FEST 13

author PP date 11/11/14

Back again after a year to the drunken chaos that is FEST, the 13th edition (taking place in 2014, confusing the hell out of everyone each year), with almost 400 punk rock / emo / hardcore bands in a lineup that represents pretty much every single sub sub sub genre of music found within these styles. Every interpretation and experimental angle is on display with ample opportunity to make yourself acquainted with live shows ranging from the singer-songwriter to the craziest of revivalist screamo bands and, of course, Midwestern and no frills punk rock, both of which are among the majority of bands playing each year. And with roughly 60% of the lineup unchanged year-on-year, it means you can safely skip a few good bands for quirky smaller acts fully expecting to come back and see those instead the next year, which is something the returning FESTers in RF staff PP and TL in particular took advantage of this year.

Of course then there are the regulars, the punk rock elite which must be seen at the height of their popularity in front of packed venues with crowd intimately familiar with their material singing along to every single song. Which punk rock festival can muster a living legends headline lineup featuring Less Than Jake, Lifetime, Hot Water Music, Descendents, 7Seconds, A Wilhelm Scream, Strike Anywhere, Paint It Black, Melvins, Mineral, Circle Takes The Square amongst a wealth of up-and-comers and rising young stars on the side like The Menzingers, Captain, We're Sinking, The Flatliners, Iron Chic, RVIVR, The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, Restorations, Red City Radio, Banner Pilot, Dikembe, and countless others? None I tell you. Go to Groezrock for the bigger bands and the outdoor festival atmosphere, go to FEST to party, drink yourself silly with PBR, lobby parties, secret acoustic sets, surprise full album shows, Mikey Erg filling in pretty much in every band, for awesome conversations with strangers about your new favorite bands, for inventive Halloween costumes, a gazillion Descendents hoodies, and of course an amazing connection between the audience and every single band performing.

Gainesville, Florida

It's late October and most of us Europeans back home are bracing autumn storms, brazen wind hammering cold rain on your face, and miserable grayness for the next six months until springtime. Meanwhile at Gainesville, northern Florida, people are happily strolling out in shorts and band t-shirts, soaking up rays of sun in a true Summer In October (D4 know it!). Granted, this year we had one day of extreme cold (on Florida standards) with only a few degrees Celsius above freezing point in the evening, but the other days were perfectly suitable for a set of jeans and a t-shirt, perhaps a hoodie in the evening when it got chilly. And usually it is my understanding that we hover around the 24-25 degree temperature around this time of the year.

In the midst of this university town with all of its sororities and frat houses we find a ton of pubs, restaurants, and dirty venues readied up for about 6500 FEST guests each year, which has a couple of implications:

1) Not everyone fits into the same venue at the same time (besides the new outdoor stage) and,

2) The good hotel rooms sell out fairly quickly.

With FEST eager to grow in size and to be able to book bigger bands, it was pretty much a given that an outdoor stage was going to be required if the band were to book bands any bigger than, say, Paint It Black or even The Menzingers considering how packed the Florida Theater was last year for some of the key bands performing there. The city of Gainesville authorities finally allowed us that luxury this year with Bo Diddley Plaza, which is why FEST was able to bring Descendents to play here for the first time in front of a packed audience. It's basically a fenced-off outdoor area on a square near town centre, built around the bar/restaurant The Lunchbox and complete with merch stands, beer stands, and of course porta-potties for your toilet needs. For some reason, this area required drink tickets instead of dollars for drinks payments, which was rather annoying because it required you to estimate ahead of time how much you'd be drinking to avoid standing in line much later.

Other than that, the best venues from last year made a return with 8 Seconds (1096 cap) being the largest, and the others ranging from just a handful of people to a few hundred at most. My personal favorite is probably Rockey's because of its upscale cocktail bar feel, and least favorite is the run-down pub of Durty Nelly's for its way too low-scale vibes and of course, 1982 because of its location of 15 minute walk one way from the nearest venue. Everything else is within a five minute walking distance more or less.

As for hotel rooms, it's a well known fact that Holiday Inn rooms sell out pretty much on the same day as they are set on sale. This hotel is best located near the 1982 venue and at a walking distance to everything else and notorious for its after parties and secret acoustic sets by bands staying there. But what we didn't expect this year was how fast Paramount Plaza also sold out despite its 10 minute shuttle ride away from any of the venues. So we were essentially stuck with staying at Quality Inn, a shady motel type of accommodation on the opposite side of the street from Paramount. Pro tip: make hotel rooms your #1 priority if you're considering going next year especially if the rumours of FEST going for bigger bands (think: NOFX / Rancid type for the outdoor stage) are true.

Drinking On The Cheap (PBR mania)

What goes best with quality punk rock shows? Beer, of course, which comes in a wide range of varieties throughout FEST. For some reason, many Americans seem to think it suitable to waste their beers by shaking them in the air / throwing them towards the front of the audience at every given opportunity. Us Europeans are of course firm believers of never wasting a quality product, although it is arguable if PBR qualifies as such. With just 3 USD and a tip of 1 USD, you'd get yourself a half-a-liter can of PBR, which is what you would go for if cost is an issue. But if drinking watered down shit beer isn't your thing (think Miller Lite, Bud Lite, etc etc), you could always stick with the wide variety of craft beers and specialty liquors in the $7-$11 range that would a) get you absolutely shitfaced because of their relatively higher alcohol percentage and b) get leave you feeling drained of money by the end of the festival. So in the end, all of us have to endure some amount of PBR along the way, even if we don't like to admit it.

Generally though, the short sets at FEST leave it difficult to chug two tallboys at a single set if you are to leave the venue to watch something else, so you're going to have to try real hard to get ridiculously hammered at this festival, at least if your schedule is as busy as ours.

Typical concert experience

Perhaps my favorite part about FEST is how bands that normally play in front of a handful of people when they come by our base in Copenhagen play in front of huge, extremely dedicated crowds, often indoors meaning the sing alongs are loud, the atmosphere intimate, the dynamics great, and stage divers aplenty given the lack of barrier at every venue. Case in point: Red City Radio played in front of maybe 25-30 people last time they were in Copenhagen, at FEST they played a rammed room at High Dive with a line stretching far around the corner as the venue quickly reached its 450 capacity for an amazing sing along experience that still echoes at the back of my head over a week later as I am writing this down from memory.

And when you get to experience something like that for pretty much every single band playing that has even remotely caught your interest, you are guaranteed to be standing amidst people who know almost every single song inside out and are not afraid to show it. Whether circle pits, mosh pits, or just echoing sing alongs, the passion of the crowd is undeniable as people give it their all especially during Friday and Saturday at FEST, with Sunday being the 'cool down' day with tiredness kicking in towards the end of the day in particular.

That does come with a downside, though. The popular shows are REALLY popular, with extensive lines to most venues meaning you're going to have to stand in line while waiting for your ID to be checked for at least 15 minutes before the show. Longer if you're afraid the venue will hit capacity as was the case for at least a few bands this year - there is a real chance of you not getting in despite having a valid ticket, which is a strange concept for any European festival regular. This is an issue that will seriously need addressing in the future if FEST is going to be growing at a rate that it has in recent years. The solution is actually quite simple. Issue two types of wristbands at registration: 21+ and under 21 based on colour. This will remove the lengthy process of having to check a multitude of different types of IDs ranging from state driving licenses to national IDs to passports and the doormen having to be aware of all different options. It seems like such a simple and obvious solution that the only reason why it isn't being done in my mind is probably a prohibitive regulation or a law saying you can't. Let's hope it's not that - the alcohol laws are absurd in the US to start out with.

Anyway, I won't keep you much longer. Onto the reviews we go.

