Friday morning, we woke up groggy and hung over. We successfully partied and did the things we wanted to do for two days. The newly dubbed “Chicken Who Crew” gathered up our belongings and hopped in the rent a car bound for another three days of debauchery in a new city. Gainesville, Florida and The Fest 15 were a mere two hours away.
We arrived at The Wyndham Resort and were immediately told that none of the rooms were ready for the mass amount of punks lined up at their door. With nowhere to go, my friend Lindsey and I ditched our bags with the more tired members of the crew and headed down to check out the pool party happening downstairs. Unfortunately, we missed everyone who played acoustically at the pool, including PEARS front man Zach Quinn, but I was still able to obtain my first drink of the day, which came in a hollowed-out pineapple. Eventually, Lindsey was able to schmooze her way into getting a room key, and we were elated to find out we had a balcony that had a beautiful view of the lake behind the hotel, which we immediately threw a rubber duck into. Do you want nice things? Sure you do.
By the time we settled into our new digs, it was time to head to our first set of Fest. The Stupid Daikini were playing at Loosey’s. I already missed one “can’t miss band” of the weekend and I wasn’t about to miss another. Watching Melissa try to flamingo stand, balancing her ukulele after her strap broke, foreshadowed the experience we were about to have over the next couple of days. After they were done, Kaylin and I wanted to run down to the Holiday Inn to check out the flea market set up, but were a little late and missed it, so we settled for a couple $3 double whiskey and gingers at Mother’s Pub, before heading to Cowboy’s for PEARS. There, our crew reunited, and feeling a famished, Kendra and I introduced Kaylin, Lindsey, and Amanda to Flaco’s mother fucking Tacos. It had been a god damn year since that mess had filled my belly.
Next, it was time to run down to Palomino to see Gateway District. They kind of got added onto Fest under the radar, but no great band slips by ol’ Kevin Rettie. Being right next to The Midnight, we slipped over there to see if they still had the amazing Sweet Potato Beer on tap they had last year, but after talking to the lady working, found out they just got rid of it a week or so before. Luckily, Ricky had the balls to try a new beer, a Piña Colada Beer, that became my new obsession. I sipped on my replacement beer as our ever-growing group sat around the bar freestyle rapping about Disney movies and life until it was time to head back to Loosey’s for some City Mouse.
Keeping the party train going, we split up, myself and a few others deciding to go to The Wooly to watch part of the homies in Success, then wandering down to The Palomino to wait it out for our third helping of Dead to Me at Boca Fiesta next door. Towards the end of their last song, “By the Throat,” I was squished in the front, and kept banging my knees on the stage. A little freaked out from the year before at the Direct Hit! set when that woman fucked her knee up, I hoped up on the stage to run and stand over by the side, but inadvertently started a chain reaction of everyone jumping on stage to end the set with a giant party. It was tight.
I had one more stop to make before going back to the hotel and jumping in the pool for a late-night swim, which was at Durty Nelly’s for Dead Broke’s Against Me! cover set. As excited as I was to see some Against Me! songs covered, I was even more excited to finally meet the elusive Hot Sauce Kyle (from Soothsayer Hot Sauce). After hugging him for an uncomfortably long time and sucking up some spilled beer on the bar through a straw, we took a Uber back to the hotel for that night swim, and to discuss the pros and cons of dating Nora Jones with MakeWar’s Jose Prieto, before finally calling it a night.
Saturday morning wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It helped that I cracked open a PBR and pounded it before heading out to Karma Cream for a breakfast milkshake. Heading tot he shows with no real plan, we parked over by Anthem Tattoo and noticed it was not busy at all. Kendra and I had an appointment for Sunday morning to get Tim Armstrong Stress Faces, an inside joke carried over from last year, but seized this opportunity to just get it over with now since we had time. The rest of Chicken Who also took the time to get their inaugural Stress Face tattoos. Freshly inked, we all headed for The Midnight to catch SteveO and the Crippling Addictions do his thing, then it was off to Boca Fiesta to see The Brokedowns, but first I stopped at The Palomino and got one of the best tasting Bloody Mary’s I have ever had. It even came garnished with a hefty stick of beef jerky. Fuck.
I missed the Night Birds play last year because The Atlantic is fucking impossible to get into, so we booked it to The Wooly early to wait it out. A good idea, because the relatively bigger venue filled up fast for the New Jersey natives. We started to run out of steam at this point, and needing an actual meal to soak up some of the booze, so we hit up Big Lou’s where I got the “small” calzone that still ended up being about the size of my head. And I ate every last bite of that fucker. With ten pounds of cheese, pepperonis, and garlic in my tummy, we went to the High Dive to wait for our good friends Western Settings to play, but ended up deciding to split time between them and Dead Bars at The Palomino. We made it back in time to catch Western Settings last few songs, including “Kicking and Screaming” where guitarist Will Castro just flipped his mic towards the crowd. It was kind of surreal to be stuck between new Western Settings’ guitarist Thomas House (Regan was still filling in), The Stupid Daikini’s Brittany Hartin, and Dead to Me’s Chicken screaming “I’m not fucking dead” into a microphone.
