What do you get when you combine one weekend (November 1-3, 2019) in a sweaty college town in Florida with comedians, wrestlers, cheap beer, upwards of a dozen venues, and more than 300 even sweatier punk rock bands from around the world? You get the beast that is the Fest now in its 18th(!!!) edition. Just as with most other fools’ errands, trying to encapsulate what this mammoth festival means in the space of one blog-based column is an idiot’s work. I am one such idiot. So let’s get into some of the highlights of our upcoming trip to the chaos that is Fest 18.
The Mystery Machine
One very special facet of the Fest since its inception has been the propensity to have guests who show up unannounced and take the stage in some of the unlikeliest of places. The now ubiquitous “mystery band” slots that dot the schedule for the Fest are giant, flashing neon signs for any respectable attendee to be on high alert for the revealing of these bands’ identity shortly before they take the stage. Some of the previous mystery bands? How about Hot Water Music (because of course) or the Menzingers? Then there was last year’s surprise slate: Dead to Me, Elway, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Slingshot Dakota, RVIVR, Red City Radio, Banner Pilot, Masked Intruder, and Signals Midwest.
Some of those bands are returning this year without the suspense but with more anticipation. However, this just underlines what kind of big ol’ surprises the Fest has in store for attendees this year. Personally, I’m hoping for Avail to make an appearance. Tim Barry is already on the show and they did just play Riot Fest last month. I’m not getting my hopes up but it would be cool to see them again. I’m doubtful we’ll get HWM but who knows? Red City Radio just played Gainesville and they did the mystery thing last year so that’s probably out as well. Same goes for Banner Pilot. Maybe Brendan Kelly will have his Lawrence Arms friends along? Of course, they were on the big stage last year so, not likely. But this is the point of the whole mystery band schtick. The guessing is part of the fun and no matter which bands show up at the last minute, they’re guaranteed to be bangers. That’s why this is one of the best traditions of the Fest and another reason why this thing sold out so dang fast.
Against Me!, Jawbox, Less than Jake, Jawbreaker, Stiff Little Fingers, Off With Their Heads, A Wilhelm Scream, Teenage Bottlerocket, and Masked Intruder are among the big-name, headlining bands scheduled for the Fest’s biggest stage at Bo Diddley Plaza over the weekend. The opportunity for fans to see any one of these acts is big enough in and of itself but to see them all in a three-day span? It might just be more than our grubby little souls deserve in this day and age.
For some the highlight will be back to back nights of Against Me! performing four albums worth of material. For others it will be seeing legendary Irish stalwarts, Stiff Little Fingers, performing their landmark album, Inflammable Material. Then there are others who will lose it over any one of the other bands scheduled to play the Plaza. Me? Oh, I fully plan to lose my mind when Jawbreaker play. There are few bands whose music has meant more to me, personally, than these guys so finally getting the opportunity to see them live? Instead of shoddily covering their music in my own shitty bands? Yes, please. I’ll be the old guy in the back during their set with a tear in my eye, a beer in my hand, badly mangling “Kiss the Bottle” along with the rest of the crowd.
Either way, there’s gonna be a whole lot of sentimental guys, gals, and neckbeards running around downtown Gainesville, FL on these nights. On that note…
The Sentimental Favorites
Kill Your Idols, War on Women, Iron Reagan, Torche, Planes Mistaken for Stars! Oh my! And this is only one of the Friday night shows (at 8 Seconds, for those counting at home). Heartsounds, Squirtgun, The World is a Beautiful Place and I am no Longer Afraid to Die, Spraynard, Joyce Manor, The Bronx, Tim Barry, AJJ, The Lillingtons, The Copyrights, The Dopamines, Rehasher, The Avengers, Brendan Kelly, Bob Nanna, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Tsunami Bomb, After the Fall, Debt Neglector, and Asshole Parade are seriously just a few of the bands playing over the course of this debacle in downtown.
One of the things that I dearly love about the Fest has been its penchant for bringing together all those bands that should probably be in all self-respecting punks’ record collections (or, I guess, online playlists?) which is where the bands listed above fit for me. These are those bands that are, basically, successful. They’re the names you might already know and probably should. That’s why they’re in this category. These are the bands you’ve seen (or should have by now) in your local sweat parlor bar of a punk rock club or VFW hall “back in the day”. At the Fest, they’re gathered up in one convenient place to jog your memory again in a way that says “I can’t remember my bank password but I still know all the words to Funtitled!”
Coulda, shoulda, woulda but still have the chops to kick your face in, these are the bands that are such a damn good time live or are on their way up that they could be your show (and heart) stealers of this year’s Fest. A lot of the bands you’ll see in this section are bands I’ve already mentioned in columns this year with lots of links you can check out to get into these bands. Or save yourself the trouble and click here for Fest Radio. Up to you. Anyway, we have bands to talk about.
Bands like: Wolf-Face, Nightmarathons, Big Nothing, Spanish Love Songs, Makewar, Devon Kay and the Solutions, You Vandal, Dead Bars, The Cryptkeeper Five, Tiltwheel, Cold Wrecks, Protagonist, Billy Liar, State Faults, Problem Daughter, Radon, Dikembe, Signals Midwest, Ramona, Rebuilder, The Casket Lottery and probably like another 30 bands that it makes no sense to list because we’d be here all day and you still need to figure out which retro punk rock t-shirts and ironic hats to pack or else you’ll never get to Gainesville in time!
