FEST 17 Review – 69 bands by Kayla Greet

Fest 17 Kayla Greet

FEST 17 Review – 69 bands by Kayla Greet

I flew out on a redeye to Tampa on the Monday before. While trying to get shut eye on a plane is not the most ideal situation, for those of us on a budget it certainly beats spending money on a place to stay for the night. As I was walking to my terminal in Seattle, who should I pass by other than Russ Van Cleave! The Sea-Tac airport isn’t massive like O’hare, but it’s definitely not small either. The fact that we were synced up on our FEST travels and didn’t even realized it was a good omen for the days to come. We popped over to the food court and chatted over some nachos while we waited to board our flights.

Somehow I managed to put together about four hours of sleep in the air. This was a good precursor training for the long nights to come for the rest of this trip. Once I landed in Tampa, I managed to get myself good and lost in the airport. Somehow I had taken a series of shuttles and ended in the rental car parking lot that exited on to a remote service road quite a ways from the airport. What can I say? It’s a gift!

From there I got a lift to the Tampa art museum to check out the Yayoi Kusama installation they had. Viewers were limited to only two minutes in the room, but it was a magical time. I was immersed in one of her infinity rooms that was covered in mirrors and rife with neon inflatable tentacles covered in polka dots. All the while you’re hearing Kusama recite a love poem she wrote in Japanese. The entire thing was beautiful. Then I looked at the museum’s impressive collection of Grecian and Roman artifacts.

I still had a couple of hours to kill before I could check into my Airbnb, so I stopped into Tequilia’s for some empanadas and a bit of a calm before the storm. The place I was staying was a comfortable fifteen minute walk from the main festivities. Once I was able to check in, I met the host’s cockatiel named Khloe and settled into the room.

Later I met up with the Seattle crew for drag queen bingo and freezy drinks in the heart of Ybor City. For those non-drinkers, I have to say the virgin piña coladas are wonderful. On Pre-FEST eve I basically barhopped with my friends and sipped on ginger ales while they indulged in spirits. And I even filled my karma bank that night by letting a Fester crash at my Airbnb because his friend bailed on him last minute for a place to stay. As far as complete strangers go, Mike was a delight and I was happy to help!

DAY 1

Guerilla Poubelle
Campdogzz
Dollar Signs
Sandspur City
Wolf-Face
Nightmarathons
Lone Wolf
RVIVR
Dead Bars
World’s Scariest Police Chases
Cursive

Okay, now on to day one which is my day two, but who’s counting? Pre-FEST begins! But not till 6:20 PM! Mike and I hung around the Airbnb till my friend Aaron, who I was sharing the room with, arrived. Once everyone was settled and unpacked, we walked over to registration where I ended up chatting to some folks from Pittsburgh for a while. Our timing was great and I managed to get a FEST photo booth picture both with my Seattle buds, and with my FEST roommate. Bonus!

From here Mike offered to buy us lunch for letting him crash at the Air Bnb. FEST people are the nicest people! We went to Hamburger Mary’s where I indulged in a mac ‘n’ cheese Beyond burger that was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while. I did have a minor panic attack a couple of weeks later when I learned that this LBGTQ bar/restaurant was shut down due to both an employee with Hep A working in the kitchen, and live rodents and cockroaches found by the health department. I’m happy to say that none of us got sick.

The first band I saw was Guerilla Poubelle from France who was playing their 999th show as a band! That is quite a feat. After checking them out for the second time this year (they played an incredible show with Arms Aloft in Seattle over the summer), we sauntered over to the Orpheum for the end of Campdogzz and all of Dollar Signs’ set. Pre-FEST this year was considerably smaller and only employed three venues total, one of which was only doing afternoon acoustic bands. So really it was a fifty-fifty toss up between Crowbar and Orpheum. This made scheduling conflicts almost non-existent.

After a high energy set from those North Carolina boys, and getting a chance to catch up with Lou Hanman outside of Orpheum, I caught some of Sandspur City followed by Wolf-Face. For those who are unaware, these guys dress up as Michael J. Fox from Teen Wolf and play some poppy, driving punk jams in basketball uniforms and wolf masks. As far as gimmicks go, theirs is pretty good. Nightmarathons from Pittsburgh were next and my buddy Tim is their drummer. They played a tight and very enjoyable set that I was happy to be a part of.

From here I was about to flip a coin between Dikembe who I know people enjoy though I don’t know their tunes, and Lone Wolf from The Netherlands who I knew zero things about. As I came out of the bathroom at Crowbar I figured I’d stay for a song or two of the Dutch group and then walk over to the Orpheum.

