Review: The Fest 14

  • Headliners:Lagwagon, The Menzingers, Andrew WK
  • Where:Gainesville, Florida
  • When:30th October - 1st November 2015
  • Reviewed By:Dan Stoten
  • Photography By:Dan Stoten

So, I had an absolute blast at Pre-Fest. The way the festival was laid out was great, each of the four venues was brilliant in its own way, and I saw a hell of a lot of good music. If I’m honest, I could have quite happily stayed in Little Ybor for the rest of the festival: or so I thought. 

Having hired a quite frankly ridiculous car (as I had plans to stay in Florida for a week or so after Fest had finished to wind down), I drove the 140miles North to Gainesville in mild panic. This was the first time I had ever driven abroad, as well as the first time I’d ever driven an automatic car. I’d also never been in a convertible before, let alone drive one. Equally, I had a time pressure since I had arranged a couple of interviews without actually thinking how long it would take me to get to Gainesville and then get to the meeting point. 
However, I arrived safely if slightly haphazardly in Gainesville, and set about the two-mile walk from my otherwise perfect AirBNB into Downtown. I promptly got lost, confused amongst what on first view looked a bit of a rabbit warren of streets. My Fest app was also not working properly at the time, which didn’t help matters. My instant thought was that Gainesville was too big, and that Fest worked better in a smaller place, such as Little Ybor. 
The next three days changed that view. The next three days were easily the three best days I’ve ever spent at a festival. They were also probably three of the best days of my whole life. 
As I mentioned earlier, it had been a bit of a rush to Gainesville. However, I arrived and once I’d begun to slowly find my bearings, I realised I had a few hours to kill ahead of the music on my schedule starting. I found myself in Gainesville’s House Of Beer, drinking the first of many Swamphead Fest beers. This was on no food for the whole day. Ah. 
A couple of hours later, the outdoor stage, Lot 10, opened, and I was there to watch Pianos Become The Teeth. Their brand of soaring, experimental rock music isn’t something I’d call myself a huge fan of, but if this is your thing, then these guys delivered a great performance. Technically, they were outstanding, with complex and tricky sections of tracks requiring a huge amount of skill, clearly something they have in shedloads. While their set didn’t excite me, it was certainly one I could appreciate and admire. 
Jake and the Jellyfish
From there, I headed across the road to Loosey’s, one of my favourite of Gainesville’s venues. Dan Potthast, who I’d seen and enjoyed so much in acoustic style at Pre-Fest was playing with his band Sharkanoid. Theirs was a hugely messy set, but one which was equally enjoyable, with their classic punk rock interjected with Dan’s stage banter. “Why are you watching us?!” was asked of the crowd on a number of occasions. While Sharkanoid won’t win any awards for originality or complexity, theirs was a hugely endearing set and a whole lot of good fun. 
Jake and the Jellyfish were next. The Fest app stated these guys were a “folk / punk / reggae” mash-up, and, those being three things I’m quite a fan of, I decided to head over to Durty Nelly’s Irish pub to watch them. Despite performing to what was a small audience, they were on top form, with their edgy and throaty folk-tinged ska-punk being delivered in a raucous style. While they were missing a member, you couldn’t have told that, with their energy and their songs seeming note-perfect. They rounded off their set in a genuinely acoustic style, with dreadlocked frontman Jake unplugging all amps and guitars and striding into the crowd with just his guitar and the voices of him and his compatriots. They launched into a beautiful rendition of Same Old, a catchy and harmony-packed drinking song. It was a perfect song for the setting and rounded off their performance brilliantly. 
