Another rough night full of weird early AM infomercials. Florida just wouldn’t let me sleep. I got up and ready and found a place to eat a solid breakfast today, so I wouldn’t be reliant on nachos for my only sustenance for the third day in a row. Then I headed over to my secret parking spot. If you know me or have read my other festival reviews, you know that, as a Chicagoan, I ALWAYS find the best secret parking.
I walked into Vecino’s early and there was no one there. Apparently, I showed up to Fest TOO early. I walked around the almost completely desolate downtown for a bit. The only festers that seemed to be up this early (after 12PM) were already in Vivid for round 1 of Fest Wrestling. I headed back to Vecino’s just in time to catch the first few songs of Creedence Bong Water Revival, which is comprised of Jason Thompson (pineapple party guru) singing hits of the 60s and 70s with a backing band of bearded gentlemen. The crowd was sparce, as I said it was early for Fest, but the people there were losing their minds and SCREAMING along.
Second band of the day was another bucket lister, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards. I had heard that their live shows is a sight to see. Too bad that I wasn’t able to see it! The venue was at capacity, and while that doesn’t stop press, I couldn’t make my way through the crowd to the front. It was packed solid with wall to wall people. So I bailed and slowly made my way down to Boca Fiesta for City Mouse.
I’ve seen City Mouse probably 100 times and it never gets old. The lineup changes, sans Miski of course, but the songs always sound great. This most recently lineup features Davey Tiltwheel on guitar and Jen Louie on bass. The band has recorded a new album which will be coming out sometime next year and I cannot WAIT to get my ears all over it. It was nice to start the day off with a band I love so much standing in a crowd of people I love and have missed.
After, I wrangled up my pal Mat Diamant and we headed up to The Bull’s outside tent. I had promised him a place to sit and chat and that’s exactly what we did. We grabbed spots on the same picnic table as yesterday and caught up on life. And once again, the table was like a beacon for friends; people I know kept stopping by to say hi or sit down and hang out for a bit. Next year’s Fest will be held solely at that table and the only walking I will do will be to go to the liquor store for more Yerba Matte energy drinks, which I got and downed before catching a few acoustic songs from Sammy Kay, parting with Mat, and scuttling back down to Boca’s Backyard early.
I had missed Jabber’s cover set yesterday; I wasn’t about to miss their main set today! The once Bay Area-based four piece took the stage and noted that they hadn’t played Fest in six years. Despite that hiatus, they sounded great and still got the tired, haggard, festival day 3 crowd bouncing and singing along. They’re the best and Danny Bailey is a national pop punk treasure. Hell, the whole band is!
Back up to The Bull for a few acoustic songs from You Vandal. And then over to How Bazar for 0 Miles Per Hour. Before Fest, we showcased some of the bands who would be playing the festival for the first time this year and this Orlando-based band was one of them. All weekend long, I tried to check out the freshman Fest bands to give them support. The band’s new single had me hooked and I’ve been listening to them ever since.
Back down to Boca’s Backyard for Braceface. One million years ago (maybe more like 10), I met David De La Rosa at Insub Fest in Maryland. I don’t remember if it was there or soon after where I saw Braceface. But it was my one and only experience. I was so happy to see the pop punk band has grown and changed over the years. Their set was explosive. There were kicks, there were jumps, there were actually lots of jumps. It was so fun! 10/10, would pogo to again!
Back up to The Bull for Sweet Anne Marie. She was one of our First Time Fest artists last year, but I didn’t attend Fest in 2022 so I missed her. Not this year! Her songs are so delicate and sweet yet so powerful. She released a new album earlier this fall. Make sure to check it out!
Down to Civic Media Center to check out Maura Weaver. While Maura is a seasoned pro when it comes to basically all things music, she recently forged into previously uncharted territory when she released a new solo effort entitled, I Was Due For a Heartbreak, in September. I gave it a few spins before Fest and it’s so good. Check it out below!
Over to Boca for Boss’ Daughter. The band seemingly had about 12 less members than I last remembered, but they sounded great all the same. Chris Fox was donning his Halloween costume, an orange wire kitten ear headband, which bounced as he sang through songs both old and new. Boss’ Daugther released a new full-length, Bouts With Bummers, earlier in the year which is filled with earworms that never leave your brain. I actually listened to it on the flight home as a way to try to stave off the post-Fest blues.
