Fest is the creation of Tony Weinbender. For nearly twenty years, he has continued to run the weekend-long music festival in Gainesville, Fla. The annual punk rock party is definitely something every music fan should experience at least once.
My first year was Fest 5. I’ve been friends with Tony ever since. Recently, I was able to talk with him on the phone and find out plenty about this event that is known around the world.
Nighthawk: How would you describe Fest to people who’ve never experienced it?
Tony: What makes Fest different than most music festivals is it’s more of a community-based thing. You get to choose your own adventure, instead of being stuck in a giant field where everything’s expensive and you’re forced to watch a band that you really don’t like because you wanna see the band that’s playing three hours later. After eighteen years of doing this, I really feel like it’s a communal thing. People have made friendships that are long-lasting from here, found love, and even gotten married. I feel like it’s beyond just the music; it’s really an all-encompassing thing of our scene and our community that’s far-reaching, outside of Gainesville and Florida and the United States even. It’s kind of like a party, but at the same time it’s a big nerd fest in a lot of ways. I feel like the attendees are really savvy music fans that are loyal to the bands they support, but at the same time they’re ready to experience new things.
Nighthawk: Fest started in 2002?
Tony: Yeah, the first one was in the spring. We did a music festival when I was in college, and it was around spring break. It was college-centric. It was a festival, but it was also a music conference. We did workshops and seminars on how to make your college radio station work, do a DIY house show, screen print shirts, build your own tower, et cetera. The first Fest didn’t seem to work well in the spring, so I decided to do the second one during the Georgia-Florida weekend in October when all the college kids are gone for the football game. I was just looking at a Fest 2 poster, and none of the venues are still around.
Nighthawk: The first couple Fests were only at three or four venues. None of them are still being used?
Tony: No, it was a long time ago. In a college town, venues switch around a lot. Some of the venues that are around now have changed names and owners. We’re trying to use every possible space we can in Gainesville, because we wanna be able to host as many bands as possible and make people comfortable and spread things out. But Gainesville can’t support that many music venues throughout the year. We’re still just a small, little college town in the middle of fuckin’ Florida. It’s not sustainable. A lot of people come to Fest and they’re like, “Holy shit! This is the Mecca of punk rock.” And they’ll come back six months later and they’re like, “Oh, it’s not as crazy.” Of course it’s not. There aren’t 6,000 people that are into the same shit you’re into, in the same town.
But last night, we were at Loosey’s for Dikembe’s tour kickoff show, and it was sold out. Five dollar ticket and there was a line around the block of people who couldn’t get in. It was one in, one out. It’s rare in Gainesville to have that happen. Sometimes, everybody’s supportive and everybody comes out. But then you’ll get a touring band that comes through and you wonder, “Why are there only six people at this show? This band’s awesome.” Gainesville’s weird like that. I was talking to somebody the other day and they said, “Holy shit, dude! I was at the Murphy’s Law show at Loosey’s, and there was nobody there.” I didn’t even know Murphy’s Law played in Gainesville, but you’d think they would draw more than a handful of people.
Nighthawk: Still talking about the first year, who played the first set?
Tony: I don’t remember that, hell no. [laughs]
Even if you asked me who played Fest 1, I could maybe name a few bands. It’s hard to remember, but I do remember that was the first year that Gainesville as a whole saw Against Me! play for more than two hundred people and we were all just freakin’ out because they were still really young. They played Market Street, which was our big venue at the time. I wanna say that shit’s up on YouTube. That was for all of us; we were floored. We only had about five hundred people attend the first year, outside of the bands. It was really small.
In fact, I borrowed two thousand dollars from my folks to get Fest 1 started and we lost about five hundred. I didn’t really have any money to lose. I was fuckin’ broke as a joke; workin’ all these different little restaurant jobs to kind of survive, donating plasma, selling fuckin’ CDs and shit. It was kind of devastating, but having everybody say, “This was awesome. I hope you do this again,” was really the motivating factor to say, “Fuck it. Let’s do Fest 2.” I think I made five hundred dollars the second year. So at that point, I had broken even.
Nighthawk: Nice. Besides Against Me!, what other bands played the first year that went on to become fairly well known?
Tony: No one else really stands out. We had some bigger bands play the first year. The Pietasters played because we were friends with them from when I was in college. That was a big band at the time for us. Har Mar Superstar and Onelinedrawing both played also. Pretty Girls Make Graves was a big deal to us, because we got somebody from the West Coast to play. I know we had Mastodon play Fest 2. To think of that now is crazy, because they’re a big band that wins Grammys and shit, you know?
Throughout the years, we’ve never had too many holy shit breakout bands. In the early years, we had The Gaslight Anthem and they’re a way bigger band now. It was cool to have them play when they were first starting out. A prime example of bands that have played and grown over time is The Menzingers. They’ve played at least ten Fests. When they first started out, they were really, really small. Iron Chic and Latterman are also good examples. I think the biggest rise from small to successful has to be Against Me!. For them to be able to headline Fest 18 and play two nights and four albums is bonkers.
Nighthawk: Yeah, that’s crazy. Has anybody played every year?
Tony: Yes, NOMORE from Gainesville, Fla. has played every single Fest. For a long time Grabass Charlestons, who later changed their name to Careeners, was on that list. The Tim Version has played almost every year, but I think one year they didn’t. I wanna say Tiltwheel has played every year, but for some reason I think they might’ve missed one year. But that’s been a staple of Fest always. I think Tiltwheel started coming the second year.
Nighthawk: What did it cost to go to the first Fest?
