Every year, thousands make the journey down to Gainesville, Florida, for a sleepless weekend of drinking, music, pro wrestling, comedy, and, most importantly, community. If you’re going to FEST 17, make sure to stay just sober enough to catch these nine must-see bands and events!

And if you haven’t grabbed your tickets yet… What the hell are you waiting for?! Here, we’ll make this entire sentence a link to help you out!

TEEN AGERS

Photo by Jen Cray

“I remember my first day of the first FEST I went to,” TEEN AGERS vocalist and guitarist Jordan Shroyer muses. Shroyer has been going since FEST 6, and over the past decade, his Orlando, Florida-based band have become a staple of the annual punk gathering. “It’s been such a welcoming thing for us,” he says. “Some of our former bands—Go Rydell, How Dare You, Protagonist—had played it before we were even a band. The first year we were a band, someone dropped off week of, and they offered us a spot to fill it. That was six years ago, and we haven’t missed one since.”

This year, TEEN AGERS come bearing new tunes, as they released their new album, When We Were, on July 13 via Smartpunk Records. “We’re really excited about our new record,” Shroyer says. “It’s exploring a lot of new terrain for us as a band, and we for sure want to take the opportunity to play as much of it as we can, so this year’s set will likely heavily consist of it.” Shroyer describes When We Were as a “very genuine record,” and the band are excited to share it with their FEST family.

Mercy Union

Photo by Greg Pallante

This may be Mercy Union’s first time playing FEST, but it is not lead vocalist Jared Hart’s first rodeo in Gainesville, as he has previously played the festival with his other band, The Scandals. Mercy Union is his new project, and with Benny Horowitz of The Gaslight Anthem on drums, they are something of a supergroup. “Benny was just home and wasn’t really playing his drums as much,” Hart says. “So, one day, instead of getting coffee, we decided to jam some riffs here and there, and we realized that it was kind of progressing quicker than most sessions like that go.” Those jam sessions led to the creation of the band’s first album, The Quarry, out Oct. 19 on the band’s own Mt. Crushmore label. 

Along with new music, Mercy Union are bringing a taste of New Jersey to FEST this year. Hart says that the East-Coast state is deeply ingrained in who they are and how they sound. “I definitely think there is something unique to this area, that we wouldn’t have sounded like this in any of our bands without being from here,” he confirms.

Aspiga

“I think this album is a nice snapshot of everything that the band has done over the years,” Aspiga vocalist and guitarist Kevin Day says. “Since it’s a collection, all of the songs might sound a little different, as they were almost all done in different recording sessions with various amps, drums, guitars, etc.”

The band’s new LP, Dragged Through the Years—released Sept. 7 via A-F Records—features 11 newly-remastered songs, some that were only previously available digitally or on a 7” and a few that have never been released.

At Aspiga’s upcoming performance at FEST 17, attendees can expect to hear songs off the new LP alongside some deep cuts. “We always try to include a song from each release,” Day says. No matter the source, these emotional New Jersey punks intend to make you feel something with their tunes.

Audio Karate

“Expect a very appreciative and excited Audio Karate, trying to outdo our old friends Tsunami Bomb,” guitarist Jason Camacho and vocalist and guitarist Art Barrios say of their upcoming performance at FEST. “The set will likely be Space-Camp-heavy, as we are still celebrating the [Wiretap Records] vinyl reissue [of the 2002 album] and having fun with playing some of the deeper cuts again. We’ll certainly be playing some Lady Melody stuff [from 2004] and our new single, ‘Bounce,’ as well.”

The California band announced in early 2018 that they were officially reuniting as Audio Karate for the first time since 2005, and part of that reunion is a set at FEST 17. In addition to a handful of shows, the band are putting out new music. “We are stoked to have something new, even though it is a song that was written around the Lady Melody era,” Camacho and Barrios say about their new 7”, out Sept. 28. “We have a full album completed and are finishing the mixing and mastering. We will have it out in early 2019.”

Night Birds

Photo by Keith Baillargeon

“We’ve stayed pretty true to our formula that kicked the band off, which was just doing the band for fun,” says Brian Gorsegner, lead vocalist of New Jersey punk outfit Night Birds. “We never tried to do it for a living or anything. We are still all working 50 jobs and playing in the band as a hobby, which has kept it fresh and fun. Every time we go on tour, it’s like going on a vacation with your very best friends.”

The band’s new album, Roll Credits, came out on Sept. 21 via Fat Wreck Chords, but longtime fans of the Night Birds—who are also celebrating their 10th anniversary this year—will not be disappointed in their set at FEST 17. “We’re actually playing more old stuff than we used to, because our original guitar player Mike [Hunchback] is back in the band,” Gorsegner explains. “So, we’re doing a lot of songs—older stuff that we haven’t done since he was in the band.”

Direct Hit!

