A Platform and A Community: Angry Grrrl Music Live at Fest

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by Jeffrey Snyder

“Oh, it’s not so bad!” I breathed, staring at the empty auditorium. The Hippodrome Theatre, a staple of downtown Gainesville, looked less intimidating in person than it did in the photos online. I awkwardly tapped a microphone before scurrying back to the hall, pacing and smiling at each familiar face that entered the theatre for the first ever live taping of my podcast, Angry Grrrl Music of the Indie Rock Persuasion.

Let’s backtrack just a second – it started with an email sent out around the end of spring, loaded with links and typed frantically with fingers crossed to the founder, planner, mastermind of The Fest himself, Tony Weinbender. The legendary gathering of independent musicians in Gainesville, Florida had hosted the likes of Against Me! to Gutless for 16 years, about five of which I’d attended so far. Each year I’ve felt my attachment to this swampy college town grow a little more, my friendships a little deeper, and my memories all the sweeter.

Here I was submitting my case to join the ranks of podcasts who’d recorded there. Maybe I’d be as cool as Chris Gethard. Or maybe better yet – I’d MEET Chris Gethard.

I’ve always wanted to find a way to be a part of Fest – something more than just an attendee. I don’t play music (yet) but I love it more than anything in this life, and I’ve been so lucky to build such precious bonds with people through it.

I remember crying in my car the day I received the “you’re in!” email. Through all of the anxious and excited thoughts that rushed through my head, all I could think was this: how the hell am I going to do this?

The plan fell into place minutes from when I received the email. I reached out to the people I loved and respected most in music, the people I’d met in my journey not only in Fest but in my time recording Angry Grrrl Music. All three said yes within 24 hours. I’d be recording the live show with Slingshot Dakota, Expert Timing, and Gutless.

On October 27,  I got up in front of a full theatre and spoke up in front of so many friends, hands shaking as I combed through some hastily scratched note cards. The front rows were filled with not only my dearest friends but biggest supporters. I locked eyes with Carly Comando, Tom Patterson, Katrina Snyder, and Jeffrey Snyder, and in that moment I knew I was doing something bigger than I previously realized – I was speaking up and performing in the ways that I’d seen each of them do over their careers in my own way. I was playing Fest.

Speaking in front of a group of people is intimidating when your audience is typically two dogs (usually one is asleep) and one person on the other end of a web camera. Fest was a challenge I knew I was ready to take on, and the best part of it all was knowing I wouldn’t be alone. Carly Comando (Slingshot Dakota), Katrina Snyder (Expert Timing), and Gutless (Vi Viana, Tim McGowan, Max White, and Valerie Melina) would be up there with me. We’d do what we always have: speak out with and for others, together.

I talked about how much Fest has shaped my life, how these incredibly talented people touched mine, and how I envision so many others feeling the sort of inclusivity and warmth that I do. I asked questions about how each artist shaped their careers, how they found their voices, and most importantly, the impact they’ve made on crowds. We sought a little refuge in the Hippodrome, and I felt parts of the community draw closer with each exchange.

Photo by Paige Coley

Gutless charmed in the ways they do best, and not unlike their live band performance, made us all feel like we were in their friendship circle. Vi Viana and Tim McGowan traded jabs on their times spent together practicing and playing, and their bond extended into the audience to share their platform with countless other bands from Florida. Gutless is without a doubt the most including, welcoming band ever.

The moment Katrina Snyder stepped up, there was this ease that immediately set in, the implied “we’ve got this.” Riffing about creating inclusive spaces felt as natural on a stage as it does every time we exchange messages online or commiserate in person. We always talk about how important it is to book diverse  bands and how to send a message to the powers that be in the music scene. That’s part of the nature of the entire band for Expert Timing, though – every member wants to make a difference through their music and their presence. It felt right sharing that with a crowd who understood, and that we hoped would carry that message out to friends and Fest-goers alike.

The easiest interview in the world is with Carly Comando. I’ve never met anyone who so instantly understood my feelings and experiences, and elevated them. Carly has this immediate ability to pick up on the energy of the room and share what we all need. She talked about working through the industry, the balance of callouts and need for change, music as therapy, and her special love for the Fest. She highlighted so much of what I and others love about independent music: the bonds we make, how much it means to us to connect in travels or shows, and how experiences like Fest can transform that. In her dialogue in the interview and throughout the weekend, Carly exuded what it meant to be a part of a community built on love and inclusivity.

That’s the message I wanted guests to walk away feeling: that they were capable of being a part of that community and helping. The list is simple: pay to attend DIY shows, buy the music and merch of bands with diverse lineups, sharing music of people who don’t look like us, and if you’re in the position of power, book and sign these people, too. Hire an artist for a commission. Back a label that has a diverse roster. Help share the work of the publicists who are trying to really push more inclusive acts in front of us. Shaping a community is accessible as we give each other the strength and opportunity.

Things are far from perfect right now – we live in a time where rhetoric threatens the existence of marginalized communities, where hate speech is thriving, and where love can feel scarce. But I feel fortunate that I could be someone to remind others, even for an hour, that they are valid and deserve equal opportunity for every possible moment of their careers and lives.

The Fest is an annual escape, an opportunity, and a platform that I’ve had the opportunity to experience. It’s a place where you can not only be yourself, but challenge yourself knowing the friends you’ve made not only support but understand. The stage is less intimidating when you’re sharing it and helping others stand on it.

Listen to Angry Grrrl Music of the Indie Rock Persuasion Live at the Fest on all podcast streaming services.

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Amanda Starling | @starlingaj

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