St. Pete’s Pre-Fest brings the spirit of Gainesville’s punk-rock bacchanal to Lucky You Tattoo

Chewy Hemphill and Christian Costello have been planning it since December.

click to enlarge Chewy Hemphill, pictured at Lucky You Tattoo in St. Petersburg, Florida. - Photo by Dave Decker
Photo by Dave Decker
Chewy Hemphill, pictured at Lucky You Tattoo in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Fall in Florida is not made from colored leaves and sweater weather, it’s made from the sweat and sounds of the shows surrounding the biggest weekend in Gainesville. Fall in Florida is Fest season.

Fest 18 to be exact, and with each Fest (stylized as “FEST”) comes spatterings of Pre-Fests all over Florida. For the last six years, folks celebrated at the official pre-party Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor City. Mega bands like Cursive, Against Me!, and Less than Jake played the multi-day event in years past, but hearts broke early this year when Ybor Pre-Fest announced it would be no more

“After six years it just came down to money,” founder Tony Weinbender said in an email to Creative Loafing Tampa.  “We lost money every year we did it so we finally decided to just go back to focusing on Fest in Gainesville and look… Fest 18 sold out. Sometimes it’s best to go back to your roots I guess.”

Pre-Fest at Lucky You Tattoo 4
Tues. Oct. 29 (5 p.m.)-Wed. Oct. 30 (8 p.m.), $8-$25.
9633 Bay Pines Blvd St. Petersburg.

Even though the official Pre-Fest is no longer, another one is still alive and well, just across the bridge. For the fourth year, Bay area promoters Chewy Hemphill (Savage Beat) and Christian Costello (Robot House!) bring an all-ages celebration of music, with a side of vegan food, to St. Petersburg for “Pre-Fest at Lucky You Tattoo.”

It was after another venue, Transitions Art Gallery (at the Skatepark of Tampa) stopped having its own unofficial Pre-Fests that Hemphill, 36, saw an opportunity. There wasn’t a shortage of bands that wanted to play so in 2014, Hemphill started his own.

The first pre-fest I did was at Xtra Medium [in Largo] with six bands that were playing Fest,” Hemphill told CL in a message. He said bands were always looking for shows before and after Fest in Gainesville. “There were quite a few that year, so I thought it could warrant doing an unofficial Pre-Fest. Since then, it's always been at Lucky You Tattoo.”

At the St. Petersburg tattoo shop and DIY music venue, Hemphill joined forces with filmmaker, photographer and promoter Christian Costello. The two already knew each other from going to the same shows and from each others’ different promotions efforts. Hemphill always preferred to do all-ages shows, so moving his Pre-Fest to Lucky You was an easy choice.

Kind of a no-brainer,” Hemphill said, adding that the size of Tampa Bay’s not-so-big scene doesn’t work well when a DIY promoter tries to go it alone. “It doesn't benefit anyone to try and not work together. There’s mutual respect. We’re doing similar shows and not wanting to hinder one another.”

Originally from Key West, Hemphill planted himself in St. Petersburg in 2004; he works in the restaurant and delivery business in between booking bands. The first show he booked was a benefit to provide kids with Christmas presents after Hurricane Wilma hit the Keys. Hemphill started setting up more concerts after that. 

“I was getting to know more people, more touring and local bands, and some of them would come through Florida but not have a show in Tampa Bay,” Hemphill explained, “So I started by just messaging them and saying, ‘I see you have a show in Orlando and a show in Gainesville and an open date in between, would you want to play in St. Pete?  If so I can set a show up for you.’" 

In late 2018, the rumor mill started to suggest that Weinbender might cancel Pre-Fest. Hemphill had a contact on the inside.

“Christian is in charge of all the filming (for Fest) so he confirmed early on that the official Pre-Fest wasn't happening,” Hemphill said. He and Costello upped their game to help traveling bands that would face less opportunity to get Florida shows around their Fest dates.

“The plan was to do one day and do 10-15 bands again, and then when we learned that the official [Pre-Fest] in Ybor wasn't happening, so we said we'd try to do two days if enough bands were interested in coming to St. Pete,” Hemphill said. He touched base with the first band in December. He and Costello have been working on this Pre-Fest — which is two days in 2019, thanks to interest from bands — for almost a year.

click to enlarge Christian Costello, pictured at Fest in Gainesville, Florida. - Photo by Nicole Kibert/
Photo by Nicole Kibert/
Christian Costello, pictured at Fest in Gainesville, Florida.

Many bands playing Pre-Fest at Lucky You are international. Zeta is from Venezuela by way of Miami. France exports Guerilla Poubelle, Bricheros comes from Peru and our Canadian neighbors are sending Bad Waitress to rep for the North. Most acts on Lucky You’s Pre-Fest bill are from out of state and will go on to play Fest 18, including self-described, South Carolina “riot pop” band Horrible Girl and the Hot Mess. In fact, the only Tampa band on the poster is Too Many Daves, which plays day two of Pre-Fest at Lucky You ahead of its Friday Fest 18 show at Durty Nelly’s in Gainesville.

Hemphill is headed to Gainesville for Fest 18, too; it’ll be his 15th time at Fest. But first, he’ll put a cap on the week by hosting a Pre-Fest wrap-up party at Golden Dinosaurs Vegan Deli in Gulfport where Shae Krispinsky, Jeff Brawer, Davey Tiltwheel and Rain Wolf (of Wolf-Face) are all set to play acoustic sets. He’ll attend post-Fest 18 shows in north Florida, but he won’t be involved with the booking. Afterwards, Hemphill is looking forward to some time to recover and relax.

It’s also very likely that he and Costello will be at work on their Lucky You’s Pre-Fest 5 before the year is over. Weinbender, after all, indicated that his own Pre-Fest in Ybor has definitely bowed out.

“It enabled bands coming to Florida for Fest in Gainesville another opportunity to play and for their show to be super organized, promoted. Overall it was a blast,” Weinbender said. “Helping bands was the main reason we did the shows, and we wanted to show our Fest attendees from far away just how awesome the Tampa area is.”

And while Weinbender’s Pre-Fest may be a thing of the past, he can probably rest easy because his friends at Lucky You seem to have it covered.

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About The Author

Stephanie Powers

Freelance contributor Stephanie Powers started her media career as an Editorial Assistant long ago when the Tampa Bay Times was still called the St. Petersburg Times. After stints in Chicago and Los Angeles, where she studied improvisation at Second City Hollywood, she came back to Tampa and stayed put.She soon...
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