FEST 8 Diary

by Jack Diablo
Being the Florida transplant that I am, this year was the first chance I’ve had to experience the music festival and punk rock family reunion known simply as the FEST. For one booze-filled rager of a weekend, kids (and adults who still refer to themselves as kids) come together on the streets of Gainesville to party, see their favorite bands (and some new ones) and reunite with old friends. In this series of EU web exclusives, I will take you on a day-by-day journey of all that I experienced, the good and the bad. Actually, come to think of it, there wasn’t a whole lot of bad to be found. Here we go!
I left Jacksonville in the early afternoon after a quick bite and cup of coffee at Chamblin’s Uptown. Sitting there on Laura Street, I could already see the tide of blue and orange begin to fill the streets of downtown, speckled with the occasional red and black of course. “Time to get the hell out of dodge!” I told myself. I have nothing against college football mind you, but I’m from Texas so pulling for the Gators would be an unforgivable trespass against the state that raised me. That and I have zero tolerance for lines, traffic, and drunk assholes invading my territory. What better time to be the drunk asshole who invades someone else’s territory? Especially Gainesville.
The drive went by pretty quick, mainly because the hordes of Gator fans leaving Gainesville were traveling in the opposite direction. But as soon as I hit University, things got pretty crazy. Blocks away from the Holiday Inn, the FEST HQ, I began seeing the signs of the invasion that was to consume this poor college town over the weekend. Crusty train-riders with their mangy mutts, punk/hipster crossovers, and just about every sub-culture that embraces underground youth-powered music could be seen walking the city streets. That and the regular Joe’s with the same idea I had in Jacksonville, getting away from the insanity that was to come.
The FEST registration area was located in the University Holiday Inn and doubled as a “flea market” for vendors to hawk their wares. Start-up record labels, merchandising outfits, distros, and various other makers of things were set up for the few attendees that actually had any money in their pockets not reserved for pizza and beer. Thankfully there was a media check-in, allowing me to bypass the long lines of eager festival-goers, a trend that would continue much to the chagrin of those forced to wait in epic lines.
From there I made my way to the pool deck where REAX Magazine hosted a pool party. Vendors sold beer pretty cheap for a hotel but most of the attendees had smuggled their own concoctions upstairs hidden in two-liter bottles and the like. I saw familiar faces from St. Augustine, Orlando, Richmond and other places I’ve visited for similar events. FEST however, seemed to be the main event, the place to be. Many folks, if given the ultimatum, would no doubt choose to be here above any other annual event. And the party was just getting started.
A large percentage of FEST-goers crash on couches, floors, tents, or simply wherever they happen to pass out after a long day of music and partying. I was fortunate that some of my friends from Orlando had a hotel booked, even though it was a good three miles from the action. After checking in to our hotel, it was time to eat, or more accurately, put something in our stomachs to lay a foundation for the copious amounts of beer we intended on consuming. A rager weekend calls for nothing less than the most bizarre party food available, and for us that meant the “Stoner Pizza” from Gumby’s. What on earth could possibly set the weekend off like a pizza topped with french fries, mozzarella sticks, pepperoni, bacon, and extra cheese. Because after all, only a fraction of punks are vegan, the rest of us need meat!
With the sheer volume of bands playing over the course of the weekend, the shows start far earlier than normal. My first stop was the Venue, where I was able to catch Japanther just as they began their set. My band played with them earlier that week and stayed at our house so I had to say hello. Before they left Jacksonville, we hooked them up with some Burro t-shirts which Matt (bass) just so happened to be wearing at the show. Believe me when I say that there was nothing repetitive about seeing them twice in the same week. Their garagey poppy punk is fuzzed out and accompanied by samples on cassette tape that create more of a dance party than a mosh pit. I was front and center snapping a few pics as the crowd was warming up for all the excitement in store for the weekend. The energy was palpable there in one of, if not the largest spot on the itinerary. But my mind was set on seeing some of my favorite heavy bands that evening so I departed after the show and made my way around the corner to Common Grounds.
At around 7:30pm, the line for Common Grounds was already winding around the corner. I felt like a jerk, but I would be damned if I wasn’t going to make it inside to see this show in its entirety, so I wormed my way to the front and got in just in time to see Iron Lung begin their set. I wasn’t familiar with their stuff but I was immediately impressed. As a drummer who occasionally sings (I use that term lightly), I know how difficult it can be. So a drummer who sings whilst delivering blastbeats in a powerviolence/grindcore band, was something I could get into regardless of my feelings about the genre. Even though they were only a two-piece, they managed to fill the room with their heavy sound partially thanks to the stack of Orange amps and speakers that powered the lone guitar player.
