Fest XI gives downtown an unusual flavor


Fest 11 fans wait in line for their wristbands at the Holiday Inn near the University of Florida campus on Friday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 10:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 10:16 p.m.

The 11th edition of The Fest, a Gainesville Halloween tradition and one of the biggest music festivals devoted to punk rock in the country, is under way.

Denim-vested and abstractly coiffed revelers have arrived for a weekend of music and community at the 13 official venues hosting the festival's concerts around downtown Gainesville.

The Holiday Inn University Center, the Fest's headquarters and lodging for many in attendance, was a bustle of activity Friday, with music fans and bands from throughout Florida, across the country, and from as far away as Europe and Japan lined up to pick up wristbands, gawk at vendor stalls and take in the party and concert on the rooftop pool.

By Friday night, almost all of the festival's 4,000 passes had been sold.

“We've sold over 3,900 passes, but we think people just think we're sold out,” Fest organizer Tony Weinbender said, compared to last year's turnout of 6,000.

Weinbender described a positive atmosphere surrounding this year's festival. “Everyone is happy and having a good time. We haven't been able to get out yet because of registration, but we're looking forward to seeing some shows.”

Fest vet Robert Vissichelli came back for the music and the sense of camaraderie. “I bought tickets before the lineup was announced. I'm probably most excited about seeing Gaslight Anthem. I haven't really listened to them in 6 years,” said Vissichelli, who drove with Lina Jones seven hours from their hometown of Fayetteville, N.C., for what is his fourth and her first Fest.

Vissichelli said the event sets itself apart from similar music festivals because “people are a lot nicer.” A group of cyclists passed by and a man rode by, waved and wished them a “Happy Fest.” “See what I mean?” Vissichelli asked.

The Fest has traditionally been held the last weekend of October and this year the opening night overlapped with this month's Gainesville Downtown Artwalk and a late addition to this year's Free Fridays concert slate, a performance from '70s revivalists Crooked Counsel, presenting a diverse mix of people downtown.

Tate Clair, owner of the Lunchbox, a fixture for events at the Bo Diddley Plaza such as Artwalk, Free Fridays and the Gainesville Farmer's Market and a venue for shows during this year's and past Fests, looked at the potential culture clash with bemusement.

“I was upset at first, but we have a kind of twisted sense of humor here. It's funny to see locals, who don't know (The Fest) exists, come to see a classic rock cover band and see all these weird dressed kids.”

Blag Dahlia, lead singer of punk rock veterans the Dwarves, whose songs have been featured on the soundtracks of the films “Observe and Report”, “Hostel” and others and who, as a solo artist, recorded “Doing the Sponge” for the TV series “SpongeBob SquarePants”, played an impromptu solo acoustic set on the Lunchbox's patio before Crooked Counsel took the stage.

The abbreviated and off-color set, which included songs touching on monogamy, blasphemy and Terry Jones, was interrupted by an exchange street preacher. Dahlia, born Paul Cafaro, said that while he hadn't performed in Gainesville in 20 years, he enjoyed performing in Florida, which he described as “a rock ‘n' roll state,” and looked forward to his performance with his band later Friday night at the New Top Spot.

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