8:00PM - Luckily The Falcon, whose live incarnation in an alter ego of the Lawrence Arms, was up next and I bet my money front man Brendan Kelly would be drunk by now. I might have been right, I might have been wrong. His eyes looked glassed over to me, but that could have been anything. Regardless of his intoxication or lack thereof, the set was loud, crude, and a little sloppy, much like the bulk of the crowd. With good jams and tasteless jokes made at Sarah Palin's expense, my second Fest experience was starting to take shape.
8:45PM - Seeing how packed the venue 1982 was and the line of thrashers waiting to get in, I knew I'd have to abuse my press privileges. And I did just that, getting to witness the last half of ANS' set, which was a more lackluster than I remember them being. Sure it was fast and to the point, but maybe the hurried nature of trying to catch the whole thing coupled with the fact I had to watch from the back of the bar made the whole things seem kind of forced. Oh well, every set can't be a winner.
10:00PM - After stopping to get a bite to eat at the local Taco Bell, I found myself trapped inside, the manager locking the doors as the drunkest of punk threw rocks at employees in-between slurring words and trying to steal money from the register. When you sell pounders of Pabst Blue Ribbon for two dollars, bad things are going happen. Luckily the citizens of Gainesville are a friendly bunch. As soon as myself and the other customers were no longer being held captive I made my way to the Venue, where all the "big name acts" (strong sarcastic inflection) were playing to round out the evening. While waiting in line I caught a glimpse of Dan Yemin handing out pink notes decorated with hearts. Wondering what it was about, I headed over to him. "Hey Festers, we think you're really neat and we have a surprise for you. Meet us in the parking lot across from the Venue after the Bouncing Souls set. Love, Paint It Black."
Strike Anywhere: holy shit I forgot how good this band was! And how fast too! Blazing through track after track, the Richmond band easily gave the best set of the day, dodging an endless stream of stage divers while never missing a note. Singer Thomas Barnett's frantic energy only added to the excitement as his dreadlocks flew about in wild fits as he jumped up and down.
Playing the show for their second year were Gainesville's hometown heroes, Less Than Jake. Shedding themselves of the obvious moniker they used last year, the band came out and donned in full police attire to celebrate not only the joy of punk music, but also bassist Roger's birthday. Catching this set from the side of the stage, I watched as members of The Ergs!, The Copyrights, and several other bands sung along to songs they first heard in middle and high school. Aside from last year's Fest set I hadn't listened to the band in at least five years, giving me quite a nostalgia trip while clearing up some of my jaded sensibilities.
The headliner for the evening were the Bouncing Souls, a band that proves you can make a career out of punk. Though their pushing almost twenty years as a band you'd never know it; hitting the stage with an energy and aura, they impressed every person watching, even folk like me who don't actually listen to the band. Being Halloween their stage was decked out with carved glowing pumpkins and creepy candles as they donned full zombie make-up. The long time Bouncing Souls fans were getting all treats and no tricks as the Souls' set consisted strictly of material released prior to 1996. Two-thirds of the way through their set they did a stripped down ballad version of "Hybrid Moments." This being both my favorite Misfits song and favorite song ever, I decided it would be a good time to leave. That and I wanted to see what Paint It Black was up to across the street.
Apparently others, hundreds of others, caught wind of this surprise set, and so they all gathered in the gravel parking lot, huddling as tight as they could around the back of a U-Haul truck, perhaps the most interesting "venue" I'd ever see a band play.
When Paint It Black hit the stage, the generator they were using to power their amps hit the bed. This turned the event into a sort of drums only PIB sing along, the crowd keeping the action going as people dived off the top of the truck. The fun was short-lived however, about five minutes after the band started "playing", fire trucks and police on horses came to break up the supposed riot. While my doubts of this year's Fest were shaky at first, by the end of the night I was questioning if I could survive two more days of this.
6:00AM - After getting very little sleep on the sidewalks of Gainesville, it was time for the six A.M. show at Wayward Council, a sort of co-op record shop in Gainesville. The main act, though first on the bill was The Measure. Having seen them a few weeks prior at the Dillinger Four release, I was interested in hearing them again. Their set boomed with an energy quite impressive for a band, and crowd, that had been up until the wee hours of the morning the night before; that is even if they slept at all.
2:00PM - Many naps and beers later I found myself pumping a keg in someone's backyard as Look Mexico set up for what would be a brief set. With weeping willows and tall grass surrounding the house as butterflies streamed past, there couldn't be a more perfect setting for Look Mexico. Their set, only three songs long was like a quick reverie, leaving me to forget that I was in a college town invaded by punks. Easily the best band that people are not listening to.
