author PP date 09/10/13

This is part two of our extensive in-depth interview with Tony Weinbender, the founder of The FEST. Check out part I here. In this part, Tony discusses how the booking process works for The FEST. We also go into detail about his favorites this year, and his four recommended 'must see' bands this year, which apparently turns out to be dozens each day.

If you are listening using the SoundCloud player below while reading the article, remember to fast-forward to the time you left off at in the previous article.

RF.net: Related to this, this year you have I think 395 bands, if I read correct. So that's a lot of bands to book. Is it you personally who books the bands? Do you guys have a booking team? What sort of criteria do you go after when you're booking bands? Is it mostly bands that you would say are your favorites, or that people recommended to you, or what's popular?
Tony: I think it's close to about 400 now. I don't go with what's popular, that's for sure sometimes. I always make myself a big wish list. That wish list has grown and grown over the years. Out of that wish list there are a lot of bands that we invite back. That's the first round we do, we always do the invite backs first. And then after that it's like: "okay, we've always wanted to try to get this band, let's try to do this". Or: "this band hasn't played in a couple of years, let's hit them up again and see what their tour schedule is like this year". And then we used to do band applications. Where bands that we didn't know about would send us in like a package with their CD, and they'd fill out this application with all their contact info. We'd listen to all those throughout the year and then from that pick people. I think the last year we did that was two years ago, maybe, and we had over 600 packages come in. It just got to the point where it was too daunting. As much as I love doing that, and we have found some really amazing bands out of those packages...like Lemuria, The Ergs, Cheap Girls, Bomb The Music Industry!, Camadre, The Flatliners. Bands that we would've not known about because they never come through Gainesville on tour. A lot of bands don't come to Florida on tour. You come in and it's this big giant wang that you have to go down and turn back around and come back out of. You can't just drive into the ocean. A lot of people don't come.

The application process was something that I was worried when we stopped doing it. But at the same time, the same thing is still happening. I still get tonnes of emails from people, even though it says on our website don't email us. They still email us, and I'm glad they do, because this year more than ever I found out about so many new bands that I wouldn't have, you know? And we wanna try to accommodate as many as possible, and like I've talked about in this interview for a while, to be able to showcase new bands to new people. But at the same time, too, it's a double-edged sword, because I'm the one curating.

So ultimately, first thing I have to do is I have to like what you're playing. I feel like my palette for genres of music is very wide, and I think I have a very good palette. I also try to keep in touch in a way with new bands that are coming up. I'm way older, but a lot of my friends that are older are like "fuck those guys, they're like what 20 years old, screw them. They sound like this band from the 90s that we used to listen to." Well yeah, no shit Sherlock, because that band doesn't play anymore. They like the same music you do, so they're gonna start their own band, you know? You can't judge them for that. So I try to really keep an open mind, and ultimately we really want to help a lot of these bands more than anything. So I have to listen to it. And then after I listened and liked something, then I kind of do this weird background check on them, where I see where they're from? What are they doing?

With the social media and the internet, it's pretty easy to know pretty much everything you need to know about a band. And then I always hit up bands that I've known for years from those areas, and say "Hey, what's this band. They're from your town. What are they like?" And usually it's like "oh, those kids are awesome! That band is great! You should totally let them play FEST, they're good buds, I meant to email you about them". And once in a blue moon, you'll get like "oh those guys are complete posers. They're in it for the wrong reasons, they think they're gonna be big shit, they suck. They don't do anything. They don't help at shows. They don't help other bands on tour. They're just posturing". And it's like, well, forget them, then? So that's pretty much the criteria, I guess. Also, we don't book a lot of tough guy hardcore.

RF.net: Why's that?

Tony: I like that kind of music, and I grew up on that, but I don't like the way fans react to it, and I also don't like the way a lot of hardcore bands can't police their own shows. They get up there, and it's like "We're on stage. We're gonna do this, and we're gonna try to get the kids as wild as possible". Well that sucks for me, and my crew that are working who have to clean up after your big playdate with your fans, you know? It sucks, and it just brings a tough guy attitude. I grew up and I'd love to have a lot of those bands play. And I've also seen and been to those shows, and seen the violence that happens. And I just don't want it. I think that we have bands that are way more brutal musically, but their fans just don't have to feel the need to windmill and floorpunch and act like a ninja. And that's something I've seen in recent years growing in Europe more and more. And maybe you can vouch for that?

