The silence is deafening as I sit in Replay Dave’s living room on the Monday after The Fest. The carpet is vacuumed, the dishes are washed, and aside from the few stray plastic cups, one would never guess that until a few hours ago, this house served as a Fest-shelter for dozens of drunken maniacs. Many old friends and many new rotated around this nucleus for a stretch of three days, the lot of us sharing one common goal: to maintain our buzzes while watching some of the greatest bands in existence.
My friend Rani Lee and I began our weekend by meeting up at Orlando International Airport, since her flight from Chicago and my flight out of Minneapolis arrived half an hour apart. Upon arrival in Gainesville many hours later, we picked up our passes at Wayward Council and headed to The Top for a stiff drink, quick bite, and a transfer of baggage as our ride relinquished custody of us to my former roommates Jessie Brune and Laura Davis.
It was during this transfer that it happened, sparked by accidental hand-meets-sharp-edge-on-car-trunk contact. I felt it as soon as the blood started spurting out of the fresh gash over my middle knuckle: the unmistakable feeling when I realized that medical attention was not an option; the consciousness that I was seriously contemplating whether I would dress the wound myself or simply let it bleed—dousing it in liquor periodically to terminate the infection. That was the moment when I realized that my life was no longer my own. It belonged to something bigger. No, I did not find God in the Top parking lot on that crisp Friday evening amongst the broken glass and acorns. Some would say that this epiphany was slightly less momentous than reaching a higher plane of understanding through a newfound messiah, but I fervently disagree. I had come to the understanding that my soul was Festing already, and between getting back inside, eating the buffalo tempeh that was surely awaiting my return, finishing my whiskey, and making it to Common Grounds within the next hour, there was clearly no time for stitches.
After bandaging my hand (people were trying to eat and the blood was not appetizing), and saving my Jack from falling into enemy hands, we were off to Common Grounds to throw our bodies willingly to the great black abyss in which our spirits were already consumed. As we should have anticipated, the line was enormous. I attribute our next move to it being the start of the weekend, because I can guarantee that this did not happen again. We waited in that line, in spite of the fact that every one of us was in some way legit to walk right in. We did not want to be “those guys” yet, I suppose. However, by the grace of someone’s god I made it into Common Grounds that evening with just enough time to say a quick round of hellos, secure a big fat whiskey drink, and do a shot with Paddy and Billy from Dillinger Four before snaking my way to the front of the capacity crowd as The Grabass Charlestons began their first song.
Upon reaching the front, I looked down and recognized the bobbing, mohawked head attached to a body planted in a wheelchair as belonging to none other than the temporarily handicapped Razorcake co-founder Todd Taylor. While Rani and I rocked out to Grabass, a mustached man with hair shaved in a highly deliberate fashion grabbed our drinks and placed them in Razorcake coolies. I smiled with the knowledge that we were in fine company. Despite the fact that I am an innately optimistic person, it was apparent that this was going to be a great weekend.
Toys That Kill played next. I do not know if I have them perpetually underrated in my mind. I do not know what my problem is, but every single time I see them, they are so much better than I expect them to be. Perhaps they get that much better each time. I think I am broken of that thinking once and for all, though, because, holy shit, that band rocks.
After Toys That Kill concluded, I ducked outside to the porch bar for another appropriately large and strong whiskey drink, because next up was the set that I had waited three Fests to see: Dillinger Four. I think that Dillinger Four means “Fest” in some alien tongue, probably the same language in which Tiltwheel means “pickled.”
I staked out a prime position at stage left along with roughly a dozen fellow Festers, all of whom were either familiar or grew to be over the weekend. That stage was where I first met Gemma, a lovely British girl who rocked it sans shirt for the bulk of the weekend, and this set was no exception.
D4 blew through their set, or so it seemed. As usual, Paddy got more and more naked, and in response, the audience got more and more naked and more and more outlandish. The highlight of the set, as it is every single time I see them was when they played “Maximum Piss and Vinegar.” I do not know what it is about that song—after all, it is an anthem of revenge—but I must have heard it for the first time or acknowledged it for the first time at a really appropriate moment many years ago, because I think that it is genius.
