Twenty-twenty-one was a year full of highs and lows, a year full of COVID. It was a rainy, windy October night in Tampa on approach to FEST 19. There was a parting of the clouds and a chance to put wheels down and eventually get to Gainesville. Fest 19 began on a red-eye flight from Thursday into Friday, Denver flying into Tampa, landing over a dark city dotted with tiny lights.
It was like any other flight, everyone in masks and anticipating getting out and about. Once on the ground, in a rental car, and on the road to Gainesville by dawn with two and a half hours of sleep, the pace is set. It was a busy Fest and a fun Fest; It was a Fest that everyone made happen, from Tony Weinbender, to the volunteers, to every single band that played and finally, to every single person who attended.
One of the major highlights was Chuck Ragan.
Hot Water Music were an anchor keeping the whole boat from washing away.
Frank Turner did Frank Turner things, and the check-in confirmed, like he says in song, “I still believe.” At FEST 19, there were a ton of believers. The big guys were big, and their voices rang strong. They conveyed hope.
Baroness, like so many bands this year, went on the road from FEST and had to pause due to COVID. They’ve rescheduled shows, including Denver, and that’s much-needed because their Bo Diddly performance was a show that everyone should have the opportunity to catch.
A Wilhelm Scream killed, sharing the same venue and stage as Comeback Kid.They closed out on Sunday night with an encore performance.
All this mighty music at the Bo Diddley Plaza, and yet some of the mightiest punk rock, ska punk, and pure ska happened spread out all over Gainesville.
Pears’s Zach Quinn doubled and tripled down; Sets with Bandaid Brigade were melodic comfort.
His solo set was pure, striped down joy. Pears was a gateway to letting the pandemic emotions out—raw, unedited and angry.
Be Well played a heart-filled set. It was momentarily interrupted by a power failure at the venue. Let’s just say Brain McTernan and crew energized the room, and the energy was back up with their performance.
Ska and Bad Time Records quietly was one of the loudest and most fun shows. Ska lit up the brand new Heartwood Venue and then carried the momentum forward to Downtown Fats on Sunday.
Founder and the man at Bad Time Records, as well as vocals in Kill Lincoln, Mike Sosinski, brought the Bad Time family together at FEST, Omnigone, Catbite, etcetera. He explains what it meant meeting in real life after all the time they spent being social media friends and connecting on the Skatune Network.
Sosinski says, “It was wild. I mean, it’s hard for me in the moment to really have appreciate stuff sometimes because I’m always so busy. All day I was running the flea market with my buddy Jesse. I closed up shop there a little early, and I walked over to Heartwood.”
While dealing on Bad Time goods, Sosinski caught up with a ton of bands; he saw even more at load-in. He details the good vibes:
“Some bands like Joystick, it’s been almost three years since I’ve seen the guys in Joystick. We did a couple tours together, and I haven’t seen them in forever. And then to get to see everybody from Omnigone.”
Sosinski opens up: “It was just crazy to see everybody in one place and to finally get to watch some of these bands since they’ve put out new music on Bad Time was a crazy experience. Really special and quite emotional, actually. I think once Joystick started play and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s happening. It’s finally happening.’”
It happened, and it worked.
“[It was] very special that FEST created this new venue, which was almost as large as Bo Diddley [Plaza], if not the same size and that they trusted all these ska bands, all these ska punk bands to help fill this huge outdoor area. And we did. And it was crazy to me to see that we were able to utilize that venue properly. It was really special, really special night to see everybody fill that place. Very cool.”
Brent Friedman played drums in Omnigone Friday night at the Heartwood stage, then he drummed with his band We Are The Union, then he tour managed a bunch, then he supported the ska scene in any way he could.
Friedman says, “It was just like all the Bad Time bands, like, coming together, and everyone is such good friends online, and I forgot about, like, how few of everyone has met in person before. So that was cool, (it) was just like a summit, a BTR summit almost. So it was great, and then there was just, like, a fuck ton of people, and it was raining, and that venue was a little off the beaten path, but we still had such a crazy crowd, the entire show.
“Joystick opening the show even still had, like, a fuck ton of people watch it. So it was cool. It was just like a big ska family reunion. I guess reunion’s not the right word, since most of us have never met before, but it was very good. The vibes were super good. it was very fun.”
“I think there was the joke also that there was not a single band that played on Friday that didn’t share another member with at least another band, too. Especially Esteban, who plays keyboards for Abraskadabra. He played keyboards for, I think, every SKA band that weekend with the exception of his own band because he actually had to leave early to go to a wedding, which was really funny, but that Friday show after Joystick, he set up for, I forget who the second band was, but he was just up there the entire night, then obviously, like, Jerr playing with like every fucking band and then how Reed played in Omnigone and watched it on Skatune Network, so there was, like, a ton of overlap, and it was wild, but it was really good.”
Sosinski has very similar feelings to Friedman.
He says, “I think we all had our doubts beforehand. We all have our anxieties about like, ‘Wow, can we still do this? What’s it going to feel like? What’s it going to sound like?”
