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The Fest 14 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

At this Gainesville institution, everyone is your friend and everything is charming

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Photography by Carlo Cavaluzzi

Every Halloween weekend, music fiends from around the world make their pilgrimage toward Gainesville, Florida to attend the ultimate punk rock sanctuary, The Fest. In 2014, over 370 bands played across 20 different venues, and this year saw a gradual increase with over 400 bands from all walks of life spanning between the genres of metal, punk, alt-country, folk, emo, and indie. For being a music festival in such a small college town, The Fest is a legend that focuses on the niche world of enthusiastic folks who consider crowd surfing to be the peak of holy rituals.

The Fest wasn’t always a conglomerate; in 2002, the event was billed as a two-day celebration across five venues and, maybe, 500 people attended. Each year since, however, the Fest has slowly snowballed into a bigger and better festival, with record labels and local Gainesville venues sponsoring the event for expansion. This year marks Fest 14, which features a dramatic increase of bands and attendees from previous festival entries, as well as a nifty lineup of international talent like Woahnows who hail from Plymouth, United Kingdom and Swain from Berlin, Germany.

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Admittedly, there’s far too many bands to catch. Four hundred acts in only three days? It’s a daunting task, to say the least. And yet, there’s still a huge chance of scheduling conflicts! (Though, Ybor’s PreFest is a solid solution to Floridians afraid of missing out on some fun.) Nevertheless, these omissions or missed opportunities rarely feel like such a terrible thing at The Fest — they’re bound to happen. As You’ll Live’s Nick Inman told us: “Fest provides a great opportunity for smaller/local bands. People typically come out from all over and use their downtime as an opportunity to check out new bands they might have only heard about.” So, yeah, it’s not the end of the world.

Saying Fest is exclusive toward a specific culture would be an understatement. While the festival’s headliners often have a huge pull, there isn’t any room for the trendiness of bands who barely scrape the genre of punk music. This is the essential festival for punks who lust for friends sharing a collective consciousness of emotion, featuring charming hometown heroes such as Henrietta, Blis., Math the Band the Band, Teen Death, and Pope. The smaller acts might not mean anything to hip music blogs or big-time publications, but they’re living in a world where if a couple of kids can just connect with one lyric or melody, then everything is absolutely okay.

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And that’s kind of the beauty of it all. Not to be a pessimist, but there probably won’t ever be another music festival that can unify a culture of sound quite like Fest. Sure, headliners like Andrew W.K. and The Menzingers might be considered novelty acts by a few critics, but the experience of Fest isn’t about cramming a huge number of headlining bands into your schedule to brag about later. It’s the journey of stumbling from venue to venue, holding a can of PBR in a cool beer coozy alongside your friends, eating cheap pizza, drying off your t-shirt from a strange combination of sweat, blood, and beer, discovering new bands on an irregular schedule, and creating some form of drunken coalition for it all.

At Fest, everyone is your friend and everything is charming – even the bands you don’t know. There’s no way in Hell to catch everyone you’d like to watch perform live during these three days, and at the end of the day, that’s absolutely alright. With that being said, here are the 20 most noteworthy acts we were able to catch over the weekend.

–Kevin Cortez
Contributing Writer

Pianos Become the Teeth

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Some things don’t belong outside while other things don’t belong on the main stage, and Pianos Become the Teeth are both of these things. Sonically, the Baltimore rockers were flatter than Florida itself. The sound guy wasn’t getting paid enough to make the band sound clear, leaving vocals scarily clear while all instruments turned into one gigantic mush of noise, and not the good kind. Usually the crowd gives 100 percent during songs about heartbreak, familial losses, and addiction but being exposed to the daunting Florida sun isn’t the situation that fans want to be in while pouring their hearts out in public. Nobody wants to rock out and scream when it’s 90 degrees outside. Nobody. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Lagwagon

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Lagwagon closed out Halloween night of Fest out sporting a combination of KISS and black metal corpsepaint, and the early 90s Cali punk band gathered a small, but passionate crowd as the co-headliner of the festival. There’s a stigma with old punk bands that most of them ran out of steam over the years, but Lagwagon delivered plenty of posi jumps and spins without complaining about aching joints and hips. Maybe I’m just too young and missed the Lagwagon boat (Lagwagon wagon?) but it did nothing for me musically. I can at least appreciate the fact that they’re still doing their thing and that enough people made it out to their set. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Loma Prieta