RF.net: Yes, unfortunately, yes.

Tony: Especially in the UK, it's like jock-central at shows, it seems. It sucks. I don't know what... but nine times out of ten, those fans, it's because they're young, and they're into it. Not because of the music. They're into it to be like "hey look at me, I'm cool." Or to impress chicks or whatnot. And five years from now, they're gonna be sitting at some fucking office job somewhere, listening to Dave Matthews Band, or some other bullshit, you know? They're not gonna be involved in the scene. They're not lifers. It doesn't hit their soul, that music, for the most part. It's a sad thing to say, but it's kind of true.

RF.net: Out of the new bands that you discovered this year that you mentioned right before from the emails, is there one that you'd like to point out as the one that really you connected with personally the most, perhaps?
Tony: Ah, it's going to be hard to say one. A lot of good new music has come across my plate. I think that the best way to get a judge on what new music we think is pretty awesome right now that is playing FEST, is on the FEST website. We have links to - we built our own free download comps. I curated the second one, Sarah did the first one, I did the third one with heavy bands, by the time this airs, we'll probably have the fourth, fifth and sixth on. I think there's going to be seven in total with the last one having all of the comedians that we have this year on it. We're still trying to put that one together because we've never made a compilation before - or I don't think I have in my life - of comedy. We're talking about how does it segue. How does somebody know when one track starts to the next track kind of thing. So I think we're gonna figure something out. It'll probably be pretty awful [laughs] I will figure out how to deal with it.

But there are just really too many good bands. I mean, there are the Young Leaves and Late Bloomer that I was really into. I like that band Daylight. I saw them recently. Lee Corey Oswald, I'm interested in seeing them this year. I'm trying to think off the top of my head, you kind of caught me with this one. Bands that I've been listening to a lot...and for me it's hard, there's so many bands, I honestly forget their damn names. I can tell you like "Oh, I've been listening to this a lot", but it's hard for me to remember what their name is. Because for a lot of us, it's the first time we're ever seeing these bands, and hearing about them. So I'm really curious to see Todd Congelliere, who I love, and who does Recess Records, has a new band called Benny The Jet Rodriguez, I wanna see that. I'm really curious to see Jamey from The Arteries' new band with Mikey Erg and Mike from Static Radio. It sounds just like the Static Radio stuff that they stopped playing. That kind of 90s rock worship stuff, it's really good. But off the top off my head - I mean...

RF.net: So maybe I have an easier one - you also mentioned you have a wish list of bands. What is the one name on that list that you've always wanted to play, that hasn't played yet, that's been there the longest, so to say?
Tony: There's three. It's Descendents, Rocket From The Crypt, and Superchunk.

RF.net: Okay, and are they all too big to play, or is it because they haven't been able to play or?

Tony: Descendents are too big. Superchunk's never wrote us back ever, so I don't know what happened there over time, so I'll just have to drive to North Carolina and go to their doors and be like "look, what's the deal here?" And Rocket From The Crypt just got back together. You lucky bastards over in Europe got to see them play a lot of cool, small shows. And I think that the first step was, you know... this year we just couldn't afford Rocket From The Crypt, they're getting some really good paychecks this year. And I think they definitely deserve it, they're one of my favorite bands of all time. But we were able to still get The Swami (John Reis) to get down here because The Night Marchers are playing. So I think once Reis touches down in Gainesville, he's gonna be like "yeah man, this is pretty cool", and then maybe next year we'll be able to get Rocket From The Crypt. But Descendents, I mean, we have All playing this year, and they've been super awesome to work with. And I know we can work out getting Descendents to play. We'll figure out a way to get Descendents to play some day. It's just right now we have to find a space big enough for them to play. And that's what we've been really working on for the last two years with the city. So once we find the space, and we're getting closer and closer to hopefully doing it...you know, all we need is a plot of land, that's all, we can figure out the rest. That's relatively close to everything else so we don't have to bus people all the way out to some other field or some shit, you know?

