Fest and Pre-Fest 2017: Sixty-four Bands! by Kayla Greet
October 25-29, 2017
Though Fest just celebrated its sixteenth year of existence, this was my very first one. I got off to a great start by running into my friend Adam France (of Burn Burn Burn and sometimes Arms Aloft) on the flight out. Not only were we taking the same red eye from Seattle, we were assigned seats right next to each other. So I got a surprise travel partner all the way to Tampa, and we talked about what we were most excited about to see over the next five days.
Once we landed in Tampa after a few hours sleep, my friends Steve, Tim, and Travis scooped us up and transported us straight to the registration line for Pre-Fest. After getting our wrist bands, swag bags, a visit to the Fest photo booth, and a couple drinks, we set our bags down in the hotel and walked about two miles to the Tampa aquarium. Sure, we were all there for bands, sunshine, and pizza, but why not add a little local culture to the trip? We arrived just in time to see a penguin feeding, then panned tide pools for sharks teeth, saw various aquatic life, and pet stingrays and sea anemones.
Wednesday, 10/25/17—Eleven bands
Off With Their Heads
Apologies, I Have None
The very first band to kick off my Fest experience was not one that I was familiar with—Daydream from Oakland, Calif. I was still getting my bearings and trying to sort out where I needed to be to see a maximum amount of bands and friends, so this set was mostly lost on me. Pre-Fest is a pretty great way to knock out a lot of the bigger bands that were playing both events, and is considerably smaller. There were five or six venues in Tampa versus the twenty or so in Gainesville and it was much easier to bounce from show to show without risk of missing out due to capacity.
After a brief Seattle meet up and saying hi to the dudes in Off With Their Heads, I walked over to Crowbar for City Mouse and Caskitt. The overall event is so impressively planned out with every space backlined with a full drum kit plus Orange cabs and heads—all the bands needed to bring were guitars and their repertoires.
Some of the things I was less prepared for were how exhausted I was after twelve hour days five times in a row, how to best spend the gaps in my schedule to rest and/or see new bands I was unfamiliar with, and how to handle not getting into a show I had my heart set on. In one of those gaps on Wednesday I followed my friends in Young Go Hards to Tequila’s where I saw a band called Ghouls from the U.K. that I was pleasantly surprised by.
Then I hit up Teenage Bottlerocket and half of Off With Their Heads before running off to see Apologies, I Have None, high fiving Ray Rocket on the street as I passed him. Apologies was easily one of the best sets I saw all of Fest. There was a huge crowd of fans from the U.K. there earnestly shouting along to every song. One of them spent the set with his back to the band and his arms outstretched as if he was orchestrating the whole mob of Brits.
Following that, I bounced over to Against Me! who played a great number of songs with a saxophone! I made a temporary show buddy who draped his arm around my shoulders and sang along to their whole set with me. Those are the moments that make things like Fest really special. Then I finished off the night with Arms Aloft who whipped the crowd into a frenzy. I found a spot right behind the speakers where I got a great view of the band as well as the folks trying to navigate rocking out with a tarp-covered billiards table in the middle of the room. Seth from Arms Aloft closed off the night saying where they were playing for Fest, but requested that people go support bands with women and people of color in them instead.
Thursday, 10/26/17—Thirteen bands
Clown Sounds (URTC)
Pkew Pkew Pkew
Too Many Daves
Toys That Kill
88 Fingers Louie
Thursday started off a lot later in the day than I had hoped for. My backpack and all my essentials were trapped in my friend’s hotel room and he had passed out earlier in the night than anticipated. So Adam and I graciously set off to stay at my friend (and Fest photographer) Lorien’s parents’ house just outside of Tampa. We didn’t get back into town till around 4 PM. I collected my things and made my first meal of the day a veggie Subway sandwich that I scarfed down while watching toyGuitar from the sidewalk outside of Crowbar.
I then rounded the corner to catch Jabber at Tequila’s and boomeranged back to Crowbar for Underground Railroad To Candyland and Tiltwheel. Throughout all five days, I stuck to a strict regimen of 1:1 water and PBR so that every time I saw a new band I toggled those liquids. This kept me from getting too inebriated to make it through the day (I witnessed many people pausing midway for a beer nap), as well as staying hydrated.
Pkew Pkew Pkew was the first time I experienced not being able to really see a band. Up to that point, every set was easily accessible and I had no issue getting in. But I dipped out of Tiltwheel halfway through and found that I barely managed to watch Pkew x3’s set from the doorway. It was absolutely packed! Which didn’t stop the sardines inside from endlessly crowd surfing.