Tony: I wanna say it was just twenty bucks. It was two days. I can’t remember what year we switched over to three days. That might have been Fest 5. It’s crazy, we’re creepin’ up on twenty. I wanna put a thing in the guidebook and use social media outlets to say, “Hey, Fest 20’s coming up. Does anybody have flyers, posters, photos, and stories from these years?” just to try to remember and archive this stuff. There are talks of putting out a coffee table book. We gotta collect all this info. It’s sad to say, but it’s been eighteen years and my brain’s a little pickled and I can’t remember some of this shit. But also back then, our headliners cost five hundred dollars. It’s funny how the pay scale and inflation has affected punk rock.
Nighthawk: Totally. How many bands play Fest these days?
Tony: It’s over 350.
Nighthawk: You’ve never really been over that number, right?
Tony: The most was when we did four days, but that was way too many fuckin’ bands. It was hard on everybody.
Nighthawk: You only did that once?
Tony: Yeah. The only reason was that Halloween fell on a Thursday.
Nighthawk: How many venues are you using at this point?
Nighthawk: How many volunteers make this thing work for ya?
Tony: It’s a little over a thousand people. We don’t really try to stretch our volunteers; we look at it as more of an opportunity for people. We always overstaff everything. I remember when I was in college and involved with the college radio station. It really meant a lot to me and was very much a part of going to college. I think I got more education from the time I put into the college radio station. Here in Gainesville, at the University of Florida, we really don’t have that outlet. There is a degree you can get in commercial radio, so you would work at the classic rock station.
Some people really take the volunteer opportunity and run with it. They grow with it, and every year move on up. They get something educational out of it. A lot of people who are music fans never experience the other side of a show. They don’t play in bands or put on shows. They’ve always been an attendee. It’s an eye-opening experience to be on the other side for some of their favorite bands. Just to say, “Hey, let me help you move your gear on the stage” means a lot to them. Most of the shifts are six to eight hours, and then you get a full pass for all three days and a shirt that we only make for volunteers.
Every year we’re stressed and thinking, “Oh, we have all these spots to fill!” But it’s cool to see all the same people come back every year and look forward to it. When I do the volunteer meetings, one of the things I tell people is they should take more in than just getting a pass out of this shit. You should take some pride in it. It’s our scene. It’s our community. We’re really setting an example for people from all over the world. Collectively, we can all come together and make this happen.
We don’t have to hire a giant production company to run our fuckin’ music festival. It’s really one of the biggest DIY things around. Because of that, it feels like home. It feels like our community. I think the attendees and the bands appreciate it a lot when you can look up there and see that it’s not some big fuckin’ goon with a headset on and wearing gloves, trying to rip you down from the pit. They are people loving the same music that you are, and help you get down safely from your weird punk rock ride you’re doing by crowd surfin’.
Nighthawk: Right. For a few years now, you’ve had comedy and wrestling. How did each of those start?
Tony: I saw Kyle Kinane in Gainesville a long time ago. He played the old Common Grounds, and I bought his CD. I talked to him, and was always a real fan. Everybody loves comedy and has different tastes, but when I saw Kyle it spoke to me. I thought, “This motherfucker is cut from our cloth. He gets it.” And so that year, Kyle bought a ticket. It was when we did our own ticketing. PJ Fancher, who worked at No Idea Records, created our own ticketing site. The order came through and printed out. He brought it in, and was said, “Hey, isn’t this the comedian whose CD you are always punishing us with?” I said, “Holy shit! Yeah, that has to be him.” It had his phone number on it, so I just called him. I asked, “Is this Kyle Kinane?” He answered, “Yeah.” I said, “I see you’re coming to Fest.” He said, “Oh yeah, my buddy and I are stoked.” I said, “Awesome. Hey man, do you wanna do comedy?” He said, “You guys don’t do comedy, do you?” I said, “No, but you’re coming and you’re a comedian, and you know other comedians.”
So, he was really helpful the first three years we did comedy. I worked with him, and he recommended comedians. We didn’t really have a big budget. That’s something that’s crazy about comedy; people get paid very little, and then it jumps to a lot. We couldn’t really afford a lot, but I wanted to give that platform to people. It was kind of an experiment, but it worked. For a lot of people, it’s one of their favorite things at Fest. The comedians always say it’s their favorite show to play, because the people actually get it. They’re smart, not just a bunch of dumb drunks. Everybody is there because they really love comedy. So we’ve had Kyle and Chris Gethard, but we’ve never really had huge names. Those guys are way bigger now, but at the time that they were doing Fest they weren’t.
Nighthawk: Didn’t Chris Gethard tape a show at Fest?
Tony: He did his show live, but it wasn’t taped for TV. Whatever network he was on wouldn’t fund it, but he did a live version of the show. I’m sure somebody filmed it. Last year, we had Two Minutes to Late Night do a live version of their weird, spoof talk show. They filmed it themselves and put it up on YouTube. That was really cool, because it got Fest out to a different audience, and they had never done a live taping at a festival before. It worked out great.
As far as the wrestling stuff, I have always been a fan. I got back into the independent wrestling scene several years ago. In Florida, there are a lot of independent wrestling promotions. It’s like meeting bands; you go to these shows, and you talk to the wrestlers. Certain ones are really cool, and certain ones are complete douchebags. The cool ones you keep a relationship with. We wanted to bring wrestling to Fest, and so I went through an outside company the first two years and made a lot of connections through that.
The third year, that company didn’t do anything in the fall. We had to put our own show together, so I reached out to a guy named Arik Cannon who lives in Minneapolis. He does F1rst Wrestling, and was buddies with Less Than Jake. He’s been in the scene forever as a pro, wrestling for over a decade at least. He knew a lot of people too. It was the same as dealing with Kinane. Eric helped me get contacts with a lot of wrestlers who I didn’t know. And in Florida, we knew a lot of people.