Staying in Durty Nelly’s, the next band were pretty diametrically opposed to Jake and the Jellyfish. With Hugo from The Sainte Catherines as frontman, Powernap gave us a truly explosive set of crashy and brazen hardcore punk. Hugo was the ultimate frontman, getting in amongst it with the crowd and delivering quick-witted and cynical lines between each track, as well as bragging about how this set had achieved a whole load of made-up world records. At the same time he was able to be self-deprecating, informing the crowd that the best bits of the whole set were the bits between songs as opposed to the music itself. They put on a great performance and I was glad I had seen them: I was one of only a small number, as The Menzingers were playing Lot 10 at the same time.
Hungry, I headed next door to the apparently legendary Flaco’s for a sandwich to keep me going for the rest of the night. This wasn’t my only Flaco sandwich of the weekend, with at least one more being bought across the three days…
Luckily for me as a massive fan of The Menzingers, they were still playing an extended set even after I’d eaten my sandwich. I headed quickly over to Lot 10 to catch Ava House and a phenomenal version of The Obituaries. The huge crowd, as per at Pre-Fest, was hanging on every note and screaming it back at the band, with their rousing choruses floating up into the dark humidity the night had brought. It was such a brilliant moment that I got actual goosebumps listening. Immediately after this, through the PA came a bit of a club session, with an impromptu hip-hop set leaving everyone slightly confused but only serving to boost the partying crowds even further. 
Worriers were a band many had spoken about at Pre-Fest, so I decided to head over to Rockey’s to catch them. Once again, I was really glad I did, with the New York four-piece delivering a super-tight set of punk rock. Lou from Caves was playing with them and added an extra dimension to what was a brilliant set. They’re certainly a band to look out for. 
I then headed across to the Whiskey House for Ducking Punches, where Dan was playing a solo, acoustic set. In my notes, all I’ve written is “acoustic punk done properly”, which is all there is to say. As per their set at Pre-Fest, Dan wore his heart on his sleeve; while his emotional rendition of Six Years was unforgettable.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t see much more music on the Friday of Fest: the events of the day had beaten me, and, after popping in to Boca Fiesta to catch a bit of Choke Up’s set, I headed back to my accommodation. I needed to be on better form on the following two days. 
I awoke feeling hugely refreshed the next morning. The house I was staying in had a massive, multi-level and forest-esque garden, so I sat relaxing in it for a good hour or so, drinking coffee and making friends with the owners’ cat before heading in to Downtown for what was going to be, and supposed to be, a varied day of music. 
My first band of the day was Modern Baseball, who were due to play a Killers cover set in High Dive. Opening with Read My Mind and When We Were Young, the band were far from exact replicas of The Killers, with their blaring and bass-heavy covers. What they were, however, was clearly having a fucking good time, with both them and the crowd really getting into the spirit of the set. Greg and Tom from The Menzingers joined for Smile Like You Mean It; while the guitarist and drummer swapped roles for All These Things That I’ve Done
It was at this point that the day began to change from what I had planned. My plan was to be busy bustling all across various venues, catching a number of different bands at different locations. I was in Lot 10 and had just gone to buy a beer: I thought I would treat myself to another Swamphead as opposed to a PBR. Collecting my beer, the bar-lady stated that if I could down my pint while she tried to stick one of those transferable tattoos to my arm, she would replace for free whatever I had drunk. Well. It was humid and sweaty. Despite two attempts with two separate tattoos, neither stuck to me and I had a whole free beer. This happened two or three times across the afternoon, by which point I had decided any beer is good beer, and was mixing PBR with copious amounts of the slightly concerning ‘caffeinated water’ on-sale in Lot 10. 
For me, though, that whole afternoon was exactly what Fest is about. I spent about four or five hours partying with the friends I’d met on Wednesday at Pre-Fest, watching bands I didn’t know, chatting to new people, laughing with everyone, sharing a beer, hugging, joking, taking photos and just generally appreciating the ability to hang out with like-minded people and just have a fucking great time. The weather was gorgeous, the beer was flowing, the music was quality, and the company was brilliant. What more could you want?