From here I bounced around till the Popes, who played a fantastic set at the Orpheum. They even did a brand new song which was awesome. I stuck around for Beach Slang but left halfway through ‘cause the fans were just too much for me to deal with. After getting a sharp elbow to the shoulder blade with no remorse from the person who slammed into me while James rasped about filthy luck, I cut my losses and went to dance to Toys That Kill for half an hour. I’ll seriously never get sick of seeing those dudes. It was also nice to chat with Sean Cole a couple of times throughout the weekend.
Here’s where I lose you guys, probably: I don’t give a damn about Banner Pilot but I’ll go see them for “free” if given the opportunity. It felt a lot like when I went to a Battlestar Gallactica writer’s panel and got nerd shamed when I told the guy next to me in the back row I’d never seen a single episode. But anyways, I spent my time at this set randomly chatting with a guy in an Extreme Noise (Minneapolis record store) hoodie because I like that shop. Turns out that he’s not only not from the Midwest, but was a friend of Art Ettinger, who I met at a show in Pittsburgh in June. Talk about small world!
88 Fingers Louie was great, but Lillingtons were goddamned wonderful. I found a spot right next to the stage and could actually see the entire show. Afterwards, I made new friends who told me about randomly crashing a Third Eye Blind afterparty in Kentucky and I told them about being backstage at two Barenaked Ladies shows.
And with that Pre-Fest wrapped up without a hitch, even though there was an active serial killer in Tampa the whole time we were all there. Scary!
Friday, 10/27/17—Eleven bands
Seattle Fucking Supersonics
Young Go Hards
Hot Water Music
88 Fingers Louie
After another night at Lorien’s folks’ place, I said bye to Adam as he boarded the Porkchop Express and I hopped into my buddies’ rental on our way to Gainesville. We stopped midway for a roadside attraction of live baby gators and fresh grapefruit. There’s actually way more than one of these in a two-hour drive. I mean, it is Florida.
My friends were staying near Bo Diddley and I set off towards the Holiday Inn pool party while they checked in. I grabbed a beer in the lobby of the hotel and took an opportunity to charge my phone but the only available outlet was next to some guys I didn’t know. They kindly allowed me to plug in and chatted with me while I waited for my phone to charge. One of those guys (Drew) made a point to say hi and hang out with me every time we ran into each other over the next three days, which made going it alone a lot less awkward. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being able to come and go as I pleased without having to check in with a group of people, but having someone to tag along with is awesome too.
I decided to skip the pool party and track down some longtime friends who had just recently gotten married. Jon, Rachel, and I caught up at Palo and then headed to Mother’s for the Wolf-Face Jawbreaker cover set. Now those not familiar with their schtick, these guys dress up as Michael J. Fox’s character in Teen Wolf, so think basketball uniform-wearing werewolves. Their singer dressed as Dracula and made a joke that he thought they were all going in costume for this set. Anyways, it was the closest I’d ever gotten to seeing Jawbreaker, until I actually saw Jawbreaker a month later.
Then I went to my least favorite venue of Fest: 8 Seconds. It’s a massive space with two levels, which meant a ton of people could fit in there. But the sound was not great, the bouncers were surly, and on the first day they were still allowing smoking inside. I caught a bit of Nothington, long enough for Jay to give a shout out to his dad for being there and a few songs, then ran over to Loosey’s for Ramona. They had just relocated from Seattle to Philadelphia so it was really nice to be able to see them again.
Another Seattle local was playing after them, but in the twenty minutes between sets I rushed over to Palo to see Decent Criminal. Now I don’t know what happened, but towards the end of their set there was an issue with the guitar amp and their guitarist started pounding his fist on it. That then escalated to him hitting it with the guitar, and ended with him trying to smash his guitar on stage, grabbing the mic, and singing a few lines before walking off mid-song. It was entertaining at first, but ultimately made me a little uncomfortable. Fortunately, one of their friends grabbed the mic and finished the set with the rest of the band, which kinda saved it.
Without having much time to process that, I headed back to Loosey’s to watch my buds in Young Go Hards who finished extra hard with a Cher cover, complete with a mid-set costume change! Glad I didn’t have to turn back time in order to catch that. Following their set, I joined up with my friends in Ramona and Rebuilder to hit up the pinball bar for a few games. Pinball is one of my top favorite things and it was really difficult to pull myself away from that for my other favorite thing—live music. After getting a high score on Medieval Madness, I was ready to head back out.