The problem was that their first song was an absolute ripper so I stayed for a second one. That song was even better! Dead Bars’ CJ Frederick came over to me and was like, “Holy smokes this band is great! And their gear is so nice!” Before long I was committed to staying for their whole set and didn’t want them to ever stop playing. Every time they finished a song I felt less like I was clapping and more like I was high fiving myself for making the best choice of the night. They’re a mix of Big Eyes, Marked Men, and Sugar Stems with these insanely catchy numbers and I was in love. After their set I ran over to the merch table and grabbed a copy of their latest CD. I considered the flexi and/or an LP but didn’t want to carry/ruin either while traveling. Please come back to the States soon Lone Wolf! They were the best band of FEST!

And then I was caught in a conundrum. RVIVR and Dead Bars were playing within ten minutes of each other and while it’s only a six or seven minute walk between venues, I had to figure out how to best split my time. Now, I’ve seen both bands countless times over the years in the Northwest, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re both some of my favorites to watch. I started at the Orpheum as RVIVR started first. Then I stayed for most of their set and popped back to the Crowbar in time to see Dead Bars’ last three songs. It was the first time in a long while that I’d seen them with CJ who is a delightful human being who I miss very much.

My Pre-FEST roomie Aaron and I reconnected and wandered over to watch Cursive for the end of our first day. Bad Cop/Bad Cop was officially closing out the night, but neither of us had it in us to keep walking around till 2 AM. Cursive played a very tight set and sprinkled in plenty of stuff from Ugly Organ as well as new stuff. Just before their last song, Tim Kasher went on an impassioned political rant about the importance of getting out the vote for midterms, as well as not allowing the right to divide us. That was the first of many “go vote” pep talks I heard shouted from stage this weekend, but it was one of the more impactful ones in my opinion. With a bit more pep in our step, we walked the twenty minutes back to our bed and finally truly rested.

DAY 2

Bad Cop/Bad Cop acoustic
Headlines
War On Women
PEARS
Night Birds
Tiltwheel
Dead To Me
The Tim Version
Lemuria
Tim Barry
Radioactivity

One of the nice things about FEST is that nothing starts at crazy o’clock. You’ve generally got until the early afternoon to chill out and recoup from the day before. Now I don’t drink anymore so I’m not having to shake off the fog of too many PBRs and whiskeys in the AM, though I will say that standing on concrete and pinballing between venues all day will certainly wipe you out. Always be sitting whenever possible and drink water like you’re an opposite camel that will never have a reserve of liquid of any kind. Follow these simple steps and you’re well on your way to surviving the festivities.

Aaron and I showered up and propelled ourselves back into the mild Florida heat. While it was still warmer than I preferred, there was often a breeze which kept the temps from hitting the eighties. Totally tolerable. I outfitted myself with a tropical print fanny pack (aka waist wallet) containing an emergency power pack, charger, notebook, and cash money. And I also clipped my gigantic water bottle with a carabiner so I didn’t have to hold it all day. Last year I made the mistake of bringing a shoulder bag and felt like the world’s biggest asshole for bumping into people at every gig.

We arrived at The Bricks about an hour before Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s acoustic set so we could cram some caffeine and vittles into ourselves. By the way, the food here is fantastic! While we were eating I got a message from our Airbnb host asking what time we planned on checking out today. In my head I’m like, “Umm… tomorrow morning?” Turns out I fucked up when selecting dates for the room and there was another couple coming in to rent the spot that night.

So I shot a few quick texts to friends saying we might need an emergency floor to sleep on tonight, and then frantically looked for reasonably priced Air Bnbs last minute. I found a $40 room only three miles north in a fairly sketchy and cluttered house, but it was better than nothing. Finally Aaron and I could breathe and relax a bit. There was no immediate rush to move out so we were still able to see some of the bigger bands on our early afternoon schedule.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
After settling up with the wait staff, we meandered to the back patio of The Bricks for a super duper intimate set with BC/BC. There were two fans blowing full blast onto the stage, though it still wasn’t quite enough. Halfway through they got the third fan turned on which made hearing them much harder. But holy hell these gals have range. I’ve seen BC/BC electric many times in all sizes of venues. I’ve seen them play shows smaller than this sweet acoustic gig. But I’d never seen them just absolutely slay like this. From the very start Stacey said they wouldn’t be using the vocal mic provided for them, and I was very impressed with how much they projected, especially over the sound of three industrial fans. One of the best sets I saw that weekend for sure.

Ever since Headlines dropped their demo on bandcamp in early 2018, it’s been an obsessive earworm for me. Especially that “Teething” song. Holy crap is that a jam! So moving house could wait till after their set ’cause I was jazzed about catching them. For whatever reason I decided to stand on the side stage for their set. Maybe I subconsciously placed myself closest to the door so we could bolt as soon as they finished? Anyways, the sound was not great as I was behind the speakers and basically hearing it through the monitors. Not at all a fault of the band or the Crowbar. I’m just a dummy for standing where I did. Anyways, they were great and I was very pleased to have seen them. That Marissa has a helluva voice.