Bad Cop Bad Cop
The first band I saw on this afternoon was Bad Cop Bad Cop. Dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the female four-piece delivered a set of classic punk’n’roll with real energy and vitriol. Simple song structures meant they were easily accessible and their fancy dress certainly caught the eye. They were closely followed by Night Birds, who mixed old-school punk influences with a more upbeat, surf-punk feel to great effect. Their fast-paced style went down well, and their guttural screams combined to form an intriguingly aggressive yet upbeat performance.
Masked Intruder came next, a band I’ve never seen before. Clad in all black and different coloured balaclavas, they delivered their far from original but still brilliant punk rock with aplomb. While undoubtedly part of the appeal is their anonymity and the whole stage show, with Officer Jackson being the comedy villain, they’re also really good at delivering catchy punk rock songs. 
They were followed by one of the most impressive acts of the whole weekend, Smoke Or Fire. They blew a substantial crowd away with their hardcore melodic punk rock. They’re another band I’ve never been a massive listener of, but once home I immediately looked into their back catalogue, they impressed me so much. A seething pit was a feature of their fifty minute set, in which they rattled through the entire Above The City record. Hugely impressive. 
I followed this with pop-punk sets from Caskitt and Lagwagon, as well as seeing the indomitable Pears tear High Dive apart. My final band of the day was Teen Agers, the band I was most looking forward to seeing across the whole of the Fest five days. They played constantly throughout their half an hour slot, featuring mainly new material scattered with a handful of tracks from 2013’s I Hate It. This new material sounded equally as strong as that record, meaning next year could be an exciting one for the band.
Sunday dawned with a feeling of sadness: this was the last day of Fest. It also dawned with a feeling of excitement, though, as there was a whole day of brilliant music to see…
Great Cynics
The day started with the UK’s Woahnows. These guys had been seriously impressive at 2000 Trees earlier in the year, and their driving indie-pop-punk was just as impressive in Florida. They had a surprisingly large crowd for such an early slot, while there were a huge number of people singing along with their upbeat sound. This was a triumphant start to the day. 
They were followed by another band from the UK: Kingston’s Great Cynics, who played at High Dive to a massive crowd. Their set was a hugely catchy one, similar in some ways to Woahnows’ crashy, wavy style, but with a little more drive and power behind it. It was a stellar set, with a surprising amount of grit and passion, particularly in Iona’s growled vocal.
headed back to Lot 10 next for Underground Railroad To Candyland, probably the most confusing act for me of the whole weekend. Clad in bizarre and slightly haunting fancy dress, their surf punk really faded into the background as I tried to understand exactly what was happening. Their two drummers were the most watchable, remaining perfectly choreographed throughout but with empty expressions on their blankly staring masks. 
Wonk Unit then provided some blessed relief from the bizarre. Heading into a packed Loosey’s, their classic and simple blasts of punk rock blew away any Sunday cobwebs people watching them had. A decent-sized circle pit opened up in the small venue as frontman Alex drawled, spoke and screamed over the top of the music. I wrote in my notes that Wonk Unit are very much from the fuck everything school of punk, with some brilliantly inappropriate segments between songs. Their set though, was an exhilarating one which most certainly will have won them a load of new fans. 
Underground Railroad to Candyland
Slowing it down slightly, I headed over to The Wooly for Broadcaster. They’re a band I’d heard of but not actually listened to, so I was pleasantly surprised by their slower-paced, soaring and riff-heavy punk rock. They had some pretty decent melodies, while this was their first time ever playing as a four-piece. Despite some uncertain expressions on-stage, you wouldn’t have known this: I enjoyed their set. 
Next came another of the best bands of the weekend: PUP. They absolutely smashed it. They gave Lot 10 a genuine party atmosphere: people were bouncing, dancing and singing along with complete abandon. Their energetic and catchy punk rock was so instantly accessible, even for someone like me who’s only ever really listened to them in passing. Jeff Rosenstock joined them for their last song, a stunning cover of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage. They were incredible.
