For the last seven Halloween weekends, the university town of Gainesville has been overtaken by punk rockers for what is possibly the best punk festival ever, known simply as Fest. Last week, Fest 8 (which included 330+ bands, most of which will probably never tour the UK) was no exception.
Right now, thousands of people are recovering from one killer weekend.
Just imagine Freshers’ Week, but replace all the Abercrombie and Fitch preppy doucheness with punk rockers who only have one thing in mind: they’re there to party and have the best time ever. Heck, no wonder Less Than Jake named their latest record after the place.
As you snake up the queue on the first day to get your wristband in the car park of the Holiday Inn (the ‘official party’ hotel) a guy with a megaphone shouts at you from the roof telling you there’s a pool party in full swing straight after you’ve registered.
Sure enough, the obnoxious roof-shouter was right; two hundred or so semi-naked dudes and dudettes are swigging from cans and bombing at the deep end at the outside pool. Oh and there’s a sound system next to a burger stand playing Dillinger Four’s ‘Gainesville’.
The perfect way to set the standards for Fest 8.
There’s a tangible sense of friendship visibly noticeable whether you’re walking down the main street of University Avenue or queuing up outside venues, and you are never left with nowhere to go. This atmosphere walks hand in hand with the fact you only ever need wear shorts and T-shirt under the blue skies and ever-blaring sun.
It’s no coincidence that Fest happens on the weekend that Gainesville’s much-cared-about local team The Gators play away to local rivals Georgia Bulldogs; all the college kids come out of Gainesville, punk kids from all over the world pile in literally flooding the place.
The 12 venues range from Academy-like ‘real’ venues to converted bike shops in warehouse-like buildings and book shops, and it’s this that makes The Fest so special – you can see Polar Bear Club tearing it up causing a small war in a place no bigger than a small pub and you can watch Joey Cape hammer out old Lagwagon songs in a shoulder-to-sweaty-shoulder room where you’re surrounded by book shelves.
One of the best parts of Fest is the amount of warehouse shows and house parties after the official schedule ends each evening. Every night there were mainstage bands playing at the warehouse - only a short cab ride away from the centre of town - and there were always house parties walking distance away, where bands momentarily set up and play a short set to glazed eyes and blurry smiling faces before leaving unnoticed.
It’s hard to top Shook Ones playing Weezer covers out of a garage, or Dead To Me and Banner Pilot killing it in a perspiring warehouse.
But it’s impossible to watch every band you wish you could – clashes between two bands you equally love are heartbreaking and a walk between two venues could be up to half an hour. There are times when you have to take solidarity in having a breather and taking in what you’ve got yourself into.
With a handful of bands from this side of the ocean on the poster, the UK was well represented. And they did not let down. The Arteries slayed it as if they were playing back home, Bangers and Calvinball were no-hold-bars keg parties destroying The Venue Side Stage’s ceiling and Apologies, I Have None created a human sauna at Flaco’s, a room the size of a kitchen. Above Them proved they can pull off the sound of their captivating recently released ‘Blueprint For A Better Time’ with an intense half hour and Snuff proved that at a grey age there’s no point in reminiscing if they’re still spitting out those timeless tunes.
In the next couple of weeks we’ll be hosting NFTU Fest Aftermaths with the bands from the UK and USA alike who made Fest 8 for us.
Until next year, Fest 8 will accommodate a small corner of all the minds who went, but for now, we want your comments on Fest - did you go this year? Have you ever been - and if not, has it been something you've planned on for ages?