Here I caught a little bit of Hot Water Music and went back to 8 Seconds for freaking Pegboy! They, sadly, were playing at the same time as Atom And His Package, who I haven’t seen since 2003, but Pegboy was a bucket list band for me. Plus my buddy and fellow Razorcaker Tommy was out there doing merch for them. Win/win situation. I snagged a spot on the side of the stage with Ranae who joked about how Larry usually gets exhausted and lays down on stage after the third song. Well, this time he made it to the fourth one before he sat down for a breather!
I looked around the huge room and spotted Ray Rocket singing along to every word. That’s one of the coolest things about Fest—watching people you’re a fan of be fans themselves. At a local show or on tour, these guys are super approachable, but you never really get to see them as anything besides musicians themselves. In Gainesville they’re right alongside you in the crowd, enjoying a bunch of their favorite bands as well.
Even though I’d just seen 88 Fingers Louie and Lillingtons the night before, I stuck around to hang out with Tommy and the dudes from Pegboy. Those Chicago guys are a lot of fun. Outside, an out of breath Larry told us he was getting way too old for that shit and punk rock was exhausting him, but also could he bum a cigarette?
Lillingtons finished off the first day of Fest, I said goodbye to my buddies, and hit up Flacco’s for a late night veggie burrito before calling it a night.
Saturday, 10/28/17—Thirteen bands
Dollars Signs (Scooby Doo)
The Dirty Nil
Off With Their Heads
A Wilhelm Scream
City Of Caterpillar
Jabber (No Doubt)
City Mouse (The Muffs)
Worriers (Fleetwood Mac)
Day four! At this point I’m so fucking tired and sore. Never hungover or dehydrated—just worn out from so much walking, standing, and being out from 1 PM to 2AM every day. I make Reggae Shack my first stop and have lunch with a new friend Gabriel. The food here is easily the best I had on the whole trip and the coconut mango smoothie really started my day off right. Gabriel and I headed over to Boca, which we found was at capacity. We watched a few of Dollar Signs’ songs through the glass door, and eventually made it in when a couple people left. These Michigan guys were all dressed up as Scooby Doo characters. Having packed my Star Trek uniform with me, I really appreciated their acknowledgment of the Halloween spirit.
Afterwards was Bong Mountain, of which our mutual friend Matt Stacks is the drummer. At this point with my energy level, I’m not looking to be in a pit with crowd surfers and the Florida sun beating down on me, getting doused in PBR. So I snagged a corner by the bar and enjoyed the shade as much as their set.
I’d considered skipping OWTH at Bo Diddley but I’m glad I didn’t. Ryan paid a random dude from the audience twenty dollars to put on an Avatar wig and let them paint him blue. He then was a part of the show for the first few songs before Ryan “released him back into the wild.” There was a definite Smurf section of the pit afterwards, and OWTH throwing the rest of the blue paint out to the audience only made it worse (better?).
Catching half of City Of Caterpillar afterwards was really fucking great, but I am still kicking myself for not going to see them when they played Seattle just prior to Fest. I figured I would see them in Florida, but didn’t consider that it would conflict with the other bands I wanted to see. So I left early to watch Jabber’s fantastic No Doubt cover set.
At this same time Against Me! was doing their Reinventing Axl Rose set, which I didn’t realize how much I’d regret missing until I heard people talk about it the next day. Whatever, I’m dumb. But I did get to catch Worriers doing Fleetwood Mac and City Mouse doing The Muffs, both of which were so perfect and magical.
I dragged myself to Dopamines for the last set of the night, but was too tired, sweaty, and beat to stay for the whole thing. Someone at the High Dive forgot to close the back door and a bunch of us watched Dopamines play for a while from basically behind the stage. After “Public Domain,” I stepped outside to get an Uber. While I waited, I got to hear Nothington at Loosey’s on my right, Dopamines on my left, and a slice of Five Star pizza was center stage. Moments like these make Fest wonderful.
Sunday 10/29/17—Fifteen bands
Crime In Stereo (Is Dead 10 year anniversary)
After the Fall (Descendents)
Squirtgun (Screeching Weasel, Ghoulies, Mopes, Riverdales, Queers, et cetera)
Apologies, I Have None
The Slow Death
Was I ever a huge Crime In Stereo fan? Not really. Was I going to miss them play the fan favorite record from start to finish? Of course not. Fest for me was all about filling my day with new experiences, bands I’d never heard of, and ones I loved dearly. Only the real die hard CIS folks were out at 1 PM after a full weekend of partying, but Bo Diddley is so huge that even a crowd of five hundred seems sparse out there. CIS remarked that this was the earliest show they’d ever played, and as far as I could tell, they did so flawlessly.