Over the course of the sets at Common Grounds, I met up with many old friends and at the conclusion of D4’s set, most of us headed across the street to The Sidebar to catch San Diego’s smashing Vena Cava. By the time I arrived, their set was nearly over, but the bar was still serving. Vena Cava’s last chord marked the end of the evening’s live music. Jessie, Laura, Rani, and I decided to pace ourselves and go back to the house instead of attending one of the after-bar shindigs. If history had taught us anything, which it clearly had not, we would have known in the soles of our feet that the night was far from over. As though in preparation, I procured pizza from nearby Five Star and after two piping hot pieces and the loss of several taste buds, caught my second (third?) wind.
It was only after returning to the house that night that I realized how many people were staying in the same space. The actual rent-paying inhabitants of the dwelling were Replay Dave, Laura, Jessie, and Ben. Laura and Dave turned over their bedrooms to the invaders for the weekend, seeking alternative shelter with significant others. As for the visiting mob, which I would ballpark at twenty-five people throughout the three days, it appeared that they all had the same idea about returning immediately to the house—and it was terrific.
The night wrapped up fantastically, largely because Todd and a few others decided that a hundred bottles was obviously the proper amount of beer with which to stock the fridge. It was a family reunion mixed in with a meet and greet. Those who I had only had time to hug previously, could now sit, drink, and catch up. I also had time to speak with those whom I had seen earlier, but whose acquaintance I had yet to make. I met Razorcakers Amy Adoyzie and Bradley Williams, along with Toby Tober and Chris Devlin (the one with the coolies during Grabass), who were acting as Todd’s special helpers for the weekend. I met Annie, a film student and sweetheart, part of the Tiltwheel crew. Aside from the many Razorcakers and Tiltwheelers at the house, members of the Tim Version, Dukes of Hillsborough, and North Lincoln took refuge as well as a few that I never quite placed.
Saturday morning, I awoke around ten on Laura’s bedroom floor feeling a twinge of nostalgia as I tried to turn my head from side to side. It is not often these days that I have the opportunity to pass out drunk on somebody’s floor. In similar situations, I am usually the first one up, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that many others were already out in the porch area drinking beer. I joined them until halfway through my second Bud Light when I realized that something was missing.
There was a mimosa-sized hole in the middle of my gut that those beers, no matter how cold and wet they were, could never ever fill. I expressed my concerns and Toby was kind enough to give me a ride to Winn-Dixie for supplies. It was a journey fraught with peril, as he parked in the very first handicap spot using Todd’s ‘capper sticker. While Toby was receiving looks of judgment from the elderly and legitimately disabled, due to the fact that he was rocking out with all of the windows down, I was inside waiting impatiently with three bottles of Asti and two containers of juice as the lady in front of me fought the store manager like a rabid hyena over the cost of tomatoes. Ultimately, however, the trip was successful and we were greeted upon our return with a barrage of half-waves, nods, and grunts of acknowledgement from our grateful friends. The distribution of the delicious orange and strawberry concoctions to the hung-over crew did much to boost morale, and within an hour or two we were off to the Roots Rock Show at The Future House.
Another Fest tradition, this is the barbecue and free acoustic show during which most Festers are either trying desperately to find the people lost the night before, trying to hydrate themselves, or trying to reach their desired level of drunkenness. I was a part of the last group, but was having some issues with the setting. I was at a crucial rock or crash point in my day, and the acoustic music was not doing it for me. The mood was mellow, even amongst the intoxicated. Something had to be done, or an all-consuming crankiness would surely wash over the tribe.
Todd, Chris, and Rani rode to The Atlantic with Toby to catch the Pink Razors while I went back to the house. Laura and I decided to do some napping before the shows started that evening, and to our pleasant surprise Jessie was there already with the same idea. Moments later, others appeared, grumbling about the Atlantic being an impenetrable fortress or the line being too long or something. It was naptime for everybody. Well, not quite everybody. Due to fear of complete bodily shutdown, I ended up drinking more beer and eating Cheez-Its while watching Better Off Dead with Toby. It proved to be an entertaining hiatus, and by the end of the film, all of the nappers had risen and joined us, bright-eyed and ready for more rockin’.
We arrived at Common Grounds to behold a line of much greater magnitude than the one we had stood in the night before. Rani had a spot on the list, so she was good, and between the remaining four of us existed two Razorcake Fest laminates. Rani, Todd, and Chris disappeared into Common Grounds while Toby and I stood in the parking lot ignoring the suspicious glances of the nameless, faceless punk rock kids who would probably wait an hour to advance ten feet ahead of their current places in line. Luckily, we did not have much time to feel guilty about what was happening, because Chris instantly approached us from the porch exit and handed us the laminates.