DAY 1 - HALLOWEEN

Ma Jolie @ 18:10-18:40 at Loosey's

Arriving in Gainesville slightly too late to catch the beginning of Elway's set, I opt for checking out Ma Jolie instead. The small venue sets an intimate frame for the Philadelphia trio's fast-paced and gritty punk rock which makes it pretty awkward when their vocalist tries to get the crowd going by asking various questions that are answered with almost complete silence. People come and go in the audience but gradually the nostalgic music grabs a stronger hold of us although the energy in the room only culminates as the band plays an explosive cover of Rancid's "Maxwell Murder" towards the end. They have some interesting rhythms going on in their songs and even though the mix is almost too loud and gritty for me, this element in their performance especially manages to keep me interested enough in them that I stay for their entire set. [5½] LF

The Hotelier

The Hotelier @ 19:10-19:40 at High Dive

With the critical acclaim awarded to The Hotelier by seemingly anyone who have managed to come upon the group's second album "Home, Like No Place Is There", it's no surprise to see they have been upgraded from playing at the smaller Atlantic last year to the 450 capacity High Dive this year, yet the queue is still considerable, and right as we make it in and the set starts, admission is stopped due to fullness. It marks the beginning of the kind of show where the front portion of the crowd is dying to sing along desperately to their favourite parts in each song, while the two thirds behind them are more casual, likely wanting to see what the growing fuss around the band is about, yet almost everyone takes up the main refrains when they come around. On stage The Hotelier perform with movement fitting the diverse energies of their material, whether they're gently rollicking through "An Introduction To The Album" or screaming like mad during "Life In Drag". Particularly the two guitarists' screaming is on point, while bassist/front man Christian Holden does dip a bit below the mix on occasion, and probably could slur his words a bit less. His tones are clear and crisp though, especially when he sends his voice into overdrive as the band's dynamic songs so often call for. Between songs he greets us with a reserved humour, ironically plugging the post-fest Aaron Carter concert in this venue while waiting for his band mates to locate a missing capo. The conundrum of the show is clear though when the anticipated highlight comes around in form of "Your Deep Rest" (a contender for song of the year by the way): The Hotelier are one of an exclusive group of FEST bands that have written early emotional anthems that are rapidly outgrowing their parent bands (see also: The Menzingers), leading to the problem of how to play heartfelt shows with emotionally intense songs to a throng of drunk, euphoric punk rock fans piling on top of each other and looking like they feel a certain partial ownership of those songs. The mood clearly gets away from The Hotelier a bit, and you feel like they could do better with a crowd that was a bit more united in an understanding of what the band is about, but for a festival set, things are still entirely on the commendable side. [8] TL

Chixdiggit @ 19:20-20:00 at Bo Diddley Plaza

My review duties at the official FEST 13 begin with a Chixdiggit show on the Bo Diddle Plaza, the first ever outdoor stage at the festival. Tired and worn down after a couple of long days' partying at pre-FEST, this band is exactly what you need to wake yourself up. Their stage show is as entertaining as ever as the band write a makeshift song for The Copyrights who played just before them on the same stage, which goes something like "The Copyrights are all right... the copyrights are all right" ad infinitum. From here onwards, Chixdiggit! make us laugh and dance with their easygoing, no frills pop punk songs with old school vibes. It's all clearly a big show, even though vocalist KJ Jansen would like to convince us otherwise with his frequent questions to what we'd like to hear next. But when someone asks for "Henry Rollins Is No Fun" the band play "Spanish Fever" instead, while making it appear as if the crowd had a choice by pointing at a pumpkin shaped setlist paper with dozens and dozens of songs written on it. But that doesn't matter - we know it's all for show, and because the crowd control is embedded within the songs themselves to encourage the crowd to get sing alongs going, none of us really care. "Chupacabra", "I Hate Basketball", and "Miso Ramen" are all played to big sing alongs from the crowd, and the result is a feel good punk rock set that officially kickstarts the FEST fun from the crowd's side. [8] PP

The Holy Mess

The Holy Mess @ 19:50-20:30 at The Wooly

After a good 25 minutes of Chixdiggit it's time to cut their set short to catch FEST favorites The Holy Mess play at the cozy interiors of the re-designed Wooly. There's an enormous queue outside the venue as the band start their set with "For The Press" from the new album with its woo-hoo style sing alongs followed by the much heavier and more aggressive "It's All Fun And Games 'Til Someone Gets heard". The reaction from the crowd is solid, with small sing alongs to most songs while the band fire their renowned humorous banter on stage. They are slightly drunk - but in a positive way that adds energy to their show - and so they feel upbeat and fun, thanks to the consistent chatter in between songs that keeps a laid back vibe going. Songs like "Liza And Louisiana" and "Crazy Horny" receive moderate response in terms of sing alongs, but the biggest one is taken home by "Goodbye 3713 (Must've Been A Good One)" where the crowd erupts into proper movement while singing along. In general, the choices for the set list are great, featuring the best material from all albums, and given the great dynamic between their two singers up front, the show leaves behind a positive impression overall. With ten minutes left I hop over towards 8 Seconds to ensure not a moment of Paint It Black won't be missed by the undersigned, which turns out to be a great decision as you'll soon read. [8] PP

Lemuria

Lemuria @ 20:20-21:00 at Bo Diddley Plaza

When I arrive at the Plaza, Lemuria are a couple of songs into their set and one thing is apparent immediately. The band doesn't fill out the stage, neither visually with their three members that are pretty stationary throughout the set, nor acoustically as their songs feel vague, lacking a certain power that they need in as big a setting as this. Their demeanour on stage coupled with their cutesy indie punk songs and the fact that this show marks the first of three successful marriage proposals I witness at FEST this year gives a very innocent and sweet feel to the show overall. I really like that all three members of the band contribute vocals to their songs but they're just too low in the mix here, making it real hard to get into the songs for me as I am struggling to find something to latch on to in the muffled wall of guitars that dominate the sound. Furthermore, the band spends a little too much time on letting the crowd sing their lyrics while they step away from their microphone. This is especially annoying when the most clearly audible vocals parts after some of these moments amount to the singing of passages like the prominent "ouououou oh oh oh" part of "Chautauqua Country". I get how there's a certain feeling of unity to be built from fans and artists singing their songs together but coupled with the problematic sound it ultimately ends up being a boring experience for anyone who's not clustered right in front of the stage. [4½] LF

Paint It Black @ 20:40-21:20 at 8 Seconds

Last year one of the best shows I saw at FEST was Paint It Black at the much larger Florida Theater next door. This year, they're playing at 8 Seconds, which has a capacity of 1047 people. Let it be said I've never seen the venue rammed to its limits like it was when paint It Black entered stage. Squished all the way to the back of the floor barely able to move, the venue erupts into a state of chaos unlike any other performance at FEST this year. People are vaulting towards the microphone from every imaginable direction causing direct pain and suffering to poor photographers out front (no barrier = Lauren is getting hurled bodies on top of her from all directions), whilst vocalist Dan Yemin's erratic performance leads him to perform plenty of stage dives and other stunts. The microphone is shared roughly 50% between him and the crowd, meaning the passion levels up front are absolutely insane. This is of course helped by Yemin's facial expressions which border lunacy as he screams and tears through songs like "Pink Slip" and "Election Day", which elicit one of the strongest and loudest reactions I saw from any crowd this year.

Paint It Black

The quintessential Paint It Black moments are all there from the traditional smashing of the mic down into the crowd by Yemin before yet another one of his stage dives into a sea of crowd surfers that would likely cause decades-long nightmares for Roskilde Festival security staff, through a lengthy a capella screaming session without the mic just before "Headfirst". The dynamic between the crowd and the band is incredible; the energy levels are through the roof; and it's difficult to understand what the heck is going on as both the band and the crowd are all over the place. Somehow, Paint It Black's super aggressive, shortened bursts of hardcore punk feels even more explosive than normal at the tight confines of 8 Seconds tonight, and even though the constant mic sharing does mean some of the songs suffer for those crowd members who aren't 100% familiar with every lyric of every song, it's clear that what we witnessed here tonight was nothing short of spectacular - once again. [8½] PP

Courtesy Drop @ 20:40-21:10 at Loosey's

It took roughly five seconds of checking out Courtesy Drop online to decide that they are a FEST band out of the ordinary and that they should hence be checked out. It takes about five minutes of their set at Loosey's to see that it is a train wreck. There is less than twenty people here, none of which seem particularly excited for the band, and as the group makes its way through the first song, the vocals are muffled and borderline inaudible in the bottom of the mix. The front man breaks a string on his guitar at the end of the song, but the audience has to figure that out on its own whispering self, as the band doesn't say a word while we listen to dead feedback for two minutes waiting for a helpful soul to find them a guitar to borrow. Things only improve slightly from there, as the young group performs four tracks of simple, gradually escalating climactic rock, most of all looking like they're pretending like there's nobody watching. You get the impression that they have ambitions to make music out of the ordinary, but have yet to make anything but basic progressive compositions and they have zero stage presence. Zero. It makes you think that some bands are cool to listen to while they're building to release their first great material, but it's not certain that you should bother watching those same bands before they learn to host shows on stage. [3] TL

Gatherer (Brand New cover set) @ 21:30-22:00 at CMC

Being a big Brand New fan who has only seen them play once, I find it impossible to stay away from this cover set by one of the members of the New Jersey post-hardcore group Gatherer. After all, I figure, listening to another artist's acoustic take on Brand New's songs is better than not listening to them at all. The CMC itself sets a cozy feeling with bookshelves covering the walls and the stage in the corner being not far above floor height, and as guitarist and vocalist Gianmarco Felix Guerra-Coletti get ready with his acoustic guitar, the audience crowd together in front of him, effectively blocking him from view for the ones of us standing further behind. What ensues is a sing-a-long of almost religious proportions with most people in the room singing out every word of the lyrics, giving the songs picked from the first two Brand New albums a very naked expression as the instrumental dynamics are stripped away. The musical performance here might not be the most impressive, but that's not the point of this kind of set either. When Guerra-Coletti for instance seems to forget the lyrics of a verse towards the end of the set, the front members of the crowd just sing him through it ‘til he can pick it up again from the chorus. It's clear that these songs have lives of their own by now and just seeing the zeal in the faces of people as they sing along to these anthems of their youth is pure magic and a nice break from some of the more instrumentally complex shows that are played tonight. [7] LF