“There’s nothing that can prepare you for what it’s like to play live music again. And you can practice all you want. But it felt so good to be out there and to be with people again, and FEST did such a good job of making it, like, a safe environment. And so, we felt good being around people; we felt good being on stage. It’s our favorite fucking thing to do in the whole world. So to get to do it again, it feels great. And we we were ready to go off, like, you’re sitting there watching all your friends play, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, they’re fucking great.’”
The pace is set for a busy, sometimes rainy, sometimes gloomy trip to Florida and a musical touchstone. This FEST, like every FEST, is the best FEST. It’s the best FEST that could safely be done. The grey Florida skies put a ray of sunshine in the heart. It was a place many needed to be after a crappy year of postponements. The fog burned off sometime mid-FEST, and there was awareness—this is a special FEST because it happened.
Friedman details the hard work he and all the Bad Time and Skatune Network friends did to pull off a ska-fest.
“Basically, my schedule was, we flew in on Tuesday just because We Are the Union hadn’t rehearsed in two years, so we reserved Wednesday for that, and then we even rehearsed a little bit on Thursday, but Thursday was also Skatune Network rehearsal, and then we also ended up doing Omnigone rehearsal later that evening and Devon Kay from Devon Kay & The Solutions slash Direct Hit.
“He was playing guitar for We Are the Union, and I had to kind of help with his logistics. He had to, like, change his flight two days earlier to be able to make it to the We Are the Union rehearsal, but then I had to help him get from the Orlando airport and then back to the Orlando airport so he could pick up his rental van. So, that Thursday after the Skatune and Omnigone rehearsal, I also had to help Adam from Omnigone drive Devon back to the Orlando airport and then back.”
“So, it was like three, four hours round trip of driving to just to get him back, and then it was all the ground logistics of getting urgent gear to and from all of the venues. Thankfully, Jer lives in Gainesville. So, we were able to practice it at their place.”
Catbite opening Bo Diddley Plaza on Sunday was like a breath of fresh ocean air carried from the coast. Bands, fans, and friends showed up early, and they stayed late. It was a great start to Sunday before the ska party moved to Downtown Fats.
Friedman discusses the vibes: “I feel like now, it’s a little more, like, meshed into everything else, and you have people who are coming to see Catbite and coming to see like WATU and especially Skatune and bands like that, who weren’t necessarily, I guess, ska fans or whatever, and it’s become, I guess, cool or something, I don’t know. It definitely felt like we were less of the side show. I guess if you want to put it that way, but it was great to have such a big venue and have everyone there, and then I get Catbite opening Bo Diddley, and they still play to a great crowd.”
In an unsure year; bands were in flux all weekend, and mystery bands showed up all the time—Kill Lincoln answered Weinbender’s call when asked. Sosinski explains his enthusiasm,
“We were just like, ‘Fuck it. Let’s just rip it up on Sunday.’ Just good vibes all around; FEST just always has the best vibe of any show or festival we’ve ever done. And everyone’s just there to support you and have a good time. Everyone just wants to have fun.”
“Ska Now More Than Ever,” who knew. At this year’s FEST, that’s the phrase that stuck. Ska is riding a big wave the last couple years, and this wave is a tsunami. No matter what you call it, nu-tone and old tone equally, ska brought a lot of internet friends together. It started at the Heartwood venue on Friday and continued indoors on Sunday.
“Our natural habitat is a sweaty, packed room,” Sosinsk adds. “And that’s exactly what Downtown Fats was on Sunday night. I was thrilled to get to play a second set there. We all were. We did our main set, this was a special thing, so we were all just like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just have a party.’ I think every member of Kill Lincoln got to crowd surf except for Tyler on the drums. And he was like, ‘Next year, Mike, you’re going to take over drums, and I’ll get out there.’”
It was an unusual year for music—again. If 2022 is unusual, touring musicians will need to deep dive on what qualifies as a usual year of touring because ups and downs seem to be the current norm. In all of the storm waves, it was another big year of ska. Skatune Network and the Bad Time family have learned to use wifi, social media, and video stories to live in their moment.
Sosinski concludes, “I love FEST. I always have such a good time at the FEST, and it was just a whirlwind of seeing bands I haven’t seen in forever, seeing people I haven’t seen in forever. I saw at least a hundred friends I hadn’t seen in years, dozens of bands that I haven’t seen. And the Bad Time family… it was the physical manifestation of what I’ve been feeling over the past two years. That we have this community, and that we’re in it together, and that the bands are supporting each other, and that the fans are lifting us up. It was the first time that we were actually able to, like, feel that in person. And it was real, and it was incredible. I’m so grateful to the FEST for allowing that to happen, and for letting us have two nights of Bad Time and two nights of ska. It was fucking great, and I can’t wait to do it again.”
Not every FEST sets up as the best FEST. COVID fought as hard as it could to ruin a good time at FEST 19, but it’s important to make the best of any FEST. Chuck Reagan, Hot Water Music, Frank Turner, Baroness, Pears, Bandaid Brigade, Kill Lincoln, Cat Bite, Comeback Kid, A Wilhelm Scream, Be Well—friends. COVID came hard at 2021, and FEST fought back. Here’s to a new year; here’s to 2022; here’s to FEST 20. Music overcomes obstacles. The crazy, mixed-up, brave participants of FEST 19 came at it hard, and the bands played back with equal intensity.