Amidst the biggest music festival in Gainesville, a contrarian two-day event showcased the edgier side of the local music scene in one of the city’s legendary venues.
While FEST took over downtown Gainesville music venues over the past Halloween weekend, bringing hundreds of pop-punk bands from all across the country, the Hardback Cafe held its own “Not FEST.”
“We’re not rebels; we’re filling in the gaps,” Hardback Cafe owner Alan Bushnell said.
Debra Fetzer, 59-year-old frontwoman of local punk-rock band Piss Test and event organizer, said “Not Fest” serves as an opportunity for local bands who weren’t included in the FEST lineup to play a show.
“We do ‘Not FEST’ because not all local bands get to play FEST,” she said.
Fetzer has been involved in the Gainesville punk community for over 40 years and has been in seven or eight bands, she said. In all that time, she has never played at FEST.
Piss Test’s glaring name comes from life circumstances surrounding Fetzer and drummer Michelle “Buck” Nunez at turbulent times in both of their lives according to Fetzer.
“Piss Test is our most prominent punk-rock band in Gainesville,” Bushnell said, “yet they’re not allowed to play Fest, so they’ve always been our Friday night [band].”
Hardback Cafe owner Alan Bushnell saw a gap between the local music community and the festival. He asked Fetzer to bring bands to play at the venue during FEST weekend.
“The thing about FEST is that it’s very pop-punk,” Fetzer said. “It’s almost all pop-punk, and it’s a little frustrating for me because I’ve been around for a long time, and it used to be really diverse, and now everybody sees our town as pop-punk, and I think Gainesville has a lot more to offer than just pop-punk.”
The Hardback, formerly located where Boca Grill now stands, used to be one of the main FEST venues. The venue was founded in 1989 after police began shutting down the house parties where the exploding scene of local bands thrived.
“We’re do-it-yourself. We’re probably the longest-existing punk-rock venue in town.”
After the Hardback relocated in 2015 to its current location, 10 blocks off University Avenue, FEST attendees expressed accessibility concerns. Organizers said attendees were worried about reaching the venue, which was now at a longer walking distance than the rest of the downtown venues.
The festival and the venue eventually agreed to have a time block between 1 and 8 p.m. on Saturday for FEST bands. The Hardback was left with the rest of FEST weekend available, so they asked local bands to play.
“We exist for local musicians to have a space, and that is going to continue with or without FEST,” Bushnell said. “What we have is people devoted to the bands that they came out to see.”
Having this space allowed the Hardback to give a diverse lineup of local bands a stage during a weekend when visitors hungry for live music flood the city.
This year, this tradition took the tongue-in-cheek name “Not FEST.”
“There is what is called the Gainesville sound, and it’s that pop-punk rock,” Allan Godfrey, guitarist and vocalist for the local metal band Nibiru, said. “But the good thing about Gainesville too is that there are so many bands, there’s something for everybody.”
When booking bands to play, Fetzer looked for two characteristics: diversity and humor. Nibiru had both.
Like Piss Test, the band never played FEST. In previous years, Nibiru played out of town during the festival’s weekend. This yearly pilgrimage inspired their song “Fest Hate.”
“It’s about when FEST comes to town and we just want to get out of here. It’s just a humorous attempt at making fun of pop-punk,” Godfrey said. “It’s just a goofy song we came up with, and we wrote around Halloween.”
While the names in the song and the event reflect a very anti-FEST attitude, both Godfrey and Fetzer agree that it’s all just tongue-in-cheek and not supposed to be taken too seriously.
“We have another song called ‘Bed by 9’ because we’re just dealing with getting old,” Godfrey said. “We have a lot of goofiness in our music; we’re not just scary mean metal dudes.”
Piss Test, No Fraud and Tampa-based Pig Pen played on Friday. Nibiru, Grabbag and Under His Eye played on Saturday. The venue also hosted live music on Sunday, with a lineup of diverse local acts with genres ranging from folk to hip-hop.
Contact Kristine at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @ktnedelvalle.
Kristine Villarroel is a second-year journalism student at the University of Florida and a staff writer with the Avenue. In her free time, you can usually find her making playlists or talking about the full moon.