Those are pretty much the big three. I've always wanted to have the B52's play, I don't know why. I just kind of wanna be walking around and hear like "Rock Lobster" [laughs] I just think people - The FEST - would get it, the humour. Also, we tried last year to get They Might Be GIants to play. I saw them play about a year and a half ago, and I hadn't seen them since I was a kid. Great, wonderful show, and I think if they were ever gonna play a festival, FEST fans would appreciate them tremendously.

And the ultimate ever would be Fugazi, but that'll never happen. I got to see Fugazi a lot growing up in Virginia, and I actually got to help put on a show for them when I was 16. We'll never be able to get Fugazi, but if there was ever a chance, that would probably be my number one on the wish list.

RF.net: The pre-FEST concept, which is in Tampa, a different city altogether. This is the first year you guys are doing that, or did you also do it last year? How did that come about, and what's the idea of moving between different cities?
Tony: It's the first year we've ever done anything in Tampa. We've always kind of indirectly done a pre-FEST in Gainesville. FEST usually runs Friday-Saturday-Sunday. We saw more and more people coming in on Wednesday and Thursday, especially people from overseas. And so bands were looking for other shows in Florida, and it's kind of hard because of everyone coming down to FEST, there's like a small pipeline and everybody is cramming through it. So it's really hard for bands to find shows, so we were trying to hook up, you know, "hey, you're playing FEST, but come down a day early on Thursday, and we'll set you up with a pre-FEST show". So we were kind of stacking these bills. My friend Matt in Plain Young Livers would always try to put on a show at 1982, which is a really small, 150 to 200 capacity all ages venue. And it was always like Bridge And Tunnel, and Bomb The Music Industry, it was that whole crew, which I was always like "yes, please help them". The Measure would play, let them play another show, I'll totally agree with that. And then I started doing pre-fest shows, like two years ago, trying to help out Dear Landlord, Off With Their Heads, The Dopamines, Dead To Me, and a bunch of other friends that Matt didn't want to mess with or didn't know as much. And so I was like, okay we'll let's do a pre-FEST for these people, because obviously the one you're putting on sells out really fast every year, it's too packed, we have enough people coming in to do two shows.

And then this year with FEST falling on Halloween, it kind of ate up the Gainesville pre-FEST, so I just expanded to four days. But my PBR reps, Pabst Blue Ribbon reps, live in Tampa, which is two hours south of here. And I would always go down there to visit them, and there's a little section of Tampa that's called Ybor, which is an old Cuban historic district. It's beautiful, packed with venues, packed with eateries, packed with...I think that place has per capita more tattoo parlours than any other city in the world. But it's just a cool vibe down there. And they were like, "hey, you know, we really think you should do something like FEST down here." And I'm like, I don't know if I have time for that, blah blah bah. And then they kind of tricked me one time, when I went down, and said we were going to a meeting, and at the meeting were all the venue owners for all the venues in Ybor. And they're all like: we want you to do something down here. We like what you're doing, please do something.

And I had been having a lot of problems last year. Last year I kind of got fed up with the way a lot of the venues have been treating us at FEST. All the venues at FEST keep 100% of the bar sales, which is fine with me, that's kind of the deal I want with them. We do FEST, we paid for the bands, you let us have the room, use your sound equipment if you have it, if not, we'll rent it. If you don't have a sound guy, we can pay, we will find one and fly them in to do it. All I ask is that you run your shit - the bar - and we run our shit - the show - that's it. But they always ask me to pay their entire staff hourly. So basically, most of the venues in Gainesville were just basically walking in, opening their doors, and making a ton of money at zero real expense, besides for their electric bill and their insurance and stuff, which they would have to pay if they had nobody in their place. They're not gonna turn the AC off. So I kind of just got fed up with years of it.