Make Do And Mend

Make Do And Mend @ 21:40-22:20 at 8 Seconds

Next up at 8 Seconds is Make Do And Mend, whose rough vocals a prelude of the awful sound at the venue tonight. Even though they are gravelly and raspy on record, too, tonight they are even more so almost to the extent of the band feeling like a hardcore band as they start off with "Unknowingly Strong" and "Oak Square" in a great one-two punch to start off the set. The venue is only half full now with most Paint It Black fans having exited the place, but the response is solid to these songs and why wouldn't it be? "End Measured Mile" is a masterpiece that the band is yet to top. "In case you haven't noticed we are playing our record 'End Measured Mile' tonight", the band announces to everyone's surprise after the sixth track "Stand Stagger". I'd been wondering why the songs tonight felt so much better than the last couple of times I've seen Make Do And Mend live, where the focus has been on their newer material instead. Clearly rejuvenated by their return to the more punk oriented material compared to the new stuff, the band's set is also far more energetic than usual with good movement on stage, constant headbanging and even mic sharing with the front of the crowd. It's a unique chance of seeing an album that is essentially Hot Water Music worship played from start to finish, even though the sound is rather horrible with vocals way too high in the mix drowning everything else beneath them. With better sound and a few more people, this could've been an epic show instead of a decent one with great songs. [7] PP

A Wilhelm Scream

A Wilhelm Scream @ 22:40-23:20 at 8 Seconds

After playing an all Twitter request set of rarities at pre-FEST, many were looking forward to their FEST set where they would likely cycle through some of their best songs instead. We get a couple of songs that were also played last night, but tonight the set is all about songs like "Boat Builders", "The King Is Dead", "The Last Laugh", "God Loves A Liar", "We Built This City (On Debts And Booze)" as well as "the Horse" and "Me Vs Morrissey in The Pretentiousness Contest". It' just too bad that the sound quality for these guys is terrible. Instead of the vocals overshadowing everything else in the mix, they now ONLY come from the monitors meaning it's difficult to make out anything at all. That's all fine and well considering how technical the AWS material is, so it's still easy to tell the songs apart from one another, but it's a shame because the show never reaches a similar level of frantic activity as we saw in last year's mass sing alongs at this very venue which was one of the best, if not the best show of the whole weekend. That said, the people up front are going crazy in the pits nonetheless, and the sheer amount of fantastic songs tonight means you'd be a fool not to enjoy it even despite the shortcomings of the venue sound man. [7½] PP

Prawn @ 23:20-23:50 at High Dive

Having recently listened heavily to the debut album of the post-rock inspired indie punkers in Prawn, this set is definitely one of the most important ones for me to catch at FEST. As I'm caught in the massive line outside High Dive, I sadly end up listening to their first song from just outside the venue but even from there I am infinitely intrigued by the sound that reaches me. Prawn's songs are even more powerful live than on record as the guitars seem to be let completely loose but without drowning out some of the more delicate melodic quirks that are also an integral part of the band's sound. I feel that the band manages to balance on a knife's edge as they combine these elements and that is no small feat at all. Even though Prawn seem sort of anonymous as a band on stage, they still have a solid presence there and in the entire room as they communicate very effectively with the audience, the front part of which sends them energy right back by crowdsurfing euphorically for most of the set. The band has a live trumpet player with them on stage to accompany them on their newer songs, and while he might not play everything as smoothly as it sounds on record he fits well with the rest of the slightly rougher, slightly more explosive sound the band showcases here tonight. [8] LF

Strike Anywhere

Strike Anywhere @ 23:40-00:20 at 8 Seconds

If you thought the sound was horrid for A Wilhelm Scream, then you were in for a nightmarish surprise for Strike Anywhere whose set suffered from an absolutely atrocious sound which made it absolutely impossible to enjoy anything about the set but the awesome crowd response. The venue is rammed to its limits again for the first time since Paint It Black earlier today, which means songs like "To The World" get an awe-inspiring, fists-in-the-air type of response and take care of business for the band. The melodic "First Will And Testament" gets Ok reception as well, but the vocals are almost inaudible thanks to them only appearing in the monitors and not particularly loud here either. The set list is also sub optimal with plenty of songs leaving people standing still and non-responsive; only the band's biggest songs like "Sunset On The 32nd" and the newer classic "I'm Your Opposite Number" draw huge sing alongs. This was the opportunity for the band to explode on stage with manic energy and play 40 minutes worth of punk rock classics and produce a moment as magical as A Wilhelm Scream's similarly-themed set last year, but instead they opt to play many lesser known tracks for the most part. Sure, the 1999 song "Chorus of One" is played among a couple of other classics by the band, but they are few and far in between, and together with the god-awful sound, it's difficult to enjoy this set even if the band are bouncing up and down everywhere on stage in constant motion. [6] PP

Touché Amoré

Touché Amoré @ 00:40-01:20 at 8 Seconds

While 8 Seconds is a venue where it's tough to find a good spot to watch bands from, I feel like I find one of the better ones for hardcore outfit Touché Amoré's set tonight: the top of the stairs to the side of the stage. The reason it works so well with this exact set is twofold. First off, the venue has had sound problems all day but I feel like it sounds worse on the floor in front of the stage than here at the side where the makeshift speakers-turned-monitors blast my way. Secondly, it's a sheer joy to watch how the band interacts with the crowd that piles on each other from start to finish to sing along to the band's songs; something that can't really be followed from further behind on the floor. The reason this part is so important to me is because more than with any other band at FEST, I feel that Touché Amoré's shows are about so much more than them as a band and the desperate and rough music they make. What is at the core of their performance here is how their songs have become vessels for something that is bigger than themselves evidenced by the sheer amount of people singing along and moshing in front. This is also why it seems like such a natural evolution in their songs when vocalist Jeremy Bolm yells with the crowd without his microphone, as the vocals aren't anywhere near disappearing in the mix when there are this many frantic people singing them. Every element about their set tonight only furthers this impression to me, for instance as they play dressed up as identical ghosts, which removes them from humanity a little, only enhancing this larger than life feel I get from hearing and watching them play. At the same time, their vocalist Jeremy Bolm is by a stretch the most genuine person I have ever seen on a stage. The way he and the rest of the band seem to really thrive from the energy exchange with the ecstatic crowd while at the same time also managing and containing the explosions solidifies their incredibly strong stage presence to me. This is only confirmed as they end with "Honest Sleep" and people jump on stage in a truly communal finale where Bolm's microphone just disappears in the fray. [8½] LF

Tiny Moving Parts (covering Bruce Springsteen) @ 01:00-01:30 at Durty Nelly's

With 8 Seconds being the way it is in terms of lack of proper sound and good vantage points, it seems less silly than usual to pop across the street where Tiny Moving Parts have found a red bandana and are murdering Boss classics much to the enjoyment of a bar full of drunk patrons. Coming in after the first song, the trio has yet to air basic versions of "Glory Days", "Dancing In The Dark", "Born In The USA" and "Born To Run", and to their credit they do so relatively faithfully despite assuring us numerous times that they are as completely drunk as we all should be. It's a total karaoke fest, as the whole venue shouts along and there's beer flying everywhere while crowd surfers pile up at the front. Especially during closer "Born To Run" the difference between floor and stage evaporates, and there are at least six fans sharing the microphones instead of the actual band members. Is it completely brainless? Absolutely. Does it put smiles on otherwise exhausted FEST faces? Absolutely. [7] TL

DAY 2 - SATURDAY

Masked Intruder @ 15:30-16:10 at Bo Diddley Plaza

The first band on my list for this second day of FEST is this colourful, masked bunch who play very straightforward pop punk. They're a good match for the big, outside stage as their music is light hearted and fun more than anything, and their entire setting of being four prisoners performing with police officer Bradford on stage works quite well throughout the set. The music itself is easy listening for me and after a few songs there's not much new to be found in the way they build their catchy tunes but they play solidly and their vocal harmonies specifically are mostly spot on. It's a very simple thing they've got going with almost every tune being a straightforward and nostalgic love song that doesn't aspire to be particularly inventive, with introductions to songs being similar to for instance "This song is about the most beautiful girl, it's called "The Most Beautiful Girl"". The party mood is on as officer Bradley sings along as if his life depended on it on stage, and he goes on to crowd surf and spend the rest of his time engaging different members of the audience in dancing or singing along as well. Maura Weaver from Mixtapes join the band in a bland version of their funny duet “Heart Shaped Guitar”, but what elicits an even bigger response from the crowd is a squeezed in cover of NOFX's "Linoleum", cheekily introduced as “an obscure punk song from an unknown 90's band”. Overall this is a good and up-beat start to the day but not a whole lot more than catchy fun. [7] LF

Annabel @ 16:30-17:00 at High Dive

Considering that there are a number of great songs on Ohio quartet Annabel's latest album alone, it's weird having already seen them and been underwhelmed each time. Yet while opener "Young American" is a track that's sure to build excitement, it soon becomes clear that the emo group from Kent isn't very good live. The band simply has little to no stage presence, and you wonder how this can still be the case, considering the band's age and that they have played FEST five times already. They rock about a bit on occasion and mutter a few pointless remarks between songs, but most of the set their eyes are expressionless and glued to the floor. Meanwhile, the songs which have rich guitar arrangements and hazy, layered vocals on record are sung high, sharp and often off tune here in the live environment, prompting the ancient question of why bands would put something on album they can't recreate in a good way live. With music that thrives by its own subtleties, Annabel sounds like colourless emo soup in the slightly fuzzy mix that characterises many FEST sets, and under these conditions, even their best songs can't cut it alone. This band simply needs to sing better and to be at least just a tiny bit forthcoming for anyone to feel that they live up to their records. Until then it seems their shows will feel increasingly disappointing for each one you see. [4] TL

Look Mexico @ 17:20-17:50 at High Dive

At this point of time, any FESTer who's wise to the times should be starting to think about how to make it into The Wooly by 18:30, but keeping our cool we do check out a bit of Look Mexico's set before heading over. Having just seen Annabel, it's immediately noticeable that the Florida locals look much more confident on stage. Singer/guitarist Matt Agrella's voice may be small and sharp as well, but he wields it much more comfortably, which combines with a seasoned appearance from the band as a whole to make the curious early audience feel right at home in the angular indie rock the guys plays. The songs aired early in the set aren't the most dynamic or sweeping by any stretch, but still what we see before leaving is definitely solid, even if it doesn't have the instantly fascinating factor to make us stay longer than planned. [6½] TL

The Flatliners

The Flatliners @ 17:30-18:10 at Bo Diddley Plaza

"It's awesome to be playing an outdoor stage", Flatliners vocalist Chris Cresswell proclaims early on in disbelief over FEST actually having one in the first place. These guys are regulars at the FEST and one of the quintessential bands that defines the 'FEST sound' with their straight forward punk rock sound that's as rowdy as it is anthemic and catchy in its nature. Today, we get basically a carbon copy of their set at pre-FEST a couple of nights ago with more or less the same setlist featuring tracks like "Monumental", "Birds Of England", "Carry The Banner", "Eulogy", "Sew My Mouth Shut", "Resuscitation Of The Year", and "Count Your Bruises", which is a double-edged sword really. On one hand, the setlist is pretty much a best-of The Flatliners, drawing passionate sing alongs at the front and circle pit for most songs early on, demonstrating just why this band is skyrocketing into the knowledge of the wider audience as we speak. But at the same time, I can't help but be a little bored over watching the same thing for the second time in a row in such a short space especially when the band doesn't exactly move around that much on stage. Sure, we get the communal sing alongs where FEST crowd joins together in a thunderous sing along for many of the songs, but other than the feeling of unity, it's a fairly standard, albeit upbeat and fun punk rock show overall that disappears into the grey mass of similar-looking and sounding sets throughout the weekend. [7½] PP

You'll Live

You'll Live @ 18:10-18:40 at The Atlantic

Straight from The Flatliners on the outdoor stage to the tight and intimate interiors of The Atlantic on the whim that You'll Live might be one of the hidden surprises at this year's FEST based on a single EP that I checked out last year, I'm immediately impressed by their original screamo soundscape that's jam-packed with intricate, post-rock style beautiful melodies. The band's vocalist has an exceptionally throaty screaming style, which is a perfect contrast for their cinematic instrumental landscape, but I don't think anyone expected a reaction this strong from the crowd's side. Only a song or two into the set the crowd absolutely explodes onto stage, screaming back every single line of every single song from here onwards, fighting and vaulting on top of each other to reach to the mic. The band look genuinely surprised and are all smiles as about a dozen people pile up on stage and steal the microphone from the singer in a passionate moment of back-chilling crowd unity . The band members exchange confused looks as the reaction is probably the best one they've ever had during their short career, and stray away from the mic and let the crowd go crazy together instead. The sheer honesty and down-to-earth vibe exhibited by the band is empowering and soon the whole venue joins in a community-like atmosphere where we are all one. "Thanks for watching us, this is fucking crazy", the singer says, and he's right. The response from the crowd is electrifying as they reach and fight for the microphone and practically worship the singer's screams and the band's melodies. What a gem of a performance that won't be soon forgotten. [8½] PP

Captain, We're Sinking

Captain, We're Sinking @ 18:30-19:00 at The Wooly

Entering The Wooly while Candy Hearts are wrapping up their set, it's clear that there are loads of people here that are just waiting for "Captain", including members of Leagues Apart, The Holy Mess, Pentimento and The Menzingers. The band gets going around five minutes early and wow, what a difference a year makes. From an untight and off tune (but no less legendary) set at Rockey's last year, to a now when the band sounds clean, crisp and on point. Guitarist/singer Bobby Barnett looks transformed with a good haircut and without glasses, and seems much more up for his role as front man as well. Songs like "Brother", "Annina We Will Miss You" and "Adultery" air to storming audience response, hands flailing in the air and refrains being shouted back at the group with deafening volume. Leo Vergnetti, who also plays guitar and sings lead on a number of the band's songs, makes for a good, raspy contrast to the clearer voice of Barnett, and while the Native American headdress worn by drummer Bill Orender takes some gravity out of the bleakness of the band's subject material, it makes no difference to a crowd that seems no less into the songs aired from the band's split with Timeshares and the "It's A Trap" EP. As things thus conclude with the excellent "Crushed By Milwaukee's Best" it marks a triumphant improvement of the qualities that will matter for the band in the long term, even if the set didn't have the shot drinking, the band members crowd surfing, the audience stage takeover or the "Linoleum" cover that made last year's FEST closer so memorable. [8½] TL

Save Ends @ 19:00-19:30 at High Dive

As mentioned in the Pre-FEST review of Save Ends, this is one of those bands whose catchy songs won't stop randomly appearing in my head from time to time. Since getting up this morning for instance, I have had a couple of them stuck in there and I am thus absolutely ready for singing along to anything they might want to play here tonight. They mostly play songs from their full-length "Warm Hearts, Cold Hands" but we also get a few older ones. The mix is overall okay, at least better than at their previous set, but the intertwining and complementary male and female vocal leads are still not quite up to par. Their songs are generally well-composed but it's like some of the changes between calm and energetic parts don't flow as well tonight as I feel they could. It seems that their female singer has been sick since she excuses her squealing on stage and I guess this is part of the reason why the dynamics are never quite as addictive here as on record. Still, I ultimately get what I came here for, namely a decently playing band who play all their most catchy songs for me to sing along to up front. [6½] LF

Less Than Jake

Less Than Jake @ 19:30-20:30 at Bo Diddley Plaza

Leave it to Less Than Jake to start a raucous party each and every time they play. After having performed "Losing Streak" from start to finish only a couple of nights before and drawing skanking pits the size of the entire venue, they are playing outdoors only three blocks from where their first show ever took place tonight. A couple of platforms have been set up on stage, which are heftily being utilized by their trombone player to dance upon and to perform crowd control. He's excellent at getting the party started, and with a string of classics primarily from their first five albums, it's not exactly difficult to get FESTers singing along and moving around. And when the band additionally pack their set with funny gimmicks like shooting toilet paper guns high up in the air during "Great American Sharpshooter", or explosion of confetti during "Look What Happened", it's difficult to find anyone in the crowd who wouldn't be having an awesome time. They also grab two volunteers from the crowd to stand on stage during this song, ask them to down a beer as fast as possible, and then they have to do jumping jacks as fast as possible for the duration of the song. The highlight of the set is a bit an oddity this time around with the band announcing that they have recorded a theme song for a cereal commercial that's going to be aired in March 2015 for the first time, but they would be playing it live tonight. "Pac Man Cereal" is a hilarious 30 second commercial that even includes the spoken word part about the cereal being great aside from ska instrumentation and an innocuous chorus, drawing much laughter from the crowd. "But the best part is that they are taking up a one minute commercial slot, and our song is only 30 seconds, so they're going to play it....TWICE!. Off we go with a second rendition of the exact same song straight away. The crowd predictably erupts in laughter, which is only topped when the band play the commercial for the THIRD time as the 'encore' to their set. "I wanna see a ZOMBIE pit!! Everyone walk around the pit like zombies!", they shout for "Plastic Cup Politics", cementing the fact that tonight's set is insanely fun, upbeat and charismatic in every way possible. Go see this band live! [8½] PP

