Pre-Fest Highlights // Day One
Pre-Fest, while not mandatory, is certainly recommended. It's like a beginners course to the best three day weekend of the year -- with only a handful of venues, bands that are performing in Gainesville take the stage in Ybor City the Wednesday and Thursday leading up to FEST. Since many bands sets unfortunately tend to overlap in Gainesville, you can easily check out bands in Ybor that you likely won't be able to see over the weekend. It also allows you to open up your schedule in Gainesville for bands that are exclusively playing at FEST, but not at Pre-FEST. This year marks my fourth Pre-FEST, and I definitely noticed that there weren't as many people in previous years. While there are countless factors that could prevent someone from attending both Pre-Fest and FEST, I can't help but wonder if Pre-FEST is something that will continue in the future, of if "they" (the FEST gods) are going to cut its cord in the near future. Only time will tell! Either way, it's a fantastic time and an easy way to start to get out of the "work" mindset and ease into vacation mode.
Red City Radio | The Orpheum | Pre-Fest
Red City Radio have performed at both FEST and Pre-Fest in the past, so it was no surprise that they were included in the lineup for this year. They were the first band to perform at The Orpheum, which was steadily growing more packed as the night went on, due to Against Me! being the venues headliner (more on that later, don't worry).
When you walk in to The Orpheum, the semi - carpeted walls are harshly reminiscent of bowling alley decor, but the venue is spacious and even has an upper level with bar seating so you can have a clear view of the stage and chill out without having to stand in the crowd, if that's your type of thing!
While the crowd was surprisingly tame for the majority of Red City Radio's set, which included "Electricity" and "Rebels", I had to remind myself that they were the first of many bands to perform at The Orpheum that day and that as the night went on people would be more active in the crowd.
There's generally a sense of awkwardness when a crowd simply stands still, and thankfully that feeling was lost with Red City Radio due to the obvious fact that most people watching the show were engaged and at least singing along with vocalist Garrett Dale, most notably to the closing lines of "Rest Easy" --
"So keep your head up, baby / Rest easy / I'm coming home and you better believe me / That when I put my foot in the door / I won't wanna leave here anymore / Leave here anymore / I'm not the devil"
Ghouls | Tequilas | Pre-Fest
Tequilas is a bit of a tricky venue, due to the fact that the waitstaff have to weave their way through the crowd to get to the bar throughout the day and night, which can cause audience members to feel that they're more "in the way" than part of a purposeful crowd. However, overall it's a neat place with a brightly colored stage set up and star shaped lanterns strung up on the ceiling.
Walking in to Tequilas, I immediately noticed that the place was emptier than usual which was a bit strange, since this venue in particular is generally packed. However, that didn't deter London based band, Ghouls (not to be confused with Ghoul), from putting on a kick ass show-- skipping any type of introduction, they jumped right into "Expect Greater Things" which starts off slowly and has an incredibly catchy "dada dada dada dadadada" repetition throughout, so even if you don't know the song it has a familiar sort of quality that you can immediately pick up on and sing along with.
Normally if you see a band on stage with a trombone and saxophone player, your mind will land on ska, but that isn't the case with Ghouls. They have a genre that's difficult to pin down, which makes their music, especially their live performances, all the more enjoyable.
While all of the band members are lively while performing, it was especially nice to see their trombone and sax players really getting into it and even swinging their instruments around to the rhythm of the music -- nothing's worse than a band that just stands still. and Ghouls thankfully did the opposite of that.
Off With Their Heads | The Orpheum | Pre-Fest
While the day was growing long, The Orpheum was filling up with people in anticipation of the closing band, Against Me!, who hadn't played FEST in years. Off With Their Heads were the second to last band to play at The Orpheum, so in a sense they were direct support.
Vocalist Ryan Young's voice has a slightly gravely (in the best kind of way) edge, causing the groups overall sound to have a rough coating, chock full of punk rock riffs and choruses that conjure up crowd surfers.
Playing "Shirts", off of their 2013 release Home, as well as "Drive", off of their 2010 release In Desolation, the band included a variety of material to keep the crowd engaged. I can see why they have such dedicated fans -- they've played at both Pre-FEST and FEST in the past, and each year they draw new and old fans alike.
The only thing that would have made their performance even better would have been if the band members were more active while on stage, rather than being stationary. It's always nice to see the musicians really getting into the music, and helps the crowd let loose a little bit more as well.
Against Me! | The Orpheum | Pre-Fest
Finally -- the time that nearly everyone had been waiting for. Against Me! took the stage at The Orpheum, and the crowd went wild. The band opened up their set with "Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong", the first track off of Reinventing Axl Rose (which the group would be performing in full in Gainesville) and moved on into "I Was A Teenage Anarchist", which is one of the songs that people who aren't huge fans of the band are still likely to know.
If you're not big on their music, that's okay, because Against Me! are one of those bands that no matter what level of a fan you are (0 - superfan) you're going to enjoy seeing them live. In fact, seeing them live was more enjoyable for me than listening to them on record. There's just something about everyone being together in one big room singing along to the songs, and the electric energy flowing from the stage.
Laura Jane Grace exudes a natural punk rock vibe (sounds cliche, but it is what it is).. Rather than the traditional Pre-Fest backdrop, Against Me! had their own backdrop being used during their performance which made the set seem a bit more formal, yet still part of the pre-FEST celebration.
Stay tuned for the second installment of Pre-Fest highlights -- you can relive all of the fun that you had, and if you missed out, you can pretend that you were there!