My batteries felt recharged and Kendra and I headed to Durty Nelly’s to catch my personal #1 band to see all weekend, Not Half Bad. Even though I had that little sting in the back of my mind that I was missing Dillinger Four, it was great to see Matt Scifres and crew do their thing with the enthusiastic crowd. They even squeezed in a Moonraker song since those dudes were either playing in the band, or in the crowd. After I collected my kiss Matt promised me, I went off to go find Kaylin who had been missing for a solid couple of hours. She wandered off earlier to go take a nap, but got lost, and wandered half of Gainesville before finally finding the car and taking a twenty minute nap. I still woke her ass up though and dragged her to The Midnight for a pick me up beer, because it was time for the #2 most anticipated set all weekend.
When I walked into Tall Paul’s, I saw Matt Caskitt at the side of the stage kind of pacing back and forth. Caskitt was about to play, but it wasn’t a normal set. Matt was going to come out from behind the drums, letting Jimmy Gomez take over, and lead the band in an AFI cover set. As the lights dimmed, the insanely packed bar lost their collective shit as the “Through our bleeding, we are one” chant started. A fucking mosh pit started. I saw my best friend of the last five years crowd surfing with the biggest smile on her face. It was insanity in the best way possible. Afterwards, I finally used my “press” privileges to get into the quick Flatliners set at Market Street Pub, and then into The Copyrights at High Dive for another round of ‘Find Kaylin’. Exhausted, we all headed back to the pool party at the Wyndham, but left early when we couldn’t swim because of the tattoos, and kept getting shushed as SteveO and some others tried to play an acoustic set while security was looking for a reason to shut the party down. We did get to see two people having sex on a public area balcony while the whole pool party chanted “Get It” as they finished. Good for them.
Sunday morning was the absolute worst. At 31 years old, I’m no longer built to rage for five days straight. We hit up the Waffle House for some breakfast before going and standing in line at the High Dive for Mean Jeans. I made it about ten minutes into wearing my Halloween Hot Dog costume before the stench of the booze I was sweating out made me nauseous. The line wasn’t moving, so we hit up the Whiskey House to watch Matt Scifres play some acoustic Not Half Bad songs, before going back to the High Dive only to walk into the absolutely packed venue and just said fuck it and hung out outside on the back patio. I tried to suck down a Fest punch as we all kind of sat there trying to figure out our next move. Kaylin and I went to Bo Diddley Plaza to check out the merch situation, then got denied entrance into The Palomino for Bong Mountain, but we did find Kendra and went back to the Whiskey House for a Makewar acoustic set and air conditioning. Eventually we decided we required soup and hit up the Ramen restaurant down the street, where I had my first ever shot of Fernet. I still prefer Malört.
I dragged Kaylin and Kendra to The Wooly to watch a little bit of United Nations. It was refreshing to hear something other than pop punk, even if it was grindcore. Reaching just about all we could take of Fest, we went back to The Whiskey House to watch some Worriers acoustic, and try and catch our breaths from the last five days. It didn’t work. But we sucked it and went to Market Street for Get Dead and Caskitt, then to what we decided would be the last band we would watch, the McDonalds themed Black Sabbath cover band, Mac Sabbath. The goofiness of seeing the Grimalice with a top hat and balding long hair playing bass, The Catburglar on drums, Slayer MacCheeze with his hamburger head and Motörhead style tusks shredding guitar, and Ronald Osbourne toting around a microphone on a giant straw, was enough to temporarily stave off the exhaustion, or possibly feed into the madness. I couldn’t help but be enamored as Ronald Osbourne sang about fast food as two Ronald McDonald heads on pikes shot lasers out of their eyes and filled Cowboys with smoke from their mouths. It was a bizarre and fitting end to a very long weekend.
Another Fest was in the books. After a sliver of sleep and a drive back to Tampa, we sat in the airport at the bar reflecting on all the shenanigans of the last five days, thanking whoever that it was finally over and we could just go home. But truth be told, a day after being back, I missed Fest and the feeling of constantly being around my friends and people I care about, both old and new. And that’s what Fest really is. It’s more than just watching bands play. It’s more than just partying. It’s a community of like minded individuals all converging onto one college town to get together and have fun and connect with one another, to share this experience and forget about the bullshit and drama of our normal lives for a few days and just exist in a vacuum of people who couldn’t give two shits if you’re an outcast or different. At Fest, everyone is family.
Bring it on Fest 16.
* all photos by Kendra Sheetz