Since 2002, Gainesville, Florida, has served as a Mecca for punk enthusiasts. Each year, No Idea Records organizes an independent weekend-long, multiple-venue music festival known as The Fest, which takes place in the city’s downtown area.
When it first began, the festival featured 60 bands across four stages. This year, nearly 10,000 devoted fans embarked on a punk pilgrimage to witness performances from 400 acts who performed in 20 different venues, ranging from intimate bars to larger concert spaces.
Fest 14 featured popular headliners like Andrew WK, The Menzingers, and Weston, a Philly-based four-piece who reunited for this event after being inactive for the last five years. Throughout the weekend, other bands dressed in their Halloween costumes and performed special cover sets and secret, after-hours shows in hotel lobbies.
BTR joined in on the festivities and found time between crowd-surfing and stage-diving to chat with festers about their exhausting yet memorable experiences.
Matthew Luke traveled from Denver, Colorado for Fest 14, marking his third year in attendance. Luke confesses that, beyond the music, the sense of camaraderie and acceptance he feels throughout the weekend draws him back again and again.
“Fest creates a community that represents what punk was built on–letting the outcasts be themselves in a space free of judgment.”
Like Luke, John Phillips has returned to The Fest every year since his first trip in 2011. Phillips admits that the lineup of bands certainly peaks his interest, but the bonds he has formed with people throughout the years truly keeps him invested in the annual trek to Gainesville.
“Initially, I went because of the music,” Phillips tells BTR. “And while that remains true, I’ve been most excited about the prospect of spending a weekend with friends, most of whom I don’t get to see as often as I’d like.”
Next year, The Fest will celebrate its 15th anniversary. Many festers anticipate that big names will be announced for the occasion, already speculating on which bands will be invited to play. Unfortunately for them, a definitive list probably won’t be released until April.
Despite that, when asked if they’d be back for Fest 15, Luke and Phillips’ resounding “yes” could be heard clearly above the sounds projecting through the main stage’s amplifiers.
“There’s just something about Fest that really sets it apart,” Luke tells BTR. “It isn’t just some weekend fling. It’s a feeling that lingers in your heart and in your gut weeks before and long after the actual festival.”