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When you’re seeing a hardcore, powerviolence, or punk band, at some point there’s bound to be some kind of mosh/slam/pit segment but during Loma Prieta, it was more of a competition to see who could stand still the hardest. A Tuesday morning rerun of Jeopardy! has more action than the Loma Prieta crowd and it was disheartening to see them juxtaposed against the band, which absolutely shredded their fingers off for the entire half hour. Maybe it was the slippery floor, maybe it was the sickness going around Fest, but the show would’ve been easier to appreciate if the crowd gave slightly more of a shit. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Modern Baseball

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Philly’s Modern Baseball is pretty much the fun dip of pop punk. They’re sugary and could be good in the right context, and the context happened to be right. To judge a show off personal preference is unfair but for what it was, Modern Baseball seemed to be a crowd pleaser. It’s just so hard to hate on a band when every single person around you is so ridiculously happy to simply be at the show, from the band, to the crowd, to the security guards. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Modern Baseball (The Killers)

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A huge part of Fest is the opportunity to watch bands cover other bands all weekend, which was the entire basis of the festival’s Holiday Inn Pool Party on Friday afternoon. Over the past three days, Fest attendees were invited to watch Ex-Breathers cover Fugazi, The Foxery try out some Cursive songs, The Pauses taking on The Breeders, and — perhaps the most interesting set of all — Philly emo outfit Modern Baseball cover songs by The Killers.

On paper, Modern Baseball covering The Killers seems an odd combination. Modern Baseball is a band full of deep album cuts and lyrics of misadventure, while The Killers barely have any substance to their music aside for a handful of top tier pop singles. Which is actually kind of why this cover set worked so well — because really, who doesn’t know a song by The Killers?

On Saturday afternoon at High Dive, Modern Baseball performed single after single of the Las Vegas pop rockers’ biggest hits. The venue went insane for vocalist Brendan Lukens’ rendition of “Mr. Brightside”, and Modern Baseball even brought out Greg Barnett and Tom May of that super fun pop punk group The Menzingers to help out with a few hits. The set seemed a bit short, but there isn’t much material to pull from. Still, this set was one of the memorable experiences at Fest. –Kevin Cortez

Defiance, Ohio

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Until Fest 14, it had been five years since Defiance, Ohio played a show in Florida. The Columbus, Ohio rockers went on their first tour in two years, so there was a little bit of rust that wasn’t completely buffed out. The band reset songs multiple times and even began playing the wrong song at some point, but they joked about it and did a good job of interacting with the crowd. Since they were the first to play the main stage, the sun was alive and well and nobody was too happy about it. “Who got a full night’s rest last night?” shouted guitarist Geoff Hing at the beginning of their set. The crowd erupted … in silence, which quickly lead to giggles. Although terrible weather has the ability to immediately drain an audience member of energy within seconds of moshing, nobody seemed to care when Defiance began playing “Oh, Susquehanna” and “Calling Old Friends” off 2006’s The Great Depression–Carlo Cavaluzzi

The Menzingers

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As much as I admittedly don’t listen to The Menzingers, I can’t deny how amazing their stage presence and crowd-appeasing dance moves were. Honestly, the Philadelphia pop punk rockers made for a great contender as being the happiest four men attending Fest on Friday night, effortlessly churning through their biggest songs and keeping interaction with diehard fans their utmost priority. Greg Barnett and Tom May took their turns with delivering spot-on vocals as May did a few guitar spins wearing the biggest grin in the world. Eric Keen and Joe Godino made being in the rhythm section of a band look like the greatest feeling ever, and it’s a damn shame Godino couldn’t jump alongside the crowd while simultaneously drumming. Though it’s hard to believe such depressing lyrics could be shouted through the band’s smiling faces, there’s no mistake The Menzingers wanted nothing more than to put on a solid show for their strong fan base, and wasted absolutely no time doing so. –Kevin Cortez

Chris Gethard

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“And then we all grew up,” stated Chris Gethard as he ended his set at Rocky’s Piano Bar. The New Jersey cult hero comic touched on personal subjects such as mental health, childhood memories, and even apocalyptic strategy plans. Sadly, there wasn’t a whole lot of deviation from his set from the previous year of Fest. At one point, Gethard was tempted by a stationary drum kit to play it, but valiantly as he fought, he eventually gave up and played a single tom drum. Routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing as nobody complains about bands performing the same songs on a tour, but the jokes were still hilarious and had the whole room cracking up. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