There was a point where I was thinking about moving FEST to Ybor, but I didn't wanna do it. Because all those venues down there were really cool, and they were like, "we like the agreement you are giving us, we want you to come", and here I come back to Gainesville, and lot of these venues I was even friends with, which is even the hardest thing, and they were basically just being crybabies about it, it seemed. Just saying like "oh you know, we really don't make that much money during FEST". Bullshit, I see the sales. I know how many PBR's you sell. I know, I'm not blind. You're just straight up lying! And so this year I went to all the venues, and said look you know, I'm gonna do this thing pre-FEST down in Ybor, because bands need, instead of them all fighting for different shows and going through all of these different promoters and trying to do these things in Florida. We'll do the extra work and we'll put on another FEST, similar format, similar scheduling, similar way we run everything. And we'll hook all these bands up with another show, we're gonna do it in Ybor, we're gonna let fans know that hey we got a hotel, we're gonna do two days here, you can come early, enjoy these shows, the bands say they're gonna do special sets - I still haven't gotten the bands to tell me what their fucking special sets are - and we're gonna provide a shuttle service for them to get a charter bus that seats like 55 people to get them from Tampa to Gainesville, and they can rage in Gainesville for four days, and go back.

So I said to Gainesville venues, "look, this is the deal. Tampa is being cool. You need to be cool". And they all agreed except for one venue. And that one venue we're not using this year. And that's fine, because I don't get along with their new owner very well, and it just makes my life way simpler.

So that's kind of how the pre-FEST thing went. It just made sense if we're gonna try something in Ybor, and they really want us there. It's interesting to see how it would work in a different city. I don't think I'll ever move FEST to Ybor permanently, but it's easier for us to kind of piggy-back, instead of doing it on a different date. It's like, well, we're already doing it, why don't we do two cities instead of one at the same time. But also hopefully in the future it'll give us a better idea on how to do something on a larger scale in Ybor, and maybe be able to put on something in the spring in Ybor, that's a little bit more diversified, and be able to do the same format, use a bunch of music venues you as an attendee get to walk and choose, but be able to branch out and maybe have a little bit more diversity in our lineup. So we could have some really good indie hip hop, we could have some more indie bands. We could get into different stuff that I personally like, and I know other people do as well, but just if we threw those couple of people into FEST, it just wouldn't work as well. So hopefully Ybor will be a spring-board into something else, you know?

RF.net: Sounds exciting. It has almost been an hour, so I have one more question before I let you go. If you could recommend one band to see, or one band not to miss on each day of the FEST. So that would be four?
Tony: Four? Well, let me look at the schedule. At 400 bands, I think I can of remember it, a little bit, but I don't want to screw it up, so let me look here. I don't know if I can do one, so I might blurb really quickly about each day. Because if I do one, then somebody will be like "hey man, I thought we were buds". Let me preface all of this by saying that it's hard for me because I really don't get to see any of these bands. I'd say 99% of these bands are all bands that I'm super excited and would love to see play. That's another reason why pre-FEST is going to be awesome for me, because it gives me a second chance to hopefully catch some of my friends play in bands I love.

Friday (Ed note: he meant Thursday): that Florida Theater schedule is stacked. I mean you got Bouncing Souls, The Draft, Samiam, The Menzingers, Lemuria, Tim Barry, Ann Beretta reunion. The Draft reunion would be for me personally, I can't miss. But Bouncing Souls are always gonna do something special when they come. And as I'm looking through the rest for what's my not to miss for Thursday here. Usually I don't get to see anything on Thursday. It's too packed. There's a band playing at Loosey's called Goddamnit, I highly suggest that. New Leagues Apart is really really good, too, so I'm really curious to see them, and that band Lee Corey Oswald is playing on Thursday. There's another band called Chumped. If you like pop punk, this is the new pop punk shit, it's really good. And then on Thursday I have Obits. It's been a long time coming of us trying to get Obits to come play. I grew up on Drive LIke Jehu, so this is gonna be amazing. I love going to see Obits, I only got to see them one time, and it definitely puts a bogey in my ass and in my feet, so I suggest them.

