The Fest takes places across the town of Gainesville, Florida. Every Autumn punks and miscreants descend upon the town for three days of sweaty fun. Roo, lead singer in Bangers takes us on a hazy adventure through one of punk rocks most distinguished festivals.
We arrived late Tuesday night and just about had time to grab a breakfast-style snack before crashing out in two rooms. Waking up the next morning it seemed ridiculous that we were actually meant to play that afternoon, but after a dip in the pool we climbed into the now-mandatory suburban tank that we had hired and headed over to Vertical Merchandise to pick up our new shirts and Brits Abroad 7 inchs. This done we headed to the mall to play on the Flowrider, and then made our first and last visit to Taco Bell en-route to the Transitions warehouse next door to the skate park. It was here that it really started to sink in that we (along with most of the British bands) had arrived in America with absolutely no equipment at all. I enjoyed the feeling that other bands had been ‘sponsored’ by American residents; OK Pilot had done a short tour with Young Livers, The Arteries had been touring with Static Radio, and Above Them were being baby-sat by New Bruises. With no-such equipment sponsors of our own we had to freestyle somewhat and luckily Bridge and Tunnel were kind enough to lend heads, guitars and drum breakables.
Above Them opened up the Tampa pre-fest and were near-perfect as always, despite having to cut their last song because of equipment problems. We set up third and played a nervously-energised set of six songs which barely gave me time to introduce ourselves between songs. I was a bit gutted when we came off stage that I hadn’t been more charming and confident, but the crowd were very kind.
I watched far fewer bands than I would have liked at this show because of the sheer volume of people who I wanted to catch up with. The whole car-park was a mess of hugs and car-bars, and before too long a few vomit-puddles appeared as people found and mis-judged their drinking stride. I’m not the biggest fan of the warehouse as all alcohol has to be bought in advance, and there is only one toilet in the whole place which constantly has a queue. But the fact that this two-day prefest is set up every year is constantly amazing, and these shows alone are impressive in scope and line-up by normal standards. I was too high on excitement to remember very much about Tampa, but my lasting impression is that some excellent bands played excellent sets to a crowd that was about half and half British and American.
Next day, Tank Commander Kieran drove us to Gainesville to check into a brand new hotel. It took some getting used to that opening the car window let the air conditioning out and the hot air in. Just as it took some getting used to that American super-markets contain very little that I would buy on an average weekly shop. The fruit and veg sections are pitiful, and everything looks waxy and fake. The medicine section belies a nation of hypochondriacs, which equalled exactly what we were looking for, so we dug around for the strongest over-the-counter drugs we could find and got back on the road. I found a bottle of something called Nyquil which I swigged from the bottle for most of the journey.
On a side note from my boring adventures, Elijah Wood’s moody face has just driven me to drinking wine. What I love and hate about Lord Of The Rings is that there are all of these powerful, exciting characters, all who have done amazing things and had amazing travels. And yet this story focuses mainly on one morose hobbit who really has nothing special about him. Equally amazing and frustrating.
I threw some sort of drug-induced temper tantrum at this point. Everybody else wisely left me in bed ranting about something or other which nobody can remember now. This left me a couple of hours later wandering the streets on my own, still feeling as though somebody had spiked my cough medicine. Apparently this is the desired result of medicine in America; which I can only assume means that this is the “normal” state for the locals, which in some ways explains quite a lot really.
Something about a student media circus comes to mind, but I can’t for the life of me think why.
In this time I chatted to some local protestors about a local company who had painted telegraph poles with a carcinogenic chemicals. Over the years these chemicals had seeped through the earth and were now dangerously close to seeping into the water supply. I think the experience would have freaked me out if I hadn’t been so high, and if the woman who was telling me this didn’t look more than a little bit like my mum.
The woman was probably mid-sentence when I spotted When The Land Meets The Sea who we’d played with in Tampa and started following them covertly on the assumption that they’d know where all of the fun was hiding out.
The next thing I remember properly is Dan Bond kissing me on the cheek while Emma looked on disapprovingly. He burbled drunkenly about Oh Pioneers and proceeded to pump his fist furiously through their entire set, not giving the slightest damn that the rest of the audience were watching quite politely. I think I played computer games above the bar with Ian Chaddock. I may have drank water and sat outside for a while. Something about a student media circus comes to mind, but I can’t for the life of me think why.
I felt the need to leave before the evening was over and strode purposefully across town to Market Street Pub, leaving the 1982 to its own raging devices. Apparently Apologies and Calvinball did karaoke that night while I played atrocious darts with some Germans and still made it back to the hotel room to find Hamish already cuddled up in bed. He’d also drank Nyquil on the drive down, but had handled it far better than me. We talked for a while before falling asleep.
I woke up suddenly and needed to GET THE FUCK OUT
After having complimentary breakfast and wandering around we registered in The Official Fest Hotel (I greatly recommend playing Fest rather than being a punter, if only so that you can skip the queuing at registration which is obscene) and joined the pool party on the roof. Most notably there was a guy serving beer who would back-flip for tips. He was pretty amazing. It was about mid-day and everybody was getting drunk on the roof-top. Hence the haziness of the following events. I watched some awesome bands, most of whom I won’t tell you about. I find people who go on about how wonderful bands-that-you-didn’t-manage-to-see were to be very obnoxious.
By the time I got to the kickstand to watch Cheeky I’d already got to my second can of Four Loko. I’m sure that everybody reading this knows what Sparks is, or rather what it was before it was banned. Well Four Loko is similar, but the cans are twice as big, the alcohol content is twice as much, and the taste is twice as chemical. I’m willing to take criticism for this description, but Four Loko is assuredly the devil.
