Devon Kay Thinks: FEST, or The All Out S**t Party

By Devon Kay

The excellent illustrations are provided by the highly talented Nicole Carter. Keep an eye out for way more from Nicole in the future.

Who is Devon Kay?

I’ve been playing music for a minute now. I can’t say that I’ve played for anyone notable or anything like that. When people ask what kind of band I play in I often revert back to saying something stupid like, “Mall Punk.” I don’t know if that’s self deprecating or something, but it’s way more comfortable for me to say than “Blink 182 meets Andrew W.K. with like… zombies.”

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff I make and get to help make. Honestly I think I just like being around music and for some reason the aesthetic of pop punk always got my attention for its hard work attitude and juvenile sense of humour.

When Punktastic posted that they were looking for writers, I perked up. Maybe I wasn’t as chemically imbalanced that morning and thought I could contribute interesting content or maybe I was stoned. Who cares? I just thought I’d give this a shot.

Originally I had some long winded idea of creating an alter ego who would make fun of things I found about the punk scene or whatever. His name was Rigatoni Johnson and would tackle such big topics “How do The Casualties afford so much hair gel on such a small salary!!?” Real hard hitting stuff.

I was gonna rain down opinions and point fingers and generally be a douche bot. That idea was squashed with haste because it’s apparently really easy to be mean. Almost too easy. It seems like pointing out the glaring flaw in something and mocking it is far easier than thinking about it. Which is what kinda led me here…

This is more a piece about shit I’ve noticed and find interesting that I felt I could share with strangers that wanna give it a read. So strap in, fasten your pampers cause it’s gonna get moderately wild.

FEST, or The All Out S**t Party

Think South by South West before Jay-Z was playing in a parking garage and before “Hipster Mobile” moved in to cash in on the travellers who wanted a genuine music takeover experience. What I mean by “takeover experience” is that the town of Gainesville, where FEST is held, is literally overrun by the various easy stereotypes of those who are into the alternative music scene. A town that looks barely outfitted for college kids and the occasional flash mob becomes an adult playground when the Florida vs. Georgia football game is going on.

“It’s where nerds and introverts get to play and hopefully tame some strange.”

At this point everyone from town takes a vacation and the infestation begins. Crusties and ska kids and org-core dudes and lady dudes get down for 4 days and drink beer that won a Blue Ribbon 121 years ago, which I found out researching this “joke” that it NEVER ACTUALLY WON A BLUE RIBBON! I digress… but research it. It seems like standard fare for a music festival but there is an undeniable energy that one can’t ignore. I like to think of it as a place where that guy on the internet who called me fat gets to hang out with that guy who wrote the review for the new Iron Chic album. It’s where nerds and introverts get to play and hopefully tame some strange.

“From there on the all-out shit party started.”

After a short flight and an issue with a turndown service that was less than enjoyable I arrived at my first FEST. Everyone has to check in at the Holiday Inn which is essentially a line full of nerds and wieners pre-gaming and getting introduced to the potential friends they’ll be making. You stand in a line that winds around the block waiting to receive the FEST Wristband, the all access pass to the weekends events. From there on the all-out shit party gets started.

Instantly you meet people from around the world and drink with them. No joke, people save their money year round in order to get themselves to Gainesville Florida to watch middle range punk acts play for 4 days. I’ll let that sink in. They travel the WORLD to go to GAINESVILLE FLORIDA! That’s like me saving for a year to travel to a tire factory in Belgium but despite that the vibe is friendly and the people are there to have a good time.

But what about this festival makes it so special in comparison to the Lollapalooza’s of the world? For me it was seeing old friends from our travels abroad. That German fellow who I met while playing in Berlin is in America, in front of me. Someone I assumed I’d never see again is in my country watching Mean Jeans next to Jeff Rosenstock. It was something like I’d never experienced before. Artist and admirer stood on common ground singing songs they both enjoyed.

“In this garbage sink town of Gainesville, I’m able to make a lasting friendship.”

I met one of my favourite dudes from New Jersey before a Streetlight Manifesto concert at the Florida Theatre. We met after our set and just chatted, got those common dude friendship things out of the way (smoked pot and nodded a lot) and there it was… friendship. A lasting friendship no less. I’m 25 years old and I just moved to a new city with my lady. There is nothing more stressful then finding lasting adult friendship but here, in this garbage stink town of Gainesville, I’m able to make a lasting friendship based on common ground alone.

That’s a phenomena I can’t say I’ve experienced since grade school. Heck, maybe that’s it. Not since youth have we all been excited to meet and become close with strangers based on the fact that we have common ground and here we are. His friends went to see Mixtapes and we ended up at a ska show. It was that simplicity that grew my fascination with FEST.

See, FEST is great when you’re a performer but the experience honestly isn’t THAT different. We may get some line privileges but not many. We may get SOME free booze but not more than needed. It’s more about meeting all those faceless internet commenters who made our band “what they are today.”

At FEST 12 I played three sets, two full band and one acoustic. For the full band I brought my guitar…. and for the acoustic set my Jersey homie just let me borrow his guitar. Normally I gotta do work and carry stuff, do soundchecks and whatever. Not at FEST. The laid back-ness of the ordeal makes it even more special.


“I was handed booze and a loose suggestion for time.”

When I played at the acoustic cafe the feel was one to be matched. I played early Saturday morning…. noonish… but after walking up and saying, “Hi, I’m nobody and I’m here to play.” I was handed booze and a loose suggestion for time. I stuck around that spot for a portion of the day watching people play and it was one of the better days I had at FEST. I watched dudes from bands I worshiped play for 8 people and people I never heard of belt for drunk and hungry crowds.

I also saw International Dipshit bring a smile to my face as they banged through a couple songs and hung out in front of an audience bringing the mood back to a rare feeling at an event like this. That whatever, we’ll make it work, mentality. There is no ego at FEST. There is no one who feels above anyone else. Everyone shares the common goal of making it go off without a hitch so all the concert goers can get their story.

Despite my (totally interesting) ramblings I don’t want to paint the picture that FEST is some hippie run event where nothing works. Quite the contary. To house and keep track of hundreds of bands is no easy feat. I spoke to the dudes in Stabbed in Back who happened to pick up some extra tour dough by working backline for The Florida Theatre. All day… for like 30 bands… while YOU were drinking.

On top of the fact it’s cool that FEST allows such an opportunity, it’s a testament to the time taken to keep that machine fully lubed and running at full efficiency. Dudes and girls in bands come from all sorts of breeds, from the overly neurotic and time oriented to the lazy and drunk (me), so to keep track of all of them over the course of a day is no easy task. Very rarely did a set run late or did a band end over their time – an amazing feat considering the variables. So next time you’re at this event and the bouncer or stage tech is tired and annoyed try and sympathize because those guys have been putting up with shit all day.

“For one weekend, everyone is a hero in someone’s eyes.”

FEST isn’t perfect by any means… but that’s part of its calling. Bands get drunk and play sloppy, kids overheat in the pit and dudes fall asleep outside. Every once in a while you get king dong trying to ruin the good time but so is being human. The mass majority is in it for the right reason, which is something that can’t be said for the bigger festivals, full of shit-heads looking to create that life affirming story that they can take to the water cooler. Never in my life have I been able to feel the weight of the bullshit I make.

I met fans of both my bands who really took it seriously… Like listened to it and related to it. This is something I don’t always feel even when I’m touring, but for one weekend everyone is a hero in someone’s eyes and that in itself is a beautiful thing. If I went to Coachella I wouldn’t catch any of the fellas from Modest Mouse drinking at a bar the size of the 1982. Yet at FEST I get to apologize to Mikey Erg for writing a dumb song about him after watching him enjoy a band he rarely gets to see.

“Will FEST become the next Warped Tour for adults?”

Well FEST? What’s it gonna be? Will you become the next Warped Tour for adults? Accruing larger sponsors and grabbing bands that will guarantee attendance or will you still take risks on bands that are just genuinely awesome who want to feel like a star for one day? Will you take it to the road? Will you move to other locations? How will you accommodate the influx of concert goers due to this recent Pop-Punk revival? What day am I going to die? Lot’s of questions will need to be brought up regarding this event and I am sure Tony and his team have already racked their brains regarding said subjects.

Frankly, I love the event. They have a yearly attendee now and I’m pretty damn tough to win over. For now we will wrap this bad boy up in a nice package and say that FEST, ya got a good thing going, don’t fuck it up…. Cause if you do I got to pay out the ass to go to Riot Fest. Now go message your dipshit FEST friends and talk about how big Dallas from Red City Radio should be a male underwear model.


Devon Kay plays in Direct Hit!, Devon Kay & the Solutions & when he’s available in The Fur Coats. Tweet him, or Facebook, and expect more articles where he thinks out loud for you to read.