On Friday, if you're into Americana music at all, like singer-songwriter, see Possessed By Paul James. It'll change your life. The man is a beast as far as a musician goes. I'm really curious to check out Diarrhea Planet. I like Mean Jeans, I like fuzzed out garage rocked, this is their first time coming to FEST, so I'm curious to see that. Sleepytime Trio reunion, I mean I grew up with Sleepytime Trio, we all lived in the same house. That's gotta be the biggest must see for me on Friday, for sure. But also, I really like Code Orange Kids live. They're really good live. But also this band Greys, who are playing the same showcase. I'm curious to see them, and I hope I get to see them play. Let's see if there's anybody else that jumps out extensively to me. There's a lot of good acoustic stuff that should be seen that day, too. This band Placeholder. Their new stuff is really good. They're definitely on my radar. And Teenagers from Orlando. If you're out-of-town, this band will probably never ever come over to the UK, they're from Orlando, it's really really good. Gosh, there's a lot of bands playing [laughs]

RF.net: I know exactly the problem!

Tony: I know, jeez, what did I do? Audacity, I really want to see Audacity. They're playing at Boca Fiesta. And earlier that day, this band Hollywood is really really good. They toured with Mean Jeans, I got to see them.

Moving to Saturday, The Night Marchers. Dillinger Four is always a not miss because they don't play very often. I really wanna see J. Robbins play the best-of, it's closest to getting to Jawbox we're ever gonna get, and I got to see Jawbox a LOT growing up in Virginia. But seeing J. Robbins playing stripped down versions of songs, they're really gonna be amazing. I'm curious about this band Modern Baseball, I really like the songs I've heard. Let's see if the proof is in the pudding live. If you're from overseas and you like The Get Up Kids, Braid, and all that stuff that's coming out from that era now, a local band from Gainesville called Dikembe has really shined over the last couple of years. I would check that out if I was you, because I don't know if they will make it to Europe due to them having real lives. Curious for United Nations. I'm buds with some people in that band, I'm really curious how their live set is. It's a little all-star band. It'll be fun to see Wank For Peace again. They are from France, and they did a lot of shows for us, or helped us out a lot when I was over there with No Friends, and it's been a long time coming for them to try to come over to the States. This is their first time coming to FEST. I'm kind of excited for those guys. They put on some of the best DIY shows I've seen, and they're so accommodating. Nothing like waking up in a farmhouse in the middle of France, with wine and fresh coffee and bread and cheeses, and a couple of really nicely rolled joints in the morning. Those guys know how to treat a band. There's this band called Wolf-Face that's playing, and they all dress up like Michael J. Fox from Teen Wolf when he's playing basketball, so that's kind of entertaining. Wringer is playing that same show at Durty Nelly's. Check that record out if you haven't yet, it's really really good. And then Loosey's has like Late Bloomer, Old Flings, The Young Leaves, Crimes, No Weather Talks. Grievers, which is kind of like a Gainesville all-star band that hasn't really ever played out ever, but it's like George from Hot Water Music, Sergie from Samiam, our friend Mike who lives here. I can't remember who's playing bass for that band, but that's pretty good. And I really like Tiny Empires. It's kind of like the fusion band of Oh Pioneers and New Bruises. They played last year, and I got to see two songs, and since then, I've gotten to listen to their new album or EP or whatever it is, and it's phenomenal. I don't even know if it's out yet, but it's really really good. I like the new Ma Jolie stuff, I like the new Signals Midwest. I like the new Banquets, I got to hear that the other day. And then for my ultimate for Saturday or Sunday either, I have to go see Kyle Kinane. He is a phenomenal comic, who really started us being able to do comedy at FEST. If I had the time, I'd sit and watch all the comedians because there's a lot of new, underground comedians coming in. This is the biggest comedy show we've done, and all the comedians are going to do it on Saturday and Sunday. So that's amazing. Also by the time you air this, we'll be showing Filmage, which is the story of All and Descendents. So if you're from Europe, this might not ever come over there and be able to be seen on a big screen, so we're gonna be showing that at the Wooly each morning. I've seen the movie, it just wraps up everything that you need to know about both those bands, and makes you really appreciate about the bands and everyone involved way more than you did just from listening to the records over the years.

