Friday, 11 November 2016

Gig Review: The Fest 15 Day Three 30/10/16

After a decent night's sleep it was time for the third and final day of The Fest 15. Emma and I were both pretty knackered after two full days of watching some of the best punk rock bands on the planet but were excited for the day ahead. After breakfast I popped out and got another massive salad and can of Pepsi as it was a meal that served we well the day before. I also added a chocolate bar I had discovered called a Whatchamacallit - which is the best chocolate bar ever (except maybe Kinder, because you know - Kinder). Fuelled up we headed back to Bo Diddley Plaza for a final day of punk rock fun times.

(Emma's sections are in italic)

Opening up the day at Bo Diddley Plaza were Philadelphia based three piece Cayetana. This indie pop punk band only formed in 2011 so to be opening the biggest stage on the final day of Fest 15 had to feel like quite the occasion for the band. Neither Emma or myself were aware of Cayetana's music before now so we decided to just to hang around in the shade towards the side of the stage and watch the set from afar. A good amount of people did brave the blistering Florida sun though and seemed to really enjoy their set. The band seemed to be on top form and no doubt earned themselves some brand new fans with their performance.

After Cayetana finished we stuck around Bo Diddley Plaza to see the man, the myth, the legend - Jeff Rosenstock. I'd had the absolute pleasure of seeing Jeff Rosenstock perform live earlier in the year but this would be Emma's first time. A couple of weeks before The Fest, Jeff released his third album Worry. My copy didn't actually arrive until the day I left for Florida so I would get to hear many of those songs for the first time at Fest. This was by no means a bad thing, sometimes I think it's cooler to hear tracks for the first time live. Especially someone like Jeff Rosenstock who really brings his music alive whilst performing on stage. Maybe I couldn't sing along but I could do plenty of dancing to more songs that are becoming instant classics in my eyes (and ears). I loved everything he played from Worry but I couldn't help but get extra excited when songs from We Cool? were played. Hey Allison, Nausea, I'm Serious I'm Sorry and You In Weird Cities were all played and I made up for my lack of singing on the new stuff to belt these songs out as loudly as I could. It was also pretty cool to see Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band join Jeff Rosenstock (and band) on stage during You In Weird Cities. One of those cool moments that you'll only see at something like The Fest.

Staying at Bo Diddley Plaza it was time for another of my personal favourites. It was time for RVIVR. It was really starting to get hot outside now but I was determined to stick it out and be as close to the stage as I could. Seeing RVIVR completed a quartet of bands from the Latterman family tree that we had gotten to see over the weekend. I'd say it was a case of saving the best until last but RVIVR, Latterman, Iron Chic and Tender Defender are all bloody fantastic. I would maybe go for RVIVR as a favourite because of how much I love the dual vocals of Mattie Jo Camino and Erica Freas. There was a nice surprise on stage today as well, Lou from Caves was playing bass for RVIVR. This was my fourth time seeing RVIVR and I'm pretty sure they've had a different bass player every time. Starting out with Rain Down from their self titled album - which was another nice surprise me as I've only seen them begin with The Seam from album number two, The Beauty Between - RVIVR instantly got the fine folk at Bo Diddley pumped for their set. Of course RVIVR's set was full of classic songs from their discography, as well as a brand new song that has gotten me really excited for a new album. Erica and Mattie also took time out to talk about how much the Fest has grown in terms of inclusiveness and how it has become a safe space for punks from all different backgrounds. Obviously with this being my first I don't know what it was like before but I can say from my personal experience I felt warm and welcomed by everyone, like I was home. RVIVR are one of the most important bands in punk rock, not only because they make amazing music but also because of their message. Do yourself a favour, check out RVIVR.

Alongside The Menzingers, there was one other band at Fest 15 who score highly on my favourite bands list – The Smith Street Band. Although I’d seen the band multiple times prior to Fest, I wasn’t any less excited to see them once more in Gainesville. Smithies’ Bo Diddley slot was at 3.30pm which meant they were playing at the hottest time of the day, because of this (and after watching some of the previous acts in the blazing sun) I decided to stand off to one side in the shade. The great thing about Bo Diddley Plaza as a venue is that, although it’s the largest stage and audience capacity, you can generally see the stage fairly well from anywhere. Kicking off their set with I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore, it didn’t matter one bit that I wasn’t down the front and I loved it from the outset. Playing a good variety of songs from each of their releases, the Australian four-piece seemed quite at home at Fest – and as one of the only international bands (and the only band not from North America) playing the main stage they had every right too. Halfway through their set, The Smith Street Band treated us to a track from their forthcoming album called Death To The Lads and were joined by label mate Jeff Rosenstock. We’d heard the song once before in London and it was certainly good to hear it again – now we just need the full album!