We decided to start Fest Wrestling. Now, we do it every other month here in Gainesville at Eight Seconds. We have a crazy YouTube following, and you can subscribe to our shows. We do full show edits, with three camera angles, commentary, and weird backstage things. It’s fun and very similar to the upstart of punk rock in a lot of ways. A lot of these performers are traveling, and getting paid pennies. They jump in cars together, and drive crazy long distances to play these small shows because they just love it. Just like you would if you’re in a band. You’re like, “Fuck it. I don’t care. I just really wanna play and get out there and do this.”
It’s very similar to those roots, but at the same time a lot of the pro wrestling world is not like punk rock. It’s been a learning curve for me in a lot of ways. Taking what we grew up with and our ethics and trying to dump that into wrestling. There are a lot of wrestlers and a lot of fans who really appreciate it. But also over the last three years, we’ve ran into a lot of people who are sexist and homophobic pieces of shit. I don’t want them to wrestle on our shows. You have to understand that this world existed way before us. I’m not trying to change the fucking game, but if we’re putting on our own show, we’re gonna do it the way we wanna do it. Nobody was there to give us a blueprint and say, “This is how it’s done.”
There are some really old rules, especially here in Florida, that we’ve completely broken. The old school mentality is, “Fuck those people from Fest. They think they can just do this, but they don’t understand. It’s always been like this.” Well then, fuck you. Don’t come to our show, and don’t wrestle on our show. I learned early on that a lot of promotions are very competitive, and it’s bullshit. It doesn’t make any sense; we’re all struggling to make something cool. We’re all a bunch of nerds watching pro wrestling. Let’s join forces.
There have been a lot of promotions that have been very helpful and we’ve worked with them, but a lot of them aren’t Florida-based. We have great relationships with PWX in North Carolina, DEFY in Seattle, and Freelance in Chicago. We’re working with a company in the Bronx called Battle Club. It’s cool to converse with these other people who have the same passion that we do, and to learn and try to share things. In our world of punk, everybody’s very communal and tries to help each other. In the wrestling world, it’s not like that in a lot of ways. It’s not universal, but sometimes it is. We’re trying our best to make it that way. Our shows during Fest weekend are called We Are Family. We really try to showcase a lot of other promotions on those because we have that platform of having thousands of people here from all over the world. Instead of putting ourselves over, we’re really trying to put other people over. It’s kind of rare in the wrestling world for that to happen.
Nighthawk: That’s awesome. Fest 18 sold out. Does that happen often?
Tony: No, it hasn’t happened in a long time. Fest 10 might have been the last one. It’s baffling that it sold out. We only sell three thousand tickets, because I don’t want to oversell it and make it uncomfortable. I want people to leave with a good experience. I think one of the worst experiences you can have is to go to something that’s overcrowded. You feel like, “Fuck. This was miserable.” I want people to have a good time, but greed’s a bitch. I could easily sell another thousand tickets and pocket the money, but I want people to come back the next year. I don’t know why it sold out this time. Possibly because of the way we did our ticketing. After every five hundred tickets sold, the price went up ten dollars. Maybe that made it an emergency for some people who thought, “Holy shit. I gotta buy my ticket.” Or maybe it was because we got bigger bands. You’d have to ask someone who bought a ticket why they bought it so fuckin’ early. But I’m stoked; it made things a little less stressful. We didn’t have to worry about trying to make ends meet. We just worked on the actual production side and made it fun for everybody. We didn’t have to push promotion as hard.
Nighthawk: You set it at three thousand?
Tony: Yeah, but every volunteer and band member gets a pass. There’s a little bit of media that we give out passes to, and sponsors and local restaurants that help out get some too. So we’ll have about six thousand people in town.
Nighthawk: How do you determine the three thousand?
Tony: I just add up the capacities at all the venues, minus Bo Diddley Plaza. There’s no science to it. And for walk-up sales, I do ten percent of the capacity of the venue. There are a lot of people here in Gainesville who have to work all weekend. They might only get one night off, so it doesn’t make sense for them to volunteer or buy a weekend pass. It makes more sense for them to see one show. They might only wanna go see their friends’ band play. But all those sell out.
Nighthawk: How fast did the weekend passes sell out?
Tony: I wanna say about a month.
Nighthawk: And you had them available a little earlier than normal?
Tony: Maybe. We always put them up around April. Sometimes we did it on 4/20, I remember that. We just wanted to get ’em up and out there. A lot of awesome shit fell in our lap, and we’re really thankful that a lot of these bands wanna play Fest.
Nighthawk: Have you ever been above that three thousand amount?
Tony: One year, we sold 3,500 tickets. I remember it being a little cramped at places, and people being grumpy about stuff. So we cut it back to three thousand. But I have no idea how big certain bands are. Some have never come through Gainesville, and they’re kind of a big deal. You put them in a small room because you just don’t know, and you realize you fucked up. So the next year, you’ve gotta put ’em in a bigger room. If I listened to booking agents, I’d be wrong every single time. Every booking agent thinks their band is the biggest shit.
A prime example is last night. There’s a newer Florida band called Pool Kids. They played with Dikembe. The place was sold out because the show was collectively was awesome, but people were freaking out for Pool Kids. I thought, “Oh fuck. I gotta put this band in a bigger room, because the room they’re scheduled to play in is about this size. If there are this many people in Gainesville freaking out about this band, what’s it gonna be like when there’s a shitload of people from all over the world who are smart and intelligent music fans?” The year The Menzingers started blowing up, we had ’em at The Atlantic and we got a call from the stage manager. They were overwhelmed and needed help. So a couple of us went over there, and it was insane. The crowd was taking over the stage. People were losing their shit. They were the band.
