Way before it started, I knew that both Pre-Fest and Fest this year would be different than years prior. Sure there would still be the freezy drink bar (aka Bad Copy Headquarters) in Ybor City and Flaco’s Tacos in Gainesville. But my entire crew who I had been festing with for years wasn’t making it this time around for various reasons. Luckily, I have some amazing friends in Seattle who usurped me into their party package so I didn’t have to fly solo all weekend.
My normal Pre-Fest schedule was to arrive on Wednesday just in time to drop my stuff at the hotel, register, and slam a freezy drink before heading off to see my first band. But since the flight from Seattle to Tampa is such a cross-country haul, the group decided to fly in on Tuesday instead. Therefore… so did I. We rendezvoused at the airport, grabbed our rental, and headed off to the hotel before strolling down the streets of Ybor in search of dinner. We settled on Hamburger Mary’s since they A.) were open B.) had food for omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike and C.) had a deal on martinis.
We watched old white ladies get buck mild during drag queen bingo, attempting to twerk their way around the bar when they won. Dan and Skyler also entertained both our table and the wait staff when they Lady and the Tramped a Mac ‘n’ Cheese ball. Everyone (included our waiter) admitted it was hot. It was then that I started to feel a familiar longing… a longing for sweet, sweet freezy drinks. My friends Lauren and Jake were already posted up at a table at the bar; I could see them as the restaurant was located right next door. Laura texted me that the bartender was talking about closing up for the night unless more people showed up. I rallied the troops (read: whined until we got the bill, paid it, and left) and headed over to my favorite place in all of Florida – Centro Cantina.
Everyone caught up, cheers-ed, laughed, and prepped for the upcoming emotional and physical haul that would accompany the next few days. With a few cocktails and a few more freezy drinks as fuel, our crew headed down to another amazing Ybor landmark, the Boneyard. However, most of the group splintered off and only a few of us closed out the night chugging heavy handed mixed drinks while sitting on the toilet located in the middle of the floor of the bar. Skyler and I ended the night picking up pizza and snacks for our other roommates and dodging a potentially VERY racist joke’s punchline made by a 7/11 employee. Oh Florida, you crazy son of a bitch.
Once our crew was awake, we headed down for some continental (read: free) breakfast before we prepped for the day. We hit up registration where I was united with my Minneapolis rubber duck hunters and then headed over to the freezy drink bar and then Game Time – the home of the magical rubber duck claw machine – before heading to Crowbar to start what was destined to be a very long and band-filled weekend. I wasn’t more than ten steps into the venue when some lady quickly swung around from the bar and ran into me face first. My beloved and trusted Nikon camera tumbled to the ground with a crash. I stood there horrified before saying a little prayer, picking it up, and sprinting outside to assess the damage.
Thankfully, the lens wasn’t shattered, but it was no longer fully functional. It would be usable, but my photos would be iffy at best. Band people… imagine playing a set with two broken strings or only one drumstick. You know you could get through it but, it’s not going to be your best work and you really would love if someone had an extra guitar they would let you use. That’s when I called my lifeline, my mom. Within mere moments, she was headed to my apartment to package up another lens and overnight it to Gainesville where it would be waiting for me when I checked in two days from now. Fuck yeah, Mom! You’re the real MVP of Fest! Now… to drink away some of this upset. I went to the most comforting place I know; you guessed it, the freezy drink bar.
Eventually (after a strawberry pina colada or two), I was able to compose myself, futz with my camera settings, and headed back in to Crowbar to try again. Camera issues or not, I wasn’t about to miss France’s Guerilla Poubelle. I discovered these guys at Fest a few years back and have since made it a point to catch their sets. One of my favorite parts of Fest is that you are introduced to punk bands from all over the globe. That, in itself, is so important to me. However, the reason that I feel that Guerilla Poubelle stands above the rest is not only because their music is amazing, but also because they explain the basis and relateable feelings behind their songs while onstage. It’s so easy for us to get sucked into the belief that we are on an island when it comes to our experiences and thoughts. Sometimes you believe you’re the only one on that island and sometimes it’s populated by the whole U.S. But goddamn, if people my age from France are feeling the same anxieties and social distress that my American friends fell… well, hell, we all have more in common than we’ve been lead to believe. And that’s how we start to heal the divide, honoring our similarities over our differences. Tl;dr – this band fucking rips. Go support them now!