Direct Hit! are not newcomers to the pop punk scene or FEST. The Milwaukee-based group formed in 2007 and released their first full-length album, Domesplitter, in 2011. Since then, they’ve put out two more LPs—2013’s Brainless God and 2016’s Wasted Mind—and plenty of EPs and splits.

They have a new record, Crown of Nothing, due out Nov. 10 via Fat Wreck Chords, but vocalist and guitarist Nick Woods assures fans that their set in Gainesville will include a variety of old and new. “We worked hard on a new record over the last year or so, but we don’t really expect many people to know many of the tunes yet,” he says, “so we’ll be doing plenty of shit you’re already sick of too.”

Fans who aren’t going to make it to FEST 17 may still have an opportunity to see the band, as Direct Hit! plan to tour more in 2019.

Radon

Every year, FEST features bands from all over the country and even a few international acts—but Radon don’t have to travel far. The Gainesville punk legends are playing right in their own backyard. “Lots of old friends come to town,” Radon vocalist and guitarist Dave Rohm says. “I live in Atlanta, but most of our band is in Gainesville. [Vocalist] Jen [Vito] from our band is playing five sets and doing two comedy shows. She’s pulling a Mikey Erg.”

During FEST, Rohm says “Gainesville becomes a town dedicated almost entirely to us, to all of us likeminded losers. Then, the rain comes and cleans up those dirty FESTers.”

Radon put out their fourth album, More of Their Lies, in May via Dead Broke Rekerds and Creep Records, and they’re looking forward to playing some of those new songs live. They also promise FEST-goers a special treat: a cover of “Civilization’s Dying” by the classic Indianapolis punk band Zero Boys.

“Two Minutes To Late Night”

“Two Minutes To Late Night” is unlike any comedy show on network TV. It’s a talk show by and for metalheads, and that aesthetic runs throughout, complete with a house band led by loud guitars—Brooklyn’s own Mutoid Man—copious skulls, and a host donning a suit and black metal—or KISS?—style face paint.

The show has a clear affection for metal and the subculture surrounding it, but the hope of the creators is that it will be welcoming to a broader audience. “The real concept for the show comes from wanting to show people how fun metal is,” host and cocreator Jordan Olds says. “Even though it is about the metal genre, we want it to be a show for everybody who just loves music in general. We don’t just have metal guests, we don’t always cover metal songs on the show, but the wrapping paper is metal.”

Olds says FEST-goers won’t want to miss their performance, if for no other reason than because it will give attendees a chance to see their favorite bands in a different format. “You’re gonna get to see them be themselves and be really funny and hang out with us,” he says, “and you’re gonna learn a lot about them, but in a way that isn’t just a normal interview.”

Fans can support the show and access all kinds of bonus content by visiting Patreon.com/2m2ln.

FEST Wrestling

Punk rock and pro wrestling have intersected a lot over the past few decades, but the addition of pro wrestling to the FEST lineup a couple of years ago really helped solidify the marriage. Arik Cannon has a foot in both worlds, using his punk rock aesthetic to become a liaison between the two subcultures. “I wanted to be someone who punk rock kids of all ages could relate to and see some of themselves in,” the wrestler says. “Maybe you like punk rock and I helped get you into wrestling; maybe you’re a huge wrestling fan and I helped you get into some punk rock music. Either way, it’s a win!”

Cannon explains that the similarities between punk and wrestling are uncanny. “As a performer, I think there are so many similarities, it’s hard not to find some common ground,” he says. “The mutual respect and admiration was inevitable! Beyond that, the ethos and the whole DIY culture of what we do are so close, I think it makes for an easy and comfortable transition.”

Catch Cannon at FEST Wrestling and follow him on all major social media platforms @arikcannon.

EVEN MORE FEST-IVITIES!

The Best Set I’ve Ever Seen at FEST:

Jordan Shroyer of TEEN AGERS: “Last year, ‘The Chris Gethard Show’ at The Wooly was amazing. In the early days, it seemed like there was always a great Dan Yemin band playing: Armalite, Lifetime, Paint It Black. Every Ergs set. RVIVR’s mystery set at New World Brewery. Dead To Me, Crime In Stereo, and Banner Pilot in a warehouse aftershow, and a couple years later, You Blew It! playing in front of a warehouse with a generator a 2 a.m. with a billion people—the cops shut it down just as Braid was about to play. Tim Kasher [of Cursive] wasted in a wedding dress playing a 10-minute version of ‘The Recluse’—I could go on and on.”

Jared Hart of Mercy Union: “I’m gonna say Hum was pretty rad last year.”

Kevin Day of Aspiga: “That’s a really tough question to answer, as I’ve been to FEST a few times and there’s just so many talented bands playing all weekend. Some highlights would be The Ghost reunion show at The Atlantic, Little League final show at Rockeys, and Able Baker Fox at High Dive.”