I start booking the majority of bands in January and February. That’s so far in advance. A lot of bands can release a kick-ass album, do a couple tours, and get kind of big. The thing with any form of media is it’s at your fingertips. Everything’s online. The reach is infinite. If it’s really good, it will build its own momentum and get big. It’s not like in the old days where people really had to push things out there. People love sharing, especially when it comes to music. If you like a new band, you wanna spread the word about it. That’s how I feel with Fest. We could book all these giant bands, but I also feel like we are an incubator in a lot of ways for the smaller, indie bands. We wanna push them, and give them that platform to play for people from all over.
Nighthawk: Cool. You’re from Virginia. You did booking there years ago, and the festival you did in college was called MACROCK.
Tony: Yeah, I think it still exists. We started that because, collectively as a radio station (WXJM), we went to CMJ (College Music Journal conference) in New York City. We went up there as a bunch of twenty-one-year-old kids, and we left thinking they weren’t focusing on the bands or labels that we cared about. So we decided that we were gonna start our own music festival. I had done a lot of independent shows and house shows since I was about sixteen in Roanoke, Va. The band I was in wanted to book other bands. We put an ad in Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life, and we started getting shit in the mail and phone calls from all over. We just did MACROCK and ran with it. It was awesome, but it was different. We had multiple venues, panel discussions, and things like that.
Nighthawk: Did anybody that played MACROCK play the first few Fests?
Tony: Yeah. When I was doing MACROCK I was friends with Hot Water Music and Alkaline Trio, so they played MACROCK. It’s funny; Alkaline Trio never played Fest because they got too big, but I was friends with them from a long time ago. We were good friends with Avail, so they played. We did The Get Up Kids’ first show in Virginia. Back then, we did Archers Of Loaf and Strike Anywhere. Elliott Smith played in a basement. That was pretty cool.
Nighthawk: Before Fest, did you do any other music festivals in Florida?
Tony: No, but the first week I lived here, in January 2000, I was getting calls from people to book shows for them. The first show I did was Strike Anywhere and As Friends Rust. There were like twenty people there. There weren’t that many venues in town. I went to the old Common Grounds, which turned into 1982, and they didn’t have a stage or anything. I asked Nigel, the owner, if they ever had bands. Sometimes they had acoustic acts. I asked if I could bring in a PA and have some hardcore bands play. He said, “Sure, I don’t give a shit.” So that was the first of a bunch of shows I did in Gainesville before Fest.
I was working at Fueled By Ramen Records too, so I was doing a lot of shows for those bands and friends of those bands at that time. I feel like I don’t put on as many as I used to because of Fest, but there’s also no need for me to. There are all these other people who are very helpful in Gainesville, and we have several music venues that do shows constantly.
Once in a while, there’ll be a friend’s band that will come through and we’ll help out and put their show on. Or if there’s a smaller touring band that’s friends with Fest, we’ll do Fest Presents shows at Loosey’s. We’ll chip in some money, along with the venue, and make it a free show. It’s always fun to be a part of it and give back. Danny from Loosey’s and I are doing a show soon for Red City Radio, and we’re making it a benefit for GRACE Marketplace. That’s our homeless center in Gainesville. They give shelter, educate, and help people get jobs and better themselves. They have a café in there, too. It’s a really cool thing going on in town, so we wanna be more supportive and give back to our community a little bit more.
And we partnered with PLUS1. One dollar of every weekend pass sold went to GRACE Marketplace. It’s nice to be able to say that we’re giving back a little bit with the help of Fest. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while. We got going on it early. We’ve also always worked with We Are Neutral, which is for offsetting carbon footprints. There are so many people who travel from so far away and so much electricity gets used at the venues, but attendees can offset their carbon footprint. They have a carbon neutral calculator, where you can put in where you’re from and how you’re getting here. It’ll spit out an amount of money you can pay to offset your carbon footprint. Then they take your extra six dollars and they plant trees.
Nighthawk: That’s good. You were in a band called Swank.
Tony: Yes, I was. [laughs]
Nighthawk: Was that in Virginia?
Tony: Yeah, we were from Roanoke. There were a couple different incarnations, and it was a ’90s-type band. They just got back together and released a new album, so it’s cool that it’s come around full circle after all these years.
Nighthawk: Did they ever play Fest? And if so, were you on stage?
Tony: They played Fest 17. I was supposed to play saxophone with them, but I really didn’t get my shit together and practice. I fuckin’ bailed, and didn’t play with them. But I went to the show at Durty Nelly’s, and it was awesome.
Nighthawk: Great. Out of every band that’s played over the years, do you have a favorite?
Tony: There’s no way I could pick one. Every year, there are several. Every band that plays, pretty much, I’m into. I’m not booking people because I think they’re gonna draw or because their booking agent told me it’s the next big shit. I’m booking bands because I like what they’re doing. It’s impossible for me to say what my one favorite band is. Every year, there are so many bands. And I screw myself constantly. I make and release the schedule, and then go “Oh fuck!” It’s the Homer Simpson moment. I put two bands I really want to see against each other. When people talk about their schedule fuckups, I’m like “Dude, I fuck myself.” I’ve just gotten to the point now where I kinda go with the flow of it. I screw myself by doing the wrestling show on Sunday. I have to be there for the whole thing, so I can’t go see anyone that day.
Nighthawk: Damn. Does it seem like every year, attendees and bands are coming from other countries that hadn’t previously been represented?
