After roughly two and a half months of on and off traveling, my last trip was a familiar one: heading down to Florida for Fest 9. This trip would mark the end of what I’d dubbed “The longest summer ever,” acting as one final blowout before hibernating for the winter.
My plans were a little different this year for multiple reasons. First, most of my normal Fest-travel friends (who I tend to rely on for places to stay, cars, and so forth) weren’t going this year. Second, I’d had so much going on that as Fest got closer I realized I hadn’t really come up with a new plan. I scrambled to shoot out some e-mails and hoped for the best.
My friend Danny from southern Florida happily offered to help me out and let me ride up with them Friday morning. I flew down to meet him in Fort Meyers, just north of where he lives with his girlfriend Sarah. While I was a little bummed to be missing the Tampa pre show, I didn’t mind one less night of no sleep. We spent the afternoon hanging out, running errands, and talking about the Florida music scene and his band The New Architects. Later on, we had a decent dinner, sat around watching cable, and I even got to sleep in my own bed. I had no complaints.
The roughly five-hour drive to Gainesville included many an RV decorated with pro-life signs amid a palm tree-dotted landscape. Danny and Sarah were gracious enough to pack food for the car, which was nice for my modest budget. Once we arrived and got settled in, we headed over to The Atlantic, where I’d planned on staying all night. Unfortunately, there was a pretty long line, which I was still waiting on when I heard The Soviettes start their set. I was bummed out since they were one of the bands I’d wanted to see more than any other. I wondered if this was going to be the worst Fest ever. Meanwhile, someone behind me in the line kept asking the door guy if The Soviettes were playing. He in turn responded “Oh, uh, I don’t know—I think this is Tiltwheel,” which I found very funny.
I managed to get inside immediately after they finished. I saw a few people I knew and watched Too Many Daves (who I’d never actually seen before) and The Future Virgins who I hadn’t seen in years. There were some equipment issues for Future Virgins, which made me a little unsure about spending the rest of the night there, but I stayed for The Gateway District figuring if I didn’t see The Soviettes I’d at least see them. They’re a great band. Carrie is probably one of the most entertaining musicians to watch. As they played, I got lifted up by someone, who turned out to be my friends Nick and Toby from Minneapolis. Suddenly, any doubts I had about the weekend vanished.
When they finished, I tracked down my friend Matt. He’s an old friend of mine that I met when he was living in New York. He moved a few years ago so I don’t get to see him as much anymore. I went with him and a bunch of other people from San Pedro over to the Civic Media Center to see The Pine Hill Haints.
The Haints had a good crowd of people singing and dancing along. Part of me wanted to dance with people, but it was fairly crowded and I was feeling shy. There was a pretty relaxed vibe once they finished, with people standing around and talking. I didn’t see most of my friends leave, so I stayed for Mike Erg’s solo set. I thought it was crowded before, but by the time he started it was packed. People didn’t really seem to mind that it was acoustic and everyone was going just as crazy as they would for an old Ergs set.
I left Civic Media Center by myself not really sure what to do and debated on calling it a night. I thought I’d overheard everyone else talking about going to Boca Fiesta earlier and ran back into Matt a little while after arriving there.
We ended up walking around the town some more and settled on watching Heavy Petty. I stood near the bar again. While everyone else was enjoying them, I thought they could have been just a touch heavier. I did talk to another friend who was annoyed that the set was nothing but the “hits,” with no b-sides or deep cuts, which was amusing me.
When they finished up Matt and I stopped for a late dinner at the Checkers on the way back to our hotels. It’s on old tradition that usually takes place on Sunday nights, but I enjoy those dinners too much to nitpick. We watched a guy refuse to pull out of the driveway while we ate. Then a very cute young lady crust punk came over the minute we finished, asking if we had any leftovers. We didn’t. I was about to buy more food, but Matt dragged me back to our hotels to call it a night.
The next morning I got myself up and out a little earlier than I expected. Matt said the earliest time to meet up was ten, so I was out the door just after. I sat around their hotel room with him and his bandmate Kevin for awhile, gearing up for the rest of the day before heading back into town. We started things off at 1982 and arrive there just as Big Eyes was starting. Despite being from New York, and considering how much I’d liked Kate’s old band Cheeky, I’d somehow managed to never see them before. They were worth the wait and sounded like a pop punk band playing in the heart of the grunge era.