LA Armada were a band I had earmarked to see ever since their material landed in The Punk Archive‘s inbox some time ago. They were absolutely astounded at The Atlantic, tearing the place apart with their aggressive and in-your-face hardcore punk. Sometimes this sub-genre can be a little difficult to get in to, but LA Armada have something which make it so accessible for anyone: be it their humility, their incredible energy or their political standpoint. Both their drumming and riff-heavy, technical guitar work was amazing, while they also managed to get some of their Dominican Republic heritage into their songs too. I left the venue with my ears ringing, but with adrenaline pumping through my Fest-tired body.
I then headed back to Loosey’s to witness a wedding, and also The Decline‘s set. Their super-fast skate-punk went down really well with a crowd full of energy. This was a really good fun set, with people doing shooeys on-stage and crowdsurfing in circles around the tiny venue. The Decline themselves were also excellent, delivering a tight set full of hooks, melodies and harmonies. Definitely make sure you get down to see them if they’re in your town: it’s a party you won’t want to miss. 
For a bit of ska-punk, I dashed over to Rockey’s to catch the last few songs of We Are The Union‘s set. For me, there was nowhere near enough brass during the tracks I caught; though as expected they were generally very upbeat and bouncy despite some slightly flatter moments. The new material they played sounded excellent, as did their cover of Green Day’s Burnout.
Kamikaze Girls came next, a UK two-piece. Their set was brilliant, with incredible vocals ranging from melodic right through to vicious and sharp. Their moody and slightly dark tracks had an indie-punk feel, in a similar vein to Woahnows and Great Cynics, but with perhaps a level more vitriol and edge. I really enjoyed their set and will ensure I catch them next time they’re touring the UK.
There are some sets you know exactly what to expect at: the next two I saw were exactly like that. Starting with The Copyrights, who delivered a fast and tight set of pop-punk from their extensive back catalogue. I would say that the soundman for their set did appear to have everything turned up just a little too loud, which became really noticeable between songs, but that didn’t detract from their ten-year anniversary at Fest set. There’s nothing complex to The Copyrights, but that simplicity is part of the attraction…

Andrew WK
Andrew WK was next, delivering again exactly what you’d expect of an Andrew WK set. His piano-led rock music was driving and energetic, but the vast majority of people there were waiting for the main event, which you always know will be his last song. And when he did indeed launch in to Party Hard, the crowd did as they were instructed with absolute joyful abandon. One thing I noticed, though, is just how good he is on piano, something perhaps often missed.
My penultimate band of the five days was Empty Lungs. Hailing from Belfast, Northern Ireland, their melodic punk rock reminded me of a more rootsy version of Rise Against. Their set contained a huge amount of grit and punch, something I really enjoyed. Another standout feature was their backing vocal, which made choruses particularly catchy and infectious. Another band I’ve been checking out now I’m home.
I ended my Fest with my third helping of Ducking Punches, which proved to be a perfect way to close off the incredible five days. After the set, Dan told me that it was the best gig he’d ever played, and you’d be hard pressed to argue having watched the crowd scream every lyric back at him, inches from his face. The passion the band have in their locker is absolutely unbelievable, while they manage to make their gigs such an inclusive bubble you forget there’s a world outside the four walls of the venue you’re in. A stunning way to round off Fest.
Ducking Punches
Even now, two weeks after Fest, I am still reeling from just how good it was. I’ve never been to a festival, or to a place, where there is such a genuine community, where people are genuinely up for meeting new people and having fun with new and old friends. As someone who went there by myself, and for the first time, I’ve never felt more welcomed. It genuinely felt like I had joined a massive family. 
Let’s put it this way: if the world had as much love, unity and community as Fest, it would be nowhere near as dark a place as it is right now. 
We would like to extend a massive thank you to Tony and Sara for working with us over the last few months, and for giving The Punk Archive the opportunity to come to Fest. 

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