Then I caught San Diego’s Se Vende at How Bazar in a room full of friends. I started to see people with costumes on; I had waited all weekend to see if people would wear costumes but I only saw a handful on Saturday. That is, unless we’re talking about the drunken college kids falling over and rolling around on the ground on Saturday night dressed as sexy *insert literally any noun here*. I had a costume, I wanted to wear my costume! With a little encouragement from Mat Diamant, I left the set, changed, and reappeared moments later as… MothMa’am. Anyway, Se Vende killed it as per usual. They recently released Half Way Home Session, earlier in the month.
The next few hours became a blur of aching feet and acoustic guitars. I checked out Timeshares acoustic at The Bull and then started heading down to Heartwood. On my way, I stopped to chat with some of the band members of Blind Adam outside of Civic Media Center and caught Adam singing a few acoustic solo songs. Then down to Heartwood for Screaming Females. They were one of the bands whose whole set I planned to watch, a Fest rarity when you’re working coverage. But I had recently become obsessed with them. Let me explain; I’ve been seeing the band for over a decade and I’ve always loved their live show. But, in preparation for seeing them at Riot Fest back in September, I did a deep dive into their catalog and rekindled my love. No joke, I spent two weeks where I listened to “Black Moon” over and over and over trying to quench an unquenchable thirst. I was only able to watch two songs at Riot Fest, so seeing them live here was a must. I stood front row and had numerous religious experiences as Marissa – the 150th best guitarist of all time so says Rolling Stone – shredded through every song. As I said, I always loved seeing Screaming Females live. But I didn’t really feel like I “got” them until a few years ago. And now I’m so deep into it that I can’t get enough of them. They released a new album, Desire Pathway, earlier this year. Get into it!
On my way back up to the downtown, I stopped into CMC again and caught Endless Mike and the Beagle Club before waltzing into the Palomino to FINALLY see Bad Idols. That’s right, baby! Another bucket list band. The Tennessee trio released Popstar earlier in October via Say-10 Records and Bad Copy was lucky enough to premiere one of the songs. The album is solid af. I’ve been a fan of the band and following them for a few years now and this album (plus their live show) really show how the band has come together, gelled, and is gaining momentum. So good!
I was heading up toward the Wooly when I ran into the Grand Rapids crew, more specifically Bek and the dudes from Bong Mountain. They asked if I wanted to join them for free Skeeball at The Arcade. Now, dear reader, you may not know this about me but, there are very few things in life that I love more than Skeeball. I could play all day and never get tired. Was I on a ‘professional’ Skeeball team that competed every week? Yes. Were we called Matt Skeeball and the Skeecrets? Also yes. So my answer to Bek was a resounding YES! We played Skeeball until I was reminded that we were here to see a band and that band was about to play. *sigh* FINE.
We headed across the street The Wooly and got front row spots for Death Pose. While they are new to playing Fest as Death Pose, the band played last year under another name which we will not get into because… legalities! The four piece plays punk/post-hardcore influenced noise rock and includes some familiar faces – Jason S. Thompson (The Sky We Scrape, Little Teeth, Model Homes) and Alex Palermo (Typesetter). The Chicago-based band just celebrated the release of their album, Midnight Society, on October 20th. They’re playing a run of East Coast and Midwest shows this December. Check them out, you won’t be disappointed and they’re going to blow up by this time next year.
“FIVE MORE BANDS, I FUCKING GOT THIS!” I kept repeating to myself as I walked over to High Dive. I was getting hungry but there was no time for nachos. I filled that void with a delicious granola bar that Bek gave me from her purse and more caffeine. Extremely caffeinated, I exploded into the venue and bounded through the crowd to get to the stage. I ran into Luke and Arion (Dollar Signs) near the front and we all stood in awe with smiles plastered on our faces for the rest of the set.
Devon Kay and the Solutions were doing a cover set. But instead of picking one band and emulating them, DKATS picked cover songs that everyone knows and invited guests onstage to sing them. Kailynn West of Tiny Stills took to the stage to sing along to Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy.” Kali Masi lead singer Sam Porter sang a Green Day song. The crowd was insane; everyone was loving it! Normally I would be kicking myself for missing the whole set, but I was having too much fun to self-deprecate (is DKATS therapy?!?!). I was just taking it all in. JER made an appearance which made the rowdy crowd even rowdier. And the last guest of the night was The Eradicator who sang “Sweet Caroline” in his trademark deep toned shout. I was laughing and smiling so hard I was crying. Devon Kay and the Solutions won my Best Set of Fest 2023 Award, which I just invented at this very moment.