Moments later, the scorching melodies of The Urchin pulsed their way into our eardrums and exited through our tapping feet. The tapping and the pulsing continued, because next up was J. Church. These guys were awesome as usual, providing further proof that a trio can kick out the jams as efficiently as a fully staffed band. Solid as hell and catchy in a way that leaves you hoping for an overlap into the next band’s slot.
Had that happened, however, a riot would have probably erupted, for the next band up was Gainesville’s own Radon, and their fans comprised the oldest and surliest fifty percent of the club’s patrons. Radon played very well, treading shallowly enough in the waters of pop punk to leave a bit of grit for the listener to grab onto. The casual spectator would have never been able to guess that they were a band that has not played a show in three or four years. Laura and I spent their set with our backs to the bar where we were waiting for any of the ice to melt in our pints of whiskey with their modest splashes of ginger ale, garnished with cherries out of pure irony.
Midway through Radon, Naomi, club owner and bartender extraordinaire, set down a shot of Jagermeister in front of each of us and said the words that every lady wants to hear: “These are from the gentleman across the bar.” We looked diagonally across to see Toby lifting his own shot toward us in salutation. We smiled and saluted in return before tipping back our glasses and allowing the dark, thick, chilled liquid to coat our throats. After that, our whiskey was ready for drinking.
When Radon concluded, it was time to leave and eat dinner before The Ergs! played at the Sidebar. Aside from Toby, who left The Top before the food was delivered, we all arrived late and missed the bulk of The Ergs!’ set. It was disappointing, because I am a sucker for a three-piece, and those guys are incredible.
During This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb’s set a bit later, I made it near the front with hardly a dribble of beer remaining in my cracked plastic cup. It was not until the beer was long gone and the set still had a ways to go that I realized how hot it was in there. Fortunately, anything happening to your person is easily forgotten once the music starts up again when a band like This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb is playing. It would be a challenge not to lose yourself in the down-home, foot-stompin’ rock or in the dancing, perspiring, screaming forest of kids near the stage.
When they did end, however, it was time for a cold one. And a shot. Toby, Todd, and Billy D4 all joined in some Jag and a PBR, which officially made it time for super-group Bloodbath and Beyond to enchant us with their musical cunning. What I remember of their set can be summed up in two words: sweat and nipples. Both were everywhere. Shirts were off of the men folk and a few of the ladies as well. Gemma was present, shirt MIA, and Annie followed suit. Both were wearing bras, graciously allowing the men to maintain their exposed nipple monopoly. They looked at me expectantly and I told them, “maybe during Tiltwheel tomorrow.” Bloodbath unleashed havoc on their anxious and adoring fans and The Tim Version seamlessly (at least in my memory) led us through to the end of the show.
Word spread like wildfire that the party was at the Whiskey & Co. house, which was within walking distance of every single venue. We arrived only slightly after two to find the largest party I have ever seen in Gainesville. The yard was packed solid with people spilling onto the street for lack of place to stand elsewhere. I made my way through the crowded porch and into the house to see what band was playing. PBR Street Gang was faintly audible above the hum of the congested space. I made my way back to the corner of the yard where Rani and Chris still stood, and Todd still sat. Moments later, the police arrived and the crowd began to dissipate. I was waiting for teargas and riot gear, but to no avail. We waited for Toby to escape the Whitesnake catastrophe waiting to happen in the living room before we began the walk back to the car. I later heard that the rumor was Against Me! was going to play the party… and to think that all we wanted was to hear (Billy Reese Peter’s frontman) Aaron Lay’s AC/DC cover band.
Luckily, a lot of cops were still tied up at the Whiskey house and Toby left his car near the Sidebar. As the five of us piled into the Mustang, most of us still drinking the beers we had opened at the party, I was reminded of those commercials where you see forewarned teenagers denying their ride and opting to call their parents or a cab instead. That thought proved fleeting, however, as I marveled at how nice it felt to sit down. We made it back to the house without incident, and had one more beer out of principle before the curtains closed on day two of the Fest.