Next up was Dollar Signs. I will never stop talking about how much I love this band and the people in it. They have that very rare certain style of lyrics that, when you really listen to them, makes you realize that you had been thinking the same thing all along. But you’re nowhere near intelligent enough to express them them in such a perfect way, chock full of self-loathing and sarcasm. Top all of that of with fun, upbeat music and you’ve got one of my favorite bands out there today. Their set contained a handful of songs off their new album, entitled This Will Haunt Me, which was released this year on A-F Records. But it just wouldn’t be a Dollar Signs set without the classics such as “I Hope That I Don’t Fuck this Up” and the almighty “Holiday Inn.” I was still in a bit of a mood from the Great Camera Drop of ’18. But I suddenly found Josh Knibb and Tim Andrews in the crowd just in time to shout along to the cathartic words “Everything happens for a reason / Sometimes that reason is: You’re stupid and you make terrible decisions.” And suddenly all was okay with the world again.
After their set, I had some free time. I rounded up literally everyone I saw and headed to the freezy drink bar. By the time we got there, our crew was almost twenty deep. We had the ladies of Bad Cop / Bad Cop, America’s Most Amazing Ska Couple Brent Friedman and Jessica Lamat, a whole handful of Minneapolis people, some of Seattle, and one me. It was one of those astounding moments where I was able to momentarily detach, look around, and truly take in how much music has shaped my thoughts, my day-to-day life, and also my friend group. Sipping on my upteenth pina colada of the day, I was truly grateful.
The rest of the night passed by in a whirlwind. I saw Nightmarathons slay at Crowbar and then scuttled back to ye old freezy drink bar with part of the Seattle Crew. Most of them went off to see Dikembe at Orpheum, but I followed Tahoe Jeff back to Crowbar on his recommendation that I should see Lone Wolf. I will never question Tahoe again. Lone Wolf was one of the best discoveries of Pre-Fest this year. The four piece is based out of the Netherlands and plays punk slathered with garage and indie rock. In fact, they were so good, that I sent out numerous messages to those who I knew were at the other venue and demanded they cut out early and catch this international wonder.
Next up was Seattle’s Dead Bars. They were much more ‘Dream Gig’ and much less of their namesake as the venue filled to capacity and they ripped through their set with cheers and applause filling every semi-quiet moment. Every time I see them, I always flash back to the year that my partner is saltiness and sassiness – Kevin Rettie – and I saw some variant of the band six different times between Pre-Fest, Fest, and the hotel lobby of the Holiday Inn. And there it was – the trigger that I didn’t need this many freezy drinks down. My camera lens was broken. I was sure my photos were turning out shitty. My whole OG fest crew was thousands of miles away and I missed them terribly at that moment, despite being around so many other people I love and care about. But I wanted THEM here with me too. I pouted my way through “Earplug Girl” and was about to spread my sadness all over the next song when a friend came up to me, assessed my mood and said, “Oh no. Not today” before heading to the bar. They returned with a Tito’s and Soda and gave me a huge hug. You can keep your bullshit Chicago Handshake shot and beer combo; a Tito’s and hug is all I ever need. I was back!
I ran over to catch Cursive at Orpheum. I must admit that, despite the fact that we enlisted them to do an Instagram takeover for us the following day, I had not heard much from them since The Ugly Organ in 2003. And let me tell you, those were fifteen years that I wasted, because the band has been just getting better and better since. I’ve since gone back through their catalog and tried to right my wrongdoing. Cursive was actually touring through on a new album entitled Vitriola, which is the first album to again feature a cello since 2003. The Orpheum crowd was massive and unmoving as I pushed my way to the venue’s exit. I rushed back over to Crowbar to catch what was left of World’s Scariest Police Chases. Speaking of Instagram, the guys were neck deep in helping us out with our Day 1 takeover and killing it, just like they did their set.
It was late. I was exhausted. But there was one more band of the night, one of my forever favorites, Bad Cop / Bad Cop. The ladies took the stage at 1AM to a venue which filled even further with each passing song. I was exhausted and fairly drunk but I sang along and danced to every single song. It’s been almost a year and a half since the release of their second LP Warriors and I still firmly believe that it’s one of the most important albums of its genre to date. The beauty of this band is that, while the members never hide what a song is about, the lyrics are so accessible that they can be applied to your own life without ever losing their original weight or importance. Of course, all of this is framed by some of the most guitar shreddingly good, bass riff rich, and monster drumming based music out there today. While I lost my shit to every song they played, it was the song “Wild Me” that blew out my vocal chords for the evening. By the end of their set, I was drenched in sweat and (almost) ready to head back to the hotel. First, Skyler and I had to embark on our nightly food run to the pizza place, then 7/11. I gluttonously tried to squeeze one more freezy drink in but they were closed. Oh well, tomorrow was another day.
Check out the photos from Day 1 of Pre-Fest below: