FEST 101: Surviving Gainesville’s annual 3-day punk festival

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Benny The Jet Rodriguez performs at The Wooly during FEST 13. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

By Gabrielle Calise

For the 14th year in a row, over 350 bands will swarm downtown Gainesville during the weekend of Halloween for the FEST, Gainesville’s annual punk rock music festival. Whether it’s your first time attending the FESTivities or you’re a seasoned veteran looking for a refresher, here’s a crash course on how to prepare for the year’s biggest weekend of punk rock.

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A man dressed as Waldo stands at the corner of East University Avenue and West University Avenue on Halloween night during FEST 13. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

What to wear

“Being comfortable is huge,” said Dani Garcia, a FEST veteran from Las Vegas, Nev., who will be attending for the fourth year in a row. Garcia said she usually wears shorts and a band shirt and carries her belongings in a fanny pack instead of a purse.

When planning your outfits, check the weather each day. Those visiting from out of town should pack at least one cold-weather outfit, said Kelcey Duggan, a Tallahassee, Fla., resident who will be attending FEST for the sixth time. A cold snap last year brought temperatures down to 31 degrees last year, and many fans were unprepared. Don’t forget that no matter what the weather outside is doing, most venues will be hot and sweaty inside. Your best bet is to dress in layers.

Don’t forget about your feet. Whether you’ve committed to all three days of the festival or just one night, you’re going to be doing a lot of moshing, dancing and strolling around downtown. Do your feet a favor and invest in some cushiony insoles, Duggan said.

Finally, if you plan on attending Fest on October 31, you’ll probably see a slew of fans and bands alike dressed up for the holiday. Wearing a costume can be a lot of fun – just make sure to opt for an outfit that you can move easily in.

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A group dressed as pirates strolls across West University Avenue on Halloween night last year. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

Take care of yourself

It might seem counterintuitive to bring ear plugs to a music festival, but hear me out on this one (pun intended). Tiny venues mean that you’ll be closer to the speakers, and three days in a row of exposure to such high decibels can wreak havoc on your eardrums. The music will be loud enough for you to be able to hear it even with the plugs.

Another tip for staying healthy: Pace yourself if you choose to imbibe.

“Don’t drink too much too fast,” Garcia said. “You want to remember your first FEST.”

Garcia knows firsthand the risk of getting too drunk at FEST. During a band’s set a few years ago, she was kicked in the head by a crowd surfer and didn’t even realize she was bleeding until she sobered up hours later. The night ended with a trip to the emergency room.

There’s another way to end up at the hospital. Some call it “FEST Aids.” Others refer to it as “FEST Nile Virus” or “FEST-fluenza.” No matter how you label it, getting sick at FEST is a common occurrence. It’s also something that you should take steps to avoid. As someone who contracted a nasty case of the flu during her first FEST and ended up at UF Health Shands Hospital, trust me on this.

There are still a few weeks left until FEST, so get your flu shot now if you haven’t already done so yet this season.  It also isn’t a bad idea to take supplements such as Emergen-C or Airborne to boost your immune system before and during the festival.

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Located on East University Avenue, Pop-A-Top stocks supplies such as ear plugs and Emergen-C. The neighborhood convenience store is also a great place to pick up vegan snacks, craft beer and unusual soda brands. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

Eat up

Downtown Gainesville is bursting with restaurants to satisfy any cravings or dietary restrictions that you might have. Pack a few snacks such as granola bars to hold you over in between bands. When you’re ready for a full meal, Garcia recommended Boca Fiesta and Flaco’s. Duggan said that Gyros Plus and Harvest Thyme Café are both great options for vegans. My personal favorites include The Jones (right across the street from the High Dive) and The Gelato Company.

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The Wooly is one of the many venues for live music during FEST. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

FEST traditions

Keep an ear open for secret shows. From spontaneous house concerts to hotel room acoustic sets, you never know what you’ll find around town during FEST weekend.

“It’s a word of mouth thing,” Duggan said. “Definitely try to make friends with people around you.”

The best place to meet cool people is in line, Garcia said. FEST pass holders usually endure a few hours in the registration line, and depending on the venue or band that you want to see, you’ll probably end up waiting to get into some shows. Garcia said this can be a great place to strike up a conversation with someone.

“Obviously you already have something in common,” Garcia said.

You can also meet people online before the show by joining the FEST Friends Facebook page.

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The FEST Flea Market, held at the Holiday Inn during registration, is a great place to pick up FEST wristbands, records, T-shirts and more. Photo by Gabrielle Calise

Need more survival tips? Have a suggestion for Swamp Sounds coverage? Feel free to post a comment below or send me a tweet. See you at FEST!

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