After Smithies, we left the sunshine of Bo Diddley Plaza to see another Australian band, The Decline. As Colin has already mentioned, Market Street Pub was a really great venue for watching bands as it was possible to stand in one of the raised areas and so being safe from ‘the pit’ as well as having a great view of the stage. We managed to claim one of these decent viewing spots to watch the Aussie skate punk. Neither of us had seen The Decline before but I think I can safely say that we’d be keen to see the band again as they were brilliant. Fast-paced and lively – the perfect Fest band. When stating that they were from Australia they asked if anyone else was also, which produced a few shouts and hand raises. They also asked who was from anywhere else other than America – cue input from further Festies. Further proof of how unique The Fest is to draw people from all over the globe.

We weren’t able to stay for the whole of The Decline’s set as we wanted to go over to Whiskey House, just over the road from Market Street Pub, to see Jose Prieto of MakeWar’s solo acoustic set. As I missed his band’s full set, I agreed that we could sacrifice the end of another band’s set to see him – fun fact: The Decline were actually on tour with MakeWar before Fest! Colin told me that MakeWar played mostly tracks from their new album (that I hadn’t listened to at the time) during their full band show but Jose chose to play some of his older songs, that I was familiar with. There’s definitely a reason why Jose’s original solo project used to be named Sad And French (well, I’m not sure about the French part). Hearing songs such as Shorter Days And Longer Nights and Another Way To Let You Go live and completely stripped back was another level of emotion. Jose’s performance was heart-wrenching, but honestly in the best possible way.

Leaving Whiskey House, we found ourselves with a gap in our schedule where we didn’t have definite plans to see a certain artist. I’d listened to Everymen on our (previously mentioned) Fest 15 Spotify playlist and suggested that we go and check them out, at least for a few songs. Everymen were playing in a venue we hadn’t yet been to (not that we actually made it to all of the Fest venues anyway) called Tall Pauls. It turned out that Tall Pauls was a reasonably sized venue with some excellent interior design choices – my favourite part being the inflatable skull with moving eyes (I really hope it is there all year round and it wasn’t just for Halloween). The stage was set up with old-fashioned style microphones but, with a modern twist, they had coloured light boxes attached to them. All these additional venue elements were much suited to Everymen, a rowdy DIY folk punk band. We only stayed for a few songs but during that time memembers of the band played their instruments in the crowd. It was certainly something different to the more typical punk bands and probably just what we needed on Sunday afternoon.

After we checked out Everymen we made our way to Rocky's Piano Bar for a bit of a relaxation time. There we checked out the first band of the day to play at Rocky's, Orlando's Henrietta. In all honesty neither me or Emma knew who Henrietta were before the set and we did pretty much go to Rocky's because it seemed like a good place to have a pit stop before the end of the nights fun - there were seat available. Henrietta played a good set of punk rock music though and kept my attention throughout their time on the stage. Combining indie, punk and emo, Henrietta were unlike any band we had seen all weekend and offered a nice bit of variety to the evening.

Once Henrietta finished we checked out a bit of Jabber covering the Spice Girls, before heading back to Bo Diddley Plaza where we got some food and checked out the merch stands. After spending far too much money there, we got into the crowd for another of our favourite acts. Everyone's favourite unlucky-in-love criminals, Masked Intruder. I'm sure everyone knows who Masked Intruder are by now so I won't go in to their whole criminal gimmick thing here - there doesn't seem any need for it. What I will say is how fantastic Masked Intruder are as a live band. The songs are perfect for a live performance and the band itself are masters of entertaining a crowd. Each member of the band, and Officer Bradford who acts as somewhat of a hype man for the band, play their roles perfectly and have Gainesville dancing, singing along and most importantly of all smiling and having fun. During the track I Fought The Law, Officer Bradford jumped into the crowd and proceeded to dance with everyone he lays eyes on, as well as offering high fives and hugs a plenty. There are some nice surprises from the band's set, the first being Roger of Less Than Jake fame taking over from Green on guitar for Hey Girl so Green can get into the crowd and find a girl to bring on stage to dance with. The second surprise really blew my mind. It was time for Heart Shaped Guitar. Normally the band find a lady from the crowd to get on stage to sing the lady's lines in the song - on the record it is sung by Maura Weaver of Mixtapes. To everyone's surprise for this performance of Heart Shaped Guitar at Fest 15 the band brought out Maura to sing it with them. This was one of those magical moments I never thought I'd get a chance to see and to use a cool, trendy person term - I was pretty stoked. I can't think of many bands I enjoy watching more than Masked Intruder. One does spring to mind, however, and they were up next!