5:20PM - Opening with even more Palin banter, The Falcon, now reverted to their original incarnation The Lawrence Arms, took the stage and blasted out a strong set with all the drunken favorites and some gems I haven't heard live in years, if ever at all. Though their set was one of the best I'd ever seen by them, I was distracted, on the verge of fits caused by anticipation for the band that would play next.
It was time for the band I'd come to see: None More Black. I missed both their shows in Philadelphia during the Fourth of July weekend due to drunken antics elsewhere in the city, so not missing this was extra important. After a short word of caution from front man Jason Shevchuk, the band blasted into one of the tightest sets I've seen by a band in some time. You may call their interaction on stage a good chemistry, but I'd call it alchemy because they are as strong as steel when functioning as a unit. While it's certainly not an act of showmanship, watching bassist Paul Delaney hammer at his bass, long hair flailing like the true Hessian he is, becomes a spectacle in itself. Add this to the off the cuff stand up of lead guitarist Colin McGuiness and you almost forget their a band and not some kind of Variety act. Their set, a nice mix from all their releases, brought me to tears, reminding me why the Fest is a testament to the power of music and the culture it creates. Easily the best set of the weekend.
Up next was Paint It Black. After a failed set the night before, fans were hungry for some Philly hardcore. And they got it. Yemin and company pounded through the set with a blazing speed, stopping only to give nods to the wealth of talent that the Fest brought this year with special props given to Atom and His Package who played earlier in the day. While seeing their name with Venue's line-up caused me a little grief, thinking the intimacy would be gone, I couldn't have been more wrong. Bigger stages mean more opportunity for stage dives, which the entire crowd took advantage of.
With Paint It Black ending early I was able to rush over and catch all but the first song of Lemuria's set. Speeding up their tunes, the band gave off more of a punky vibe, which was perfect for the weekend's setting. Having missed them this summer I was ecstatic to hear the songs off their full length, "Get Better," played live. Sure enough, they rocked, and the filled to capacity crowd of the Common Grounds had as much fun as the band on stage.
9:20PM - It was time for the band that embodies the spirit of the Fest, Dillinger Four. I used to think seeing Dillinger Four was a special occasion but since seeing them for the first time at last year's Fest I managed to squeeze in three more shows before Saturday night's performance. Despite being blown away by the new material, the lack of variance in the set list left me a little bored. That and I was on the edge of the pit that braced the staged so I spent forty minutes being crushed by Festers, who we know are known for their massive beer bellies. Easily the worst time I've seen them, but still better than most music today.
12:45AM - Closing out the night for me was The Copyrights. When I first heard the Copyrights two years ago, I fell in love with pop punk all over again, wondering why I spent so much time listen to hardcore and crust. With everyone at the peak of their drunkenness, their set was the most fun I had of the whole weekend. Every song was tremendously loud, and catchy as all hell. Half the band played shirtless, and one member even wore see through tights, which caught a lot of people's attention. This is a band I wish toured more.
I was able to get a good night's rest thanks to the hospitality of Lemuria and Gordon Gano's Army, who not only let me stay at their hotel but gave me a sleeping bag and pillow to sleep with. I give a sincere thanks to both those bands. This day was more laid back as I was aching from the injuries sustained from D4's set the night prior.
2:45PM - The Market Street pub which looks more like a watering hole for drunks or a college bar than a venue actually held the most punk show on Sunday, a showcase that featured all the fastest and heaviest bands of the Fest. Thinking I would arrive just on time to catch Religious as Fuck, I walked in to see Deep Sleep setting up. Shitty, but worse things have happened. Here's another band that doesn't tour enough. Dedicating their entire set to Frank Navetta, former Descendents guitarist who died two nights before, they blazed through a quick, but rowdy set of tunes best describes as eighties hardcore meets Descendents worship. A lot of the crowd was witnessing the band for the first time, but I'm sure many of them bought every color of vinyl they were selling.
7:20PM - Sadly this would be one of The Ergs! last shows and to show their respects to all the fans supporting them they played not one, but two full sets, the second including "Dorkrockcorkrod" played in its entirety. In addition to that slab of awesomeness they played my favorite songs, "Introducing Morrissey" and the crowd favorite "Books about Miles Davis".
While I wanted to see Japanther, I felt that The Ergs! set was the proper place to end my Fest experience. As soon as I left the Gainesville city limits, I started thinking about next year's fest, the new friends I would make, the old friends I would see, and why punk is best music ever.
- Website: http://www.thefestfl.com