It was halfway through Slingshot Dakota’s set at FEST 18 when lead singer Carly Comando invited two fans to the stage.
The band let Frank Hill, who was joined by his girlfriend Leyla Atayeva, take the microphone. The eleven-year FEST veteran talked about meeting his "FEST love" at the punk rock festival a couple of years earlier. He then successfully proposed to Atayeva in front of the crowded pit at :08.
Scenes like this are common at FEST, which turned 18 this year. The annual three-day festival takes place across downtown Gainesville during Florida-Georgia weekend and fills the city with punks for 72 hours.
People from all over the world come to Gainesville over the weekend to sing, dance, mosh, skank, crowd surf and drink to their favorite punk, alternative, folk and ska bands in one place.
Even more integral than the music being played is the community FEST fosters, both between the bands and the festivalgoers. It leads to situations like that of Hill and Atayeva, who met at FEST three years ago outside of High Dive.
“I asked [Atayeva] to go to FEST Wrestling with me, to which she declined,” said Hill. “I thought I struck out, but we kept talking, and the next FEST we hung out the entire time.”
Atayeva said FEST brings people with similar passions together, allowing deep and personal bonds to form.
“I think a big part of it is being around people who love what you love, so how is that not a recipe for wanting more?” Atayeva said.
One reason FEST is able to create this unique community is because of their mantra of creating the best experience for their guests.
Ticket sales are capped at 3,000 to prevent overcrowding. People can hop from an intimate show at the Civic Media Center to listening to Stiff Little Fingers with 1,000 other people in Bo Diddley Community Plaza.
The cheap alcohol also probably contributed to the crowds, with a $3 Pabst Blue Ribbon special all weekend.
This year, FEST decided to bring in some of the biggest Gainesville bands to headline the festival: Against Me! and Less Than Jake.
Against Me! played four albums over two nights, marking their first headlining show in Gainesville in nearly five years.
Thousands of passionate fans gathered on the lawn of Bo Diddley Plaza Friday and Saturday night to see Laura Jane Grace and the rest of Against Me! perform the entirety of “Searching For A Former Clarity,” “New Wave,” “White Crosses” and “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.”
Gainesville ska-punk legend Less Than Jake played their final show of the year Friday night, while encouraging their audience to create the biggest circle pit of the festival.
Roger Lima, the bassist and a vocalist for Less Than Jake, said FEST was the perfect opportunity to do their yearly Gainesville show.
“We had been doing some hometown shows over the past few years in early September,” Lima said. “We weren’t going to do that this year, and the FEST is kind of the perfect makeup for that. It’s always a good time.”
For many of the smaller bands, FEST is an opportunity to play to a larger crowd than usual. While the punk music scene isn’t small, it is spread out across the country.
Erik Button, the singer and songwriter of pop-punk band Dollar Signs, played his fourth FEST over the weekend. He said one of the best parts of the festival is seeing all his fans gathered in one place.
“It gives the opportunity for bands that are our size, where, when we go on tour, we’ll play in front of people that know our songs, but it’s never hundreds of people that all know our songs,” Button said. “At FEST, all of these people that like our band are in one place. So, it’s the one chance to reap the rewards of doing this where we get to see how much people care. It’s pretty awe-inspiring.”
Stand-up comedian John-Michael Bond traveled from Los Angeles to perform in the FEST comedy showcase. He said being a member of the punk rock community himself made his set extra special.
“Every comic writes jokes that are specific to who they are, but you don’t always get to do them onstage because you have to think about who is in the audience at the comedy club,” Bond said. “Here I’m like, ‘Oh I can make a joke about Less Than Jake,’ and I’ll know that it will work. I still talk about my relationships and stuff, but I like knowing I can be a little more honest about who I am here, and I know the crowd’s like me and I can relate to them.”
Bond also said he believes FEST’s practice of booking inclusive acts helps accurately show who makes up the punk community.
“FEST has worked really hard over the past couple of years to book inclusive lineups and make sure it’s not just a bunch of dudes that look like they’re in Hot Water Music,” he said. “I really love that. I think it makes the show exponentially stronger, because all of us have a unique point of view, and I feel like it better represents what the punk scene actually looks like.”
Elery Ostertag, a 21-year-old UF political science senior, attended his third FEST this year. He said he was looking forward to seeing Dikembe, Skatune Network, Spanish Love Songs and AJJ.
“I think [FEST] reflects the punk environment and culture as a whole,” said Ostertag. "It’s very welcoming and very friendly. I’ve met a lot of people here that I didn’t know last year or even last week, just walked up and said ‘hi’ and talked about bands.”
Nick Hudson is the editor for the Avenue. You can follow him on twitter @Nick_R_Hudson or contact him at [email protected]