Why is Emma reviewing Colin’s favourite band I hear you ask? Well, before Fest when we saw Less Than Jake and The Menzingers (two separate gigs) in London we decided that Colin should review Menzo’s Fest set and I should review Gainesville kings, Less Than Jake – to mix things up a bit. I must say, I feel more than a little under-qualified to review this band but it does help a little that I absolutely loved their Sunday night finale performance, so I have nothing but good things to say. As the folk at the front for Masked Intruder moved to go and get beers, or whatever, I eagerly claimed us a spot at the front. This was our first time getting so close to the Bo Diddley Plaza stage but what better band to do so for than the Fest 15 closers. And what better band to close Fest 15 than Less Than Jake, one of Gainesville’s best and most celebrated bands of any genre and almost definitely the best ska punk band. Now, prior to October 2016 I hadn’t seen Less Than Jake before but I was more than happy – excited even – to see the band for a second time in the same month (their Brixton show earlier in October is one of my top gigs of the year). They are an incredible band that really is best enjoyed live, such great performers and they always look like they are having as good a time as, if not better than, the crowd. Unlike perhaps a more typical punk band, there’s more to their performance than their music alone – there’s toilet paper guns and dancing a’plenty from the LTJ mascot. Such things may sound gimmicky but they’re really not and, besides, Less Than Jake played a hell of a good setlist too. This being a hometown show and there being many people in the audience who have been fans for years and years, have seen them countless times and know all of the words to their songs, it probably comes as no surprise that they played some of their biggest ‘hits’ from their back catalogue – and their older songs in particular. Songs such as Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts, Dopeman, The Science of Selling Yourself Short, Look What Happened and All My Best Friends Are Metalheads were played and were extremely well received by the crowd too. Playing a hometown show has got to be pretty special, even more so when your hometown is host to the best punk fest in the world and your band is the one ending it. And so, the highlight of their set was their very last track – and it could be no other – Gainesville Rock City. I know it has been a dream of Colin’s for ten years or more to hear Less Than Jake play this song in Gainesville. He finally got to hear it and I did too.

After Less Than Jake I was pretty much ready for my Fest 15 experience to finish. Less Than Jake are my all time favourite band and I'd just seen them from the front row in their hometown at Fest. I'm not sure it can get better than that? If it wasn't for the fact that we'd left before The Copyrights the night before then I probably would have said to Emma let's go home and finish the night and the festival on that incredible high. But I really wanted to see The Copyrights so off to the High Dive we went with a few tears in my eyes due to the overwhelming brilliance of Less Than Jake.

We were both pretty exhausted by the time The Copyrights began their set so my memory of the set is pretty hazy to say the least. I know that they played an entirely different set from the night before. Frontman Adam said that the band had had to learn forty songs for Fest, that's pretty impressive. The crowd absolutely loved it with plenty of people climbing up on stage to crowd surf. How these people still had the energy to do this after three (or five in case of the pre-festers) is beyond me, full credit to those crazy folks. It was cool to see The Copyrights after all these years of being a fan, I just wish I was a bit more with it to really embrace the set.

With that our Fest was done. The Fest 15 had truly been a dream come true for both Emma and myself. We have both really wanted to attend the festival for years but had never had anyone to go with. When we first spoke, going to Fest was one of the first things we bonded over. Being in Gainesville together fourteen months later, basically due to Emma being very good at organising me is just incredible to me. We have both said before the festival that we wouldn't be able to come every year due to the cost of flying to Florida and also wanting to visit other parts of the world. But I think that we both would love to come back to Gainesville every year for the rest of our lives, if we could. Fest is just an amazing life experience. I don't even think you have to have a big love of punk music to enjoy it. If you like great bands and most importantly great people then The Fest is for you. It'll be the best three days of your year every single year.

The day after Fest, Emma and I took one last trip into the downtown area of Gainesville where Fest was situated. It was a strange feeling as it felt like a ghost town compared to the past four days. After grabbing a bite to eat we popped into two great Gainesville record shops - Arrows Aim Records and Hear Again Records, spent far too much money again and then made our way to Bo Diddley Plaza one last time. We had expected it to be all fenced off while a crew takes all of the stage rigging down, tidies up and generally helps put Gainesville back together. To our shock it was all done and completely spotless (aside from a few bits of ticker tape from Less Than Jake). It was like Fest hadn't happened and it had all been a wonderful dream. We took a seat looking at the stage and took stock of the past few days. I thought about just how organised everything had been. Not a single band started late or overran, there were no issues with sound, no trouble with the crowd that I'd seen or heard of and it was always so tidy. At gigs in the UK, so often you have to walk through piles of empty plastic drinks cups at the end of the night and all of the floors would be so sticky due to spilt (or thrown) drinks. This was never the case in Gainesville. For an outside stage in the UK it would take weeks to get back to normal, The Fest managed it in less than a day. That in itself is an incredible achievement.

In summary, like my wrist band says, I LOVE TO FEST.

Final t-shirt game scores:

Masked Intruder (Colin): 13
PUP (Emma): 22

Emma wins! (I knew I would.)