MewithoutYou

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Fest is a place for punk werewolves who let their ferocity out as soon as the heat dissipates, and MewithoutYou beginning their set at as the sun began to go down set the stage for an energetic performance. Vocalist Aaron Weiss shuffled between microphones and picked up varying instruments throughout the set and proved to be more than just a frontman of a band. This was the beginning of main stage attendees’ enigmatic presence and everything was going according to plan. There’s a sense of self-consciousness when you see a band for the first time and everybody is screaming their hearts out. You feel like you’re missing out, especially when you’ve never listened to them before and the music is great, and now I feel incredibly guilty for not getting into the band years ago. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Andrew WK

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The closing act on the last night of a festival is usually something that’s supposed to be quintessential as its slot holds the most weight, especially when it’s the headliner of the festival. Rage Against the Machine at Coachella 2007, Elton John at Bonnaroo 2014, you get the picture. It’s when everybody comes together from their busy lineup schedules to the one act accessible to all. Andrew WK’s crowd appeared to be thin and spread out, which was giving me a mild anxiety because I would hate to watch the biggest act get a lack of attention, but as soon as the “PARTY! PARTY! PARTY!” chant began, the crowd pulled forward and all hope was restored.

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Andrew WK’s set can be painfully routine-based at times, holding identical stage queues throughout entire tours. The I Love [insert city name] slot is usually a great example of this, but with Andrew and his band actually being Florida based, it actually kind of made sense and the crowd was in good spirits. “We’re gonna do a song about partying,” he jokingly said as he performed four songs containing the word party in the title. “Party ‘til You Puke” later came on and, yes, at least one person vomited in the pit. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Tiny Moving Parts

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Tiny Moving Parts remains one of the more underrated acts in emo music, but their fans surely won’t let you believe it. The band tore down The Wooly to a hefty mob of people with math-rock guitar twinkles on their minds. The amount of energy Tiny Moving Parts fed to their audience via shredding guitars was nothing short of intense, as the band translated album cuts into engaging feats of guitar tapping and vicious chants about ex-girlfriends. Unfortunately, the low position of the stage made it difficult for the majority of onlookers to view, and even though the Wooly did offer a courteous projection of the show on a back wall for those too short to see anything, or for those simply avoiding a boot to the face from the mosh pit, a projection of a live performance you’re currently experiencing isn’t exactly ideal for such an intimate band. –Kevin Cortez

Rozwell Kid

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For most around my age, we missed the threshold of actively listening to music and going to shows while Weezer were in their prime. Thankfully, instead of building a time machine or praying that Rivers Cuomo goes back to college, we can settle for getting soaked in beer while diving off the stage in the back of the Boca Fiesta restaurant during Rozwell Kid’s set. The key difference between RK’s Too Shabby and Weezer’s Pinkerton is that there’s 900 more guitar solos and opportunities to feel like you just conquered the world without any of the colonialism or sense of fear that you could get overthrown. Instead, you may be afraid that you dislocated your arm from playing air guitar too hard. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

TWIABP

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Last year’s The World Is… show is regarded as one of the most historic moments in Fest history and has been talked about ever since. Approximately 900 people managed to get up on the stage, allowing former guitarist Greg Horbal to crowdsurf … on stage. This canonized moment lead to higher expectations for TWIABP’s set and had people wondering if it was going to happen again. Sadly, Cowboys (formerly 8 Seconds) decided to put up a barrier for the show, making it nearly impossible to repeat history.

Besides that, though, the set was everything that everybody wanted it to be. Dressed for Halloween as The Addams Family, they began their set with a loop of the show’s iconic theme song. The band went through their whole discography, not forgetting live favorites “Heartbeat in the Brain” and “Getting Sodas”, newer releases such as “January 10th, 2014” and “Rage Against the Dying of the Light”, and even older hits such as “Victim Kin Seek Suit” and “Gordon Paul”. They know how to put on a show and have developed a formula for their songs to work so well in a live setting. A record of good songs is one thing, but to translate them so well live in concert to leave the crowd speechless speaks to the talent of The World Is…. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Title Fight

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Title Fight dropped a surprisingly delightful and ambitious record earlier this year titled, Hyperview. Though it somewhat strayed from the group’s previous endeavors sonically, it seemed as if though all Fest attendees had religiously studied the record. Fans definitely proved their love for the hardcore quartet as vocalist/guitarist Jamie Rhoden shouted lyrics from “Chlorine” and performed in front of a rowdy crowd who were practically competing against a metal barricade. As the group got into deeper cuts throughout the evening, such as fan favorite “Secret Society” off Floral Green, concertgoers continued to shove each other and belt along to the band’s greatest anthems. Title Fight unquestionably performed the loudest and tightest set of Fest’s main stage at Lot 10. –Kevin Cortez

