Most photos by Denise Orton, some photos by Gabe Rock. The Fest website can be viewed here.
A hundred punk bands were in Gainesville, Florida, booked to play shows over Halloween weekend at three different venues, just a couple blocks away from one another. The hardest part about being there was staying sober enough to walk.
I arrived in Tampa, Florida around one in the morning and met up with a couple dozen wonderful shitheads from San Diego, CA. We all arrived on the night of a wake but none of us had any idea about that yet.
Everyone was practically pissing in their pants with excitement for the Fest, including Tiltwheel and Altaira, who flew out from San Diego, California with an entourage of raging alcoholics that I will refer to as The Fast Crowd.
Travis Duke from the Dukes of Hillsborough and Dave Disorder, ADD Records, scooped us up into a van with two cold twelve packs awaiting our stupid little faces. I was lucky enough to tag along with them all and try to record the story.
The shit hit the fan around 1:30 AM when Phil Duke showed up with a bottle of Night Train. Then it was past due for some shotgunbeer o'clock, immediately followed by a certain Davey Tiltwheel puking all over the porch.
We'd only been at the house for half an hour. Two hours and a broken window later, Phil Duke picks up a computer and throws it on the sidewalk. It was around that time he started raising his bottle in memoriam and the not-yet-so-Fast Crowd caught on to the rain cloud overhead.
It turned out that less than a week earlier, a fight had broken out at a Dukes of Hillsborough show and some piece of shit started waving a knife around. Eventually some people tackled the guy, but not before the Dukes' friend Dave "Rat" Anderson stumbled up to the bar bleeding. Dave "Rat" Anderson was murdered that night at the bar and another friend of The Dukes went to the hospital for multiple stab wounds. After we heard what happened, most of us took the news pretty hard. Not many of us knew Rat, but he was just trying to break up the fight and ended up getting killed. We couldn't believe it.
How could we? Fucked up shit just like this happens every day, and we have to keep ourselves numb to the reality of it all. We put ice on our broken bones and conceal them behind a cast to heal. We take pills to calm our nerves. We drink the pain away enough to forget about it all. I don't think anybody really knows how to truly deal with reality and nobody knows what to say, or at least nobody I know does. All we can do is raise our glass, remember the good times, and make what we can with the time we have left, 'cause you never know.
And the sunshine state is the perfect place to do just that. After four hours of sleep, most of us woke up drunk from the night before and got ready for the show later that day at the Tampa Skate Park. Skateboards and punk rock go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Five thousand beers later, the show was over and the floor was covered with beer. The Sainte Catherines, Toys That Kill, Super Power Abuse, Altaira, and Tiltwheel tore down the house and let the motherfucker burn. The show was absolutely insane; shit was breaking and flying all around. Dudes had their shirts off. It was complete and total anarchy like the Spanish Civil War. Lucky for me, I got to see most of those bands fifteen more times in the next three days.
We woke up in Tampa and drove to Gainesville in the Florida heat. My god, the heat! It somehow makes the women beautiful and compels all the men to grow beards.
We arrived at Wayward Council, a volunteer, non-profit record shop that had about two hundred twelve-packs of Pabst for all the bands. We checked into the Poopsville Lodge and they threw us out later that night for being ugly, then our buddy, Josh Mimi, got arrested for felony possession of cocaine. The rest of the night faded into a pants-off-at-your-party, beer-spilling haze. But the show earlier that night was sexier than a prom date on birth control.
We're talking Gainesville Fest, bro! I'm saying you walk in the door and Duff Man's doing keg stands with the Girls Gone Wild while high fiving all the dudes hanging out with other dudes gone wild. Shit was tight!
Actually, "the Fest fucking sucked this year." Or at least it was fun to say. Especially after Mike Collins of Billy Reese Peters said it to Tony Weinbender (Fest guru/organizer). It was almost as good as yelling out, "Werewolves suck, dude." Saying dumb shit gets better every time just like masturbating.
