Long Drives and Exit Signs: Fest 13 in Review

posted by Alyssa Buffenstein on November 07, 2014

Crowd surfer at Fest 13; All Photos by Simone Sutnick

Gainesville, Florida -- Of all the beaten-up buses and vans bands take on tour, I wonder if any have ever considered driving a wheelchair-equipped mini-van. It’s basically a living room on wheels, and when I drove one from Richmond, Virginia to Gainesville, Florida for Fest 13, every song ever written about long drives and exit signs finally made sense to me. 

You could say Fest is like an alternate universe where everyone in the greater downtown area of your hometown has turned vaguely punk (an alternative universe, if you will). As far as festivals go, it’s small, but as far as the punk, indie, emo, and hardcore scenes its bands come from go, Fest is a communal trip to mecca. Every band you see on a tee of a festivalgoer walking down the street probably has some plays on your Last.FM profile, and you’ll run into familiar faces at an almost comical frequency. We may have been surrounded by palm trees, but Florida was just the place you, me, and everyone we’ve ever seen at a basement show came together for one weekend-long, PBR-sponsored family reunion.

The first set I made it to see on Friday evening only heightened the sense of surreality: Cleveland’s Runaway Brother covered the Twin Peaks theme song (from the show, not the band) during their set at the High Dive, and my alt universe theory was confirmed. It almost made up for missing one of my must-sees, The Hotelier, who played directly before, but that was just a taste of the compromises I would make all weekend, expected from a festival that brings over 300 bands to 20 venues over three days.

Bo Diddley Plaza by Simone Sutnick

Friday night I headed over to Bo Diddley Plaza, the outdoor main stage and only stage constructed specifically for the festival, to catch The Menzingers. In mainstream rock, The Menzingers might be just a blip, but in Fest world, they’re royalty. Besides Less Than Jake, they’re one of the first bands that come to mind when I think about Fest mainstays, so watching them Friday night gave me exactly what I had pictured when I anticipated this Halloweekend - singing along to some songs I kinda know, moshing with a whole bunch of people I kinda know, and watching a band I can only kinda see - not so different from a house show after all. 

I continued to venue-hop - back to High Dive to see Prawn melt faces in the gentlest, twinkliest way, and then to 8 Seconds to see Touché Amoré, who remembered it was Halloween and took the stage in their best makeshift ghost costumes and black eye paint. 

Maybe the lyrics to “Pathfinder” applied too well to the 12-hour drive I had finished a few hours earlier (“I rely on exit signs/and destination times”), but Touché’s set seemed particularly relatable, especially when singer Jeremy Bolm leveled with the audience, thanking them for being there in a perceptibly, if not unusually, genuine way. He wasn’t alone - all weekend, lead singers broke character like this. In Fest vernacular, bands and fans alike were all totally fucking stoked to be there.

You Blew It! by Simone Sutnick

Saturday morning, I still had “Pathfinder” stuck in my head while I listened to You Blew It!’s Weezer cover set from the ‘round-the-block line outside the High Dive. Part of the draw of Fest is that it’s a music festival without feeling like one, taking place in small venues throughout a metropolitan area. But I quickly realized that in exchange for getting to equate “being at a festival” with “watching a club show,” I’d have to learn how to appreciate hearing bands from the line outside the club. 

All day, venue-hopping felt like waiting in line for a rollercoaster - for popular sets, queuing could last double or triple the length of the set itself - and as much fun as the rides were, it was sometimes hard to justify time spent in line, shivering in the weirdly cold Florida weather. Saturday night, a triple-whammy at the Acheron had Tiny Moving Parts, Old Gray, and Self Defense Family playing one after the other, leaving some standing in the cold for literal hours before making it inside to see Self Defense

Luckily, I opted out of the Tiny Moving Parts line to catch the laid-back, emotional indie punk of Donovan Wolfington. I did get left in the cold while Old Gray played, but earlier in the day I caught lead singer Cam Boucher’s sad-boy pop side project, Sorority Noise

But this all wasn’t before the most pilgrimage-worthy band of the weekend, Descendents, played Bo Diddley Plaza. Milo Aukerman may look like your cool grandpa, but for many (like me), Descendents were the introduction to punk music, so their set took precedence over all else. It was a bucket list moment, and age is irrelevant when you’re moshing to “Suburban Home.”

Self Defense Family by Simone Sutnick

On Saturday I got to revisit some of my CMJ favorites, Xerxes and Self Defense Family, who consistently put on (different kinds of) intense live spectacles, but I also got to catch a few artists I missed at the marathon but prioritized this weekend: shoegaze punks Creepoid provided an excellent soundtrack to the hazy and chilly end of Saturday night, and the next morning, not even a third cup of coffee could wake me up as well as the abrasive hardcore of Ex-Breathers did at the band’s afternoon set.

But Ex-Breathers were the one interjection to my Sunday schedule that otherwise consisted mostly of that type of pop-punk that can pass for indie rock but also gets mistaken for emo, like Dikembe, Modern Baseball, and You Blew It!, who frustratingly don’t cover Weezer unless they can dedicate an entire set (or EP) to the endeavor.

Sunday night couldn’t have ended more magically than it did while watching the one, the only, The World Is A Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die. They finished with “Getting Sodas” and as they did, people from the pit began to rush the stage, band members crowdsurfed, and a general chaos erupted before my eyes, an other-worldly juxtaposition against the ephemeral noise and crackly croons coming through the speakers. 

The World Is... by Simone Sutnick

I couldn’t imagine a more perfect finale, so I let my tired self crawl into bed, alarm set early for my drive home the next morning I resigned even to skip a mystery set by The Hotelier, a decision I regretted immediately upon learning that they had played their 2014 pop-punk masterpiece Home, Like NoPlace is There from start to finish. It could have topped The World Is, but The Hotelier were the first band I missed at Fest, so maybe there’s something poetic in missing them last, too. 

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