Each year, a whole new world invades Gainesville for just one weekend.
When so many people head off to Jacksonville for the football game between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs, tons more come into our town to hear some music.
The Fest is a music festival that celebrates all things punk.
It started in 2002, and now the festival is eleven years strong.
People from all over the world come to Gainesville to listen to their favorite punk rock bands. This year, around 360 bands performed over three days of concerts.
“I think it’s a much more natural and intimate way to see live music, as opposed to other festivals like Coachella or Bonnaroo – in dark bars or small clubs instead of camped out in a field, paying for overpriced water and dealing with crazy heat,” said Matt Walker, editor of Lead us Down, in an email interview.
Lead us Down is an online music magazine for Gainesville; Walker has helped write entries for the Fest’s guidebook and stuff envelopes with organizers. The volunteers and participants try to be as organized and polite as possible.
“I’m always impressed with how respectful the out of town attendees are of Gainesville,” Walker said. “A cab driver told me last weekend that he and his co-workers think of the Fest-goers as some of the friendliest customers they have all year.”
“To me, FEST is a living manifestation of a punk rock dream society that exists in our hearts when we hear the bands music,” said Josh Tabak, in an email interview.
Tabak is a 23-year-old who lives in Portland, Oregon; he helped organize some of the Fest this year.
The festival this year “had a roaming acoustic show that I put on the first night featuring RMS Olympic, Tim from Elway, Steve from The Holy Mess, and Jon L from The Dopamines,” Tabak said. “Starting in my hotel room we had about 50 or 60 people I would say. Security seemed to be more uptight this year, and they weren’t having any of it. But determined to keep the party going, we migrated to the parking lot. The group seemed to grow.”
“After another interruption by authority figures, (thanks GPD) and threats of arrest for open alcohol containers, we migrated once again. Successfully this time, we landed on the fifth floor. I don’t know whose room it was, but if you’re reading this, thank you,” Tabak said.
Tabak is no stranger to the after-effects of party rocking for three days straight.
“Around Day Three, you realize that a diet of PBR and Taco Bell might be catching up with you,” Tabak said. “The sleep deprivation and the crowds of sweaty people aren’t helping. Symptoms include but are not limited to: extreme hangovers, fatigue, fever, head colds, congestion, ear ringing, and nausea.”
The Fest sickness, fondly known as “Fest AIDS” affects everyone differently.
“Fest AIDS are a strong, proud strain of evil,” said Rachel Engelberg in an email interview, a third-time Fest participant. “Nothing to hope for, but also (something) to accept.”
Regardless, the Fest holds a dear place in Engelberg’s heart; this year’s gathering also marked her honeymoon with her new husband.
“You’re surrounded with favorite bands, best friends, beers, good drunks and everyone you meet, though you may not remember, is a new friend,” said Engelberg, “and we all have a connection.”
Despite the fond memories that Fest brings her, she still caught a nasty round of sickness after she left Gainesville.
“Right now, I still can’t move without pain, my nose is running as I type, my voice is rough,” Engelberg said. “I keep coughing, my throat is itchy.”
She’s also still waiting for her trips to the bathroom to return to normal.
“Fest AIDS are like five illnesses in one, and different for everyone,” Engelberg said. “I’ve got Fest AIDS after every year, my friends get them every year, and people we talk to get them every year.”
“They last forever, and (they) make sore bodies,” she said.
“I guess it’s a little different than the usual cold,” said Walker, “because your body is already so run down by the end of the weekend that when the sickness finally settles into your system, it hits you hard! It kicks you when you’re already down.”
Before you get concerned that there’s an epidemic which hits Gainesville every year, the Alachua County Health Department doesn’t recognize it as a full-blown problem.
“Around this time of year, we start to see an increase of an influenza-type illness,” said Paul Myers, the administrator of the ACHD.
Many of the symptoms that people report are common to other illnesses that often start appearing in the fall.
“It’s difficult for us to distinguish between the time of year, what we see in our community, or what people bring into the community,” Myers said. He doesn’t feel that the sickness Fest participants come down with is any different from common autumnal sicknesses.
“Fest AIDS to me is a special thing though,” Tabak said. “As strange as it sounds, it is the last bond you will share with your new friends from around the world before you get the chance to see them next year.”
“You will see the obligatory Facebook posts among friends about the condition. But you will click ‘Like’, because you know it is something special that you share.”
The Fest on Social Media
When the Fest comes into town each year, it brings a feeling of excitement to the air. But after a few days of late nights, few showers and too much fun, many Fest fans have an illness to get over.