Friday night at Common Grounds I caught Victory at Sea and Mercury Program. The indie rockers really stood out among all the beardos. Mercury Program had some beautiful instrumental math rocking. The kind of noise you would hear if Trans Am and Tristeza fucked. But Victory at Sea was pretty in a different way. The primarily female vocals along with the harmony of violin and piano made me want to either go sailing or do heroin in corduroy pants. But enough with all this fancy music.
The real punk show was down the street at The Side Bar. And I should know. I was there, man, like a Vietnam Vet. J Church was headlining and why not? They only have like a gabillion wonderful albums, although Lance Church says only seven are actually licensed. But to be honest, after Grabass Charlestons and Toys That Kill played, I totally blacked out. Sucks to be me 'cause I've seen Grabass about a hundred times and J Church about five. But every time I missed them play. I guess that's the price of being the headlining act on the first night of the Fest. The alcoholic writing the review won't remember you play.
For the whole Fest, I only caught about twenty of the bands. And to say I caught these bands is cheating. I didn't catch them. For one thing, they aren't fucking fish. I guess you could say I watched them, even if I didn't remember it very well. And I interviewed some of the bands for this article. I just can't read my notes. I danced, too, even though I fell over and looked stupid.
At one point on Friday night, I thought I was talking to Ben Snakepit until I found out it was Chris from J Church, 'cause he came up to me the next day while Billy Reese Peters was playing and told me he found my notebook in a gutter. Reading my notes was like decoding the fucking Rosetta stone. I opened it up and read "Gator Bob Girlfriend's friends." I have no idea what it means and don't expect you to either. But I mean, c'mon, you wake up in jail, the hospital, on a porch or somebody's floor and you really can't be sure what happened. Unless somebody tells you, so I'm telling you now. I'm sure J Church was amazing but fucking Gator Bob stole my memory. It's his fault.
The show Friday night was still fantastic and none of the bands let me down. PJ from Grabass was all doing his cute little guitar dance, bouncing his head with the crowd like a bunch of Mexican jumping beans. And when the singer/drummer Will gave me a dirty look for being annoying and probably too touchy feely, I thought about the time their bassist, Replay Dave, pissed on him. And I smiled 'cause when people get pissed on it's funny. But like I said, after their set, I lost track of most of what happened. Fuck you, Gator Bob.
The first part of the show was still bitchin'! Toys that Kill, Tim Version, and The Enablers rocked my socks off. Seriously, I woke up with no socks and I was all "Fuck, I must have had my socks rocked off last night." And I did. Toys That Kill played a bunch of FYP songs in my head. Tim Version hated on all my star tattoos and No More, who I confused with The Enablers, sucked. Later that night, The Fast Crowd and myself ended up at some party with our pants off doing something stupid, 'cause the next day at the barbecue people were recognizing us with dirty looks of "Shit, those guys are here."
By Saturday, everything was falling apart like Bonnie Tyler. I woke up in a strange house next to a strange man in a bed. Toys That Kill was there and they appeared to be as hung over and confused as I was. Then some of us ventured off to the barbecue at Common Grounds.
It was great, old and new friends drinking away hangovers, eating food, squirting each other with toys, watching guys do crazy shit with yo-yo's while people played bad acoustic songs. Yep, the sun was shining and the day was young. It didn't get much better than that. And then somehow it did.
About thirty or so people went back to the house we stayed at the night before for a pool party. Everybody was swimming when somebody had the fucking brilliant idea to turn the pool cover into a giant slip and slide. It must have been thirty seconds before people started flipping over and eating shit all over the place. Before we knew it, bands had started for the second night of the fest.
Once again it was all about Side Bar. And when you walk in, the stench of puke and stale booze hits you like a freight train. It was the night before Halloween and men and women are walking the streets in all different kinds of costumes: from Leatherface to prostitutes and nerds to a life-sized beer cozy.
