Op-Ed: In An Eventful Year, The FEST Stands Out

Posted: by The Editor

Photo of Superhaunted by Amanda Starling

2019 is coming to an end, but it seems like every end of the year, I look back at one weekend and call it the “best.” Which else would it be, other than The Fest?

Every October (or in this year’s case, November), I know I’m returning home. Gainesville, about a two hour drive from my house slightly south in Florida, is the site of what feels like an annual family reunion: The Fest. The family reunion organized by a passionate crew of punks brings together hundreds of the best musicians across punk and emo, and all of the people who adore them.

In a way, after going to seven Fests (There’s been 18 total), it starts to become a routine. Pack a bag for the weekend, shoot off texts to meet up for different sets, down a few hapless packets of Emergen-C, and hope for short lines outside of the popular venues. That’s at least the parts of Fest prep that feel like muscle memory. The rest quickly becomes serendipitous.

The part that never wears out is walking down Main Street and spotting a friend about to cross, too. You run into each other’s arms, ignoring the blare of car horns or flash of headlights. Who cares that neither of you slept proper the night before? Or the life you left back at home? You’re here now, and you’re about to go watch your favorite band shred in a bar, in a park, in an anarchist collective space, or even outside of a pizza joint.

In the middle of a crowd or standing in line, there’s always a friend to link arms with or push-mosh to the banger of the night. I think what’s most special about it all is that for all of the moments that we spend throughout the year thinking of our faraway friends, here they are, sharing what are perhaps the best memories we’ll make. We’ll yell lyrics in each other’s faces the minute we lock eyes, and for a moment, everything is just right.

Sometimes we just sip drinks and laugh. Other times, it’s just long hugs and countless “thank yous” swapped in the haze of colorful lights. As someone who writes, edits, and podcasts all year about independent music, Fest is that moment where I get face time with the friends I’ve made doing it all. I can’t think of any other time or place where so much love and respect is shared between musicians and the people who support them.

The true testament of a community in music is showing up, and no one does it like Florida. Every set fronted by a Florida band had at least a dozen fellow hometown heroes in the crowd, not just standing in solidarity but screaming the lyrics back. About 20 minutes later, there’s a pile of sweaty hugs exchanged and loud laughs that we shared before shuffling on to the next set.

These are the sort of memories that I pull up on every other day of the year, when I’m tied to a desk or doing another chore that just doesn’t carry that same joy. The excited embraces from my friends in Expert Timing. Wandering the streets and chatting with passerby alongside Fresh. Sharing happy tears while experiencing Slingshot Dakota. Watching the most deserving of friends like Sleepless make their Fest debut. These are the moments that stand out and most of all, matter. Each time it happens, I find myself missing that exciting, blur of a weekend.

The only thing I won’t miss? The Fest Flu, of course. But the hugs were worth it. I’ll do it all over again in 2020, too.

Amanda Starling | @starlingaj

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