The Fest, day 3

All day I heard different accounts of the “riot” that happened at the house show the night before. From different accounts I heard that people tried to tip over cars. I heard that some people tried to rough up a cop, that someone got tazed by a cop, that the cops got surrounded only to have the people surrounding the cops surrounded by more cops. “There were like 20 cop cars there,” told one storyteller. I wasn’t there so I don’t really know what happened or who was ultimately responsible for things ending up such a mess. In the end, it sucks that people got arrested, someone got tazered, the cops came away frightened with any stereotypes they had completely confirmed.

I’ve never thought of the police as an institution that helped me or made me feel safe. Assy lectures and power trips when we did get caught skateboarding, or the mixed thrill and anxiety of evasion when we didn’t galvanized this as a teenager. Hearing stories about the Fraternal Order of Police having a legal defense benefit for the Chicago detective who killed two young men while driving intoxicated or seeing the billboard advertising the FOP-sponsored gun show on the way to the Fest don’t help this. Still, I’m convinced that the vague cops vs. punks rhetoric that is so familiar does more to excite us or think of ourselves as in a certain cultural space than it does to change anything about the way police operate or the role they have in our society. Thinking of cops as a homogeneous enemy hinders accountability from both directions. First, it takes away the personal responsibility of a cop for her individual actions. She does what she does because she is a cop, not because she chooses to do something that is hurtful or unjust. Second, it overlooks the larger structural problems about how cops are trained, what motivates or forces someone to enter into a career in law enforcement, the values that our culture ties to positions of power, or the fear and separation that make the police intermediaries for resolving social conflicts.

I did see a few good sets at the Kickstand. Tubers were great. Ever since we played with them last year in Santa Cruz, I’ve really enjoyed how they make heavy, driving yet interesting music. I’m a sucker for parts that kind of drone or groove on and then break into a different part, like your head breaking through the water after you’re floating at the bottom of a pool. Theo and others had mentioned being stoked about P.S. Eliot, so I decided to go to their show. I think I enjoyed it the most of any of the sets I saw all weekend. There was just a sense of everyone in the audience being engaged in what was going on. It felt like a mutually shared experience, which is nice because the Fest always feels so impersonal to me.

While at the Kickstand, I ran into a friend that I met in Brighton when we were on tour in the UK this past spring. I told her that I was going back to school for journalism, and she mentioned that she had taken some journalism classes and was frustrated by the fact that her professors advised her class to write attention grabbing headlines that she felt distorted the story. Coincidentally, Patrick just wrote about something similar on his blog.

Everyone in Defiance, Ohio met up to eat together at Reggae Shack and I ordered the jerk tofu which was one of the spiciest things that I’ve ever eaten. It was so hot that it was this intensely visceral experience. I felt lightheaded and sweaty. It was pretty strange. After dinner, we went back to the Kickstand and tried to navigate around the huge line of people that were queuing up to get into the space. A few bands before us, the people at the gate weren’t letting anybody in and it made me feel stressed out. It was one of those situations where we couldn’t really do anything and it was probably equally frustrating for the people at the door and the people trying to get in. This was the second show we were playing and playing it to make sure we got to play an all-ages show and it was frustrating to think that people might get denied twice: for age and capacity.

When we played it was pretty fun and energetic, despite being really crowded. A bunch of stuff got knocked over, of course, and people were all over each other. I don’t know what can make this exciting in one context and stupid in another. I think the difference is about engagement. Is being at a show about a personal experience or a collective one? Is it about singing along together or being the person who sings the loudest? Is it about talking to the people who end up getting smooshed around them, or about being the person who gets to be at the front. I want to see this change somehow. I ‘m trying to not discount people’s excitement, but I want to feel comfortable myself and feel like everybody involved in a show is going somewhere together.

Oh yeah, I want to give a shout out to folks in Good Luck and Bomb the Music Industry for letting us borrow their stuff.

Photo of Tubers by Nicole Kibert via Flickr.

Fest 8 Day 2: Kickball and Costumes

I started my second day at the fest playing kickball. I know that plenty of people have traumatic experiences with sports from their youth and that, even with punks, its easy for things to turn ugly, but I do love the feeling of big groups of people being involved in something together. As Bepstein was explaining the rules of kickball and basic baseball strategies, I realized that the rules of real sports are every bit as arbitrary as the ones that you make up for games as a kid.

After the game, I checked out a new Gainesville-based music streaming service that seemed to have a nice interface. I was disappointed that it didn’t really seem to offer anything new beyond the traditional promotional model of music. There has got to be a narrative for music that acknowledges that people get excited about it and that there is a need for artists to be supported by their work that doesn’t come off as soulless and cynical as “we offer to bands the ability to place themselves behind similar more established artists … Which means more loyal fans.”

I spent a lot of time eating and wandering around before we made plans to meet up back at the hotel for practice in the early evening. We decided that we would try to do costumes for our show so Bz, Theo, and I set out to find some thrift stores. I think I ended up having more fun checking out parts of Gainesville away from the campus and strip mall fashion stores (Citi Trends was amazing) than I would have rushing between venues or standing in lines. It was slim pickings for costumes for six, and we passed up soccer team for something that ended up being less Halloween costume and more Halloween-inspired frumpy-glam outfits. The core of the costumes were a set of holiday vests that you would remember from a few of your older elementary school teachers. Coupled with short-shorts that were definitely not sexy, I hope the goofiness of the costumes was a sort of antidote to all the skimpy Halloween costumes that have sadly become the standard. We bought purple lipstick that became face makeup at a liquor store, and the cashier there seemed to be enjoying himself at a job that could be really annoying. He even wrote happy Halloween messages on all the brown paper bags for the liquor purchases which was such a fun, sweet thing to do.