Moving to Sunday, All. That's the big thing. We got All to play. It's going to be amazing. It'll be the first time I get to see All play in front of a lot of people, and I'm really excited about. I didn't get to see Smith Street Band last year, and I really really like them. I've never seen White Wives, this is their first year coming. The Knapsack reunion, that was one of the things I couldn't believe we pulled off, it was one of those it never hurts to ask kind of thing. I grew up listening to Knapsack, I love Knapsack, I never got to see them play live, so this will be a definite "I will be there" unless I'm in the hospital. If you're not familiar with Cross My Heart, they were a big band on Deep Elm. Good friends from Baltimore, we all grew up together and stuff. I'm excited, they're reuniting and playing that show as well. I like this band Courtesy Drop, they're playing Mars. They're one that I don't think many people would know about. On The Atlantic out of those, I really like Drug Church, and I really like Big Dick. They should just form one band together and make it the Big Dick Drug Church, and it'd be awesome. Interesting local band playing at 1982 called Young Hookers, I don't know if they'll even ever make it out of Gainesville. But it's awesome - if you took some of the guitar playing from Rage Against The Machine in the good way, and then mixed it with MC5, but had HR sing, but he's not crazy as shit rap dreadlocks wearing a bulletproof vest. I don't know if that makes any sense, but you could check them out. His voice sounds like HR, early Bad Brains stuff, but he's not crazy. I helped do a show for Bad Brains one time. Jesus Christ, you're talking about having to do some work for people's needs, I mean, Jesus, horrible, horrible. I love Loosey's Sunday show we started last year. We call it the foreign bodies showcase. It's where all the bands from overseas play. All the bands that played last year were nervous going into it, but in the end they realized like "this is awesome". So I highly suggest, you know, if you're from overseas and you wanna show some love, support, go see your buds, or check out a band that hasn't played your area yet. But my idea was that show would be just a bunch of people from overseas on stage, and then everybody from inside was from America, so the lazy dumb Americans can get exposed to some good music that's not in their backyard. I'm really excited to see The Last, too. That goes down to being the oldest band to play the FEST. And if you're not familiar, they're the band from Southern California who influenced the Descendents, and BIll Stevenson and Carl Alvarez got the band back together, joined the band, and recorded a new album with these guys. So for them to pull that off is phenomenal. It's also a good way that you can see where Carl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson are playing tribute to people who influence them, and made them the people they are in that scene, so we're really honored to have them come play FEST. And the fact that we have them in a really small intimate venue is gonna be kind of out-of-control and wild, I hope. And Jamie from The Arteries' band is called Pale Angels, I couldn't remember their name earlier, but I'm excited about that too.

Damn, it keeps going, Monikers and North Lincoln reunion back-to-back. I don't know how I'm gonna be able to see this, and Knapsack, and All, so somebody's gonna have to please get out your phones and put it out on YouTube for me.

And then we have a whole big country/Americana showcase. A lot of people are excited about that especially here in Gainesville. Lucero hasn't played since FEST 3. I've also never seen Lucero with their big horn section either so I'm kind of curious about that. But out of that whole thing, I'm gonna try to really run over and see Drag The River, because I love listening to Chad and John play songs, it's always a pleasure.

So I think that's my FEST pick wrapup.

RF.net: That was a little more than four bands, but I'll take it!

Tony: Yeah, but I mean it's a pretty quick overview, and it's mainly like a nibble of what really I could go on about. I could down the list and tell you each band why they're playing and why you should go see them. And that's the thing: I can't go to a band and be like "oh yeah they're playing because....ehh...I owe this guy a favor". Or they're playing because I think they're gonna draw this many people. It's not about that. I don't do shows for these bands year round, so I don't even know how many people go see the bands play.

RF.net: Alright, that's my last question. Thanks a ton for your time. Do you have anything to add?
Tony: Nah, I think you covered everything very well, thank you very much.

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