Tony: Yeah, usually every year there’s a new one. The first year someone came from overseas, it was one person from Hamburg, Germany. We were doing registration at Wayward Council, and PJ looked at me and said, “Hey, I think that’s the German.” So we asked this kid who was looking at records, and it was him. We were like, “Holy shit! Here are some beers and food vouchers. Can we do anything to help you?” He was overwhelmed, but came back the next year and brought four of his buddies. It baffles me, but we’ve had people from China, Croatia, and Russia. It’s nuts to think that what we’re doing seems so small in the vast cosmos of what’s going on, but a lot of people care and are willing to travel that far and they love it.
Nighthawk: That’s cool. Is Holiday Inn still the party hotel? It seems like in the last few years, they tightened up their security quite a bit.
Tony: Those after-parties used to be pretty epic, but I feel like it’s shifted since we stopped doing that after-party on Sunday. More of the party is going over to the Wyndham now. Attendees who are staying there do this thing called The Beer Purge on Sunday. Everybody brings alcohol from their rooms down to this little ballroom, and people play acoustic and hang out until the wee hours of the morning. They’re just trying to consume all the alcohol that they can’t fly back home with. I’ve never been, because by Sunday night I’m dead fucking tired. That’s why we don’t do the after-party anymore. We’re too tired to organize all that shit. Plus the Holiday Inn redid their ballroom and put new carpet down and said that we couldn’t rage in there anymore.
Nighthawk: Holiday Inn is where registration and the flea market are. Did the flea market exist before you moved registration from Wayward Council to Holiday Inn for Fest 6?
Tony: No. That was something I wanted to have, to give an opportunity for people who weren’t playing, like vendors and record labels, to promote themselves and sell stuff. We had the space and figured we should utilize it.
Nighthawk: Is Wayward Council still around?
Nighthawk: Is that where registration was every year before it was moved to Holiday Inn?
Tony: Yeah. Fest was growing and Wayward was really, really small. It was awesome, but we needed a bigger space.
Nighthawk: Speaking of after-parties, it seemed like for a while there’d be a house show or a party at a warehouse most nights. But the last few years, not really. Does that type of stuff still happen?
Tony: I think that house shows in general don’t happen as much in Gainesville, because there’s not a need for them. We have several music venues now. I can’t remember the last time I even heard about a house show in Gainesville in general.
Nighthawk: Interesting. What was the Harvest of Hope Festival all about?
Tony: Ryan Murphy, who worked at No Idea Records forever, and I joined forces. I knew more about the festival promoting stuff and staging and production, because of Fest. Through the University of Florida, he was very heavily involved in helping out migrant farm workers in this area. There was already an organization called Harvest of Hope. Two brothers got a donation from a family member. One of them was Ryan’s professor at the time. They loved music and wanted to put something together. We went to St. Augustine in St. Johns County and pitched the idea to them. We applied for some grant money, and did the festival in 2009 and 2010.
It was awesome because it was the first time we got to do a lot of outdoor staging. We had four stages and camping, which was a nightmare but fun to be able to do that. It was great and raised a lot of awareness for the organization. It gave us the opportunity to work with a more diverse lineup of bands. We had hip hop and DJs. The National and Billy Bragg played. Really awesome people were involved. The only bummer was that the infrastructure of it all cost too much. Even though we were getting grant money from the county, they were also charging us a lot, for things like the use of space, the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office, the St Augustine Police Department, and they wanted to rent helicopters. Basically, they just bled it dry. After two years the festival lost money, so we decided to stop doing it. Then, Ryan got a job working for The St. Augustine Amphitheatre and knocked it out of the park over there. A lot of good did come out of it though, because he bettered The Amphitheatre. Everybody who went had a wonderful time, but it was a lot of work. Way more than Fest.
Nighthawk: I hear ya. Do you have a favorite venue from Fest that isn’t being used anymore?
Tony: Side Bar. The shows that happened there in the early years were so much fun because it was a small venue. Like a lot of venues in Gainesville that don’t normally have punk shows, they just trusted us and let us run things. They would just run the bar. I remember so many good times in there. The craziest for me was This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb was playing, and somebody crowd surfed into a giant disco ball that was hanging and it broke. I was so stressed out and worried, and went over to the guy in charge who was also doing sound. I told him we’d try to fix it or get them a new one. He was like, “Fuck man. I don’t care, this is wild as hell! I’m selling a ton of beer. I don’t give a shit!” That was my favorite. Overall, High Dive/Common Grounds has always been the best venue for Gainesville. It’s had different owners, but is the perfect size room. It has really good sound and they do shows year-round, so they know what they’re doing. And attendees really like the outside beer garden, too.
Nighthawk: It’s a great spot. Quite a few years back, you stopped taking applications from bands. What was the weirdest one you ever got?
Tony: Before everything was digital, you had to print an application and fill it out. You sent it in with whatever format you had for your music. There were always some weird demo tapes from bands that weren’t ready to be playing in front of people. Some bands sent us stuff with their applications. We got a questionable joint or two that we didn’t smoke, because I’m not smoking weird drugs we get in the mail. One band left their application with a bottle of weird, off-brand whiskey outside of No Idea. It took us about four years of late nights to polish that off.
But the process was awesome, because whoever was involved at the time would open the packages after hours at No Idea. We would listen to the music and sort them into piles. We always joked that we wanted to do a worst of the Fest CD comp, but thought it would be mean. We definitely got some weird music sent to us. I guess you can get on a list for festivals, because we still get stuff sent to us like country rap. One time, a guy who might’ve been on America’s Got Talent sent us stuff. He played a weird harp that had strings that stretched out through a giant theater room. I don’t even know how to explain it. That year, any band that didn’t send us a picture for their profile on the site would get his picture. One year we got a DVD for Irish step dance, like Riverdance. It was about thirty people from Ireland. Where would we even put that? I wish I would’ve done a better job archiving that stuff.