These are my notes from Friday night;
“Rent-a-cops swarmed the lobby – maybe real cops. None of them would lend me money. Or had any. Or smiled. Maybe if they smiled more they’d get tips and would have had spare dollars. American smiles… “I’m British … British. We don’t usually act this crazy. It’s YOUR American booze.”
Cam’s Cove. A band off the tracks. Ask Andrew what happened.
Kay is ill. Don’t feed her any more soft bread and meat.
Tatoos. Mike. Big Mike. Knew Mike Hale. Mike Mike Mike.
Cheeky (got bored)
Cam’s Cove band.
Small Brown Bike
I woke up suddenly in bed with Tom at 4:30 and needed to GET THE FUCK OUT. I was shaking and wide awake and felt like my insides were borrowed from a dead man. I left the room and started pacing up and down the corridor in my pants and a t-shirt. Everything was bad. So bad. I needed water so I stamped down the corridor (stamping felt good) to the ice machine but didn’t have any dollars. So I caught the lift downstairs to the water fountain. As the doors opened, lo and behold. The lobby was full of police. I was a quivering, stamping, angry, crazy wreck in a foreign country in my underwear in an up-market hotel and the fucking lobby was full of cops. I hope that my notes are inaccurate at this point. I don’t remember and I don’t want to.
I couldn’t sleep for throwing up when I returned to the room, so Saturday morning sort of faded in like a Nyquil hangover. I spent the whole day in Common Grounds watching some excellent bands and hanging out with a lot of Brits, but still apparently going through the motions of being a real human being. I also drank too much again, but this was mainly beer and so was fairly acceptable.
To all intents and purposes I ‘came to’ outside a bookshop on University Avenue called Wayward Council. Tom was long gone, having walked a drunk girl back to her hotel room, and I was left with Cam (a friend of friends who I’d met properly about an hour ago), Connor from Calvinball, and Kat from Swansea. Everybody was talking about the punks-fighting-the-cops at a house show in which the guys from Bomb The Music Industry were meant to be covering the entirety of Enema of the State. Public opinion was divided about who was in the wrong, but general talk was that police had unprovokedly tasered a guy for dancing in the street. Connor and Kat had been at the party and couldn’t give a coherent picture of what had happened, so how everyone at Wayward Council had instantly become authorities on the subject was beyond me. I was hedging my bets on the fact that we didn’t have all of the information, but was feeling a bit shaken up from the sheer volume of police cars I’d seen screech around the corner towards the party. For this reason I was quite pleased when the stack of drums on the street started to move inside signalling the end of the film screening which we’d been waiting patiently for, and the beginning of the after-hours gig. 5 minutes into the music I search around frantically for a pen, tear up some scrap card from my bag and scribble down
“Wayward Council, 2:00, Sat. Des Ark + Honest Arrow. Red lights, sweat beads. Visceral”
before relaxing into the experience.
As I dutifully recorded, the only lights in the room were red, the two bands were intermingled at the front of the room, taking it in turn to play songs. Honest Arrow played excellent mid paced punk with girl/boy vocals, which somehow sounded earthy and artistic, and Des Ark played slightly more varied fast/slow, loud/quiet rock music fronted by the most heartbreaking vocals I’d ever heard. Somebody was filming from the back of the room, people were hanging from the walls, sitting on bookshelves, standing on tables, Matt from Transitions in Tampa was squashed into a gap high up in the wall, passionately high-fiving and hand-clasping everyone within reach. The whole crowd was moving slightly, in that slightly spacey dance which denotes something beautiful happening after drinking an excellent amount of alcohol. I assume that everybody was feeling as dead on their feet as I was.
This will be my most lasting memory of The Fest, and I don’t say this lightly. High points were not exactly few and far between; Iron Chic playing to a packed writhing crowd in a bike repair workshop (The Kickstand). Apologies, I Have None in the back room of a sandwich shop played with their backs to the window with a two-storey crowd who seemed to know every word, watched in wonder from people outside who couldn’t squeeze in. Bridge and Tunnel. Gunmoll. Matty Calvinball backing into his borrowed guitar amp and knocking it clean off the stage while a crowd of English supporters invaded the stage.
The list of high points is really long. And everyone has one, making mine as pointless to recount as the next.
On Sunday everything felt different somehow. Like we had a job to do. We got to the Venue in good time for our set and stayed there in the side-stage on and off for most of the day. The free beer was warm, but I wasn’t really drinking. At one point I hung out with Dan, Emma and Tom in Los Taquitos with a margarita apiece and suddenly realised that I was meant to be on stage in 45 minutes.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I play in a band called Bangers. Yeah, that band who broke two strings at the Fest. And it wasn’t even your guitar?? Yeah. That was me. And the guy who’s guitar it was restrung it during your set because you couldn’t??? Yeah. That was also me.
I had an amazing time. Shit went off. Then the drinking started.
I already told you about Calvinball right? Yeah, that really happened.
And then we all drank more.
‘Too Many Dark Knights’ live at The Fest
The thing about Fest is that it takes all of your energy to just stay awake and aware for the whole thing. At any time you’re probably missing at least one band who would have become your new favourite band if only you’d been there. And this sinks into complacency so quickly that you allow yourself to get drunk and have fun instead of desperately racing around town trying to find these new jewels. You see people you know and hang out, you want to try some different food, get a tattoo, buy some records, and everything just sort of slips by. It’s sort of depressing in the most amazing way. The fact that everything is just so good that whatever you do and wherever you go, whoever you miss and whatever band you walk out of half way through, everything just keeps getting better and better. And then it’s over all too soon.