I bee-lined to collect Aaron for our eviction shuffle and passed my friend Tim on the way. He gave a quick hello, finished his conversation, and then came over to chat. Unfortunately it was a short one wherein I explained how much of an idiot I am and that we had to go move. In the interest of time we began a series of three Lyfts—one to the old place, one to the new place, and one back to Crowbar. The whole ordeal took around forty-five minutes and we were back in time for me to catch War On Women. Phew!

This was my first time seeing WOW and they really do put on an impressive show. Shawna Potter is a force to be reckoned with, totally taking control of the stage as well as captivating the audience. Between WOW and Radon, as well as “Two Minutes To Late Night” for which WOW were the backing band, guitarist Jenarchy played eight sets that weekend. She fucking rocked the three sets I saw her do, and I’m sure the others were even better.

After this set I took a lengthy outside break and chatted with Zach and Brian from PEARS for a bit. I’ve said it before, but one of the magical things about FEST is just shooting the shit with some of the best bands around. Out on the High Dive patio there were members of Bad Cop/Bad Cop, WOW, Night Birds, and more. Once it was time for PEARS to hit the stage I jumped back inside.

They played their signature high energy set with a medley of covers ranging from Santana ft. Rob Thomas to Green Day. At one point Shawna Potter joined them on stage for a song. Another one of those awesome things of FEST is seeing these spur of the moment collaborations. I stuck around Crowbar for a triple dose of PEARS, Night Birds, and Tiltwheel, then wandered over to Orpheum for Dead To Me. The venue was packed for DTM so I took a better vantage point by watching from upstairs. While there, I stood next to a girl who couldn’t be bothered to look up from pictures of dogs on her phone to catch even a second of DTM. That’s fine I guess. Sometimes you just gotta recoup and look at puppies, though I chose to summon my energy reserve in order to do some dancing and singing with Jack and crew. This was the first time I’d seen their new songs live and they put on a hell of a show.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
Then I bounced back to Crowbar for a dose of The Tim Version, peppered in some Lemuria at Orpheum, and boomeranged back to spend the last of my night bouncing around to Radioactivity. Those Denton dudes always pack a punch as they tightly weave through their power pop jams. This was the first band so far that I staked out a spot right up front and it was so worth it. Finishing up sharply at midnight meant I had time to wind down, wipe the sweat from my brow, and catch a ride with Aaron to our Air Bnb. He had me in tears talking about how the Piebald set drove him to drink and called them a bunch of hair farmers. I nearly fell over laughing at such a ridiculous phrase while we waited for our Lyft. Even our driver was cracking up at his late night rant about washed-up nostalgia. Fantastic way to end the night!

DAY THREE—The Road to Gainesville

Cold Wrecks
Goddamnit
Sports Reference
Reconciler
Radon
Bad Cop/Bad Cop
The Eradicator
Tsunami Bomb
Such Gold
Audio Karate
Arms Aloft as Jimmy Eat World
Ramona as Beastie Boys
Riverboat Gamblers
Crusades

Having slept maybe five hours because we were too busy talking about the events of the past two days and singing Samiam songs to each other, Aaron and I packed up and headed to the FEST Porkchop Express pick up. The email confirmation we all got said to meet at the Hilton Gardens at 10:30 for an 11AM departure. I don’t think we actually got on the road till almost noon. Aaron and I were there fifteen minutes early and sucked down some free coffee from the hotel lobby.

I bumped into some Seattle friends Raymond and Kelsie who’d just flown in the night before and were taking the charter bus with us. Unless you’re close enough to have driven yourself to Pre-FEST, the Porkchop Express is the way to go. It’s only $50 for a one way trip, and you get an exclusive T-shirt! At 11:15 we’d been waiting for a full hour and nothing was happening. The bus was there. The driver was there. But all the rest of us were queued up in front of the hotel with our luggage.

Finally I took charge and decided to see what the deal was. I walked up to the driver who introduced himself as “Keith, but my friends call me the Ragin’ Cajun.” I asked what our ETA was and he responded with, “two hours.” “No,” I said, “Not how long till Gainesville, how long till we get on your bus and on the road?” He replied that he was just waiting on us and once the shock of that washed over me, I yelled to the crowd of folks to get on the bus.

Everyone rushed towards the bus, some threw their gear in the compartments underneath, and then I realized I’d made a grave mistake. There still needed to be someone to check us in and distribute these exclusive tees. So I asked everyone to hold up a minute while I asked the front desk what was going on. They had no idea so I went back to the bus passengers and asked if anyone in line knew any FEST organizers or volunteers. Again I was empty handed.

Ragin’ Cajun told me that he had a manifest of fifty-seven riders so I did a head count. We came up seven people over. There was a second bus that was picking up at the other hotel, so I asked everyone to double check their confirmation email and make sure they were in the right place. Even though I didn’t know what was going on, I did my best to keep everyone as informed as I was, and used the opportunity to get to know our driver better. He said he’s from Louisiana originally and loves AC/DC and Metallica. We were going to get on just fine. Then he asked me what kind of festival we were all going to and I replied, “Well, there’s wrestling, comedy, and oh a shit ton of punk bands.” I’d considered informing him it was a circus convention, though burying the lead seemed funnier.