On the website, it says don’t email me. But my email still gets out there, and I’ll get thousands of emails every year. I’ll even have bands email me during Fest. “Hey, we’re here at Fest. This is awesome. Here’s a bunch of information about our band. We’d love to play next year.” That’s great, but you’re too far ahead. It’s just gonna get lost. I’m not even thinking about booking next year. Just do it a week later, and I’ll let you know when to really email me about it. Now, I’m saying this in Razorcake and everybody’s gonna be like, “What month?” [laughs] We find out about the majority of the new bands from a lot of bands that have played Fest. They played a show or toured with them, or they’re from the same town. These bands tell us to check out these other bands. That goes a long way, especially if they’re bands I really like. Also a lot of times a band will break up, and a couple years later one of those people has a new band.
Nighthawk: True. Is there a year that stands out, or one crazy thing that has happened over the years?
Tony: The craziest thing that stands out for me is when I got hit by a car and flew over my handlebars on my bicycle and had to go to the emergency room on the last night.
Nighthawk: I was gonna ask about that, but figured it’s kind of a downer.
Tony: [laughs] Yeah. There was an overzealous driver who didn’t think I was going fast enough, and tried to cut around me and clipped me. That’s what happened, and I ended up with a bad concussion and had no fuckin’ idea what was going on. It was the first year we ever did the after-party at the Holiday Inn, and the whole point of it was for the staff to have fun. I told them they didn’t have to do shit, I had a stocked bar, a band was lined up, and I was gonna stage manage it and run it. And then I ended up in the hospital about an hour before it was supposed to start. The whole staff had to pull together to make sure it happened. I don’t know how they pulled it off, but they did. So that’s a weird memory.
I think the first year, after it was over that Saturday night, I was sitting on a porch kind of bummed because I lost money and thought it was kind of a failure. But members of Against Me! said it was awesome. Billy Reese Peters and Grabass Charlestons and other people in town told me I should do it again and not get bummed out. They thought it was really rad. Everybody was all about it. That’s a really good memory.
The second year, the guitar player from Mastodon asked if he could pee on my foot as a compliment because of how much fun the festival was. I told him he could do it, as long as I could spit on his dick the whole time. That happened in the parking lot of the Gainesville Lodge.
One year, Paddy from D4 passed out underneath a truck or a van and missed his Bloodbath & Beyond set. Floyd subbed for him, but he didn’t know how to play bass. He strapped it on and faked it. Paddy had been sleeping in a pile of fire ants. The next day, we met up so I could pay them. He was just swollen and full of poison everywhere.
Watching a band blow up over one year and they’re finally playing the main stage and thousands of people are freaking out to them is a really good memory, because I feel like Fest is the reason why it’s an awesome moment. Or if you love a band, and you get to see them for the first time ever in front of more than four hundred people. Everyone’s losing their minds and it’s awesome, because nowhere else except for right here would there be this many people going nuts for that band.
Nighthawk: Yeah. A lot of people dress up every year for Halloween. What are some of the best costumes?
Tony: There are a few. Stef Jones always dresses up. One of the things that she has to do is track down bad volunteers and cut off their wristbands. One year she was in a gorilla suit at Durty Nelly’s, carrying around a tray of biscuits. I thought that was really funny. When Fest Wrestling started, people were dressing up as well-known wrestlers. We had a couple Macho Mans and some Ric Flairs. One girl was Enzo Amore. She shaved her hair into a mohawk, and dyed the sides leopard print. It was gross. I can’t dress up, because no one’s gonna take me seriously if I’m dressed up like Cap’n Crunch.
Nighthawk: That’s a good point. One year, I bought a Fest DVD. Was that only made once?
Tony: Yeah, it’s called No Idea Presents—The Fest 3. Var worked with all the venues and had extra sound people do external hard drives and down mix it. All the audio was really good. The video was all done through Mackenzie from National Underground. The DVD was great, but it was right around the time when YouTube was happening and people didn’t want DVDs. I don’t think all of them ever sold. It’s a great document in time. It’s old as hell now. Fifteen years. It’s awesome to see. I know Lucero’s on it. That was the first time they played. Fin Fang Foom was on it. It’s probably ninety nine cents on eBay.
Nighthawk: [laughs] Do you still have people filming shows at Fest?
Tony: Yes. There’s not a Fest YouTube channel, but a lot of people have put up really well-done videos of sets. We have a video team of about twelve people from all over. Christian Costello heads it up. They take all the footage and break it down into a three or four-minute highlight video each year. That’s what we use for the website, but they take all of their footage and put it up on their own YouTube channels. I’m assuming they have the permission of the bands.
Mackenzie used to put up a lot of stuff when YouTube first started. He wanted to do more with it, but got burned out. I know he sent all of his actual tapes to Randy from Dikembe, who lives here in Gainesville and works Fest. It’s god knows how many hours of raw footage of bands from all those early years. We’ve talked about converting it digitally, but who the fuck would wanna do it? Maybe it could be a school project for the University of Florida, but college kids aren’t going to actually touch physical tapes of anything. It’s all digital now. So if anyone reading this interview wants us to mail them hundreds of tapes, write us and we will gladly pay for the shipping.
Nighthawk: You might get somebody. You’ve shown a few films in recent years, such as the Descendents documentary. How many have you done?
Tony: I can’t remember all of ’em, but I know there was a Fat Wreck Chords documentary. Really, the Descendents movie is what kicked it off. We played it at The Wooly. If something comes out that’s awesome, we’ll do it. But I don’t think we’ve had film the last couple years. We switched that time slot over to singer/songwriter stuff. Not so much acoustic, but really good songwriter stuff. If there’s a really badass documentary that we’re able and can afford to get, we’ll do it. A lot of people spend so much money making these movies though. Since we’re not a film festival, they want us to pay a certain amount for it. We’re not even charging for tickets. It’s just a bonus on top of the wristband. There’s a documentary about Joey Ryan, a professional wrestler out of Los Angeles. I haven’t watched it yet, but that looks really rad. I’m not opposed to showing more films, but it just depends on what’s offered and if it’s relevant.