Modern Life is War

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A quick refresher: Marshalltown, IA’s own Modern Life is War released their album Witness a decade ago, broke up seven years ago, and reunited three years ago. Known for their heavy influence on story-based and emotional hardcore, the band knew what kind of crowd they were dealing with while the crowd knew exactly what kind of band they were seeing. Diving off of a stage became a routine for the audience as the same members gradually lost their voices as the set went on. “This isn’t about the future, this isn’t about the past, this is about right where you’re standing right now — nothing else matters,” vocalist Jeff Eaton screamed as he paced around The Wooly Banquet Hall at 1 a.m. When their punk equivalent of a radio single “D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” began to close the set, the most peaceful rendition of a war scene broke out as dozens of people began to jump off the stage simultaneously. It’s definitely too hard to claim a band as “the best hardcore band of all time” but the decision is unanimous when it comes to Modern Life is War’s live presence. –Carlo Cavaluzzi

Foxing

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At the time of its release, Foxing’s 2014 album, The Albatross, was the pinnacle of music for many who sought emotionally charged ballads of love and strong melodic chamber rock. Their performance at Fest 13 remains one of the most talked-about of the festival’s history, but this year the band just couldn’t outdo themselves and it’s totally not their fault. The group released their latest album, Dealer, on the same Friday that Fest started on, giving fans no time to feverishly study the album in time for their performance. It’s not that fans didn’t welcome the new songs being performed on stage — they just didn’t know them. As such, Foxing performed songs like “Rory” and “Inuit” to much mayhem, shouting and maybe even tears, but the crowd remained relatively quiet during the crew’s newer tracks. Still, the set remained an intimate night for everyone, as many fans threw back lyrics at lead singer Conor Murphy through pointed fingers and faces of angst. –Kevin Cortez

Pup

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Canadian punk band Pup had one of the most engaging sets in all of Fest, ripping through the majority of singles from their self-titled album and even premiering a few new songs for a massive, fiery crowd of punks. The sound was perfect throughout Pup’s performance, as the vocal delivery from every member of the band sounded almost studio-like. Obviously, there’s a huge positive for having backing vocals from every member of the band, as it practically encourages people to shout along to songs like “Lionheart” and “Dark Days”, to which, of course, they did. Pup surprised the audience by inviting Jeff Rosenstock on stage for a super noisy cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, to which fans lost their minds, myself included. Pup was definitely one of the best parts of Fest 14, truly setting the bar for unruly crowds and chaotic mosh pits. –Kevin Cortez

The Hotelier

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The intelligent and incredibly sad content on The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace Is There is comparable to very few records. The subject matter on the brilliant album is brooding and depressing, but in the setting of Fest, the amount of energy put forth into the group’s music was unparalleled and actually quite joyful. Song after song, The Hotelier hit the crowd with everything they had and not once did their audience give a foul response. Performances of “In Framing” and “The Scope of All of This Rebuilding” roared through the night, as there wasn’t a single mouth in the entire venue that didn’t chant along. –Kevin Cortez

Jeff Rosenstock

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As the mastermind behind Bomb the Music Industry! focuses on his solo career, he just can’t seem to shake rowdy kids who acts as if his old band will reunite any second while on stage. There are always a handful of people who spend nearly all set waiting for one BTMI! song, rowdily throwing people overhead of other unassuming onlookers for their moment to shine in a mosh pit and be there the day a reunion happens. But it won’t happen (at least not now), and that’s pretty okay when you’re appreciating the true sense of reality Jeff Rosenstock paints of his sometimes mundane, yet still kind of exciting life.

Rosenstock spent 50 minutes playing through most of his two solo albums, as well as a sloppy-yet-hectic cover of System of a Down’s “B.Y.O.B.”, to a crowd of (mostly) friendly punks who just wanted to bob along to Rockenstock’s alt-country groove and yell lyrics at the singer. Gainesville was definitely burning up at late afternoon hour, but that didn’t stop Rosenstock, his band or his fans, from ripping absolutely the set apart in the most positive way ever — arms over shoulders, PBR being sprayed up into the air, and everyone being friends with everyone. –Kevin Cortez

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Photographer: Carlo Cavaluzzi

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