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!
Day two began as most multi-day events of this nature do, slowly. Luckily the shows didn’t start until the afternoon so there was time to grab a quick bite from El Indio before the festivities began again. We actually didn’t plan on catching anything until about 6:30 anyway so there was plenty of time to rest up.
Seeing as how it was Halloween, a significant number of FEST-goers spent the day in their costumes. Not me though. Lame, I know. My friends however went all out. The girls dressed as female Batman and Robin and my buddy Zach went as Hyacinth, the hippopotamus ballerina from Fantasia. Needless to say, he turned many heads doing wheelies down the street on his pink bike in his giant costume. Without a doubt, you can ask anyone who was there about the hippo and I’m sure they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
Our first stop was back to 1982. By the early evening, it was already packed and smelling of spilled beer and sweat. The fermentation process seemed exacerbated by the mid-day sun but we determined to catch Mehkago N.T. do their thing. I first caught them at Shantytown on Valentines Day and I can point to that show as the moment I fell in love with heavy music again. Intense doesn’t even begin to describe a Mehkago show. Violent and unpredictable are much more accurate descriptors. The kind of metal grindcore they play demands either your full participation, which will no doubt result in at least minor injury, or staying the hell out of the way. Being that it was the first show and my buzz was only just getting going, I opted for the latter. That didn’t make the show any less crazy though. Watching the spectacle that is hardcore dancing is entertaining at the least, whether it’s something you want to be involved in or not. That, and the irony of a crowd-surfing pink hippo is nothing to be ignored.
After their show, we were already feeling the heat and minor claustrophobia of the small venue and opted to escape for a bit. I made my way down the street to try an infamous Gator Dawg. While I wasn’t feeling brave enough to try the Heart Attack (a hot dog wrapped in bacon and deep-fried), I did sink my teeth into a giant one, ensuring my hunger would be at bay for the rest of the evening.
Still in need of some downtime, we headed to the Kickstand to chill out for a bit. The Kickstand was one of the few, if not the only, BYOB venue on the FEST schedule so it made the perfect stop for those on a budget. There not being a line to speak of didn’t hurt either. Tons of kids were chilling outside drinking tall boys as bands played inside Gainesville’s community bike shop. We arrived just as Alligator was breaking down and decided to hang out for a while then headed back to the hotel to cool off in the pool.
Truly enjoying yourself at FEST involves a certain letting go. As I said, it’s a rager, and that means pushing the limits, opening yourself up to new experiences and casting those inhibitions to the side. Personally, I don’t like losing control or getting to the point where I lose all my bearings but that doesn’t mean I’ll turn down a shot or a swig from a bottle of cough syrup either. It’s not that the object is to get as intoxicated as possible or get into any trouble, but to maximize the fun. And a little more alcohol than normally prescribed is the easiest way to attain that. That’s one reason why we ride bikes.
From there, it was back to 1982. By the way, you can totally sit at the bar and play old Nintendo games as you pound your beers! I was there to see Brainworms but I was fortunate to arrive just in time to catch the surprise stunner of the day, Snack Truck. Snack Truck is one of many amazing bands that has popped up out of the post-punk powerhouse factory that is Richmond, VA. Composed of members of Ultra Dolphins, Brainworms and VCR, Snack Truck combines the sounds of all three and then throws it out the window. What remains is spacey progressive post-rock that sounds way heavier and more aggressive than most of the competition, if slightly less complicated than some. For this particular show, they were dressed up like the Blue Man Group or maybe just blue aliens, hard to tell. What I could tell for sure was that they have two full drummers, something that made my heart skip a beat. In fact, the place was so crowded, I didn’t even realize they had two drummers until I wormed my way to the other side of the stage. I’ve seen bands with dual percussion before but never a band that could pull off such complex rhythms in perfect unison. Needless to say, I was floored!
But as I said, I was there to see Brainworms. I saw them but briefly for the first time back in March at Harvest of Hope. At the time, I was coming off of a long mutual break from punk rock and heavy music in general. Perhaps I fancied myself a grown-up, but I had momentarily switched over completely to alt-country and indie rock. It might have had something to do with survival. It likely would have driven me insane working for the government and wearing the uniform if I were listening to subversive music at the time. So when I heard /saw Brainworms on stage it was like experiencing a new flavor of something you hadn’t tasted in a what could seem like a lifetime. While their music doesn’t meet the textbook definition of post-punk (probably closer to post-hardcore), it does fit into the literal one. Everything about them is punk from their DIY roots to their fast and heavy sound but it’s as if the genre grew up. Deciphering their lyrics can be a chore but if you read along, you get the idea that the band isn’t afraid to take an honest look at the music and the scene in a way that many idealistic bands seem naively oblivious to. Even if you can’t understand what Greg Butler is saying when he’s screaming into his microphone that sense of honesty, sincerity, and experience permeates regardless. And even if you are unable to pick up on that, you’ll have a lot of fun. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington, Butler is an absolute animal on stage. Rarely pausing to breathe, he shouts and sings in the middle of a raging pit, kneeling on stage and even whilst crowd-surfing. A Brainworms show is as grimy as the music. If you aren’t pouring sweat when it’s over and a little sore the next day, you did it wrong. By my own definition, I did it right.
That was it for the official itinerary. From there it was a scavenger hunt by bicycle to find a good house show / party. While searching out a rumored Mehkago house show, we stumbled upon a party. Two parties actually. FESTers overflowed into the street, eventually merging with a post-UF victory party that the neighbors were having. Impromptu costumed dance party ensued in the middle of the street, much to the chagrin of vehicles attempting to drive through.
Afterward it was a significant bike ride to a warehouse show on the other side of town. This party turned out to be a public storage facility but the turnout was pretty impressive. A few bands played before a lone police officer arrived to break up the celebration. He wasn’t abrasive or rude but he did shut it down and apparently some folks were none to pleased with his interference. The poor cop returned to his cruiser to find his rear windshield smashed in with a cinder block in the backseat. I’m no fan of the police, especially when they crash a perfectly benign party, but I don’t approve of actions that perpetuate negative stereotypes and threaten the delicate balance of keeping the peace and allowing for a little fun.
Slightly bummed about the abrupt end to the festivities but exhausted from a full day of partying, we biked the six miles back to the hotel to rest up for the final day of FEST 8.