Xerxes @ 19:50-20:20 at The Atlantic

There's been a sense of hype around Xerxes' name leading up to the recent release of their debut album "Collision Blonde", yet judging from the lack of screaming along from the otherwise crowded Atlantic, most people seemingly haven't found the time to dive into it yet, but they seem no less curious regardless. The young post-hardcore group from Louisville is animated and confident on stage, and while one hates to make a Joy Division reference considering how those have been thrown around lately, there is indeed a similarly depressed feeling to the atmospheric guitar playing. The bass rumbles with a low threat, and while the wave-hardcore screamed vocals have ways to go before you can actually tell what the lyrics are, there's a sense of personality and control to the sound that makes it stand out from your average skramz outfit. The drums build to the explosions of intensity that this style of music thrives on, but always in a measured way, and the whole thing is mesmerising enough that although we had only meant to check out a few songs, we end up staying the whole set and making note to check out the record after FEST. [7½] TL

Descendents

Descendents @ 20:50-22:00 at Bo Diddley Plaza

Punk legends Descendents have been a band high up on FEST wish list for years, but there simply hasn't been a large enough venue to accommodate them before the Bo Diddle Plaza this year. Looking around the plaza, it's easy to see why. Pretty much everyone attending FEST is here right now, with a rough estimate of around five to six thousand people coming down to watch the legends perform their set. They're fifteen minutes late, but finally start with "Everything Sucks", which is quickly followed by "Hope". The sing alongs are massive at this point, culminating in the thunderous "I'm The One" shouts around halfway through their set. While the band aren't doing much on stage per se, they don't really need to because of what this band represents to so many people watching the set. Still, it's interesting to observe the crowd react differently to the various eras of the band. The best songs get a fantastic response with pretty much everyone moving around and singing along, but the weirdo experimental stuff - which I've never liked personally - see only a couple of people rocking out. In short, the band should cut out the strange material and focus on the smooth skate punk because that is what they are very, very good at. Tonight, with rock solid sound, it's easy to see why so many people are wearing Milo hoodies. The set bounces between huge sing alongs and parts where nothing really is going on, and thinking this isn't about to change I duck out after "Nothing With You" to go catch Beach Slang about halfway through their set. [8] PP

Stickup Kid @ 20:50-21:20 at Rockey's

By far the most of FEST is over at Bo Diddley's for The Descendents, yet somewhere between 30 and 40 people have stuck around the stage at Rockey's to greet the young Californian pop-punk group Stickup Kid. The modest audience showing has no effect on the band's stokedness it seems though, and fronted by friendly and genuine good guy Tony Geravesh, the guys are about as serious as “The Mark, Tom And Travis Show”. Friends of the band are greeted with hugs between songs and the guys constantly argue both between themselves and with the fans about whether to play their new songs or the old ones that they wrote when they were only around 16. It matters little because even the old songs are great, and although Geravesh could do with learning to make that sharp voice of his sound less grating, just as the harmonies with guitarist Bo McDowell could do with some improvement, the guitar playing and song compositions are just well-constructed beyond the band's years. The band clearly wastes too much time between songs for them to be as bummed as they seem when their time is suddenly up, so overall there are screws they can tighten to perform really awesome shows, but the talent is there to hear in the songs and the mood is too fun and friendly for anyone to have a boring time. [7] TL

Gatherer @ 21:30-22:00 at The Atlantic

With Gatherer guitarist Gianmarco Felix Guerra-Coletti having ministered at the acoustic church of Brand New yesterday, you figure the least a worshipper can do is to at least check out his actual band as well. The quintet from New Jersey initially have some problems with Coletti's backing screams not coming through the mix, but this is fixed by the second song and the curious crowd at The Atlantic then get to sample the group's wave/post-hardcore type material, with front man Adam Cichocki doing his part to perform vividly while delivering both screams and your obligatory spoken words bits. As with the majority of the vocalists at FEST however, it's near impossible to make out the lyrics without knowing them beforehand, and whether it's due to a mediocre mix or just the band not having a particularly distinct style yet, the overall soundscape does sound a bit too typical for the genre to make a very strong impression. The performance is on the decent side, but not good enough to keep one from heading out midway through to also check out football, etc. [6] TL

The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (At The Drive-In cover set) @ 21:30-22:00 at High Dive

Since I have not checked out the extensive FEST schedule out properly on the website prior to coming here, I arrive at High Dive in good faith that this is supposed to be a regular set by a band that I am not even that familiar with. As such it feels like the best surprise of the day when I recognise cover after cover that they play. The band plays tight but their main vocalist seems to fall short on the more screamy parts of songs and for these parts he ends up handing the microphone to people in the crowd who, as it turns out, pretty much nail them. The moshpit in the middle of the room is active throughout the short set that covers five songs and most importantly for me includes some of my favourite At The Drive-In songs, namely "Pattern Against User" and "Invalid Jitter Dept." (the other songs played are "Arcarsenal", "StarSlight" and "Napoleon Solo"). The entire show is sort of rough and chaotic both on the floor and in the sound from the stage, and this has just as much to do with the original compositions as it has with the faithful way TWIABP chooses to play them. Going here turns out to be the best decision of the day since it reminds me of something I had entirely forgotten, namely how much I love At The Drive-In's music. [8] LF

Beach Slang

Beach Slang @ 21:40-22:10 at Rockey's

"It is not lost on us how many people are here... we are very well aware who else is playing. Thank you.", as the Beach Slang singer says a few songs into their set. Indeed - Rockey's is absolutely rammed with people despite Descendents playing on the plaza, but then again the two EPs Beach Slang have released this year have been nothing short of awe-inspiring in nature. Most of these songs are aired tonight ranging from "All Fuzzed Out" and "Filthy Luck" to "American Girls And French Kisses", which draw surprisingly strong and dedicated responses from the crowd. Already during their first cut, the singer strays away from the microphone, the band pauses their instruments, and allows the crowd to sing along loud in clear. On stage, the band members, who are wearing halloween costumes for some reason, are engaged in passionate shredding and crazed jumps that completely defy the 90s themed alternative rock soundscape that sounds absolutely fantastic tonight. The band really connect on stage as musicians and performers, and their set oozes of pure charisma and confidence in their material. Rightly so. The two EPs collectively are album-of-the-year material, so it's good to see the buzz about the band translates so well into a live performance as well. Thirty minutes seems way too short for us to be singing along with this much passion - and as an added bonus, we get a cover of "Can't Hardly Wait" by The Replacements. [8½] PP

Football, etc. @ 21:50-22:20 at Palomino

The corner of the otherwise roomy pool bar Palomino oddly harbours what is perhaps the lowest stage at FEST, which means it's hard for mostly anyone to catch sight of the members of Houston based emo trio football, etc. (both standing members, Mercy Harper and Lindsay Milton, are quite short). Couple this with a guitar string breaking early in the set and bringing a bit of a pause about, and one wonders what kind of irony there is to be found in the Notre Dame vs Navy game on the bar's TV seeming more interesting, especially considering that FEST is specifically held on a weekend when Gainesville's local college football fans are out of town for an annual away game. Even with little prior familiarity one can still place football, etc. as a quieter Mineral with female vocals, and the majority of the set honestly stays way too comfortably in that niché, especially since the vocals hardly have the widest range of expression - Although it is nice to hear a fuller female voice after the mouse-ish tones of Candy Hearts and Laura Stevenson. The songs get better towards the end and the band is at least forthcoming between them, but as with Annabel one wonders how the band have existed for 6 years without developing their style and performance any more than this. [5½] TL

Cheap Girls

Cheap Girls @ 22:40-23:20 at 8 Seconds

Cheap Girls released a gem of an album earlier this year with "Famous Graves", aiming directly at many top 10 lists this year thanks to a breadth of sublime 90s style alternative rock tracks with hints of punk rock on the background. It's sad that none of that really translates to a live performance, where the songs are played well and with good sound, but nothing at all is happening on stage whatsoever. Closing your eyes and putting on headphones is basically an identical experience to watching Cheap Girls play at 8 Seconds tonight. They cycle through "Knock Me Over", "Her And Cigarettes", "Amazing Grace" and much more to a fairly stand-still and non-responsive audience. The only meaningful event is wondering why vocalist Ian Graham spends the entire set singing a serenade towards a guy singing along at the upstairs window where the venue managers / backstage rooms are. Perhaps his lover? Cute, but with literally zero interaction between the crowd and the band, it's difficult to get into the set properly despite amazing songs. [7] PP