On my way to the High Dive I poked my head into see a bit of After The Fall doing Descendents. I’d been on the fence about Squirtgun’s pop punk cover set since I’d seen so many of the bands they were doing and thought I might rather seek out something I knew nothing about. Well, I’m really glad I went anyways. They played songs from every pop band the members had a hand in outside of Squirtgun. This meant Groovie Ghoulies, The Queers, Screeching Weasel, Zoinks!, Common Rider, and Methadones. What a fucking treat. This turned out to be one of my favorite sets of the whole weekend.
Since Apologies, I Have None was my number one set of Pre-Fest, I went to catch them again, this time at Bo Diddley, and this time not nearly as fun. But I ran into my new friend Drew and we caught each other up on our Fest highlights. As he head out to see Brutal Youth, I realized I should have just stayed at the High Dive and seen all of Murderburgers instead of the two songs I caught after waiting in line to get in. Que será, será.
Off to the Wooly, where I almost didn’t get in for Worriers, but I managed not to strike out twice in a row. They were so great and have become such a tight and talented band over the years. I was happy to finally hear some stuff from Survival Pop done live, too.
For a moment I considered skipping toyGuitar who was up next, but that set at Pre-Fest while I scarfed down a sandwich on the sidewalk was not enough. Not to say there weren’t many people there, ‘cause there definitely were, but I had a ton of room to dance towards the back. Half an hour later, I had completely bounced back and my energy levels were soaring, even through I’d mostly lost my voice trying to keep up with Jack Dalrymple. No contest; Jacks voice wins every time.
With rubbery legs I wandered over to Tall Paul’s for a triple threat of MakeWar, Good Friend, and The Slow Death. The first two have been on tour with each other for about a month and had gotten rather tight. They were wearing each other’s T-shirts and the guys in MakeWar did some backup vocals for a few Good Friend songs. I got Good Friend’s record to review for Razorcake a few months back and it was so cool to be able to see these guys so soon after. Considering they’re from Ireland/Newcastle, I might not get another chance.
What can I say about Slow Death? Jesse Thorson is a stage presence to be reckoned with and you never know what you’re gonna get with him. Before the set was half over, he was dead lifting beer kegs and holding them over his head like a deranged Donkey Kong. Mikey Erg played guitar with them, making it his 79th set of the day, and grinning ear to ear the whole time. I think people enjoy Slow Death for the lose cannon aspect just as much as the tunes. I hung back for a bit to have a drink with Ryan, Ranae, and Lisa (New Noise Magazine), before rushing out to catch the last half of Iron Chic at Bo Diddley.
Superchunk was next but at this point I just wanted to relax and take a break from music. I stayed for a few songs and then headed to the pinball bar with friends. This was the night to be at the arcade! Shortly after I got there, members from Worriers, City Mouse, and OWTH showed up, and Mikey Erg was on the third floor playing DJ for the whole place. I played a few games, talked to Adam (City Mouse) for a while, and hugged Mikey Erg. The end of Fest was nigh.
Last stop: Rocky’s Piano Bar. I only caught the tail end of Western Settings because I had to run back to High Dive to retrieve my stuff before their bag check closed. Closing out the night was Dead Bars who I see all the time at home, but it’s different seeing bands in other states. I was shuffled in with a bunch of strangers, all of whom were singing along to a song about a bus I take back in Seattle. It was so cool to be around people I’d never met who knew all the same words and loved music in all the same ways.
Teen Agers went on next but I spent their set saying my goodbyes to friends from all over the country. Some friends and I grabbed a six pack to share at their hotel, and at about 3 AM I decided to head back to my Air Bnb. But once I got out to the curb, a Fester was offering to share his Uber with anyone who wanted to go to the Great Canadian Beer Purge afterparty at Holiday Inn. Not wanting Fest to be over yet, I hopped in. By the time I actually headed back, it was around 4:30. My Uber driver was playing nothing but Against Me!, and I felt like it was a perfect note to go out on after a weekend in their hometown while it was overrun with punks.
I stayed an extra day and got to experience Gainesville without the influx of Fest folks. In comparison, it was basically a ghost town. My Monday was really excellent though. I got a tattoo, met friends for coffee, went record shopping, spent a few hours in the (free!) Natural History Museum and Art Museum at University of Florida, walked a couple miles around campus, saw a real live alligator out in the wild, and watched hundreds of the 400,000 bats on campus fly out of their bat houses at dusk. Then I made one more trip to the fabulous Reggae Shack where I ran into Worriers and told them how much I enjoyed their work, spent a few more hours and tokens at the pinball bar, and said goodbye to Fest.
Let’s do it again next year, shall we?