Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Punk Rock and Beat Up Cops: Surviving The Fest 8 Part 1
Halloween weekend used to be a relatively quiet weekend in Gainesville, Florida. In a town that takes college football a little too seriously, a good chunk of it’s residents would leave town for the Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville, meaning all the frat parties, the obnoxious college bar scenesters and the underage kids that needed their stomach pumped at three in the morning were all somewhere else. Yes, Halloween weekend used to be pretty laid back in Gainesville, until 7 years ago when the juggernaut made of beer, punk rock, partying and more beer simply known as “The Fest” changed Halloween weekend forever.
This year was as horrendous as ever. Fest 8, the brainchild of local record label No Idea Records, was 3 days madness featuring over 300 bands in 11 different venues around Gainesville and thousands of attendees from all over the world that were ready to party till they puked. It was a constant blur of shows, parties, intoxication, late night performances and a taste of cvil disobedience. Luckily their was at least one sober person there to make sense of al the madness, and that person was me.
From Friday to Sunday I tried my best to document what I could of the craziness that happened, even though I know it would be impossible for me to cover everything. In fact, no one could ever cover everything that happens in those three days. Because The Fest provides so many different choices all within a short amount of time, everyone has to make their own decisions about how their own personal time will be spent that weekend. Though there may be overlap, no two person’s Fest experience is alike, so in the big picture, this is just a small sample of everything that happened there. This is my version.
This year would be my first full weekend attending The Fest, and being the poor jobless musician that I am, I would have to experience the weekend on a shoestring budget. I had to devise a plan to cut costs and I found that getting in for free would really take a big chunk out of my expenses. One way to get a pass for The Fest is being one of the 100 plus volunteers required to run one of the biggest DIY festivals in the country. Usually volunteers have to be residents of Gainesville, but that was a minor detail in my quest for a free Fest pass. I won’t divulge my secret as to how I got passed the volunteer red tape, but let’s just say I may or may not have committed voter fraud in the process.
I arrived in Gainesville Wednesday night for the volunteer meeting held in a banquet hall at the Holiday Inn across from UF and found a room full of intoxicated Gainesville locals standing in line and drinking. That night really set the tone for a weekend that would mostly consist of drunk people standing in line. When you walk into a room that holds everyone working to put on this event and they're all already drinking heavily, two days before anything actually happens mind you, you get the feeling that sobriety is not a priority here. Ironically, most of meeting was spent stressing to volunteers that they shouldn't show up to their shift drunk.
The benefit of getting to the Fest two days early is watching the town transform from Florida’s most prominent Collegiate city to Gainesville Rock City. Gainesville is like any other college town in the sense that it has it's fair share of punks, hippies and pseudo-intellectual artist types, as well as jocks, frat boys, meat heads, and for lack of a better word, sluts. If you’re ever here on a game day you really see that latter group come out in full force. People come from all over the state to stand in the middle of the street, get drunk and do the Gator chop all day until they vomit, get into a fight or hopefully both. The Fest is the one weekend a year where the social paradigm of Gainesville completely shifts. Instead of drunk and rowdy frat boys filling the streets it's drunk and roudy punks, hardcore kids, crusties, and music snobs filling the streets. You kind of feel bad for any normal person not going to The Fest that has to walk around town that weekend.
By Friday morning the town had been completely taken over by festers, and by 5:30pm, the ceremonies had officially begun. My fest partner Kaila and I started off the weekend at 1982 where Gainesvillian band Battle! was opening. This night at 1982 seemed to have the most solid block of hardcore during the whole fest, so starting there was a priority. Unfortunately 1982 is also one of the more intimate venues being used that weekend, and our first attempt to see a band was stopped by their capacity restrictions and we spent most of Battle's set standing in line. Soon we would find out that “at capacity” was going to be a phrase we heard a lot that weekend. No matter how large the venue, almost every place had a line out front at any time, which is probably awesome if you’re the band that’s playing, but not so awesome if you’re everybody else. It became apparent that the number one key to actually seeing some bands play this weekend was time management.