The Dopamines

The Dopamines @ 23:40-00:20 at 8 Seconds

After Cheap Girls damn near finished putting the crowd to sleep, The Dopamines' hyper-energetic no frills pop punk wakes everyone up straight away. Mikey Erg is filling in on guitar (he seems to play in every FEST band), and the second the band starts their set a shitload of glow sticks and beer cans fly from every direction towards the stage. In fact, for the first three of four songs there's so much beer flying around the front that both the band and the crowd must be absolutely drenched, not sure exactly why that's happening but it looks like a fun dynamic since the band is encouraging it. They are also incredibly wasted both visibly and audibly, with several songs played in wrong rhythm, but that doesn't really matter when you have dozens upon dozens of people flying off the stage every minute and a band whose stage energy is something most other bands should take inspiration from. "We saw Descendents earlier. There's no reason to play music ever again", the band proclaim, before crashing into yet another super catchy no frills pop punk piece. At one point, there's a fan who crowd surfs to the stage, vomits everywhere, and stage dives back out right away. Hilarious, fun, energy-driven and catchy. That's the best way to sum up The Dopamines at FEST. [8] PP

Pentimento @ 00:00-00:30 at High Dive

Having seen Pentimento play the same amount of time in Tampa a few days prior and having observed that they like to take care of business in a well-prepared manner, it's predictable that the Buffalo band is going to be sticking to the same approach tonight. And that's perfect, because at FEST you see tonnes of bands that either can't quite sing, aren't quite comfortable on stage, have bad mix or just don't have the songs yet, but Pentimento have clearly graduated to a much higher level of performance. Their music, a down-to-earth version of Taking Back Sunday with Chris Carrabba-like vocals, is expertly composed and delivered, sounding like the band has simply invested in a whole different quality of equipment compared to most here. The desperate backing vocals are once again on point, and there's a fitting stream of crowd surfers flying around, while the people below them sing their lungs out to each refrain from the "Inside The Sea" EP. Honestly if our bodies weren't pulverized by FESTing at this hour, we would probably be flying around as well. [8] TL

Goddamnit @ 00:10-00:40 at Durty Nelly's

Straight off The Dopamines it's time to catch Goddamnit, whose debut album "How To Take The Burn" is top 5 candidate for end of year lists this year with its sublime emotionally charged brand of punk rock. Tonight, the sound at Durty Nelly's does absolutely no justice to the detail found on their record, leaving the songs sounding almost like hardcore pieces than the textured and smooth punk rock masterpieces that they are in reality. It's virtually impossible to distinguish the songs from one another. There's only a handful of people present, so the whole set feels rather informal as well. It prompts the band members to chat between each other, so basically it feels like we're observing a band rehearsal than an actual concert. Granted, the last few songs are incredible and underline why there's so much buzz about this band in the underground media, and save the set from an absolute disaster, but we're not far off. [5½] PP

Chuck Ragan & The Camaraderie @ 00:20-01:20 at The Wooly

Goddamnit were rather miserable, but their last few tracks made me fresh enough to decide to check the last few tracks of Chuck Ragan afterwards, who has brought his band The Camaraderie along to supplement his solo material. They are in the middle of "Non Typical" as I enter the venue that seems packed to its limits with a long line outside. Inside, Chuck Ragan's gruff, gravelly voice is pretty much the perfect ending for the night given how laid back and full of warmth it is, even more so in a live environment. He slaps on a harmonica to multi-task during a couple of songs, but really this set is about us being spellbound by his amazing voice. One of the greatest punk rock vocalists of all time, his coarse and textured delivery packs so much genuineness and passion into it. It seems so effortless for him to be singing in such a warm, welcoming manner, which encompasses the entire venue into a homely, folksy atmosphere as he sings eyes closed with passion. Many songs receive lengthy descriptions on what they are about, making it feel more of a showcase and story-telling session overall. This is a perfect way to close out a night of loud and abrasive punk rock: soothing, harmonica-driven alt country with strong singer-songwriter influences. We even get a guest appearance by Dave Hause during "For Broken Ears" for good measure. Great set overall. [8] PP

DAY 3 - SUNDAY

RVIVR

RVIVR @ 13:30-14:10 at Bo Diddley Plaza

There are not a lot of things that can drag you out of bed and to an early show after four days of exhausting FESTing, but Washington posi-punk group RVIVR is one of them. Guitarist/singer Erica Freas' voice is clearly as fucked FESTed as our bodies, judging from its frequent cracking, but she sounds like female Chuck Ragan to begin with, so this is not a big deal. It's worse that the guitars are regrettably low in the mix, making their part of the exchanges in a great song like "Wrong Way/One Way" come through too low. Still the band's energy is contagious as ever, and their messages of LGBTQ equality are delivered in an encouraging, non-preachy way. The material is well-written, instantly infectious and full of sympathetic, relevant messages, so while this roughly mixed afternoon set seems far from the best the band can do, it's just really hard to find something to dislike about RVIVR. A recommended band to see at any chance you get. [7] TL

Iron Chic

Iron Chic @ 14:30-15:10 at Bo Diddley Plaza

Last year, Iron Chic's show at 8 Seconds was characterized by crazy sing alongs for pretty much every song. The same trend continues in the warm afternoon sun at Bo Diddley Plaza, where loud, punk rock community-style sing alongs echo loudly for more or less every single song. "Wolf Dix Rd." gets a thunderous response, "Don't Drive Angry" sees Erica from RVIVR helping out (just like last year), and the songs in general demonstrate fantastic dynamics sometimes starting off with quieter sections that progressively end in borderline screams as the climaxing moment approaches. It's a passionate performance where their vocalist mostly traverses back and forth on the stage, and although it is not as intense and overwhelmingly loud as the sing along was indoors last year, there's still a ton of people making themselves heard during pretty much every song. Other than that, not much to report on in terms of stage antics or crazy pits in the crowd - just quality songs played well with a great sound. [7½] PP

The City On Film (full band) @ 14:50-15:20 at High Dive

I have only recently gotten into the seminal emo band Braid, and while that might have happened a bit late I am still so fond of both vocalists voices that it's a no brainer that I should go check out Bob Nanna's solo project today. He plays with two band members that cover bass and drums, but the set is framed really well by just him and his guitar beginning and ending it. The opener easily gives me goose bumps and as Nanna softly sings the intro lines "Some people work for a living, then realise that just living works" of "Portland Maine And The Pouring Rain" later on, I am definitely not regretting that I have chosen to check this out on a whim. Some of the more energetic songs remind me of Braid in their compositions and overall sound, but the songs played today are mostly a little simpler than that with fewer strange little quirks. This leaves the lyrics very much in focus and Nanna is good at expressing these clearly without sounding forced, especially on new song "Kill It!". At one point, Nanna takes one song down completely and spends some time strumming his guitar silently while staring intensely at the crowd like he's scouting for something. Apparently a friend of his was going to propose to his girlfriend during the set, but when Nanna asks if anyone has something to say it quickly evolves in a different direction as a father in the crowd prompts him to tell about the time he played in his daughter's bedroom on tour. During this, Nanna seems like the most relatable and down-to-earth guy and this easily reflects in the way he expresses his lyrics with not just his voice but his facial expressions as well. Without ever turning into a mind blowing experience, this is definitely a light-hearted and solid performance by a talented vocalist and I make a note to check out his recorded material properly someday. [7½] LF

Fake Problems

Fake Problems @ 15:30-16:10 at 8 Seconds

Seeing Fake Problems at 8 Seconds, it's easy to wonder what in the world they're doing at FEST: The Florida locals sound less like a punk group and more like Cold War Kids-style all-American indie rock. The songs are based on precise guitar riffs and borrow freely from funk and roots rock on occasion, while the singing of front man Chris Farren is sharp yet completely controlled, making good use of falsetto and giving off further vibes of Caleb Followil or even Rob Thomas. On one hand, it's a really nice change of pace, seeing a show that is so tightly in control following all the unhinged punk rock here, and the band clearly knows how to interact confidently with the crowd between songs. For a fun gimmick, the band has Laura Stevenson join for a song - not to sing, but to do a rather silly dance routine, showing that nobody here takes themselves too seriously. That said, the songs lack properly impactful resolution, although the later cuts predictably do better than the early choices, yet while the audience applauds generously you can tell that they don't get into it properly until the end, which you figure is a symptom of why Fake Problems - despite their obvious qualities - aren't quite mentioned in the same leagues as the artists they compare with. Not quite yet at least. [7] TL

Only Crime @ 15:30-16:10 at Bo Diddley Plaza

I almost feel bad for Only Crime. They have a primetime afternoon slot in the sun, but the plaza is virtually empty as the band take to stage to perform mostly songs off their new album "Pursuance". Only a handful of people are watching on a space that can fit several thousand as the band go through "We Are Divided", "In Blood", "One Last Breath" in their usual static, stand-still appearance on stage. Vocalist Russ Rankin in particular should have no reason not to move around to the high-energy rhythms of their melodic hardcore punk, but instead opts to stand still on stage. Those bearing instruments aren't doing much better either, so it's unsurprising to see so few people care. Despite playing mostly their better material today, Only Crime still haven't been able to convince me why I should care about their band. It's monotonous, boring to look at, and basically leaves no reason why I should be here instead of watching something else like everyone else seems to be at FEST currently. [5] PP