The tiny room was pretty packed for early afternoon, so I watched Hot New Mexicans from the front of the bar next to the side of the stage. I like that they can’t decide if they’re a pop punk band or a soul band. I saw Nate Coles standing around and commented that I was shocked that there was a Tom Petty cover band that he wasn’t involved with, to which he replied “Well it’s about time someone else picks up the slack!” Touché. When Hot New Mexicans finished, I immediately walked to the front of the stage so I could be up front for That’s Incredible. I was really looking forward to seeing them. They’ve all been great friends. It was their first time playing Fest and I think they’re a great band. They killed it. They played everything off their 7” and all the songs that haven’t been recorded yet that I fondly remembered hearing on their tour. That set alone made my trip worthwhile.
Afterwards we headed back to the Civic Media Center to see Todd Conge’s solo set. When we finally got there, Todd had just started and there was a good crowd of people hanging out and watching. I’ve always liked Todd’s bands and I’ve enjoyed his solo sets even though they are quite different from his band projects. There’s something melancholy about those songs, almost like “introspective punk rock.” Even though I don’t have all that much to reflect upon, they seem to resonate with me more than ever. I also met J from Stoned At Heart and told her “You gave me a slice of pizza last year, which practically saved my life.”
We stuck around for a while casually watching some other bands. Matt, Kevin, and I went to get an early dinner at Boca Fiesta. There’s something I always like about the group dinner. With the exception of a loud band, it’s got everything that I want. Plus there was good music playing on the jukebox. Sometimes I just like the idea of eating tacos with friends more than getting smashed around during a show.
We got in line to see Toys That Kill at Common Grounds. There was a brief moment where it seemed like they would be another band I’d miss, but we got in during the third song of their set, just as they were playing a bunch of songs from Shanked! As you’d expect, it was pretty crowded—especially since this was the first time in a few years they were playing at the much more comfortable Common Grounds versus one of the larger venues. While I was really excited to see them again, I stayed over towards the side, getting as close to the stage as I could, mostly watching and bobbing my head. While part of me wanted to be going crazier, but I felt fine standing amongst my friends. Plus, it was pretty funny when we saw Kevin crowd surfing at the end.
After they finished, we stood outside on the patio for a little bit. Maren asked me if I lived in Gainesville now. I don’t. I laughed and told her Annie asked me the same thing when I saw them in California. She responded, “To be fair, I see you everywhere!” which was a fair point. We stood around for a little bit. When a lull hit, Matt and I walked over to see Nate’s new band play in the back patio of another restaurant.
I was glad I got to see them; I’d ridden along on a few different Modern Machines and Used Kids tours, but I hadn’t seen Nate’s new band yet—or Nate—in over a year. The Blue Diamond band played a mix of Used Kids and other songs of Nate’s, along with some new ones. It was a great reminder of how much I loved those songs and how much of a showman Nate is constantly jumping around. At one point, he bit off a large palm leaf and finished by declaring, “I’m sorry, I must leave you now. My home planet needs me,” and then jumping over the fence and running away. That was probably more nostalgic to me than the Tom Petty cover band.
There was supposed to be more bands after that, but the show was shut down for some reason. Matt and I hung around watching baseball for a little bit before heading back over to Boca Fiesta for the late show. While I secretly wished it wasn’t quite as shoulder-to-shoulder packed, it was probably my favorite place to see shows and hang out. (To clarify: the fact that the bands had so many people watching them? Awesome. The fact that it wasn’t so easy to try to talk to people or walk around? Not optimal.) The God Damn Doo Wop Band, who I was very familiar with and have seen a bunch of times and played with before, went on. I have a fond memory of playing together with them and Pretty Boy Thorson And The Falling Angels on Thanksgiving eve a few years ago at a tiny bar in Greenpoint Brooklyn, mostly amongst a handful of friends. When I looked over the large crowd of people there to see them, it was a cool feeling.
ADD/C played. While I like seeing them, especially since they don’t really play in my area ever, I moved farther away from the stage in favor of not getting beer sprayed all over me. (Again, to clarify: It might have been more fun if I was in the middle of a bunch of friends goofing around. Not so much when it’s just random beer coming from somewhere.) I spent the rest of the night there walking around trying to talk to people, watching a little bit of This Bike Is A Pipebomb, and then mostly talking to Matt and most of the Toys That Kill guys. At one point we were standing at the bar, and the thought of doing FYP shots came up. Todd asked me if I wanted to do one. I wasn’t going to say no to that. Surprisingly, I got down the alcohol all right, but then had a slight struggle with the non-alcoholic chaser. Either way, it tasted like a pancake. Ten minutes later it felt like I got punched in the stomach.