Eventually the other bus swung by with the FEST volunteer who had the detailed charter manifest and we got all squared away. The shirt this year was a picture of Large Marge that said, “Tell ’em Pre-FEST sent ya!” Our driver informed us that our in-drive entertainment was Leprechaun in the Hood and Child’s Play. I connected with a new friend from Los Angeles and settled in with my Northwest buds after asking the bus to give a round of applause to our driver, Ragin’ Cajun. I made it through maybe half of Ice T battling a scorned leprechaun before laying on Aaron’s shoulder for a nap. I woke up to the cringe-worthy rap at the end of Leprechaun and rolled into chats with friends while Chucky was possessed by a killer on the run.

Having skipped breakfast in lieu of our charter bus schedule, I was starving by the time we rolled in to Gainesville. I got dropped at the Holiday Inn, checked into my room with my friends (Alithea, Nichole, and Jake) who were already there, and set out to get food. Nichole joined me for lunch at Reggae Shack where I ordered way too much food and cried on the inside that I couldn’t finish their dulce de leche festivals.

Razorcake’s own Craven Rock met up with us at Reggae Shack and accompanied me to the non-FEST sanctioned impromptu(?) Radon show at Leonardo’s Pizzeria. There were three bands on this free bill and I caught half of the first one, as well as most of Radon. I reconnected with Aaron there who thankfully helped me finish the delicious 32oz smoothie I got from Reggae Shack. I bumped into my buddy Fedge from Oakland there and it started to feel like FEST was truly upon us. With a few songs left to go, I had to sneak back to my room at the Holiday Inn to lie down before the day really started.

Once I’d digested more of my gigantic lunch, I surprised The Bollweevils by stopping in where they were having lunch. Always nice to reconnect with some old friends and even better when they’re not expecting it. They finished up their drinks and we all headed to 8 Seconds to catch Bad Cop/Bad Cop. On our walk I overheard some kids saying they didn’t know how to get to 8 Seconds so I roped them in with our caravan. “We’re headed there now. Come with us!”

We got our first wristband of the day and headed to the landing on the side of the stage for one of the best views in my least favorite venue. There we ran into Rev of Success who was playing with Western Settings. I always love seeing hometown homies outside of Seattle.

I dipped out right before the end of BC/BC’s set so I’d get to the High Dive early for Tsunami Bomb. In doing so I caught the tail end of The Eradicator who was still up to his masked Squash antics. When they finished up, I snagged a spot up front, stage right and was situated just in front of my buddy Dominic who is the bassist.

Now this was about the twentieth time I’ve seen Tsunami Bomb, but only the second since they reformed with their new singer. They played so many of my old standbys, as well as mixing in their two brand new jammers. Of those twenty times seeing TB, this was also only my second with original keyboardist Oobliette. It was everything I wanted it to be. Though because FEST is a well oiled machine, their set was cut abruptly only a few bass lines into the crowd favorite “Lemonade.” Turns out they went on just a few minutes late and couldn’t squeeze anymore lemons into that set.

Afterwards I reconnected with Dominic who’s been a friend of mine since I started following the band sixteen years ago. Not only does he play in one of my favorite bands, but he hosts two podcasts (3 Gigs, Monster Candy), helps run Alternative Tentacles, and draws awesome comics. He rules and it’s always a blast to see him.

I stuck around High Dive for a while longer since one of my favorite people in the whole world was there. My buddy Tommy from Chicago was at FEST helping sling merch for Red Scare and luckily I met up with him before his weekend got real busy. We hung out through Such Gold and Audio Karate’s set, just catching up on the patio before I ran off to Loosey’s to catch some cover sets.

Snagging a slice of Five Star pizza on my way, I jumped in line with Seattle buddies Greg (Bobby’s Oar), his partner Stephanie, Skyler from Heck Yes, and Kendra from the Bad Copy. This might have been the first line I had to wait in all weekend. If you’ve got to kill some time at FEST, I can’t imagine a better group of folks to do it with. Plus Kendra had Bad Copy Mad Libs with her wherein I was allowed to make fun of The Menzingers from the safety of a fictional story.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
What we were all queuing up for was Arms Aloft’s Jimmy Eat World set. Now I’m happy to admit that before crossing that threshold to Loosey’s I’d consider myself a very casual JEW fan who maybe would remember one or two songs. Number one I wanted to watch Arms Aloft pretend to be another band, and two I wanted to be there early for Ramona’s Beastie Boys set. When that half hour was done I realized I knew way more than a couple JEW songs, and that I really enjoyed hearing them live. Maybe it’s that FEST magic of seeing a crowded room lose their shit about a great band playing someone else’s songs. Either way it was far better than I had anticipated.