Dave Hause

Dave Hause @ 16:30-17:00 at High Dive

High Dive is positively rammed as Loved Ones front man Dave Hause comes on stage, although perhaps at least partially because Red City Radio are playing after him. There's a line around the building that has to be bummed, because despite only being armed with an acoustic guitar, Hause quickly proves that he is one of the most capable stage performers at FEST. Not that his guitar playing is anything above well-managed chords, but his vocals and diction are flawless and despite seeming like he doesn't actually have the set prepared he quickly sparks a connection with both audience and the stage crew, making the half hour fly by like a casual conversation that's only interrupted by him singing songs of both his own and The Loved Ones' make. These songs are instantly enjoyable even to newcomers, but there is of course a dedicated crowd of fans here singing back every chorus with glee, and the singer seems happy to let the audience decide parts of the setlist, occasionally stopping songs to ask things of the crowd or beg the stage hand to bring him a Pabst. Basically this is what it looks like when a truly experienced performer steps up and uses his sheer routine to make sure a whole venue has a great time. A free lesson you could say, for any younger, aspiring artists in the audience. [8] TL

Red City Radio

Red City Radio @ 17:20-17:50 at High Dive

To me the most impressive thing about this band is how many absolutely addictive melodies they have put together by now, this set being a case in point as they play song after song without a single dull moment. My only problem with them overall is that their gravelly voices sometimes end up killing the audibility of the lyrics and while this is definitely a bigger problem for them on record than it is live, one out of their three vocalists seems to be notoriously low in the mix. The mood is good and I find myself a space near the stage where I somehow magically avoid crowd surfers as the moshing never gets as wild as you could imagine it would from the insane levels of energy this band pumps out with every riff. It seems they have more than enough time on their hands at the set tonight so besides allowing a friend to propose to his Tinder date on stage, they also bring out a solid cover of Green Day's "Pulling Teeth". This marks another solid set by a great band yet while I enjoy myself throughout the set I can't shake the feeling that they could in fact pull off something even more intense than this. [8] LF

Restorations @ 17:30-18:10 at 8 Seconds

For those in the know, Restorations playing at the same time as Red City Radio is one of the more heartbreaking clashes at this FEST but considering the issues 8 Seconds have had with sound and generally has with allowing people to see what happens on stage, it’s hard to justify actually being here and not at High Dive. Fortunately the proggy Philadelphians experience much better sound here than they did at Crowbar in Tampa, and singer/guitarist Jon Loudon looks much more on form. By sheer virtue of writing some of the most intricate and expressive music of the festival, the show is satisfying even if you just close your eyes and listen, but with the band focusing on material from the "LP3" that they have only just released, the set is more of the type where curious fans stand fixed and listen with interest, than a celebration of songs people have had a chance to form a connection with in advance. That said, the group is in usual vivid form, with especially the guitarists swinging their instruments around wildly, it really is only the great crowd response that is missing as a component for Restorations to have one of those amazing shows they're growing known for. [7½] TL

7Seconds

7Seconds @ 17:40-18:30 at Bo Diddley Plaza

After watching 7Seconds play at Bo Diddley Plaza I can safely say they are the fastest fucking band I've ever seen live. Their ability to shred as crazily as they do is unmatched by anyone at this year's FEST, which the band also jokes about on several occasions during their set: "The advantage of playing short songs is that we get to play more of them... just kidding, who would want to see an old hardcore band play an hour and a half straight?". So the band shred through old material at lightning speed with a few forays onto new album "Leave The Light On" as a couple of covers by Sham 69 and Nena ("99 Red Balloons") modified to the 7Seconds hardcore punk platform. Their vocalist Kevin Seconds, despite being in his 50s, is fairly energetic and orchestrates the million miles an hour circle pit situated at the front of the stage. Unsurprisingly, they are done way, way before their scheduled slot is over ("Wow....we're done with our set much earlier than I thought"), but yet their show doesn't feel short at all because we've heard so many timeless punk classics played in that space. [7½] PP

United Nations @ 18:10-18:40 at The Wooly

At The Wooly, renowned Thursday front man Geoff Rickley explains how his experimental hardcore supergroup has recently fired two members and replaced them with members from Pianos Become The Teeth, and are hence playing more emo-sounding tunes to give those guys an outlet following Pianos' recent change of style. Where he hears this emo in the band's chaotic protest songs is anyone's guess though, and while you can't say the hyper-actively swaying vocalist isn't a spectacle on stage, the desperation he exudes almost makes you feel like he needs United Nations as an outlet himself, more so than the fans need the group's music. Not that the furious social and political indignity hidden in his howling screams doesn't seem to have as dedicated a reception as your average FEST band, but the chaos doesn't come through as sonically impressive as you would want from a band supposedly firing on all cylinders. You wonder then, whether anyone leaves the venue actually feeling like listening to United Nations when they come home - or if they are satisfied with just having seen what the fuss is about. [6½] TL

Lifetime

Lifetime @ 18:50-19:40 at Bo Diddley Plaza

The plaza is filled up again for the first time since RVIVR / Iron Chic sets earlier today as people gather to watch legendary melodic hardcore pioneers Lifetime play a rare show. A screeching guitar intro suggests some technical problems before the band launch into "Turnstile Gates" and "Airport Monday Morning" straight after. The problem? The vocals are absolutely horrible, both off-tune and drowning all other instruments beneath them in the mix. Not only that, but the band are so untight and unrehearsed on stage it hurts to watch them especially as a longtime fan. Dan Yemin (of Paint It Black fame) even admits to it: "You think we rehearsed for this?". It's a huge shame because the awful vocals ruin classic after classic making it pretty much impossible to appreciate if you didn't know the songs from beforehand. Vocalist Ari Katz makes his way to the barrier frequently to sing along as we go through songs like "Daneurysm", "Just A Quiet Evening", "Young, Loud, And Scotty", "You", "The Boy's No Good", "Hey Katrina", "Ostrichsized", "25 Cent Giraffes", but they absolutely butcher many of these. The set is often interrupted by tuning pauses which bring forth awkward silences, which feel completely amateurish compared to the seasoned veteranship brought by Descendents last night. And that's not where it ends. Whenever Katz says anything to the crowd, he sounds completely disinterested and like he'd want to be anywhere else but there playing Lifetime songs. "This is it... the last block on our list. Thank you so much... it's been a fucking great time". I don't think anyone in the crowd believes him as he says that. It's a shame, because Dan Yemin is in constant motion doing jumps on stage, but the rest of the band with the lead of Ari Katz basically make sure that most of "Jersey's Best Dancers" being played sounds like dogshit today. [4] PP

Modern Baseball @ 19:30-20:10 at 8 Seconds

Last year Pennsylvania youngsters Modern Baseball looked positively baffled with the crazed reception they received playing at the smaller Wooly, but tonight you can see that they have been around since then. Despite the simplistic style and lack of particularly spectacular melodious components, the group's lyrical pop-punk has gathered a large and eclectic group of FESTers at 8 Seconds and the crowd moves dangerously in waves towards the stage, while crowd surfers are constantly being thrown on stage and promptly escorted to the side before they can jump back on top of what frankly looks a bit dangerous. Unsurprisingly these eager kids are good for near constant singalongs to the band's quirky lyrics, yet while an active crowd often helps counterbalance any shortcomings with the material that's aired during a show, one wonders whether people leave thinking of this as a party or as a struggle for survival. Modern Baseball perform solidly enough and do well at filling tuning breaks with casual chatter, but honestly the improvements of their merits as a live band take a backseat to the crazy activity on the floor. [7½] TL

Hot Water Music

Hot Water Music @ 20:00-21:30 at Bo Diddley Plaza

Fanboy alert. Ever since "Caution" was released it has been one of my greatest dreams to see a Hot Water Music show in their hometown, Gainesville. Together with about 1500 others, that wish was granted and what better way to end my FEST 13 live shows than downing the last couple of PBR's watching one of my all time favorites play a 90 minute set as the last act on the outdoor stage, Bo Diddley Plaza. While it might not have been the magical 'perfect moment' experience I was hoping for, the band did put on a performance that defies their age as a band and as musicians. Chuck Ragan's looking like Dave Grohl out there rocking out with great energy; Chris Wollard and the rest of the band still prove they've got it with a unifying, tight set that mostly treated us to the older material from the band's back catalogue starting with the first song they ever wrote as a band, "Us & Chuck". They follow it up with "Mainline" from the new album, before surprising us (yet again) with Dave Hause guesting for "Trusty Chords" to echoing sing alongs from the crowd. That song is amazing in the first place, but with Dave Hause's personal touch it sounded even better than usual as we all sing the "Hey-yeah, hey-yeah, hey-yeaaaah" parts in unison. From here onwards, we get rare classics like "A Flight And A Crash", "Jack Of All Trades" and "Sons And Daughters" from the "A Flight And A Crash" album balancing against crowd pleasers like "Remedy" and "Sweet Disasters" from "Caution". One of the better new song the band has written, "Drag My Body", gets a solid response as well, but nothing like the huge gang chants of "Wayfarer" and "Turnstile", both tracks which see the entire plaza join in during the chorus in a celebratory mood of one of the most important punk rock bands in history. Having listened through so many bands at FEST both this year and last year that source their inspiration primarily from Hot Water Music, having them perform so well in the outdoor venue is almost like full circle for many of us attending. With "Manual" finishing off their set we've experienced a little over an hour's worth of quality songwriting with far more texture and detail than the norm in the genre, delivered with an impassioned performance of a band that knows exactly what it is doing. The sound is near-perfect throughout the set, leaving the length as my only gripe considering the band finish with 23 minutes left of their slot, which they could've filled with a ton of classics from "Caution" and the other albums. But what they did play was excellent and exemplary of the genre pioneers that they were back in the late 90s. [8½] PP

