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Thursday, May 23, 2024

'All my friends in one place': Fest 17 brings in 2,600

<p><span><span>Dikembe, a popular local punk band, performed at The Wooly <span><span>Saturday</span></span> night during the only sold-out Fest show.</p><p></span></span></p>

Dikembe, a popular local punk band, performed at The Wooly Saturday night during the only sold-out Fest show.

Adam Gecking made a 670-mile trip from his hometown to Gainesville despite his mom’s death just weeks ago.

Gecking, the 37-year-old owner of SAY-10 Records & Skateboards, an independent record label, made his 11th trip to the city to celebrate Fest 17, one of the largest punk rock festivals.

“Originally, I wasn’t going to come down, but this is the one time of year I just need,” Gecking, of Richmond, Virginia, said. “I need to be here.”

More than 2,600 passes were sold for the three-day music festival that took place across downtown Gainesville, said Sarasvati Seixas, a Fest employee. The festival was filled with 318 bands, 28 comedians and more than 60 wrestlers.

In a living room with his friends in 2002 and nothing more than a $1,000 loan from his parents, the now-42-year-old Fest creator Tony Weinbender created the music festival. Only 500 people attended the first Fest. Every year, the music festival has slightly grown, but five years ago was when the festival had its last large surge in attendance. He said he has no plans to keep expanding.

Only 20 percent of Fest attendees are from Florida, Weinbender said.

“Fest is this size,” he said. “As long as we can keep doing it and everyone is happy, we will.”

The Fest creator said that he was most excited about the four-hour wrestling championship Sunday. He said it’s different than most professional competitions because it strives to be inclusive.

This year a woman, Shotzi Blackheart, won the intergender title in the co-ed wrestling competition. Last year’s champion was Effy, an openly gay male competitor from Tallahassee, Weinbender said.

With a $5 donation to We Are Neutral, a local nonprofit that helps to reduce people’s carbon footprint, donors were entered to win two tickets to next year’s Fest, said Grace Ebner, a 22-year-old employee at We Are Neutral.

This is the third year the organization has worked with Fest. In addition to negating individual travel emissions, they calculate the footprint of each venue. Fest chooses to offset its carbon footprint by planting trees with the organization every year and supporting energy upgrades for low-income houses.

“Our slogan is ‘Unf--- the Environment,’” Ebner said. “Some people might find it offensive, but we say what we do to the planet is offensive.”

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Philanthropy is an important aspect of Fest, Weinbender said. Every December he hosts a Christmas party for his nearly 50 employees and asks them to pitch charities to him. Last year, he worked with a local animal rescue shelter, Civic Media Center and We Are Neutral, both of which they now work with annually.

“We have to give back,” he said. “Greed is like the No. 1 virus in the world. I feel like Fest is the least greedy. We have to sustain, but we try to give back as much as we can and keep it as affordable as possible.”

Sandra Lauzon, 29, came from Montreal, Canada with friends for her fourth Fest.

This year was particularly special for Lauzon because she got to see one of her favorite bands, Spanish Love Songs, perform their new album, “Schmaltz,” at the High Dive.

“I actually cried,” Lauzon said. “It was beautiful. The entire crowd already knew every word.”

At his fourth time at Fest, 30-year-old Cory Castro from Nashville, Tennessee, played a show with his band, Free Throw, at The Wooly.

“The best thing about Fest is you get to see people from all around the country and the world,” Castro said. “I get to see all my friends in one place.”

Dikembe, a popular local punk band, performed at The Wooly Saturday night during the only sold-out Fest show.

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