Next up was the show I most wanted to see, Young Widows. I’m not really sure how I got into them, but as soon as I heard them I was hooked. They played a set at a bowling alley in Richmond during this year’s Best Friends Day which was pretty awesome considering the venue so I was stoked to see them in a more traditional setting. Needless to say, they did not disappoint. Without being particularly fast nor sludgy, they bring a form of heavy that revels in the lower end of the sonic spectrum. Powered by loud distorted bass lines, strangely dissonant guitar riffs, and andante drum beats, they incite more head-nodding than banging or moshing. One jackass in a monkey suit didn’t seem to get it and made his way on stage to attempt a stage-dive during one of the slower breakdowns. Evan Patterson, the guitar player, was having none of it as the dude waited for things to pick up and proceeded to push the guy off the stage causing him to flip heels-over-head so his face met the floor. The would-be diver recovered with a drunkenly satisfied smile while Evan cracked a mischievous grin. I don’t think they spoke a single word between songs and they seem to take their music pretty seriously. Their brand of post-hardcore or whatever you want to call it, is amazing but not exactly what you might call fun or party music. That wasn’t really on the menu at this particular show.
Another band from Louisville, KY (yes Kentucky, who knew?) took the stage next. Not only do Evan of Young Widows and Ryan of Coliseum share a hometown, they also share a last name (they’re brothers). They seem also to share an ethic of no frills, no nonsense as well. Coliseum takes a more traditional approach than Young Widows. Whereas YW’s music has an element of artistic experimentation, Coliseum is just plain heavy punk that borders on metal. The two bands are currently on tour making their way across the South along with the next band that took the stage, Russian Circles.
This was the surprise show of the evening. All I really knew of them was that they were instrumental, but considering their tour-mates, I had an idea of what to expect. Still, they blew me away. It’s unfair to group every instrumental rock band into the nebulous genre of post-rock, although post-metal is a fair descriptor. Their music is very akin to that of groups like Pelican whom they share a hometown with. If you are ever able to catch these three bands on tour together, you’d be doing yourself a major disservice in missing such a spectacular lineup.
With so much heavy, serious music (however awesome all the bands were), a break of fun was welcome. Enter Torche. Although their sound touches on stoner metal, they manage to infuse it with an element of pop and a ton of fun. I also caught them at this year’s BFD, but instead of a bowling alley, they played in a gazebo to an extremely intoxicated, shirtless crowd. I for one, was covered in mud. Being far more coherent this go round, I was able to appreciate the energy in a different way. For one, every member of the band seemed to wear an ear-to-ear smile throughout the entire set. The mosh pit was everything a pit should be, everyone pushing and getting down without those obnoxious hardcore dancers swinging fists and elbows. By this time though, my dogs were barking, and these old knees were feeling the pressure. Fortunately there was only one more band to go.
Although Coalesce has been together for fifteen years, they’ve gone through several hiatuses over the years. Recently, they have returned yet again on Relapse Records to release their latest album, OX as well as an EP of the same name. While I am admittedly unfamiliar with their career, I can say with conviction that they are back with a vengeance and not messing around this time. As heralds of what was to become known as metalcore, Coalesce has maintained a level of integrity and fidelity to their roots that seems absent from the ethos of other bands that have traveled the same road. It was an exciting and energetic way to end the night.
The prescribed FEST routine is to seek out the best house party. After leaving Common Grounds, we still had time to catch Crime In Stereo at 1982. By this time I was really feeling the exhaustion, so I hung back and caught what I could of the set. From what I could gather, it seemed like a pretty good time. There were fans who knew the words and the singer was more than happy to engage with his spectators, climbing over them as they sang along. It made me realize that as eager I was to see all those great bands in a place with great sound, I was missing out on the underground aspect of what most of these bands represent. Seeing a punk/hardcore/metal/whatever band in their natural habitat – a small dive (or even house) – is what it’s all about. The energy is far more intense and they always emerge as the most memorable shows. I vowed then and there to be sure and catch as many shows like this as possible.
But that was pretty much it for the night. After some bickering between friends over the usual drunken bullshit, we were partied out and rode our bikes back to the hotel, relishing in the cool Autumn night air to rest up for a full day of more music and fun.