In between sets I took a seat on Loosey’s patio. To my left was a table full of Germans and I’m still on level one of verb tenses with Doulingo so I decided not to practice my amateur Deutsche. To my right was a trio of dudes, one of who continued to punctuate his stories with gesticulating and consistently jabbing me by accident. After a couple of jolts to the shoulders and ribs I decided to let on that I was eavesdropping. It was Jeff Matika from Banner Pilot / The Longshot / Green Day. He was super apologetic about bumping me. I chatted with him about how much fun the two Longshot shows I saw in the Northwest were and how I bonded with their guitarist Kevin for being an extra in Star Trek.

Ramona doesn’t fuck around. They took the stage wearing matching (Grand) royal blue jumpsuits with their band name on the back, as well as shades, and various accessories such as backwards hats and large metallic jewelry. Here’s the thing, they weren’t doing karaoke to beats without the rhymes. They’d recorded themselves playing the hooks on a keyboard, as well as had a guitarist filling in other melodies, and Shannon on drums for an added oomph. There was also a live keyboardist for a few songs. I don’t remember much within the whirlwind of amazement besides them nailing “Sure Shot” and Abbey crushing “Girls.” One of the most fun sets of the day for sure (shot).

Worried I’d miss one of the gnarliest bands of FEST, I cut Ramona’s set a bit short and ran over to see the Riverboat Gamblers. If anyone is breaking a bone this weekend, it’s Mike Wiebe and it’s here. What an absolute fucking mad man. The fear receptor in his brain must be malfunctioning because he’ll do anything for a shocking effect. Scale the ten feet tall speaker stacks as an already six foot something tall man and then leap into the crowd of people who think they’re ready for it? When I wanted to tell Ragin’ Cajun we were all going to a circus convention, this is our ring master.

My pro-tip or whatever about FEST is this: don’t go to 8 Seconds for any reason whatsoever. The staff is on the medium to totally bogus scale, the sound is not great, and the indoor smoking I just can not get over. I personally smoke and think it’s disgusting to trap up tons of people in a smoky bar/venue, not to mention the potential of getting burned? No fucking thank you.

So guess what? I peaced out early from that set too. Originally I planned on being there till the end of their set with a whole twenty minutes to spare before the first of the last Crusades sets. But fuck all that. I didn’t want to trigger a migraine before seeing these Satanic Canadians! This gave me time for yet another slice of Five Star on the way to High Dive and then I high fived my friend Lukas at the front of the stage, eagerly awaiting Crusades.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
I don’t know how to convey it to you. They were simply just so fucking good. Dave Williams is absolute precision in a Kate Bush shirt. Jordy hits hard in all the right places. Skottie and Emmanuel harmonize like angels, if they believed in them. They brought up this amazing woman to sing my favorite Jay Reatard song, “My Shadow,” with them. That’s like winning the lottery. When a band you love dearly covers another band you love, but also picks THE best song? Fantastic.

Afterwards I hung around the merch table to say hi to Dave in person. He and I have communicated a bit over the years and I’ve interviewed him in the past, but both of our respective nations have kept us from congregating in the flesh. He graciously gave me a Crusades shirt depicting a saintly figure hugging a goat. With that and a few hugs goodbye, I strolled back to the Holiday Inn for the night.

DAY FOUR

Night Birds
PEARS – Go To Prison
Banner Pilot
Lemuria
RVIVR
MakeWar
Adult Magic
Ceramicats
The Flatliners
The Copyrights – North Sentinel Island
Katie Ellen
Spells
The Creeps
Nightmarathons as Samiam
Dead Bars as Bouncing Souls
Crusades

For a number of beneficial reasons, I quit drinking just a couple of days after last year’s FEST. So this would be my first major music festival (sponsored by PBR) where I wouldn’t be partaking in booze. Because of that I designed a distraction for myself and organized a Punks is Sober meet up to better reach other folks who may be struggling with substance abuse. One of the FEST Friends mods also had something like this set up as she wasn’t drinking anymore due to a pregnancy. It made sense to merge events and so we carved out a couple hours on the patio of Pop-A-Top to commiserate and meet.

Honestly I was pretty disappointed with the turnout. Maybe eight or nine people out of several thousand showed up. And one of the people there openly admitted he was a drinker who was just there for moral support. That’s so totally fine. Good on you for supporting your friends. I was anticipating basically an AA meeting for punks, which is what I’ve been searching for at home for the last year.

I got a decent start on the day and was en route to Pop-A-Top when I got a text from Tommy saying he was heading downstairs at the Holiday Inn for a smoke. So I turned heel and walked back to meet him for a quick hang. One of our mutual friends had lost their wallet the night before so we discussed the logistics of finding it or getting them home without an ID. Everything worked out in the end, which is great!