 

Brian Gorsegner of Night Birds: “Probably a tie between a Chris Gethard standup set and 7 Seconds.”

Nick Woods of Direct Hit!: “Code Orange’s surprise set at the Florida Theater a few years ago sticks out to me. I’d seen them play at Stay Sweet! Fest in Virginia a little while before that, but they hadn’t blown up to where they are now. So brutal on that huge of a stage and through that enormous of a PA.”

Dave Rohm of Radon: “Naked Raygun at the Florida Theater. When they played the song ‘Treason,’ I felt like I was in the presence of higher beings. The feedback and harmonics came through the PA and just stunned the crowd.”

 Even More Bands You Shouldn’t Miss:

Jordan Shroyer of TEEN AGERS: “Debt Neglector are a must if you like good punk. If you’ve never been to FEST, I would say The Copyrights, RVIVR, PEARS, Timeshares, and Wolf-Face are a must. In my opinion, those bands are the best representation of what FEST is. If you want to see a Gainesville staple, Radon are the best sloppy pop punk—[think] early Lookout! Records—you’re going to catch. I also recommend catching the ‘Two Minutes To Late Night’ show Friday night at Rockeys; if you haven’t seen any episodes of that show yet, I highly recommend looking it up.”

Jared Hart of Mercy Union: “Walk The Plank’s a big one—our boys from D.C. [There are] so many homies playing who come down every year that I almost expect to see them all, whether they’re playing or not. Mike Frazier is great.”

Kevin Day of Aspiga: “I’m really excited to see Attic Salt, Meat Wave, and The Stereo. I’d recommend seeing our friends Bike Tuff, Goddamnit, Kali Masi, Late Bloomer, Jason Thompson, Nightmarathons, Sleep In., and You Vandal!”

Jason Camacho and Art Barrios of Audio Karate: “Cursive’s new single is killer, so I’d say Cursive. Piebald are always good, as are Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Get Married are a great young band on Wiretap [and] Asian Man, and I’m stoked to catch them.”

Brian Gorsegner of Night Birds: “Radioactivity is probably my favorite band playing this year whom I don’t believe have played in the past.”

  Nick Woods of Direct Hit!: “Don’t skip out on Problem Daughter.”

Hot Tips for New FEST-Goers:

Jordan Shroyer of TEEN AGERS: “Try to take in some of the comedy sets at Rockeys. Set aside a few hours a day to pop into a venue or two where you’ve never heard of any of the bands. It’s always fun to play some punk roulette. You may end up accidentally finding your new favorite band. And finally, if you find out any band you really like is doing a mystery set, you should go to that, because it’s probably going to be even better than their regular set and in a much more intimate venue.”

Jared Hart of Mercy Union: “Drink water, wash your hands, and attempt to get some sleep—whether it’s in the back of the car or wherever—’cause you’re gonna get sick, and that’s not fun going home. Drink Emergen-C. That’s key too.”

Kevin Day of Aspiga: “The first year or two that I went, I made it a point to see as many bands as I could. Bring ear plugs, grab a slice from Five Star while on the fly, and drink a lot of water! Also, bring a book bag for merch, because the flea market on day-one is fantastic.”

 Jason Camacho and Art Barrios of Audio Karate: “Hydrate. Catch smaller club shows and find a new favorite band that you can one day tell your friends, ‘Dude, I saw them at FEST 17 when no one gave a damn,’ and feel so cool.”

Brian Gorsegner of Night Birds: “If they really wanna make the best of their festival experience, they can do like me and not drink, so they get to maximize their set-viewing experience. Though, I believe that [drinking is] a lot of the fun for a lot of people, so that’s probably shitty advice, ’cause a lot of years, I feel like the only person at this festival who’s not drinking.”

Nick Woods of Direct Hit!: “Don’t make a schedule; it’ll only frustrate you. Just pop into different places and listen to someone you haven’t before. If you smoke or drink, pace yourself. Get some fuckin’ sleep.”

Dave Rohm of Radon: “It’s illegal to roam the streets naked, even if it’s raining. Don’t let Paddy set your merch money on fire. Those are the big two. Also, you can FEST totally straight and not even drink and still have a blast. There are unbalanced geniuses all around you, so reach out to them and try to break through to them, because they are probably really shy and didn’t even want to leave their room. Have a good time now, because you actually have to leave at the end of the weekend—I guess you technically don’t have to leave. I have a few friends who decided to stay and never go back.”

Five Wrestlers To Watch (According to Arik Cannon!):

1) Space Monkey

2) Effy

3) Shotzi Blackheart

4) Matt Cross

5) Serpentico

6) Arik Cannon (I have to say me, right?)

Author

John Silva is a writer based out of Minneapolis. You can follow him on Twitter @hawkeyesilva.

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