This year was the first time my boyfriend and I were able to go to the official Pre-Fest festival held in historic Ybor, Tampa. We'd been to some unofficial pre-fest shows put together in previous years by enterprising Fest fans and bands who found themselves in Florida a few days before Fest weekend, but for the last four years Pre-Fest has been run by the same awesome D.I.Y. punks that put together the Fest in Gainesville. Of course, this has just spawned other pre-pre-fest shows and unofficial house parties leading up to Fest because punks will always find a way to push the boundaries and to fit in more shows. Pre-Fest in Ybor, however, is a legitimate extension of Fest and demonstrates the same care and expertise that go into organising such a big event. The main benefit of going to Pre-Fest before moving onto Fest is that it provides an opportunity to off-set any scheduling clashes that inevitably happen at Fest, as many of the bigger bands play at Pre-Fest as well (every Fester has wished that they could split themselves in two, or learn to apparate between venues in order to catch all of their favourites). This meant that I could fit in seeing both Propagandhi and Red City Radio (this was my worst clash at Fest). Another big plus is that Pre-Festers get first dibs on merch; we found that many bands didn't keep anything back to sell at Fest, so we were glad we decided to stock up while we had the chance. It must be said, though, that adding two extra days to an already gruelling party weekend does leave you feeling quite exhausted and you may not be ready to party at the level you're accustomed to on Friday night at Fest.
Possibly the best thing about my Pre-Fest this year is that I was able to check out two bands that I couldn't make time to see at Fest and who both put on unique and unforgettable performances. I wasn't a die-hard fan of either War on Women or Wolf-Face until I saw them play at Pre-Fest, but both are now sitting quite happily on my usual playlist. I'm a firm believer that a good live performance can open you up to a band that otherwise you may have felt pretty indifferent about. While I knew of War on Women (my boyfriend is probably their biggest fan, no joke) I hadn't heard anything about Wolf-Face until we started talking to some Tampa locals at Pre-Fest. The sheer adoration of their fans would have been enough to convince us to check them out, but we were also curious to see this furry band of wolf-men from St Petersburg. Wolf-Face are a 'real band of wolves' fronted by Michael J. Wolf who claims to be the real-life inspiration for the 1985 film Teen Wolf starring Michael J. Fox. He's joined by Good Wolf, Rain Wolf and Wolf Fart, all donning wolf-face and wearing their Beavers basketball uniforms (although Michael J. Wolf opts to wear a pair of tighty whities rather than the regulation yellow shorts). If any of this sounds a little gimmicky or silly, it is - but it's also damn good fun. As soon as the band walk on stage the crowd begins to howl, and my boyfriend and I are beckoned to the front by our new friends who want to show off their local talent. I can't stay for too long though, because the crowd is moving a lot. The fuzzy musicians play old-school punk that is punchy and melodic, with growling vocals and some backing harmonies. The songs are about being a werewolf in High School (of course) with titles like "I wanna be a homo(sapien)", "There's plenty of room in my den but no room for a bitch" and "Pubes on my face". The werewolf getup is awesome, but the guys don't rely on their outfits to make the show worthwhile; Wolf-Face give a tight, high-energy performance that will make you wanna dance and get rowdy (and maybe adopt a new pet on the way home).
I'd heard tales that War on Women shows are meant to be amazing (after all, I live with a WoW mega-fan who has spent hours watching footage on Youtube), so I was excited to see them. Their show did not disappoint. The band hails from Baltimore and play hardcore punk dealing with feminist issues. While it's not unusual for punk shows to be used as a platform to debate socio-political issues, it's particularly encouraging to have issues of women's rights and gender equality being brought forward in a scene that is traditionally patriarchal. Their sound is gutsy and intense - thrashy punk that gets in your face in the best way. When they opened up the show with "Servilia" I was blown away by the sheer force of the guitars, and the energy that Shawna Potter puts into her performance is infectious. This was followed by "Say It", which deals with rape culture and the importance of victims speaking out about their experience. My favourite song, and one which I find really empowering, is "Second Wave Goodbye" which celebrates the progressive inclusivity of Third Wave feminism with driving guitars and a ridiculously catchy chorus. I've been playing WoW's self-titled on repeat since my boyfriend and I returned to South Africa. Can't wait to go back to Pre-Fest and Fest for more awesome live performances.