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
Showing up about twenty minutes late to the sober meet up, I quickly grabbed a coffee as well as a cucumber soda and a vegan breakfast burrito. There I met up with a woman from Paris whose sober date was only two days behind mine, and a guy who people in my Atheist Agnostic AA meetings at home had suggested I meet as we had lots in common. A couple more folks showed up a little later and the core of us sat abreast of Night Birds’ raucous set at the Atlantic while talking about recovery, sobriety, subculture, and music. It was small but it fucking ruled. I’d way rather sit and connect with people at that moment than see Night Birds again. Plus we could hear it really well anyways!

The next band at the Atlantic was a mystery set consisting of PEARS playing their first record start to finish. I sat with my new friends for a bit longer and eventually popped into the Atlantic for the second half of the B Side. It’s always an interesting thing when a band plays an album all the way through because I’d hazard to guess that some of those songs haven’t been played since they were recorded. As per usual, those New Orleans dudes packed a punch and put on a great set.

With some time to kill I walked over to Bo Diddley Plaza planning on checking in on my buddy Tommy slinging merch over there. But Banner Pilot was playing and it just reaffirmed my aversion towards that band. So I bowed out and headed to the Wooly for Lemuria’s mystery set. Shout out to the bartenders at the Wooly for being totally happy to fill my giant water bottle and throw a bunch of ice in it as well. The room was pretty packed and I found a spot off to the side, halfway facing the stage and half the open doorway filled with radiating Florida sun. The difference in lighting was so drastic that I wore my sunglasses which was beneficial since I was also feeling emotional.

There’d been rumors flying around that Lemuria was calling it quits, so I was happy to have this mystery set to catch them at for the second time this weekend. About four or five songs into their very Get Better-heavy set, Sheena relieved everyone by saying the rumors were false and Lemuria would carry on! Awesome.

On my way to the High Dive to catch MakeWar, the sounds of RVIVR filled my head from Bo Diddley. While I mostly avoided the huge outdoor venue, as I’d rather watch medium- to small-sized bands in more intimate venues, I definitely appreciate the sound quality and how much those PAs carry throughout downtown Gainesville.

MakeWar. One of the brightest highlights of FEST 17. I definitely let my fatigued body and mind take over for a bit and got straight up lost on the way to the High Dive even though it’s basically my base camp for FEST. Several times throughout the weekend friends would text me asking where I was. One hundred percent of the time the answer was High Dive. So I came around the back through the parking lot which meant no bonus slice of Five Star, but as I passed all the out-of-state license plates, I noticed the dudes from MakeWar blowing up a few large Orca whale pool floats—much like the cover of their first record.

Before the set started, I got to reconnect with my friends John and Drew who I met at last year’s FEST because I asked if I could charge my phone next to them. It was so good to see these dudes again and it made me reinvigorated about how amazing FEST can be. Soon as we heard the first notes of MakeWar, we all wandered in and sort of spread out. Maybe three songs in the pool floats came out. There were three huge Orca whales and one pink doughnut.

Within seconds of the floats being released, a stage diver grabbed one on either side of the fins and hopped on. He managed to survive a few seconds of literal surfing the crowd before being swallowed up by the chaos. In the midst of these inflatables floating around the pit, one of the sound proofing panels, which were held on by hooks and eyelets from the ceiling, came crashing down. Fortunately only most of the panel came unattached and it sort of swung at a ninety degree angle, narrowly missing several people. When I looked up from ducking the panel, I saw Drew and two others holding onto the soundproofing so it didn’t crush those underneath it.

The floats were still flying everywhere and more had been added while I was distracted by the ceiling guillotine. A few floppy inflated skeletons were cruising around also. At one point a beached whale landed right in front of me. Instinct kicked in and I tried to fling it back into the air with my foot. I momentarily forgot that I was wearing slip-on shoes and that right foot took off with the Orca, causing my sock to land into a major PBR puddle. Thank you to the one pit angel who helped me relocate my shoe so I didn’t develop FEST foot and have to have it amputated. Absolutely one of the best sets of the whole weekend.

From here I met back up with Aaron and we watched Adult Magic at Boca Fiesta. This band features Mike from Dead Broke Rekerds and it was cool to have a chance to see him play some tunes. We sat and chatted for a bit while a band played inside at Palamino’s, and then headed over to the Hardback Cafe to check out Ceramicats. These guys and Radon were the only local bands I checked out, and quite honestly they weren’t even on my radar. But Aaron used to live in Gainesville and I trust his recommendations. After a half hour of piercing, twinkly, mathy leads and somewhat sleepy indie, I spotted Replay Dave in the crowd. He surprised me by saying, “I don’t want to sound like a dick, but what the hell are you doing at a Ceramicats set? Only locals come to see them.” Well when you’re friends with an ex-local, you get tipped off to the good stuff!