Luckily waiting in line didn’t seem so bad. While waiting we got to witness a fight between some skateboarders and a Wing Zone employee that worked next door. What was great about this fight was that it gave us something to talk about for the rest of the weekend standing in line. It also gave us some great lines to use if someone tried to butt us, such as, "You want some of this buffalo sauce? I'll go extra spicy all over your ass!" Fest time really brings out the best in everyone
After catching half of Battle's set we stuck around to wait for Maryland hardcore band Ruiner. When Ruiner started the whole crowd went off, prompting stage hands and the bar's employees to freak out just a little bit as they tried their best to prevent stage diving. They were extremely zealous at first but then seemed to let up throughout the night. I'm pretty sure by Sunday every stage hand had given up on the cause, but that first couple hours was quite the struggle for everyone. Early on they sent some guy into the pit to pull people down if they were trying to pile on (which definitely does not constitute a stage dive.) At one point this bouncer tried to pull someone down and I stood underneath the kid and pushed him up in protest. I ended up hurting my back, but it was worth sticking to my principles. Apparently this bouncer didn't have enough gusto for this line of work though. While getting rowdy on the crowd I got pulled down and this guy next to me says to the bouncer very calmly, "Dude, chill out," and the bouncer just walked away. I think that bystander might have been a Jedi.
After Ruiner came Boston band Defeater, a band that proves to be awe-inspiring on cd, but even more so live. They opened the set with the Acoustic interlude of "Profit in Plain Clothes" completely unmic'ed. From that point on the crowd was completely engaged and singing every word, and again much to the dismay of the bouncers, everyone went nuts.
This crowd response I saw in the first couple of hours there was pretty much standard at every show I went to that weekend. Once you've been at The Fest long enough to see a few bands, you start to notice how every set seems to be the best that band has ever played. For the whole weekend you live in this heightened sense of reality where every show you go to is awesome and everyone in this town likes the same music you do. It feels like some sort of punk utopia. The first three bands I saw that night I had seen before multiple times and none had that kind of reaction when I saw them previously. The conventions of a typical show like bad turnouts, an underwhelmed audience or testosterone fueled pit beefers simply doesn't exist. If you saw most of the bands that played the Fest anywhere but the fest, it would be disappointing comparatively. Over the summer I saw Ruiner play a hometown show with a healthy crowd of 15 people. Here they seemed like a different band. A band that people actually wanted to see.
Later on in the night we went to Common Grounds to wait in line and eventually watch Coliseum. Then we rushed over to the Venue to see a "face melting" set by Strike Anywhere, followed by the legendary 7 Seconds. The next stop would've been the Atlantic to see Polar Bear Club, but our dreams were dashed by over capacity and a line that wrapped around the block. It was back to 1982 to see one of my favorites and a Fest crowd pleaser, Crime in Stereo, who officially brought the end to night one of Fest 8.
Throughout the night I kept hearing rumors of a house show featuring Camadre doing an entire set of Refused songs. Although I was exhausted and the house show wouldn't start till 2am, I figured it was something I should attend. The Fest is famous for unruly after-fest house shows and I wanted to make it a point to go to at least one every night. Sometime around 1am Crime in Stereo's set had ended and by then I tracked down an address for the house show. It was on the north end of town a few miles from downtown. I went across the street to grab some food before the show and then I would be on my way. By the time I got my food I realized I didn't have much time, so I hopped on my bike and rode a couple miles with a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke in my hand. At some point I had gotten lost while looking for the party, so I stopped in the middle of the street to eat my cheeseburger, and as I finish, a car pulls up and asks me if I’m going to the house show. They give me a ride and we all find the show.
As I’m walking up to the house I can barely hear the muffled sound of “New Noise” being played. I had to get into the house fast. The place was crowded, so I somehow stuffed myself through the front door and into a small foyer filled with band equipment and people, then pushed forward to a closed door that lead to the living room. I made my final push into the next room, an average sized living room that was crammed with at least 100 people. The whole place was out of control. Beer was flying everywhere and the air was thick with body heat and sweat. Every minute or so someone in the band would have to stop in the middle of a song and kick off the wall of people pushing onto them and their equipment. I quickly climbed on top of some people to sing along, dodging the ceiling fan as I tried to find Camadre’s vocalist in the sea of people that had overtaken his body. The song ended and he emerged from the crowd out of breath, bloody and covered in everyone’s sweat. Just a short breather and then he dove back in for the next song.
The rest of the set consisted of the three Refused classics “Rather Be Dead,” “The Shape of Punk to Come” and “Deadly Rhythm (of the Production Line).” I was impressed with how spot on the covers were, complete with jazzy breaks and everything. I also hadn’t listened to Refused in a long time and hearing those songs in a live setting made me remember just how good those songs are.
By the time I got back to where I was staying that night, it was 4:30. Some of my friends were planning to stay up to go see another unofficial fest show that wasn’t starting till 6:30 am. I had had enough. My voice was gone and I could barely stand. And it was only Friday. There was still two more days to go.
Stay posted for Part 2 coming soon!