I feel like it’s hard to really watch a band when I have to get ready, but Good Luck seemed really energetic and like people were feeling it. Things sounded a little crazy, and the heat and lack of practice made playing a little challenging, but the show went pretty well. I got the sense the that for both us and the crowd, everything was a little muted from the heat of the venue and the long day. I could hear Bz’s violin parts really well which is nice. Rather than feeling vulnerable, play, in costume and makeup always makes me feel more natural so I think it was a good call. Good Luck looked really good in their matching postal worker outfits and I heard that the Max had awesome mad scientist costumes and an atomic bomb pinata. The Vena Cava looked good in costumes that I couldn’t really identify but made me think gang member from the “Beat It” video. In general, it didn’t really feel like Halloween (I really miss the Bloomington cover shows), but I’m glad that some bands made the effort.


I get to the hotel where we’re staying for the fest and start paging through the dense, brightly covered booklet that describes the bands playing and other events over the course of the weekend. Bz tells me, “just read the first sentence of the description,” and I do. It says, “Welcome one and all to the biggest punk rock, shirts off, stale beer smelling, bear hugging, cheap booze swillin’, high five greeting, coosie totin’, family reunion, holiday, circus of fools we lovingly embrace simply called THE FEST.” It’s cheesy and frankly, I have a hard time feeling myself in those words, but I’m here. Amidst the amped up party atmosphere, there are some great people, and their great bands. Playing fewer and fewer shows with Defiance, Ohio has made being together and the shows we do play seem more special, which is kind of exciting. It makes it feel like this year, the show we play will actually be special instead of the anticlimax that comes with it being just another show, albeit a hyped one.

It is really nice to see people. There is a comfort in being reminded of the things that you know deeply about people, but sort of forgot. The hotel room table is covered in stacks of books from various authors and I remember how hyper-literate my band mates are, yet we’re still able to indulge in America’s Next Top Model marathons. There’s the ability to be goofy as we take videos of our own top-model style commercials for the fest. We take turns making sultry eyes at the mobile phone camera and end with our best “I love to fest.” Whether it was the last-minute, homemade togas the last time we played in Bloomington or these videos, the ability to make weird, theatrical things for our own enjoyment has been one of the most pleasurable experiences with my friends over the years.

We heard that the Max Levine Ensemble was playing a house show, so we wandered around Gainesville for a while until we found the house. It’s easy to spend a lot of at the fest wandering around and getting lost, but the walk felt nice and I like not feeling stuck on University Avenue.

After The Max played, we saw the Hot New Mexicans who were really good. I’ve seen them play a lot, but since we haven’t played many shows this year, I feel like my attention span for shows is so much longer. It’s nice because it helps me really enjoy seeing bands, even ones I’ve seen before, and notice new things about their music.

When their set finished, Bz, Sherri, and I went over to see 7 Seconds. The last time I had seen them was at a Warped Tour when I was a teenager. Unlike Bz, they weren’t really a band that I listened to a lot when I got into punk, but the first time I heard them, I realized that they were a huge influence to so many of the local hardcore bands in my home town. As, I get older, I’m inspired by people much older than me continuing to play music. We have a narrative of people touring and playing music until they burn out and self destruct or dropping out into a more conventional life, but there are many people who have decided to have families, or maybe careers who struggle to strike a balance with still being involved in punk music and I think their stories often go unmentioned. Kevin Seconds is an engaging performer, and a good storyteller. After performing for a few decades, its obvious that telling stories or connecting an old song with current events comes more easily, but not without sincerity. It’s so important to me, and one of the things that drew me to punk initially, that the songs come from somewhere, that there is such a direct link from experience or perspective on the world to lyrics and performance. It was interesting to hear the story behind the classic song Walk Together. Apparently, it was written after a show was canceled due to fear of metalhead vs. punk violence. It’s nice that their response was to write a song celebrating unity rather than a call to kick some metal ass.

Punk can be so contradictory, at once macho and positive, crucially critical and irrelevantly divisive. Listening to the radio and reading Billboards, I realized how conservative Florida can be. There was one stretch where there was an anti-choice billboard with a giant fetus every few miles. After seeing the preserved fetuses at the You: The Experience exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the billboard seemed even more manipulative because the fetus next to the text “My heart beats after 18 days didn’t look like the 18-day-old embryo that I saw at the museum. This is besides the point, though. For me, the debate isn’t really about what constitutes “life” at a certain stage of prenatal development, but about a consistent cultural desire to control the bodies and lives of women and a lack of support for health care for women and children as well as support for families that don’t fit the one mom, one dad, 2+ kids model. It’s just scary to think about all the energy and resources that went to put giant embryos beside the highway.

I also saw a billboard advertising the Fraternal Order of Police’s gun show and I just don’t see how encouraging people to buy guns helps ensure safety or order. The kicker was to hear a commercial for a conservative “Black Tie and Blue Jeans” event that said, “Conservatives, come eat MEAT while those liberals are eating their granola and driving their hybrids.” Note to progressive punks, snark and irony won’t change anything. The reality of talk-radio-style conservatism is so ridiculous that it will be more bizarre and gross than any parody. It really feels like there is a culture war, and I don’t want to fight in it. It feels like a test of faith, that there are enough people, coming from all different experiences, who want to be connected and empathetic to other people, who want to really solve problems, who want to base their perspective on things that are external to their experience on a careful, comprehensive discourse. I don’t want to “win” over people or organizations who promote ideas that I think are really harmful. I just want there to be a critical mass that makes them irrelevant.