We both had a couple of hours before anything we really wanted to see was happening. Aaron caught up with his Florida friends and I hit up the arcade. I hung out there getting replays on their pinball machines until Aaron came by. He was winning most of our matches and I decided that it maybe wasn’t my day for competitive pinball. So we popped outside for a cigarette and bumped into Brendan Kelly. I asked him if he hangs out at Logan’s Arcade in Chicago and he responded that he was only there because they don’t have whiskey backstage at Bo Diddley and he was bored as fuck.

Seeing that we all had some time to kill, we hung out while Brendan and Aaron argued about who had the worst American Steel tattoo. Brendan told us about how he and Ryan from American Steel got each other’s bands tattooed on a whim in the basement of the American Legion Hall in San Francisco. He said there was little to no sanitation, and the guy who inked them had to do five shots in a row just to settle the shakes in his hands. All of a sudden Aaron’s thirty dollar tattoo didn’t look so bad.

From this point on Aaron and I were inseparable. We were now officially doing FEST together. I’ll say that there is some amazing freedom in FESTing alone but it gets lonely pretty quickly. It was awesome to have a partner who likes the same bands, and is willing to show each other new ones. We hung in the back of the Wooly, holding hands and watching Katie Ellen. Even more fantastic was their gorgeous cover of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me.” Seeing Katie Ellen is akin to what I imagine attending church does for theist people. It’s a gorgeous set of music.

Then it was off to the High Dive for Spells! I admit I attended most of their set from the patio, resting my legs. Two different people from the bus incident in Tampa came by to thank me for taking charge. One of them said we’d probably still be there if I hadn’t spoken up! He insisted on buying me a drink for my efforts so I acquiesced with a Shirley Temple. While we were sitting on the patio, Aaron’s friend Jeff tumbled in like a bull in a china shop. He told me he was so worried that they wouldn’t let him in because he was so drunk, but that if he had to miss The Creeps he was just going to slit his wrists in some abandoned alleyway. I mean I really love The Creeps, but he LOVES them. Then he revealed to us that he’d developed three different dance moves for their set that were based off of Jazzercise.

Their set was absolutely incredible and everything I ever wanted. Though each second was transformative for me, there was a point I was taken aback when I realized that I was surrounded by tall men. Do only tall men and I like The Creeps? I felt like I was trapped in a crop circle so I shimmied a bit closer to the stage, and even closer still when they played “Cancer.” This was another set I got a bit misty-eyed at. Skottie has the most incredible voice and I’m so happy to have finally seen them live.

Could things possibly surpass this zenith?!? Did my soul have any more room to be tantalized? Turns out it did. Jeff and his Jazzercise moves followed us to Nightmarathons’s Samiam cover set at the Atlantic. Their drummer Tim had told me their set list the day before but that didn’t totally prepare me for how much fun this was. I think by the time they played “Factory” or “Sunshine” the mic no longer belonged to the band. It started to become overwhelming for me and I stepped back from the crowd, only to be treated like a wrestler on the ropes when I was bounced back in by Jeff. “Where do you think you’re going? No girl, we’re SINGIN’,” he shouted in my ear. And just like that I was catapulted a couple of inches from the mic with my arms pinned to my side as forty other people mobbed the mic to close out the set with “Dull.” What made the entire experience that much more memorable was Jeff intermittently shouting, “Play something off Soar!” “Do you know anything from Soar?”

I ran outside soon as they finished to stave off a panic attack and catch my breath. That was the first time I’d been right at the mic while people climbed on top of each other to get to it. Guess I leave that sort of thing for the hardcore kids. Next was Dead Bars doing Bouncing Souls and I’m so glad I gave myself a reset before that. Before the first song, I tried to take a drink from my water bottle, but my timing was awful because a crowd of dudes chanting “Ole ole ole ole, oleeee, ole” shoved their way forward, smashing the bottle to my face in the process. It’s not really a Jersey band doing another Jersey band unless someone is bleeding from the mouth, right? They ran through all the hits and the crowd absolutely lost their minds.

Between Creeps, Samiam, and Souls, Aaron and I had lost our voices. I don’t think either of us packed a reserve tank of energy, so we sat through the very last Crusades show ever instead of trying to power through. This is one of my regrets, but sometimes you just can’t push your body to or past its limits. Not quite ready mentally to call it a night, we walked around Gainesville till around 4 AM. During our walk we passed by the No Idea house and the most unsettling car accident. As we rounded the corner, Abba’s “Dancing Queen” was blaring and a soft red light filled the scene. A car had probably hit this palm tree at around 50 MPH and I couldn’t tell which end was the front anymore. There was a cop on scene but all we could hear was full volume disco. It felt like we were walk-ons in a David Lynch film.

DAY FIVE

Pkew Pkew Pkew
Horrible Things
Nervous Triggers
Bobby’s Oar
Bong Mountain
Ramona
Black Dots
Arms Aloft
Western Settings
Erica Freas
City Mouse
Nothington
Radon
Burn Burn Burn
The Copyrights
The Sewer Rats
The Penske File

Sunday is the hardest day. I just don’t ever want to say goodbye and go back to the real world. It’s a sad truth, but we still had a whole day to savor.

