The days leading up to and including Halloween this year contained more than just a return to the kinds of rubber monster masks we are all used to rather than the cloths ones to which we have become accustomed, but also the return of the beloved Florida punk rock festival, the appropriately named, The Fest.
The punk rock and hardcore festival is in its 19th iteration and is still just as fervent and vital as ever. While local and repeated fest goers commented on this years’ quite reasonable mutedness, and despite last minute drop outs from acts due to health concerns, it was still an unequivocal success, giving both national and international acts a chance at some of their first live shows in 18 months, as well as attendees a much-needed dose of punk.
Here are my favorite sets of the weekend, in ascending order.
This NYC-based heavy-alternative act has released one of my favorite records of the year thus far, playing heavily into the same influences as former acts like Superheaven who in turn borrow heavily themselves from Hum.
Luckily, they do those influences justice both on record and in a live setting with an understated but consistent act that has some awesome hardcore showmanship embellishments.
Another lesser-known act I was super excited to see for their Cursed/Suicide File vibes. Similarly, the band has released an extremely good record this year and my excitement paid off; they delivered one of the most explosive sets of the entire weekend.
Their new record, Privation, is easily one of the best punk/hardcore records of the year and the band delivers every snarling note with the kind of conviction you could barely even dare to hope for. For sure a band to watch.
This band is so incredibly underrated. They have been around for ages turning out some of the best emo-tinged punk on the planet and not getting nearly enough of the attention they well deserve. It was a joy to see a sizeable crowd at one of the smaller stages loving every second of their charismatic live show, delivered with beaming smiles and deep appreciation.
Its always a blast to see a band who seems to really enjoy what they do and can barely contain it on stage.
The Bad Signs
The Bad Signs are a bit of an oddball sound-wise, but that is the absolute highest of praise. Take heavy dollops of surf, punk rock, rockabilly, '60s pop, and even some country and you can vaguely approach the waters they are swimming in.
This is a band I have been following for a while and though I was sad to see they didn’t play much of their older, softer material (“Such a Fucked Up Thing” is a great song that I am not sure why is no longer up on their streaming platforms) in the little time I had available to see them, their more punk-catered work was still an impressive show that leaves one having difficulty scraping up one’s jaw from the floor.
Similar to Signals Midwest, Elway has been around forever churning out incredible albums and splits in the exact Orgcore style that was so popular in Fest circles for a majority of the '00s and '10s. It’s the kind of punk rock music that makes you want to immediately start learning an instrument just to sing Dillinger Four songs with your friends in basement.
Lyrically, however, the band is among some of the best in the genre with much of their stuff being subtly thought provoking while still being either eanthemic or pessimistic. They mentioned the possibility of new music forthcoming and I could not be more excited at that prospect.
Nathan Gray and the Iron Roses
Nathan Gray was the biggest surprise of my entire trip. One of the venues was a basement dedicated to largely acoustic fare. I went in not really expecting much, having not heard of Nathan Gray, but I left a devout fan. Most famously, Gray is the vocalist of BoySetsFire, but he also fronts The Casting Out, a band that easily straddles the lines between punk, emo, and straightforward alt rock with equal expertise. His solo work, while certainly borrowing heavily from those sides of the genre, also sounds a bit like [The Loved Ones vocalist/guitarist] Dave Hause’s very best material.
Gray is a powerhouse of a showman that practically vibrates with enthusiasm and hardcore-frontman style earnestness. Between songs he would pepper his set with personal anecdotes, encouragement, and gratefulness for his audience.
Do yourself a favor and listen to his 2020 album, Working Title.
Murder By Death
A confession, here, Murder By Death is my favorite band of all time. Across numerous website I have written countless words declaring my eternal love for this band. Therefore, one should take my account with a grain of salt, because I truly believe they can do no wrong.
Having said that, MBD had a rushed but welcome set early on Friday (they had to Tennessee by the end of the day to play hundreds of feet below the surface in a cavern), going through some of their easy favorites as well as some deeper cuts from their oeuvre.
Bridge City Sinners
For a good time, look no further than Bridge City Sinners. As a banjo player, any band that features some clawhammer is going to be a priority for me, much less one that manages to combine old time, black metal, and crust punk in such a perfect encapsulation.
Live, this band is every bit what you would hope they would be—a whisky-soaked black-metal hootenany who’s vocalist has some of the most impressive pipes in the game.
The Red Album changed the way I listen to music. That one note vocalist John Dyer Baizley hits in “Isak?” You know the one. That thing gives me shivers every single time I listen to it. While they’ve veered quite a bit from those days, venturing further and further into smoother and poppier sensibilities and away from their sludgier and doomier ones, every single record of theirs is as unique to each other as the band themselves are to any other band around right now.
I have never had the privilege of seeing the band live before and they are an absolute powerhouse. They pulled heavily from Red and Blue albums, as well, from what I could tell in between shooting (including “Isak” as one of the closers of their set), and the crowd was loving every second of it.
These Gainesville locals need to be heard of. In a scant few releases, including a collaborative split with Meatwound, and their debut album Inebreocean, they have solidified themselves as a band to watch out for. Among any band on the impressive lineup (or indeed most bands out there), Thunderclap hew closest to the not-quite-pin-downable sound of Baroness, but pull in harder, darker, and more expansive influences.
Their frontman is also a veritable giant, whos knuckles scraped the ceiling of the venue the band played in on Halloween, crushing through heavy riffing and expansive soundscapes.
Crime in Stereo
The thought that The Troubled Stateside is 15 years old is...bracing. I remember when its follow up, ...Is Dead, came out when I was in highschool and reframed my expectations for pop punk. I never felt like the band got its fair shake, operating under the radar of a lot of the more popular groups of the time but putting out some of the most interesting punk music of the era.
The Troubled Stateside, however, has always been the most well regarded of their output, and goddamn if the crowd didn’t lose its collective mind as Crime in Stereo blasted through these 15-year-old-songs.
Despite claims from the band themselves that they had partied too hard and were struggling, their set seemed effortless. Seeing a band deades into their career be so stoked to play, so grateful to have fans appreciate them, and inspire so many people of different walks of life (they had the most diverse crowd of the entire weekend) left me with the biggest grin, and reminded me just exactly WHY we love this music so damn much.
A Wilhelm Scream
While every other band mentioned on this list put on an absolutely incredible show, no band that weekend inspired the kind of reckless abandon that A Wilhelm Scream did across two sets on consecutive days. The reigning kings of skate punk delivered their typical face-melting solos, sing alongs, and dynamic song writing but to a crowd that was thirsting for punk rock after an 18-month drought.
The kind of phrasing of “the crowd went wild” doesnt do justice to what they inspired, making the pandemic seem like a distant nightmare. I screamed my lungs out behind my mask and left bruised, battered, and thoroughly pleased.
It was everything that I’d been missing for nearly two years, and a welcome return to some degree of show-going.