by Jack Diablo
EU interview with Josh Jubinsky of Vicious Fishes
In Jacksonville, the last weekend in October means only one thing, the Florida vs. Georgia game. Leagues of Gator fans leave Gainesville in a caravan of orange and blue to root their team on to victory leaving what would normally be a deserted ghost town in its wake. Except that while the thousands pour into Jacksonville from across the Southeast, thousands more flood the college town’s streets from across the country for FEST.
For years, No Idea Records has put on what has grown to be one of the biggest punk rock festivals in the country, but only recently have they taken advantage of the vacuum left by the mass exodus of football fanatics. While the jocks are away, the punks will play.
Being the Florida transplant that I am, I enlisted the help of Tony Weinbender of No Idea Records and Southern Lovin’ PR to learn a little more about what has made FEST such a huge success.
Tony has been involved with the event since it began in the early aughts. Originally from Virginia, Tony moved to Gainesville in 2000 to work for another local record label before splitting ways and spearheading what has now become a Gainesville institution.
It all started around a picnic table one day as Tony and his buddies were engaging in the preferred pastime of small town twenty-somethings – drinking beer and bitching about work – when the subject came up in conversation. During his college years in Virgina, Tony worked with a music festival called MACRoCk, the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference, a festival and music conference in the vein of SXSW or CMJ. Tony’s friends encouraged him to start a similar event in Gainesville with all the bands they knew and enjoyed. Wanting to avoid the hassle of the conference side of things, he heeded the advice of his peers. “My friends said, ‘Dude, just make it like a normal fest, like a big party,'” Tony recalls. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Since its inception, FEST has become an essential road trip destination for punks and fans of the underground and heavy as they flock in droves from every corner of the country. Last year’s count put attendance at 74% from outside the state of Florida. The event even sees its fair share of international attendees as well. “People come here year after year to see people they only get to see during the FEST. We call it the biggest punk rock reunion,” said Tony.
And big it most certainly is. Now in its eighth year, FEST has grown from a two-day event featuring around 100 bands at four venues to a three-day rager with over 300 bands spread across 12 venues. Attendance has grown from a modest 500 to an astonishing 6000+ at last year’s event. “It’s almost too big for this town, but I couldn’t ever see doing it anywhere else,” Tony comments. “Part of the love and charm of the FEST is you get to come here and experience Gainesville.”
Although it’s clear that there has always been something inherent about Gainesville that has fostered a healthy environment for the creation of music, No Idea Records has been largely responsible for it’s national recognition. What began as a fan zine in 1985 gradually evolved into a full-fledged record label that helped local Gainesville bands such as Hot Water Music and Against Me! gain worldwide exposure. No Idea is also a distribution house for other record labels, zines, apparel and all the merchandise necessary to show support for your favorite bands. Tony remembers ordering from the No Idea catalogue when he was in high school and being exposed to new bands. No Idea Records is now one of the largest independent distributors and runs an in-house publicity company called Southern Lovin’ that aims to promote bands while maintaining punk rock ethics and integrity.
One important part of FEST is the exposure that local and lesser-known bands receive by performing over the weekend. “I think it’s a good springboard for a lot of bands,” says Tony. “I’ve seen a lot of bands that have played FEST to a room of a hundred people and then the following year, they’ve blown up.” Approximately 600 smaller bands applied to play this year’s event in addition to those already scheduled to perform. The sheer volume of up-and-coming acts that perform every year also benefits the attendees seeking to discover something new. “If you want to be adventurous and try to find out about a lot of new bands, you can,” adds Weinbender.
In addition to the scheduled program, there are guaranteed to be a number of house shows put on by local bands and fans. At these guerrilla side-shows, groups that may or may not have made the FEST’s radar continue to play into the wee hours of the morning, long after the venues close. In the spirit of the punk-rock DIY ethic, the FEST organizers have no problem with these goings-on and do nothing to discourage them. As Tony puts it, “the more that goes on, the cooler it is.”
This year’s lineup includes such names as punk legends 7 Seconds, Gainesville alumni Less Than Jake, as well as rising stars Strike Anywhere and Off With Their Heads. Tony is stoked to see such classics as Snuff and Samiam, but is mostly looking forward to crawling into bed to sleep when it’s over.
Weekend passes to the FEST will be on sale online and at select ticket outlets until October 27th, or until they sell out. Visit www.thefestfl.com to buy tickets or find where they can be purchased. Passes are $60 in advance but jump to $80 the weekend of and include admission to all 12 venues throughout the weekend. Registration will be held at the University Hotel on Friday, October 30th from noon to 9 pm and Saturday, October 31st from noon to 6 pm.
Last year the event sold out, so don’t delay. Grab only the handful of things you need to survive the weekend, draw straws to see whose driving, start working on your road trip playlist and most importantly – get ready to rage!
by Jack Diablo