Aaron met me at the Holiday Inn and from there we went to Loosey’s to have breakfast with Tsunami Bomb. Well, most of the band had gone back home by then, but I got some quality time in with Dominic. It’s always so nice to actually catch up with people at a huge fest like this instead of just high fives and hugs in passing.

Once we’d eaten, we headed to Bo Diddley to see Pkew Pkew Pkew with our new friend Sarah. Last year I barely got in the door at Tequila’s to see these guys and now they were dominating the largest stage at FEST. Kudos to you dudes! We then hung out at Palomino for a few bands and caught Bobby’s Oar playing outside Big Lou’s on our way to see Bong Mountain at High Dive.

After a quick pit stop at the Holiday Inn, we shared a Lyft with my friend Alithea and headed to see Ramona. They’re killing it this year. Of course I’m glad to see them blowing up and working on a new record for Red Scare, but I wish all that was happening before they left Seattle! Their set was amazingly powerful and made me tear up just a bit. They covered Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away with Me” which I’d never heard before, but was transfixed by. I’ve since heard the original and am really impressed with Ramona’s version. Abbey injects so much emotion in her singing that she could make you feel sappy about “Old MacDonald.”

Black Dots went on next and while they were great, I was still thinking about that Ramona set. Arms Aloft and Western Settings were definitely worth seeing for the hundredth time, though I felt a little guilty for not checking out something I’d never heard of. FEST singalongs had ravaged Aaron’s voice and at this point we were working on a Penn and Teller act. His voice was completely gone and could only communicate by texting me while I talked to him.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
He took off to see Too Many Daves with some friends while I snagged a tempeh burrito at Boca Fiesta and watched Erica Freas’s solo acoustic set. I walked in a couple of minutes late and every seat in the Hippodrome was taken. A smattering of people was sitting crisscross applesauce style on the floor in front, so I snagged a space just to the left of Erica. As she played, more and more people came by, sheepishly poking their heads in the door. Every single time Erica encouraged the folks on the floor to come closer so there was enough room for everyone. By the end of the set we had her surrounded. She spotted Mattie Jo watching from the doorway and had them come in to sing a RVIVR song with her. The last song she played was “Quinn.” Before she launched into it she taught us the last line of the song that ripples out for several measures. What an absolutely incredible moment. Sitting there with maybe three hundred echoing “Our hearts beat with you” was so beautiful that I teared up for the second time today. Erica was a much-needed emotional reset and I feel so lucky to have been there.

Aaron caught the tail end of this singalong. After I shook out my leg cramps and thanked Erica for a beautiful set, we headed to The Wooly to watch City Mouse and make sure Miski was playing without shoes on. Their set was also very powerful. Towards the end, Miski jumped off the stage and into the crowd with her guitar and mic. Those intimate FEST moments never get old.

We attempted to end the weekend on a high note by seeing Radon but we goofed. So instead of going to Boca Fiesta, we showed up to the High Dive where there was a line to get in. Fuck! Why does everyone wanna see Radon?!? Well we got to the front of the line finally and heard gravelly songs about being tired and realized we were at Nothington’s last show. Whoops! Not that we have anything against those dudes, it just wasn’t the speed or crowd we were looking for.

Once we rectified our mistake, Aaron handed me a Shirley Temple and ran into the crowd for “Facial Disobedience.” It was a much better set than they had played at Leonardo’s and I was happy we caught them twice. My buddies Burn Burn Burn from Seattle were playing one of the last sets of FEST at Durty Nelly’s so we headed there next. The guy in front of me had clearly been to the same button machine we had earlier that day and I tried to trade him a Ren & Stimpy pin for his coveted “Nuke the Whales” one. To his credit he did consider it, but had to pass on the offer. Damn!

Burn Burn Burn played great and for a mostly Northwestern crowd. After their “last song,” they were told they still had six minutes so they cranked out a cover of “My Own Worst Enemy.” Not wanting to have a Lit song be the last thing we heard at FEST, Aaron and I ran back to the High Dive for another Copyrights set. As we wound down the weekend, we walked past the last bands of the night, deciding not to go in especially since that Penske File set was absolutely packed.

So instead we took a Lyft back to the Wyndham. Our driver let me request Samiam’s “Don’t Break Me” for the ride and he even had a disco ball and light show in the back! I’m the world’s biggest idiot and booked my flight home from Gainesville at 6 AM on Monday. Aaron was kind enough to stay up till 5 AM with me and we had a mostly delirious karaoke party in his hotel room. We shared an elevator with two brave Chicago dudes who were on a quest to find gators to fuck with. I’m certain they were totally sober. Then in the parking lot I ran into my buddy John Pata and got to spend my last few minutes of FEST with some of my favorite people of all time. FEST 17 was a resounding success and I can’t wait till the next one already.

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