Pre-Fest 6 has now come and gone. For two days, happy punks prepping for the big party in Gainesville (Fest 17) warmed up with cold PBR (and low-calorie PBR “Easy”) alongside Bay area locals and fans from around the world.
This year’s edition saw a reduction in venues with just Crowbar and Orpheum hosting bands on Wednesday (although The Bricks staged an additional acoustic stage on Thursday), and while there was less music to go around, the message of acceptance, friendship, understanding and resistance from so many bands seemed to hit harder than it has in years before.
Ybor City needs Pre-Fest, and we all need to know there are bands out there willing to fight alongside us in a world that seems oh-so-very-fucked these days.
Have a look at all the best photos from Pre-Fest 6, and then read about some of our favorite moments below.
Tampa’s very own Buck Sands clocked out of work and directly into Pre-Fest 6’s very first set. The man famous for destroying mic stands didn’t demand much from the crowd (golf claps, people), but Flat Stanley did give Pre-Festers a working man’s set that we could all toast to.
Across the street at Orpheum, Chicago indie-rock outfit Campdogzz and its frontwoman Jessica Price were busy giving a still-thin crowd a heavy dose of its new album, In Rounds. Gloriously janky rhythms got glazed in atmospheric lead and Price’s arresting, low-key delivery for a set that’ll be burned into our minds until the band returns.
Speaking of returns, Tampa-based Pre-Fest and Fest lifers Awkward Age played what just may have been its final Bay area set ever. Frontman Vic Alvarez made sure it counted by bounding — elbows high and cocked — around the stage while drummer Eric Tuner huffed and puffed his cheeks in between shouting along to verses from the band’s latest (and final) EP, Vaarwel.
The strong showing from the local contingent would be a theme of the next 48 hours, and it was especially fun to watch when Sandspur City let Dave Decker (who bandmates described as “the George Harrison of punk”) take the mic for a song and then melt into the arms of one enthusiastic Pre-Fester.
Pre-Fest is for seeing friends, and we were able to wrap our arms around a few locals (Kristin Stigaard of Daddy Kool and No Clubs), nearby neighbors (Mitch Foster of Orlando music website Shows I Go To) and folks long gone (one-time Bay area scene staple Sarah Hargis, who now lives in Chicago).
As with every Pre-Fest and Fest, many came to Ybor City from across the globe. One such group was Traverse, a Parisian quartet which couldn’t get over how kind its tourmates, Philadelphia’s Goddamnit, have been to them.
“Go see them in Gainesville,” Traverse said in its broken English before explaining how the next song it was about to play was about shaping the streets of their city. We’re grateful that they came all the way from France to help mold the shape of our own streets for a night.
When you talk about shapes, it’s hard not to mention the bulging sphere in the front pocket of Michael J. Wolf’s yellow briefs. Wolf-Face has been playing the same, irreverent top hits for about seven years, but the novelty of the St. Petersburg lupine punk band (and it’s penchant for playing killer songs) has not worn thin for a Pre-Fest crowd that was as thick as the hair on Michael J’s snout (and howling along with the band, too).
If it was a dose of reality that you were looking for, Slingshot Dakota was happy to provide it. Carly Comando — keyboardist for the Pennsylvania duo which began its musical journey after taking a life-changing boat taxi ride off the coast of Fort Lauderdale — spoke openly about mental health, anxiety and posers in the DIY scene.
“I love this community,” she said, draped in a Rick Wakeman-esque disco ball cape. "I love that we hang out, watch bands and eat pizza… but there are some posers out there.”
More poignant was Comando’s direct address to a seemingly divided country that seems to want to filter colored people, trans people and other marginalized communities out of mainstream society.
“To my trans friends, black friends, anyone dealing with the shit this country is putting you though — I want you to know I'm with you and I love you,” she said. “And I want it to get better.”
During its set, Gainesville quartet Dikembe offered a way for Pre-Festers to make it get better.
“You guys should vote,” the band said from the Orpheum stage, “and if you vote in Florida, then vote for Andrew Gillum.”
If the load of the world in general threatened to break you on Wednesday night, then Washington state four-piece RVIVR would give you all the strength you needed to bear the brunt of the cruelty. There's so much power, joy, love, positivity, hope and fight in a RVIVR set, and the band’s heartfelt, intoxicating commitment to gender equality and sociopolitical thought was palpable as Erica Freas, Mattie Jo Canino, Kevin Rainsberry and Benny Nelson all smiled at each other (and the crowd) during the band’s set.
“Trans people — we’re still gonna be here,” Frecas declared during a break between songs, alluding to the Trump discrimination administration’s desire to roll back protections for transgender Americans, and possibly legally invalidate their existence, by narrowly defining gender as based on sex assignment at birth.
“We gotta keep fighting,” Frecas said, “and we gotta stand up to it.”
Radioactivity brought the spirit of the Ramones to Pre-Fest with its hyper-energetic, fast and loud set at Crowbar, and The Menzingers did the amazing job that it always does at these gatherings, but RVIVR really ruled the mid-week punk-rock weekend with its powerful, believable message.
We missed War On Women and Bad Cop/Bad Cop, so, for us, the only set that may have rivaled RVIVR’s was one from beloved and long-running emocore poet Travis Shettel who led Massachusetts-based quartet Piebald through a quick and dirty set highlighted by a two-song ending that found Shettel diving into the crowd to join the band’s most devoted fans in signing along to the powerful, inclusive verses from “American Hearts.”
“From all I've heard, and all I've seen — this place has broken my American heart,” is what the crowd sang loudly to end the song, which describes an encounter the song’s protagonist has with someone washing windows above him.
“And I say, 'Sir, well have you heard that this country is unequal still?’,” is the question Shettel proposes before unraveling this observation: “History continues itself… And I did not create the rules.”
Things do seem to moving backwards these days, and while it seems trivial to use a music festival to try and find refuge from a very cruel reality, Pre-Fest — at its best — feels just a little bit different. It’s a place to be different. It is, in fact, a place to find shelter. It’s a place to be embraced, and let’s hope it keeps repeating itself around here for many years to come.