We left shortly after the last call, and Kevin insisted we take the first cab we saw back to the hotel. When we got back, Kevin passed out on top of his bed almost immediately. I started eating some of their leftover pizza and made a comment about the television. But when I looked back, Matt had also passed out. I got up and walked back to my hotel room a few blocks away and called it a night.
The next morning felt a bit rougher. Matt woke me up at 9:30 with a text message that said, “You’re not allowed over unless you have coffee and donuts.” I wrote back saying I’d jump in the shower and be right over. By the time I finished and was about to head out the door, I saw I had two more responses: “Seriously, don’t come over without coffee and donuts,” followed immediately by “Going back to bed.”
Since I was already awake anyway, I went for a walk. I picked up a few donuts and tried texting them back to see if I could find out how they liked their coffee, but there was no response. I kept walking around with a small box of donuts until I heard back from them and finally walked over there. It was clearly going to be a rougher day. We sat around for a while watching TV and eating donuts, until I finally left with Matt to pick up That’s Incredible’s pay. Then the two of us got an enormous lunch, and then I promptly decided I needed to lie down for a while before going to any of the shows.
I couldn’t get back into my room because of problems with the locks, so I just went back with Matt. It seemed like this was going to be a pretty short day, considering we didn’t leave until four in the afternoon, arriving just in time to see the new Grabass Charlestons four piece lineup. Fortunately, that’s just what I needed at that moment to feel better.
The Arrivals followed them, which was also just what I needed. I hadn’t heard any of the streaming previews of the new album, so when they opened with a bunch of new songs I initially wondered, “Are they just doing the new record straight through?” But they played some of the “hits.” A lot of the new songs reminded me a lot of Todd Conge’s solo stuff: somewhat melancholy, but there’s a bit of hope to it. By the end of their set, everyone was singing the chanting chorus to their last song and even went on to do an encore of just the chorus. Even when they were completely finished, people kept singing over and over, which was a cool sight. It was probably the best set of the weekend.
I decided to try to get up closer for Underground Railroad To Candyland, since they’re probably one of the most danceable bands that were playing. But it was so crowded that it wasn’t possible. When they finished up, I walked towards the back of the room to talk to a bunch of people, including some girls. Twelve Hour Turn was playing, which is the kind of reunion I’m into. There are moments where I’d think, “I remember listening to this song in high school off the free sampler CD I got with an order. Now I’m seeing them in their hometown.”
Eventually, Matt told me he was back at Boca Fiesta. I left to go over there, but not before buying the new Arrivals album and seeing Little Dave outside. I showed it to him, and we started talking for a few minutes, and he said, “Yo, give me your number, we gotta hang out later!” which made me feel really cool.
At that point, we were basically just hanging out at the pool hall bar next to Boca Fiesta. Some of the other guys were still seeing some sets. As far as I was concerned, I was done with all of that for the weekend. We tried running around a little bit to cash in some band meal vouchers at the last minute, but had no luck and ended up settling on Five Star Pizza before heading back to Boca Fiesta and then on to a party. It was about four AM before I finally got back to my hotel. The next morning was the roughest. Fortunately for me, all I had to do was sit in the back of the car and last until we got back to Danny and Sarah’s house and watch more cable television.
The next day at the airport I was pretty ragged. The security guard gave me a weird look when I revealed my Sass Dragons T-shirt with a cartoon of Batman asking, “Who wants a suck off?” and my explanation of, “It was my last clean shirt. I thought it’d be under my other shirt, until I just remembered I had to put it through the X-Ray,” making him laugh. During the flight I thought about the weekend and how when I first started going to Fest years ago, I tried to cram in seeing as many sets as I could. Now, I prefer to just show up and see what happens.
By the time we landed, it was much cooler than how it had been when I left. Even though I had only been gone a few days, the changed weather gave me that feeling that somehow everything had changed during that time, and I’m okay with it. By the end of Fest weekend, that was all that I needed, and ready to take things easy for a little while.