Circle Takes The Square @ 20:00-20:40 at The Wooly

Compared to most FEST bands, who tend to have a casual and down-to-earth attitude on stage, there's an air around renowned Georgia post-hardcore trio Circle Takes The Square on stage which makes it feel like they're in a different kind of dedicated performance-mode. This fits their elaborate progressive soundscapes nicely though, as these are much more intricate compositions than almost anything else at the festival and there's a well-crafted atmospheric bleakness to it as the drums blast ferociously and bassist Kathleen Coppola Stubelek trades eerie spoken bits for guitarist Andrew Speziale's desolate screams. The band clearly understands how to build and release tension by managing the force in both their strumming and their vocals and while their dedicated following moshes in almost demonic fashion up front, the rest of the venue gets an impression of a group with a highly developed identity and a tightness that is not to be trifled with. [8] TL

The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die

The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die @ 20:30-21:10 at 8 Seconds

The several consecutive days of watching bands both at Pre-FEST and FEST have begun to weigh on me by the time TWIABP go on stage, and maybe because of that my memories of their performance paint them as an extremely dreamy band. As the only experience I have with them so far is watching them play At The Drive-In covers the day before, I find it very hard to latch on to their songs and get carried away by them as their atmospheric sound is muddled at 8 Seconds tonight while the vocals seem too low in the mix simultaneously. The lyrics, at any rate, are hard to get a fix on and this is obviously especially annoying with the spoken word vocals on the songs from the band's second album. They seem to me like a slightly reserved and very artistic band, the lead singer mostly singing with closed eyes, and the band comprising all of nine people who are none of them too occupied with anything but playing their instruments. On paper this should be just my kind of band and thus I'm ultimately saddened by the fact that they don't have a top performance tonight, even though the crowd members up front don't seem to notice this at all. Still, their ending track that includes their name in the lyrics does feel nothing short of cathartic and while this is unfortunately not an experience I have with any of their other songs tonight, it still manages to impress me enough to salvage at least some of the experience. [7] LF

Into It. Over It.

Into It. Over It. @ 21:30-22:10 at 8 Seconds

Vocalist Evan Thomas Weiss enters the stage alone with his guitar tonight and as he builds up the first song slowly, on his own at first and a little later with the help of three band members, I am already much more awake than just before. As with TWIABP this is an act I check out tonight mostly based on pure curiosity and to be able to follow these progressions in many of his songs makes them seem much more accessible for a newcomer than the songs of the previous band did. He is an energetic and very thankful front man tonight, repeatedly expressing his gratitude for the filled venue and the sing-a-longs the band gets for many of their songs. Vocalist Kate Grube from Kittyhawk joins the band as well for a couple of songs across the middle of the set, but these don't really stand out in any way in the overall set and her contributions are pretty basic. After a while the progressions in the songs that seemed to carry me through in the beginning become more and more vague and while a few songs keep me on my toes with their intricate rhythms, it feels increasingly like they are building up to nothing in particular, rather circling around themselves. This results in me feeling lost in the compositions for a lot of the time, even though the band members do a decent job of engaging their audience overall. [7] LF

Mineral

Mineral @ 22:30-23:30 at 8 Seconds

Having only recently reunited, emo pioneers Mineral are a group that many probably thought they would never get to see, hence many have decided to at least stay and check them out despite them being decisively more emo than punk. The band's return to the stage is not one riddled with much star quality, as they say no more than is necessary to caution the wildest crowd surfers, yet it's clearly audible that this group is the original deal that makes many of the current revivalist bands sound toothless in comparison. Upon steady beats the band let's their guitars ring with deafening melancholy, in a way that invites the listener to just get swept away in the torrential noise of the six stringed instruments. That front man Chris Simpson's vocals are positively searing doesn't hurt of course, so although the show loses those that have had their curiosity satisfied moving towards the end, this is only natural in these final hours of an exhausting FEST. The set still sounds like a demonstration of power from a lost age, comparable to the similarly awesome Texas Is The Reason reunion a few years back. So while Mineral might not have much stage personality, it still feels amazing to have them back, and hopefully they will stick around longer than Texas Is The Reason did. [8] TL

Final Words

I'll start this section with a pro tip for any future would-be FESTers coming from overseas. One, make sure to arrive early - already the weekend before if possible. This will help you tackle jetlag, plus Florida has a wealth of AMAZING things to spend your time with. This time, we did a few days at Miami Beach in tropical temperatures, went on an adrenaline-filled airboat tour in the Everglades, checked out the local rock bars down there, before driving onwards to Orlando for a couple of days in a perfect resort and visiting both Wet 'N' Wild water park (the most insane waterslides we have ever experienced) and Universal Islands Of Adventure amusement park (roller coasters here = brilliant). You could also do the John F Kennedy space center, do a brief visit to the Bahamas (they do day tours), visit Clearwater Beach in Tampa (or go to Busch Gardens for a retarded amount of roller coasters), or do any of the multitude of other amusement / water parks in Orlando while you're waiting. Or you could head up to Gainesville straight away and float down a river on a giant rubber tire. The opportunities are virtually endless - and it will help you tackle jetlag early before going to the shows.

However, if there's one thing we'd advice against doing it's this: don't do an extra pre-pre-FEST show on the Tuesday at for example Orlando. You'll be standing and drinking so many days straight anyway if you are also doing pre-FEST in Tampa (which you must do to experience the fantastic Ybor historic Cuban district), so rest your legs to not be completely dead by Saturday and Sunday (Days 2 and 3 at FEST, respectively). Unless you're truly hardcore.

If you do what our delegation has done two years in a row now - to spend five days on vacation preparing for the PBR's and the great bands to come in pre-FEST and FEST - you'll be just fine. In fact it might just be one of the best experiences in your life when doing it with a couple of good friends.

FEST is a different experience from a European perspective. It's nothing at all like the festivals back home - even if Bo Diddley Plaza had hints of European style outdoor festival built within it. It's a unique community of people traveling from all around the world for a common cause - a music fest for people who are truly music nerds aside anything else. People who check out new bands just because. People who show up at small concerts in their local town well on time before the first support band is on because they are curious as to what that band might sound like. People who regularly buy merch from the bands and support the scene in any way possible. That's what makes it a very special place for many of us and why we keep returning. Why you should consider checking it out next year.

With that in mind, the only thing left in our article is our classic 'The Good, The Bad, The Ugly' section of what the festival should focus on in the future. All the best from the RF staff and hope to see you all next year again. PP

The Good

* AWESOME lineup as usual.

* Passion of crowds and bands playing the FEST

* The smiles on bands' faces playing FEST for the first time and seeing dozens if not hundreds of people singing along to their material

* Variety within punk / emo / hardcore

* Variety of craft beer & specialty liquor available

* Price

* Atmosphere

The Bad

* No portable pissoirs meaning guys having to wait to go number 1, taking a perfectly good bathroom slot from a girl.

* Weird alcohol rules surrounding The Lunchbox where you couldn't take your beer outside / inside their premises despite it being outdoors by the main stage. Seriously odd.

* Bands not filling their whole slot. Hot Water Music, Lifetime, 7Seconds all missing at least 20 minutes of their timeslot. Disappointing for the fans.

* PBR is still disgusting. Can we get another sponsored beer that's not a light beer?

* The sound at 8 Seconds on Friday. AWFUL and ruined so many sets by great bands.

The Ugly

* Lines. Without a purple press pass you would have to wait ages to get into a venue, a process that could be entirely avoided if we had a 21+ wristband and an under 21 wristband issued at registration. Absolutely necessary if the FEST is going to get bigger in the future.

* 1982. That venue is pointless because it is so far from everything else that you'll never go there because it means you'll miss at least 1 band, perhaps even 2 just because of the time it takes to walk there.

* Beer throwing/shaking. Can people please stop wasting beer and also throwing full cans across the air especially at Bo Diddley Plaza? That shit will hurt like a motherfucker if it hits you without you noticing - not to even mention getting drenched in beer which I'm sure nobody enjoys. Drink your beer or at least don't throw it / shake it on people around you.

All photos by: Lauren Harris Photography

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