Nighthawk: Cool. What can you tell people about Horsebites, who does the Fest artwork? How did you meet him, and how long have you been working with him?
Tony: Richard Minino played in New Mexican Disaster Squad, out of Orlando. That’s how I met him. His art’s awesome. The first year he did art for us was Fest 6. It was the flamingo and Bengal tiger, with sunglasses on, all connected together. We even made skate decks out of that art. We even reused it to make Tervis cups. He’s been a great friend, but has kind of stepped away from freelancing. He has his own clothing brand called VNM that he does. He’s done album artwork for you name it. I think he still works with Hot Water Music. There are hundreds of album covers for bands that he’s done, in addition to merch design.
I think he still works with us just out of loyalty to Fest and we’ve had such a long relationship together. We usually talk about an idea for artwork, and he comes up with a couple sketches. I tell him to tweak a few things on his first sketch, and he’s usually done by the second one. He’s so badass. We see eye to eye on the weird, wacky visions we have for art.
Nighthawk: He does great art. How did the idea for the guidebook come about?
Tony: It’s a ninety-eight-page, full color, digest size zine. It was more of a useful tool when people didn’t have the internet in the palm of their hand. You could read about bands while you’re waiting in line, and figure out who you’re gonna go see. We have good interviews with bands in there, done by staffers and other bands. It’s a pain and a challenge because a lot of us don’t work on putting out something like that ever, but it’s also fun. We don’t have to do it year-round though, so we get to put a lot of time into it.
Nighthawk: It’s very helpful. The Fest App has been out for a few years now?
Tony: Yeah, that’s all Steve Wozniak (not the co-founder of Apple). He does that and our website. He’s been coming to Fest for as long as I can remember. That app is a lifesaver for a lot of people. It’s very easy to use and he’s very open to suggestions on how to make it even better. He came to me and said, “Look. People need this. I’m just gonna make this.” And I said, “Yeah, do it.” It was when apps were first starting to come out, and he killed it. All the props to him on that.
Nighthawk: Again, very helpful. We touched on it a little bit, but can you take people through a calendar year for doing Fest?
Tony: Sure. In January I start the loose build-out of it, working on a mock schedule. I work eight to ten hours a day on it. I’ll start talking to Richard about art and Steve about the website, in the hopes that we have all of that done by about April. By February, we’re talking about the content for the website and how to build that out. We’ll get our advertising and sponsor rates together, and lock in the venues. In April, we launch the site and get ticketing going. Summer is heavy promotion time. We’ll launch the schedule in August. From then on, it’s getting production ready. Who’s gonna stage manage what, who’s doing sound, and renting all the bullshit that you need to run a music festival outside: fencing, porta potties, lights, et cetera. We meet with city officials, and get permits turned in. We’ll have a couple fun parties for staff so we can get together and talk about Fest, but also to remember that we’re all friends and have a good time. And before you know it, Fest is here.
Nighthawk: Afterwards, what’s the feeling?
Tony: Oh, exhausted mentally and physically. More mentally, though. You just wanna shut down. We try and get together the Monday or Tuesday night after, at Loosey’s or Boca Fiesta and have a good time. Everybody’s always in good spirits, but just fucking exhausted. Maybe this year without Pre-Fest, it won’t be as bad. Usually by the weekend after, we can all kinda let loose and do our thing. Sometimes, I’ll go to another town in Florida with my wife and get a hotel room, and turn the phone off for two days. Just watch TV, drink beers, sit on the beach, and swim. But it really never stops. There’s always some trickle-down stuff. Some company needs to get paid for some service, or we get invoiced the wrong amount for something and have to jump through some customer service hoops and deal with shit. So the month of November is still a lot of work. In December, we have our staff Christmas party. I also try to spend time with my family. It’s kind of my off, chill time. But I do a Fest Wrestling show in December. [laughs] It’s a break from Fest, but not a break from work.
Nighthawk: Busy times. You wanna say anything about local business sponsors and/or restaurants that provide food for the bands?
Tony: If a band comes to your town, you should feed them because they’re from out of town. Even if it’s just making a pot of spaghetti, but I can’t make a pot of spaghetti for three hundred-plus bands. We couldn’t afford to keep Fest at the price it’s at and have as many bands as we do, if we did a full-blown catering tent like other large music festivals. Although, I don’t even know where we’d put a giant catering place for hundreds of people.
In the early years of Fest, we partnered with Leonardo’s By The Slice. Back in the day when we were all punks and touring down here, every punk went to Leo’s By The Slice and if you were in a touring band, they fed you. I don’t think the owners fucking knew that, but everybody who worked there did. It was kind of a tradition, so we worked with Leo’s. They’re not able to help us in that way anymore, but people like Loosey’s and Mother’s and Emiliano’s stepped up. They’ve always been staples, and now we work deals with the food trucks that are at Bo Diddley Plaza. Instead of charging the food trucks to set up, we trade with them for straight meals so bands can go to those trucks and eat. Every year, there’s a new restaurant that we work with. Some restaurants are so busy that they can’t deal with feeding extra people, so they just give us money and take out an ad in the guidebook. We’ve had a lot of support.
I would rather trade with a place for their services than take money though, because it gets them out there more. It’s always been like that with merchandising companies and people we advertise with. It’s something I’ve always tried to do for Fest. It’s paid off and we’ve made some really strong, long-lasting relationships with people as a result.
