with Against Me, Superchunk, Rainer Maria, Beach Slang, and more
Gainesville, FL • October 27-29, 2017
by Jen Cray
Remember how excited you would get about Christmas when you were a kid? Counting down days on Advent calendars, making wish lists and dreaming all December of those sought-after toys you hoped to wake up to on the morning of the 25th?
That’s THE FEST, and for 3 days at the end of October every year, Gainesville, FL is like waking up to a pile of presents under the tree all with your name on it. Hundreds of band and thousands of fans descend upon the college town for a long weekend of carefree indulgence and real life 3-D socializing all set to the soundtrack of every shade of punk rock imaginable. It’s almost overwhelming in its variety. Schedule clashes cause sleepless nights and heartbreaking choices, and last minute “mystery sets” can not only throw entire plans off course but can inspire lines around the block as half the town tries to pile into a tiny venue to catch one of the main stage bands playing an intimate gig. It’s beautiful chaos shared with beautiful people and its a subculture all its own, where the people you meet are often just as memorable as the bands you see (and often the people you meet ARE IN the bands you see).
And, in a way, it’s that social experience — that real life, not false weird digital cyberspace world — that is the whole point of FEST. Sure, there’s music — there’s music EVERYWHERE at any given time, but it’s to be enjoyed as bite size appetizers. Like the musical equivalent of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival — instead of tasting a pastry puff and a sip of chardonnay at one vendor, it’s ducking into a dive bar to check out an unknown punk band from France whose set may be killer, but you don’t want to fill up on it because you still have to have rush over to the main stage to check out that band from the 90’s you never really listened to but you’ve heard are great and who never play live shows anymore so this is kind of a big deal.
So you listen to a few songs of them and, yeah, they’re awesome, but there’s this unknown chick playing an acoustic set at this out of the way bookstore-like venue that you want to check out so you rush over to catch her set and, guess what? She’s amazing. And the venue is amazing, and you end up being part of this beautiful moment where the singer onstage seems to be catching a brief glimpse at her possible future and it has adoring fans who know her lyrics and hang on her every word, and she smiles with surprise, and you smile, and it’s intimate and amazing.
Almost as amazing as the moment when the headlining band who used to call Gainesville home are playing to an at-capacity crowd and the singer who, let’s just say has been through A LOT since the band’s inception 20 years ago, gets choked up when thanking the crowd for sticking by her and for “listening to” her all these years. And upon saying that, brings out the band’s original bass player to join the band in play, in its entirety, their debut album “recorded just a few blocks from this stage.” As if that moment with Against Me was beautiful enough to witness, also joining the band as a guest star throughout their set was saxophonist Jessica Mills who music fans may recognize as an original member of Less Than Jake, but whom I know as one of my high school English teachers. I hadn’t seen her since those days, but I ran into her through the lens of my camera while she was onstage with a band I love performing in front of thousands. Only at THE FEST.
There are a lot of stories like that to be told. By me, and by many, but words hardly do this festival justice. Photos can come close.
Next year’s FEST is slotted for October 26-28, 2018. Plan accordingly.
Check out full photo galleries: www.jencray.com.