Another year, another Fest. I cannot believe that it has come and gone already, leaving us with another batch of blurred memories. This year Tony Depaolo, my future husband, was my partner in crime. “Crime” may be a bit too glamorous a word, however, since we made a pact before the start of the weekend stating that there would be no blackouts or injuries this year; both of which happened last year to at least one of us and marred the fun for both. I will rephrase it to “he was my partner in moderation.”
We started the weekend at the Atlantic with fellow Gainesvillians, Cutman. This band is comprised of three-fourths of the now-defunct Escape Grace, which was a pretty rad metal band. However, I must say that their current incarnation fronted by the bulldozer-voiced Jason Rockhill (formerly of Unitas) is really something. It is amazing what the addition of decipherable vocals can do for a band. Toward the start of their set, Rockhill motioned toward the three enormous cases of water on the stage and ordered everyone to take a bottle, reminding the crowd that the secret to enduring three days of Fest is hydration.
Next up was another local outfit called Die Hoffnung. This two-piece features the brothers Marburger: Jim on guitar and vocals and John on drums. Without a bass, keyboard, or any other traditional “filler instruments,” this band has a definite mad scientist feel about it. As soon as they took the stage, Jim told the audience not to fall for Rockhill’s water crap, outing him as a longtime foe of insobriety.
Toward the end of Die Hoffnung’s twenty minutes, Tony and I took off for what would be the first of many official Fest breaks. These were an essential part of actually exercising the aforementioned moderation. During this time, we left the madness of downtown and drove home to our quiet neighborhood, let our dog outside, ate some food, and watched some TV.
After a while, Tony and I headed back downtown to catch San Diego’s Dan Padilla at The Sidebar. It was there in the swaying, singing crowd that I ran into a lot of old friends for the first time. All of us crammed near the stage, the exact same sardines who find ourselves at The Sidebar every year. Dan Padilla is a band that really shines (in the loosest definition of the word) live. The tunes are fun and though I do not know the real words to any of the songs, I always find myself singing along with every one.
As soon as Dan Padilla was done, we only had a few minutes to walk the ten blocks to 1982 to see In The Red. Luckily, everything was running a few minutes behind schedule, so we made it in plenty of time. ITR is a band that brings it in every important way. The guitars are aggressive, the drumming is insistent, and Mike Hale is one of the most distinctive, earnest vocalists around today. Like Frankie Stubbs or Chuck Ragan, Mike’s voice manages to encompass all of the gruffness and all of the tenderness that the world has to offer, often in the same breath.
We wandered back toward the center of activity once ITR finished their last song. After a couple of beers at Durty Nellie’s Irish Pub, we walked across to The Venue for Naked Raygun. I am only twenty-five, but this is a name I have heard on a fairly consistent basis since I was fourteen. I have been in situations more than once where I have inquired about the band playing over the stereo, only to be told that it was Naked Raygun. I love many bands who are little more than Naked Raygun imitators, so when I found out that I would have the opportunity to see the real thing live, I was ecstatic.
The reality was a bit south of that, however. I am going to put it this way: if I was blind, it would have been alright. Sonically, the performance was adequate, even good. If I was deaf with tunnel vision, though, I would have probably fallen asleep. The bass player and singer were like those Halloween statues: one with animatronic moving fingers, and one with animatronic moving mouth. The guitar player moved from side to side, putting forth a bit of an effort, but I am pretty sure that the drummer is the only one who broke a sweat, since he is the drummer and it is an unavoidably sweaty position. The crowd was going nuts, though. It has been a long time since I have seen so many thirty- to forty-year-olds losing their minds like that. For me, it would have been just the same if they had recorded a live album comprised of fifteen songs that they felt like playing on any given day.
When Naked Raygun wrapped up, Tony and I found ourselves on the sidewalk with a bunch of familiar faces. I was ready to party. Tony had a headache and wanted to go home. I came embarrassingly close to having a full-scale tantrum before remembering that it was only Friday, and that the name of the game was moderation. Still a bit pouty, I got into the car and called it a night.
Saturday morning felt good. It was perhaps the most refreshed and bright-eyed that I had ever felt once the Fest was in full swing. After a round of phone calls and a trip to the official Fest Hotel (the Holiday Inn), we found ourselves at Las Margaritas, a local favorite for yummy Mexican fare, with about ten of our nearest and dearest. If there is a better way to begin a full-scale day of drinking and music than a thirty-two ounce beer and a steaming heap of fajitas, I have yet to hear of it.
Our first stop of the day was a much-publicized house show. When we arrived, Triclops was playing in the living room. What I got from the experience was spastic, chaotic, and enticing. Like modern art where the Virgin Mary is being sexually assaulted or the equivalent. I do not know how much I liked them, because, after all, how much are you really going to get from the last few minutes of a house show performance? I do know, however, that it was worth notice and I would definitely watch them again.
Bloodbath and Beyond was next. Tony had taken off a few minutes before to watch Off Minor at The Atlantic, who he says were amazing. Unfortunately, Davey Tiltwheel had left an amp or something in Tony’s car and something else went wrong, so we waited for a very long time to watch Bloodbath play four or five songs. The same was true for Too Many Daves, who played next. Davey played unplugged in at least one, if not both sets, reiterating the pointless, senseless, drunken fun that is the house show.