It was not long after everyone was awake on Sunday that word began to spread throughout the house that this morning was to be special. In fact it was to be a fiesta, inspired by Laura’s brilliance before the Roots Rock show when she bought a large bottle of tequila. It had been decided that the tequila would be saved for Sunday, which in Alachua County, Florida, is still the Sabbath, a day during which hard liquor sales are prohibited and bars close at eleven. It is simple logic that even the most delicious beverage will be even more so when it is forbidden.
After a brief trip to the grocery store, we began preparations. The fiesta had taken a turn for the awesome. Not only would there be margaritas, but burritos as well. It turns out that Toby is something of a burrito genius and he set to work cooking beans with red wine and garlic and god knows what else. In the meantime, I was busy preparing and distributing margaritas to the thirsty and the sober. On the porch, Annie was busy videotaping Bradley as he idly plucked a banjo and told her a story about a homeless lady’s exploits with a dead baby bird, duct tape, and her own crotch.
As we ate our delicious burritos around the dining room table, Todd made a comment about never actually getting drunk, no matter how hard he tried. Right then and there I looked into his sad eyes and made a solemn vow to try my hardest to get him drunk that day. The tequila was gone before the margarita mix or the ice, which seemed to be a positive omen.
We left the house shortly after and made our way to The Cabin, which is someone’s house. It just also happens to be a log cabin. With a koi pond. A band was playing in the living room. They sounded good, but it was stiflingly hot inside, so I stood outside with everybody else and downed a Tilt. I also had a swig of some blue liquid in a paper bag that Chris handed me. It was gross. The band ended and the crowd dispersed, so we made our way back to downtown Gainesville.
The first order of business was to get to The Sidebar to see Vagina Sore Jr., an assemblage of Tampa gentlemen that I had yet to behold. I will admit that if I am going to see a band with a name like Vagina Sore Jr. for the first time, my expectations are so high that disappointment is imminent. That was not the case this time. Fucking awesome. Rockin’, danceable (well, to me at least), kind of poppy, kind of melodic, slightly evil. A fan was born.
Next, we had to hightail it over to Abbey Road where Dillinger Four was starting an unprecedented second set of The Fest. I finished my beer and looked toward the exit as Toby handed me an unforeseen obstacle. It was a full PBR, which had to be finished or confiscated within the thirty-foot walk to the door. I knew what I had to do and as we exited, I threw the empty cup into the trash. Shortly after departure, I dropped out of our procession and projectile vomited behind a fence. Few, if any, witnesses were present. I caught up to the group seconds later, feeling much better. Not much of a line greeted us at Abbey Road, and we had a cripple to boot, so getting in was no sweat. The band was already a few songs deep and Toby, Todd, and Chris disappeared toward the stage side while I made my way to the front the hard way. D4 was awesome again. They brought the rock, but unfortunately the audience was not having it. There is something very frustrating about being the only person in a packed crowd screaming along. Seriously, what was wrong with those kids? At the same time, however, I did not give a fuck, because I was watching Dillinger Four and that shit was pure gold.
As D4 concluded, I joined Rani, Todd, Chris, and Toby at stage right. We had some time to kill before Stressface, so we headed upstairs with the D4 guys through a labyrinth of hallways, stairs, and vacant lounges until we reached a brightly lit room containing folding tables and chairs. We had forgotten to grab drinks down below, and there were a lot of bands for the amount of liquor which was set up on one of the tables. Chris and Toby decided to take decisive action and disappeared, informing me that the less I knew of what was about to occur, the better. A few minutes later, they returned from their secret mission looking sheepish. “We got busted,” was all that Toby said.
Todd and I set out to find a bathroom, and to our shock and horror found the door that we had just passed through to reach the backstage locked. We wandered back and forth in the small hallway, finding every door, aside from an outdoor exit featuring a scary-looking metal stairway, locked as well. We asked one of the Soviettes who was standing nearby if she knew why the doors were locked, and she replied that a guy said something about a couple of kids milling around one of the empty lounges near the bar looking suspicious. Sounded like a foiled secret mission. We then saw what appeared to be the only answer to our problem. At the bottom of a very narrow stairwell leading to another locked door, was a trashcan and a large potted ficus.
After returning to the room, Toby and I stood at the window that overlooked the parking lot and were surprised to see Amy, Bradley, Gemma, Annie, and half a dozen other familiar faces. We did the only logical and appropriate thing by lifting up our shirts and shouting for beads. We received no beads, but were flashed in return by a few of the saucier Festers below. It is my prediction that flashing will catch on as the less formal version of waving, like an inaudible “hey,” because if there is one thing that punk people seem to love, it is partial nudity.
