The Fest featuring Torche, the Flatliners, the Menzingers, Off With Their Heads Various Venues, Gainesville FL, October 31-November 3

The Fest featuring Torche, the Flatliners, the Menzingers, Off With Their Heads Various Venues, Gainesville FL, October 31-November 3
Photo: Jason Schreurs
For those lucky enough to have experienced it, Florida's The Fest is the closest thing punk rock fans will ever get to true paradise. Now in its 12th year, organizer Tony Weinbender (No Idea Records) stuck his neck out and expanded the main festival, featuring nearly 400 punk bands in the hopping university town of Gainesville, to four days while also adding a two-day Pre-Fest in Tampa. What's even more impressive is the potential organizational clusterfuck went off without a hitch. Why? A lot of devil-may-care attitude coupled with exactly the right amount of hard work.

Canada was well represented at The Fest, not only by bands (the Flatliners, Teenage Bottlerocket, White Lung, Crusades and Dig It Up, among others), but also by attendees from nearly every province. And despite the multinational flavour of the whole festival, the focus was on home; Fest feels like a tight-knit community where you can slam dance and crowd surf to your favourite band while hoisting a beer with your best buddies from around the world, even if you travelled to The Fest alone.

Pre-Fest in Tampa was a successful experiment, a tight pocket of clubs in the vibrant Little Ybor area playing host to bands who were willing to do extra sets before the actual Fest. Minneapolis punks Off with Their Heads, tapping their first two albums, particularly killed it.

The actual Fest started on Halloween, with most of the bands playing in costume. Home statesmen Torche had the best costumes of the night, dressed as weirdo '80s dudes and pummelling the crowd with their patented brand of happy metal.

Pennsylvanian four-piece the Menzingers were repeatedly mentioned as a Fest highlight, both of their sets showing why they have gone from Fest babies (they've played several times before) to true leaders in the Fest family. Our own the Flatliners also took a leadership role, even doing a special set of covers and b-sides after their stellar main stage set.

Other highlights amongst the 400-plus bands that played included the Night Marchers, Boysetsfire, the Lawrence Arms, Masked Intruder, Mixtapes, Iron Chic, Dillinger Four, the recently reformed Knapsack, and Direct Hit!, all of whom played what seemed like the sets of their lives.

Cover sets were also sprinkled throughout the program, featuring upstart punk bands doing full shows covering the likes of Minor Threat, Operation Ivy, the Replacements and Billy Bragg. The infamous Fest after-party, which runs on the last night until 5am, added drunken tributes to Green Day, the Hold Steady, Nirvana and the Pixies.

The Fest, now 12 years old, is like no other music festival of any genre of music. The only way to truly understand how good it actually is involves making the punk rock pilgrimage yourself.