Each year when Gator fans make their annual migration north for the Florida-Georgia football game, thousands of people flock to downtown Gainesville to attend one of the largest independent, underground rock music festivals.
The Fest is an annual music festival organized by No Idea Records, a Gainesville independent record label company that produces both vinyl and CDs.
While in the past Fest spanned only two days and featured 60 bands at four venues, it has grown into a two-city, nearly weeklong festival featuring about 300 bands and attracting punk rock fans from all over the world.
“It’s a one-time-a-year event where people who enjoy the same kind of music get to reconnect with old friends from around the world while making new connections through the music which we love,” said Litira Kokkas, a 21-year-old Gainesville resident who has attended five previous Fests.
The event, which is usually held during Halloween weekend, is expanding to four days in Gainesville for the first time in its 12-year history and will run from Thursday until Sunday.
A Pre-Fest event was also held in Tampa’s historic Ybor district on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dillon Shines, a 24-year-old guitarist for the Las Vegas band named Caravels, said The Fest offers the best exposure a punk rock band can get all year.
“There is no huge stage with 20,000 fans, so it’s a lot more personal,” he said. “You can listen to a huge band in an intimate setting. It gives the listeners an opportunity to hear more of the underground side of our genre that they may not normally get to hear.”
Joseph Scanella, a guest services manager for the Holiday Inn located at the intersection of University Avenue and NW 13th Street, said the hotel’s 176 rooms were completely booked within 35 minutes of going up on The Fest website.
The Holiday Inn, which is within walking distance to the venues, is recognized as The Fest headquarters.
“When we’re booked for a football game, people will go to the game and tailgate and maybe go out after the game, but they’re back in bed by 2 a.m.” Scanella, 26, said. “With The Fest, we get a fun, very eclectic group of guests that come for a good and time and to enjoy themselves, but they’re not really here for sleep. When 4, 5, 6 a.m. (rolls) around, they’re still going.”
The last five Fest events have sold out, according to The Fest’s website. Seventy percent of last year’s ticket sales were purchased from out of the state while 17 percent came from non-U.S. residents.
“We get a lot of people from overseas,” Scanella said. “ Some people’s first time in the United States is to come to Gainesville, Fla., just to attend The Fest. It’s cool that a music festival in North Central Florida can attract that kind of attention.”
The shows and events are free access with a Fest pass or between $10 and $25 at most venues.
“I think it’s cool that our people can come and take over the streets for a few days,” said 26-year-old Phil Folser, a vocalist for the Baltimore band called the Octaves. “It’s a college football town and once-a-year a bunch of stinky punks come down with no jobs and hang out in the streets.”