If you live in Gainesville and haven’t heard of Fest then it’s likely you haven’t been downtown during Halloween weekend. Punks from all walks of life and all corners of the world take over the city to participate in the largest annual DIY punk-rock festival. With a brag sheet of headliners like Less Than Jake, PUP, Against Me!, Streetlight Manifesto, Anti-Flag, and Modern Baseball, Fest is a wild and chaotic good time.
For many bands on the bill, Fest is the biggest show they will play that year. You can feel the excitement from the bands as they load in; they know that they will have an excitable crowd who is familiar with their material. Interestingly enough this is just as true for Gainesville local bands as it is for the many foreign bands who travel all the way to the southern tip of the US to perform. After a bands’ set the crowd will file out and disperse into the town only for a new one to cram into the space immediately at the allotted show time. Each band has their own batch of Fest goers and you will see them hanging out and grabbing drinks with these fans well after the show. This mutual respect is commonplace in the Fest community and gives volunteers the opportunity to meet and learn from some delightfully interesting people.
Behind the chaos and excitement of the pulsating crowds, mosh pits, and flying PBR cans is a uniform system of Fest employees and volunteers. One thing you’ll hear founder and head organizer Tony Weinbender say repeatedly at volunteer orientation is that “Fest runs on time.” If you read that Gainesville Legends Radon will be performing at the High Dive at 6:50pm you can bet they will be taking the stage not a minute late and not a second early.
Fest places each of its stage managers at a venue and working under those stage managers are a team of volunteers: one to work the door, one to catch the crowd-surfers, one to carry gear, and one to aid the stage manager with payment and set-times. Both the bands and the crowds at Fest are incredibly diverse with the volunteers being no acceptation. You may work with another Floridian college student or perhaps a French fan of Guerilla Poubelle, but one thing you will find consistently is a sense of comradery. Everyone holds one another accountable for pulling their weight and every band member you meet is incredibly grateful for your help. Weinbender himself expressed his gratitude at the last team meeting before the festival. He remarked that after 15 years he sometimes still can’t believe that hundreds of people sign up to dedicate their time simply because “they get it.”
Fest volunteers certainly do “get it.” Volunteering at Fest means becoming part of a rag-tag family of hardworking music lovers, seeing the immediate pay-off of your hard work when a happy band takes the stage in front of a packed crowd, and of course a pass for all three days of the festival. If you’re looking to be involved in the Gainesville music scene or if you’re curious about the interworking of an internationally known festival, check out Fest 16 next October.