When Tony returned, we went home for a few hours to hang out with the dog and eat cold fajita leftovers. It was just what we needed to get recharged for Avail. Avail is the band that we collectively wanted to see the most that weekend. We have both been fans for years, and were ready to unleash. They were just as amazing that Saturday night as the first time I saw them eleven years ago. Almost immediately, Tony and I were separated; every little while I would catch sight of him a few yards away, jumping up and down and screaming with the torrent, before bracing for the impact of yet another crowd surfer. The set included a perfect cross-section of songs from Dixie, 4 a.m. Friday, Satiate, and Over the James. Then there was Beau Beau. His job in that band is so strange, I mean really, how many bands have a dirty thirty-something dude with a beard down to his navel as their cheerleader? How many bands have a cheerleader? Yet, without him, I imagine the experience would be lacking. I suppose if punk rock were the porn industry, he would be the fluffer, and god bless him for it.
Avail is a tough act to follow any day of the week, but Dillinger Four was about to try. D4 is one of my favorite bands. Having not released a new album in five years, they are right up my current alley with finding something that I like, and sticking with it. I am not incredibly proud to admit that while my music collection is fairly vast, I have listened to the same forty albums (give or take), for the last few years without a whole lot of variation. As always, D4 was fun, with lots of witty banter to pass the time between fixing technical difficulties and equipment malfunctions, and though the set was very standard—“Doublewhiskeycokenoice,” “Maximum Piss ‘n Vinegar,” “Let Them Eat Thomas Payne,” “Noble Stabbings,” and so forth—it was delivered and met with the same enthusiasm as it was five, six, seven, eight years ago. To put it plainly, this shit is timeless, brilliant, genius.
We did not make it downtown on Sunday until after two. Tony’s band Luca Brasi was playing at The Sidebar at four, and we had to get the gear loaded in before the show started. We decided to walk over to Common Grounds to watch The Arrivals. The set started with Paddy Costello asking for a trashcan to puke in, and the singer asking for a shot of Jagermeister. Both wishes came true. They launched into it, delivering a whole bunch of straight forward Midwestern punk rock, prefacing each song with the announcement that it was going to be awesome. After a couple of songs, which was ten hot, stuffy (though rockin’) minutes inside, we escaped Common Grounds and headed back to the Sidebar.
Luca Brasi is a band that does not play very often, maybe every few months. However, to a casual observer who had only seen their set at the last Fest and then this one, one would probably not know that it was the same band. The members are the same, as are many of the songs, but this set was furious and gut-wrenching. The guitars managed to be thrashy and loose with a distinct technicality lying just below the distorted surface. As always, the drumming was precise and managed to hold its own against the sonic shit storm happening up front.
After dawdling around The Sidebar for a while, we made it to Market Street to catch the second half of Tampa’s The Tim Version. Always a Gainesville fan favorite, this band brings serious rock, laden with melodic, throaty vocals and intelligent lyrics.
Bloodbath and Beyond played next. They managed to hold it together, playing the most complete set with the most members and working instruments that I have ever seen. My heart swelled with pride as they stumbled through songs like “Adderal You Can Eat” and “Eat a Bowl of Fucks.”
Next up was Tiltwheel. This has been the perennial Fest-ender, so it seemed a bit strange watching them so early in the evening. On the bright side, I would be able to watch and remember their set this year, which is more than I can say for the two previous Fests. The crowd went apeshit, I went apeshit, everyone around me went apeshit. They played a blend of the old and the new. Everyone sang along. Shirts came off, the crowd was surfed, faces were jabbed with elbows, voices went hoarse. Played out in that space was every bit the emotional rollercoaster that each song encompasses. Tiltwheel reminds me of why we are here, who we are, and what is important. This set was no exception.
The Venue would be our last stop of the Fest. By the time we arrived, Small Brown Bike was well into their highly anticipated reunion set. I was half-heartbroken, since they were one of my favorite bands and I knew I had missed some great stuff. Once we settled in and I allowed the music to wash over me, however, I was mended. I felt as though I had stepped into a time warp and wound up at Fest 2, where they stood us up four years ago. This more than made up for any disappointment. It was all still there: the striving, urgent vocals, full, melodic guitars, and spot-on drumming. They ended with “Make This a Holiday” and “I Will Bury You in Me”(I do not remember in which order), and I know this is going to sound nerdy, but I made my peace with the knowledge that I was probably hearing them live for the last time. It was a beautiful set. Tony thought it was boring, but nobody is perfect.
Seaweed finished out the evening. They sounded great, and there was no one more appropriate to follow Small Brown Bike, but I was ready to call it a Fest. About halfway through Seaweed, we said a few goodbyes and slipped away into the night.
It was by far the most sober Fest that I have ever experienced, but it was also one of the best. For the first time, I have all of my memories intact, as blurred together as they may be. We made it through as planned, with no injuries, no blackouts, and no new skeletons to tuck away. It turns out that moderation is not so bad, once you give it a try.