The second night started off with a bang, like the Challenger space shuttle. The first band I caught was Altaira and they were great but I started puking during their set so I had to do shots to keep from letting the booze win. After Altaira, the Dukes played. The Dukes covered and closed with Hank Juniorr's "Family Tradition." Perfection! After that, I went to Common Grounds for Lucero. They were all drunk as hell and when the singer and guitarist started arguing over why they were drunk, Brian, the guitarist, just said, "I ate a potato chip." Ben Lucero said he would play acoustic on the sidewalk after Against Me!'s set but I think everyone was so wasted by that time we all forgot.
I went back to Side Bar for This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb and it was one of my favorite sets of the Fest. Everyone was screaming along with the band. I high fived some black dudes with gold chains that were slam dancing and it made my night.
A little later, I went back to Common Grounds to catch Against Me! finishing up their set. The room was at least a hundred and twenty degrees and four hundred people were jumping up and down shouting, "Baby, I'm an anarchist!" It was just like every other crowd or set at the Fest: absolutely amazing, but three times as crowded.
Everyone was arm in arm with complete strangers once again. This is the meaning of the Fest. This is the unity and celebration you can find on the faces of the bands and fans alike, when a show is being played, when they're on stage, or just drinking next to one another. The same reason Dave "Rat" Anderson was at that Dukes show. The same reason people at the Fest came from different corners of the world. Connected by music to drink and dance together in a compost revolution against the real world or society or whatever you want to call it.
While Against Me! was finishing up their set, Tiltwheel was tuning their guitars. Against Me! finishes and Tiltwheel starts playing. Davey shuffles his feet back and forth, playing guitar in front of maybe fifty people, swaying from one end to another, like a giant wave at a football game. And most of them have their shirts off. Suddenly, somebody jumps off the stage onto the fans, with a beer in his hand, while the crowd carries him around the dance floor. The fans lock arms dancing together, and only one kid's gotten thrown out of the Side Bar that night. But he was naked and couldn't stand up straight enough for somebody to stick a bottle up his ass. It's all in fun and Tiltwheel even managed to crank out some new songs, including an ode to the sunshine state. Life was beautiful.
Earlier that night when Billy Reese Peters was setup to play, their guitarist Mike Collins told the crowd the Fest sucked this year. Then he aggressively asked if they knew who he was. Dressed in a large blue Captain's hat and a pirate shirt, it's obvious. He's Captain motherfuckin' Crunch. They start playing and the crowd jumps into full swing, falling over one another. About half way through the set, Aaron Cozy jumps on stage in a life-size Grabass Charlestons beer cozy costume and jumps onto the crowd. They carry him around as he waves his arms up and down smiling. But then everyone loses their grip on him and he falls out of the costume. Everyone continues floating the cozy around for the rest of the set. As they finish up, you can hear the chorus of their swan song, "We're just five dudes trying to make it in this crazy mixed up world!"
The Fest was over for me, but at the Pegasus Lounge, two hundred miles away, bands were kicking out the jams just as hard, in another empty bar. It was Halloween and Tiltwheel, Vena Cava, Altaira, Tim Version, and The Dukes of Hillsborough were all playing that night. They didn't get any better or any worse. They were all just as amazing as the twenty times I've seen them before. And when they closed the bar down, the show wasn't over. Everyone headed out to the parking lot with twelve packs and an acoustic guitar. We managed to get the world's largest people pyramid to fail and brought the Kolob-ian San Diego anthem, "Pizza five bucks!" to Florida.
I'm not going to say the Fest can reinvent the wheel. But, to me, being a part of a community that understands one another enough to piss on each other and stick bottles up strangers' asses... well, shit, they're still trying to figure out how to sell you that kind of thing on TV. I found what's missing in my life. It's filled with booze and it's in Florida. I'll fly to the other side of the states anytime for the good times to kill me. I love you all.