Back to good ol’ Palomino for Heavy Lag. My god do I love this band. What’s that? Another bucket lister crossed off the list? Yep! I remember when Heavy Lag released their demo EP in fall of 2020. It was practically all I listened for the rest of the year. Same with their below album out in 2022 via Bloated Kat. I was so stoked to finally hear these songs live. I also realized that one of the members of the band was sitting right next to me last night as I shoved nachos into my face while I watched The Iron Roses acoustic set!
THREE MORE BANDS, I GOT THIS. Middle-Aged Queers PACKED How Bazar. It was dark. There were bubbles. There were spotlights. And camp t-shirts. After sharing practically every piece of news from the Bay Area band since their formation, I feel like we’re best friends… yet this was my first time seeing them. It was an absolute delight. It was also a giant shit show in the best way. There was a crowd surfing hot dog. There was Crisco which made it onto lead singer Shauner’s face (and when I say ‘made it onto’ I mean he slathered it on his own face). There was a drummer change up mid-set. There was also an Op Ivy cover. It was, for all intents and purposes, the most DIY Punk set of Fest. It all just felt right and I loved every minute of it.
I made a quick pit stop at Loosey’s to catch a bit of Worst Advice. The band is from Nuremburg, Germany and this was their first year playing Fest! The four piece is so great; they play fast and bouncy melodic punk. I has actually completely forgotten than Loosey’s always does a foreign band showcase on Sunday. I really should have spent more time there learning about new international punk bands. Oh well, next year!
This was it, the last band on my schedule for Fest 2023. Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves played the Backyard to what started as a gaggle of drunken fans but ended as a packed venue… of drunken fans. While there were equipment issues that caused guitarist Scotty Sandwich to just hang out on the stage instrument-less and act as the band’s hype man, the set was fucking rad all the same. Strangely enough, I don’t think I had ever seen the band before (or if I did I was SUPER drunk at Fest), but I did PR for their latest album, cursecursecurse, which was released in April. Some… things… changed in July, which affected both the band and myself and lead singer Brian instantly let me know that we would weather the storm together and that I had his support. I wanted to give that back to them tonight. While the set wasn’t going as planned, I stood in the front, snapping photos, singing along, and smiling. They had my support.
There’s a lot of people in this world, in this scene, with a lot of overinflated egos and narcissistic qualities. They use the scene and the people in it as a way to exploit others. Some use it as a way to make money off the talent of others without really giving a shit about the bands they work for or with. It took a pandemic to remove myself from something I was so entrenched in that it became most of my identity. It took me three years to decide that I wanted to keep trying, to find the good people that I assumed still had to be out there. At the Wolves X4 set, I felt all of those feelings over and over again. Supporting those around me though constant coverage – news posts, photos, reviews – takes a lot out of me. But finding people who support me in return has meant so very much. As the crowd threw their arms around each other and shouted along, as Jason S. Thompson hopped on the stage and took over a mic, as Scotty grabbed people from the front row and brought them up to sing along, all I could do was smile. It was the best way to close out this year’s Fest.
I had hit the end of my list. Fest was over and it was time to head back to the car. OR WAS IT? I saw Chris Fox walking my way so we walked together up towards Loosey’s and ended up grabbing a table outside and talking. That’s right, one more “catching up with a friend” before the end of the night and the end of Fest! There we were, just two people hanging out, one with orange kitten ears and the other with moth wings, talking about life and the pandemic and music. When I finally pulled myself away and gave him the biggest hug, I trudged over to the car, practically dragging my feet under me.
Of course, I had to stop at my new favorite gas station to grab ALL the snacks and one million waters. The cashier recognized me by now, even in my moth costume. I was too tired to even shower tonight. I changed and scarfed my snack dinner while the TV ran through another Forensic Files marathon. I wasn’t paying attention; I was still thinking about this year. I had succeeded in my first sober Fest; I just substituted caffeine and water for cider and tropical drinks. I had seen 59 bands this year. I think other years were averaging about 35. I did my job; I took photos. But I also caught up with so many friends. And I was so happy to find out that many of us felt the same feelings over the last few years – thoughts about giving up on this, giving up on music, feeling overwhelmed like things will never and can never change. But we’re all still here, and that means that we’re willing to try. And I will continue to try my hardest every day to find the best ways to support my friends, to support good bands, to uplift marginalized voices in the community, and to call out harm when I see it. While I was worried what Fest 21 would hold for me, it actually was a perfect reminder that I believe in this community and love the people in it. Until next year, Gainesville.