However, sobriety was beginning to rear its ugly head, and showing your tummy to a parking lot full of people is only fun for so long. After all, Todd had a dream and I had a goal. Chris met us at the bottom of the scary stairs with the wheelchair, and back we went to Common Grounds for Stressface and whiskey.
Featuring our host Replay Dave, Stressface is a quintet riddled with complexities. Each with many other projects (like running a record label and playing in countless additional bands), these busy men merge on occasion to form a sleeveless, goth-meets-Rambo powerhouse. It is kind of like when the Transformers join to make that really big robot. Their set passed quickly, and by the time Strikeforce Diablo started, sobriety was a long forgotten danger.
The night and the Fest were to be concluded at the Sidebar, and all that stood in the way was three hours. There were many ways that the evening could have been approached, but I was already neck-deep in a vortex of drunkenness, so I decided to go with that. The Dukes of Hillsborough were playing when we arrived at the Sidebar, another stunning trinity of rock‘n’roll fury. Hailing from Tampa, these gentlemen provided a perfect warm-up for the debauchery that was about to unfold. I took it easy during their set, standing back like a Channel swimmer about to put all of their hard work to the ultimate test.
North Lincoln played and another shot was consumed. I continued to hang back a bit. When they concluded, I ordered a round of shots and beers for the recognizable and present before heading into the belly of the beast. It was time for Tiltwheel. Shirtless men were everywhere, on the floor and on the stage. Gemma and Annie were properly un-attired, and as promised, my shirt came off too. I remember little of the actual set, except that I sang along with everything identifiable, I was surrounded by friends, old and new, and that I had a fantastic time. In hindsight, I would have probably worn a cuter bra, but when you are surrounded by gigantic, hairy bellies, such things are mere trifles.
When Tiltwheel ended, Billy Reese Peters began, my shirt was replaced, and my wallet was missing. My first thoughts were of being stranded in Gainesville with no money or identification, and my second was of thankfulness that it had not occurred earlier in the weekend. After exhausting all proper courses of action (running up on stage and making Aaron announce it and checking with the useless bartenders), I enjoyed the rest of BRP’s set. Even in my inebriated panic, my Festing autopilot told me that if I lost my wallet and missed Billy Reese, then I had serious problems.
Toby lost something, too. His shirt. His problem was quickly remedied, however, and he proudly sported the only Razorcake shirt that we had not given out. It was a girly small, and covered a good half of his torso. The sight of a grown man in a half-shirt did wonders to rejuvenate my sagging spirits.
After the show, we walked to Common Grounds to meet up with Rani. Halfway, we were approached by Jessie. I told her that I had lost my wallet and in response, she gave me that look. The one where you know someone is not mad, but disappointed, and that is so much worse. “I have your wallet, you fucking dumbass.”
Apparently when I had bought drinks before Tiltwheel I left it on the bar. Razorcaker Gabe Rock had come across it and given it to Jessie. The Fest gods were on my side, just as I had suspected all along. There were a few after-parties about to start around town, and it was not yet eleven, but the group consensus was that it was time to return to base camp. Our livers could handle little more, and a warm enclosed place to lay down was now the light at the end of the tunnel.
This morning everyone went their separate ways, back to their ordinary lives full of rules and consequences. Some leisurely drove home while others, like Todd and Chris, raced frantically to the airport. The noises and the sleeping bags are gone, the bathroom is finally open, and I miss everyone already.
It never ceases to amaze me how situations like The Fest affect people. It is a time when all relationships accelerate. Friends who see each other once or twice a year jam as much as possible into their fleeting moments together. People end up making out or hooking up with those that they would tiptoe around for weeks under normal circumstances, leaving with hearts half-broken and plenty of what-ifs. Acquaintances are made who will never be met again, while it is clear that others will forever touch your life in some way.
To me, The Fest is about family most of all. It is about like-minded people letting their guard down for three days out of the year, without fear of judgment or prejudice. Bound by the music that is so far inside of our beings that separation is unfeasible. It is this feeling of solidarity that brings us together time and again, and will continue to do so indefinitely. No matter what we all go home to, we can look back with a smile and remember what we come from.