Nighthawk: On that same topic, what places would you recommend for people to check out in and outside of town?
Tony: On the Fest website, we have a Local Eats section. We put a lot of our recommendations in there. There’s a Visit Gainesville section in the guidebook. If you’re gonna be here for a couple extra days, we have the largest population of natural springs twenty minutes away. You can be in crystal clear water that comes out of the fucking earth. It’s seventy-two degrees year-round. We have beautiful hiking trails, you can go to the Botanical Gardens, or see hundreds of fucking alligators in the wild that aren’t behind fences along the La Chua Trail. I like to try to get those types of things out there to people.
On social media, we try and push it a little bit more. As far as eating goes, Gainesville is such a rad city. Because it’s a college town, we have a fuckload of chain restaurants. But luckily, a lot of the chains are outside of the downtown area. In and around downtown though, we have so many awesome independent eateries. It’s so diverse. We have a lot of vegan and vegetarian options, and that’s one of the things that appealed to me when I first moved here. I suggest spending an extra day or two just going on eating tours. But also, don’t judge some of the restaurants when they’re fucking slammed out the gills. “I wonder why this burrito isn’t the best I’ve ever had.” It’s because they cranked out five hundred burritos before you got yours. Sometimes you’re just throwing stuff in your mouth for convenience. Everyone that’s ever been to Fest has probably had some form of Five Star Pizza. The next day you’re like, “Oh. That was pizza.” [laughs]
Nighthawk: Right. We’ve mentioned the City of Gainesville a couple times. Are they pretty cool, at this point, with everything that you do?
Tony: Yeah, they’re great. After Fest 10, we realized it was growing enough. We didn’t wanna use the shitty fucking Florida Theater or whatever it was called anymore. We needed some space, and Bo Diddley Plaza was this nice park in the middle of downtown. It was very underused, and we asked if we could use it. We had to talk to a lot of city commissioners. The assistant city manager at the time was extremely helpful, and a lot of the commissioners were great. A few were skeptical. “What is this? Oh, this is that punk thing.” But I think the mayor at the time sent somebody from the city to go survey downtown businesses. They asked if Fest was a good thing for their business, and if they made money. “Are the people nice?” Everybody except for one restaurant was one hundred percent on board.
That’s when they were like, “Okay. We need to start helping these people. It’s good for tourism, the city, and the economy.” Any time you’re dealing with municipalities though, it’s a lotta red tape. It’s a lot of hoops to jump through and different people to talk to. It takes a little while. Even though we lay down the same map every year for what we’re gonna do at Bo Diddley Plaza, there’s some weird thing that they want us to tweak and do differently. I feel like if they don’t ask us to change something, then they think they’re not doing their job. [laughs] It makes no sense anymore. “You want us to do that? Fine.” [laughs] “What’s your reasoning? There is none. Cool.”
But we are grateful that we have that space, and the Gainesville Police Department is so awesome to deal with and work with. It never feels like a police state when you’re at Fest. There are a bunch of cops who are cool, and they make you feel safe because they’re around. But they’re not fuckin’ with your good times. If they see you drinking or smoking weed on the street, they’ll just say, “Hey. You can’t do that here. Pour that out. Put that away.” As long as you apologize and do what they say, they’ll let you go. If you don’t listen to ’em, they’re gonna run your ID. Don’t be a dumbass.
Nighthawk: Pretty easy. Have you received a key to the city? Or has there been talk about naming a street after you?
Tony: No, but maybe four years ago we got an award. I can’t remember what for, but it was from Tourism Development. It was really cool, because there was a ceremony. My dad came down from Virginia and he was tickled pink to see something happen. They planted a tree in our name. It’s a little birch tree in a park in Gainesville. We go maybe once or twice a year and look at it and take a picture with it. It’s getting big, and it’s still there. Probably, some hobos peed on it a couple times. It’s awesome that when I’m long dead and gone, there’ll be a little plaque on it that reads, “This tree was donated to Fest, for outstanding achievement in debauchery.” I’d rather have a tree than some fuckin’ statue or something.
Nighthawk: That’s cool. If something were to happen to you, is Fest in your will? Or would Fest be over with?
Tony: I have a contingency plan. Let’s put it that way.
Nighthawk: So there’s nothing to worry about?
Tony: I don’t think people would have to worry. More so worry about what the dumbos will book, not as much about will it still go on. Certain things are not allowed, like no Baha Men. There are definitely some people I trust with keeping it going in my name, once it’s all said and done in the name of good times at Fest.
Nighthawk: Good. Along the lines of comedy and wrestling, is there something new you’re up to for Fest?
Tony: Not really. We’ve been doing Yoga For Punks for a while. Just trying to keep the same boat afloat. We’re doing enough, but there’s always somebody who pitches us an idea. It sounds great for that person, but a pain in the ass for me. We might try to bring the Fest art show back. It would be works from people who are associated with bands and art, or people who are in bigger bands who do art. We’re working on trying to find a space. That’s the hardest thing. If it comes together, cool.
But Fest will go on without it. It would be awesome if it works out, because it’s something that I liked having for a while. But it got to the point where it was hard to find somebody to run it. You have to put up everybody’s art, sit by it, and sell it. We also don’t have a cool art gallery in this town. It’s just a bunch of Florida art; they’re not interested in Fest art. Everybody asks when we’re gonna have Fest daycare, but that’s not happening. [laughs] I do wanna have Fest jail though. It would be a cage in the middle of Bo Diddley Plaza, for your friends who are getting too drunk. [laughs] They could still listen to music, but not bother anyone until they sober up.
Nighthawk: I think that’s a great idea. Maybe have it where they’re facing away from the stage, too.