The Development Team
These are the bands that have bright futures ahead of them and you’re gonna insist you saw them at Fest 18 before they got big even if you were really stuffing your face at The Top while me and a hundred other nerds got down to their sounds. Just who are these bands, you ask? Well, bands like Choke Up, Bonsai Trees, Destroy Orbison, The Weak Days, Canadian Rifle, In the Meantime, Youth League, Nervous Dater, Slingshot Dakota, Answering Machine, Lapeche, the ENTIRE Saturday night lineups at Durty Nelly’s, the Hardback, and Loosey’s; Kill Lincoln, Sorry! We Are Silly, Pohgoh, Calicoco, Gillian Carter and many others.
The epicenter for these bands is going to be the three venues mentioned above. So with that, we’re going to break this down into which venues to go to depending on what kind of experience you’re looking to have at Fest 18. I warned you this would be long.
Bo Diddley Plaza
This is the biggin’. You want to see the big headliners? Grab some sunscreen and water but leave your shiny camera at home, it’s not allowed in. Pros: the most well-known headliners will be killing it here, outdoors so less claustrophobic, show’s over at 11pm so you can catch at least 3 more bands someplace else for a night cap. Cons: outdoors in Florida in November means you could get rained on, melt, or be kidnapped by mosquitoes; none of those super underground bands are gonna be found here… unless they’re with you in the audience.
Bottom line: Go to at least one of these showcases. Every single one that the organizers have lined up this year kills.
The Almost Big Shows: 8 Seconds and Boca Fiesta/Palomino Pool Hall
The shows at these three venues are going to be the place to catch the bands that are just barely nudged off the big stage at BDP. Especially noteworthy is the Friday night slate at 8 Seconds. Seriously, that lineup is absolutely bananas and Saturday is no slouch either. The BocaMino shows will be nuts if for no other reason than the sheer quality up and down each night’s schedule. Also of note to first-timers, Boca Fiesta is in the original Hardback location, so there’s that.
Bottom line: There’s really no excuse to not get to these venues at least once during the weekend and you won’t regret it. BTW did we mention that absolutely sick Friday night lineup at 8 Seconds? Oh, no? Well, it’s sick and you should go.
Feels Just Like Home: High Dive, The Atlantic, The Wooly
These venues are going to feel a lot like home to those visiting Gainesville for the first time in that way that we all have a place like this in our towns. Just like those venues, these are more like an event hall and, for the Fest, feature wall-to-wall solid punk rock. Some you’ll know, some you’ll be stoked to hear for the first time.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for that medium-to-large-sized venue that won’t likely be asses to elbows the whole night, these are those.
Get Cozy: the Hardback Cafe, Loosey’s, Big Lou’s, Durty Nelly’s, Downtown Fat’s, Mother’s Pub
These are the more cozy bar/pub style venues where you will get to know a neighbor even if you don’t want to. The Hardback has hosted a lot of legendary Gainesville moments over the years and returned not too long ago, so it’s worth your time to get over there for at least one set and a couple of pints to check out the new-ish digs. Mother’s is going to be putting on a happy hour on the Friday to ease you into Fest weekend, as well. Big Lou’s is doing a brunch-ish time show of solo sets on the Sunday to help you shake off your hangover. Also, don’t sleep on the food at Loosey’s. We all need to eat some time over the weekend.
Bottom line: At night, these places will be packed, particularly the Hardback, Loosey’s, and Nelly’s but these are the spots you’ll be most glad you visited before it’s all said and done.
The Outliers: Civic Media Center, the Fest hotels, CMC Paper & Plastick Showcase, Cypress and Grove Brewery, The Hippodrome
If there is anything approaching “high art” at the Fest you’re probably going to find it at the CMC or the Hippodrome. These are your (relatively) chill spots to gather your wits and enjoy a different facet of the Fest. There are a lot of great shows going on there without the amps being turned up to 12 the whole time. The P&P showcase is going to be good, quality fun for a Saturday matinee with top to bottom, quality bands. C&G is a great little brewery that will be hosting the most “indie” style set of the Fest so if you’re looking for something a little different slide over here between 5pm and 10pm on Saturday night.
And then there are the hotels where there will be official and unofficial shenanigans going on all weekend, particularly at the Holiday Inn. Both the Holiday Inn and the Wyndham will have official pool parties on Friday afternoon, so even if you couldn’t score a room at either there’s still a reason, beyond Fest registration, to drop by.
Bottom line: these oddball venues and events are part of what makes Fest more than just a collection of shows strung together over a manic 72 hours.
The Bottom of the (PBR) Barrel
Part of why I like going so far in-depth about the Fest is because it is one of the most unique music festivals left in the United States, truly. It has so far maintained the DIY sense and aesthetic even though it has grown (and contracted, RIP Little Ybor) over the years. It feels distinctly “Gainesville” at this point. In an era that’s seen a lot of punk’s iconic places become commercialized, closed, or outright binned, this is still a thing that belongs to fans of the genre, new and old.
More than that, though, is the way it stands as a testament to the tremendous diversity of style, substance, form, and personality of punk music in its current state. There is little at the Fest that feels forced. It still gives off a vibe of community that larger festivals just can’t do. That’s through no fault of those other events, it’s just that the Fest feels… different. Even if those of us who were around when it first began almost two decades ago with cases of PBR, if I vaguely recall the town was sucked dry of those red, white, and blech cans in the early years; and thrashed amps say that it’s changed, the heart still remains much the same.
As you can tell, these three days in Gainesville create a lot of memories. It’s almost time to make some new ones. See you at the Fest.