Because of the insane number of bands scheduled to play the Fest (I'm guessing about 180 offhand, though I gave up trying to count) and the limited amount of space and time in which they can do their playing, many, if not the majority of the bands have been limited to 20-minute sets.
I'm here to testify that this is a very good set length, perhaps the ideal set length, and one that should become an all-purpose benchmark, rather like the three minute song (two to two and a half for pop punk) or the 90 minute movie. There are exceptions, of course, mostly for the bands who have been around forever and have a whole host of classic songs that everyone (or at least someone) just has to hear, but the way I'm thinking tonight, any band that can't say what it came to say in 20 minutes needs to rethink it message and/or MO.
Day two of the Fest ended a bit anticlimactically for me, with the Sidebar, where Dear Landlord were playing and where I'd expected to spend the waning minutes of my 50s, so overcrowded that people were lined up down the block in the vain hope of getting in. I'd laughed at my friends for going in an hour earlier, but they had the last laugh, as I was left cooling my heels out on the sidewalk and finally deciding to call it an early night after a long and strenuous day. No birthday cake being in evidence, I stopped at the 24 hour Krispy Kreme for some donuts and decaf, and while I'm not all that familiar with Krispy Kreme establishments, being more of a Dunkin' Donuts man myself, I feel I have to share the news that the Gainesville Krispy Kreme is very possibly the worst smelling retail food establishment in the entire United States of America, if not the the entire Western Hemisphere. The stench, something like rotting lard mingled with rancid butter and decomposing body parts, hits you the minute you walk in the door, and leaves me completely bewildered as to how anyone manages to stand it long enough to order some donuts (which, surprisingly if not shockingly, are very tasty).
Tonight was a real party at the Krispy Kreme, in fact, with an exuberant white lady who'd just come back from the Florida Gators game drowning her sorrows over the Gators' loss by buying donuts for half a dozen adults and children who happened to wander in from an African-American church outing. "Hallelujah, we've been blessed!" one lady kept telling everyone, including yours truly, and I thought of putting a bid in for a free birthday donut or two, then thought instead of paying for the donuts of the person in line behind me, but ultimately rejected both notions.
Or perhaps I was distracted by the counter lady, an elderly African-American, unleashing a stentorian barrage of abuse at her white boss who'd been foolish or careless enough to get her in way while she was trying to get donuts out of the display cabinet. "How many times I gots to tell you stay in yo back room? You gettin' all underfoot, how the hell I supposed to do my job!" I almost thought she was going to give him a clip around the ear as he went scurrying back to his lair. It would appear as though race relations in the Deep South have undergone a bit of a revolution, at least insofar as the local Krispy Kreme is concerned.
Anyway, to recap the day: made it down onto University Avenue, the Fest's main drag, a little before two, just in time to be too late for the much-anticipated Max Levine Ensemble. They were just carrying out drums and mopping up sweat as I strolled in. Stayed for a some of Environmental Youth Crunch before stepping next door to Chez Subway for my breakfast sub, then back into the club for The Dauntless Elite, who put on with the best and liveliest sets thus far, and further enlivened it by speaking in charming and endearing Yorkshire accents (they're from Leeds), which filled me with nostalgia for my time in London, where a northern accent of any kind, but especially a Yorkshire one, is often the cause of instant merriment, functioning much a Southern accent in the United States.
Then it was time for Delay, the Columbus, Ohio identical twin-fronted power punk trio that is one of the most exciting live bands in existence today. In order to see them, I had to miss the Copyrights, also one of my favorite bands, but choices had to be made, and I think I made the right one. I think I've now been a Delay fan long enough that I can actually tell the twins apart, or maybe it's that Ryan has started drinking beer, leaving him with a more raffish and ruffled look than Austin, who has retained the edge. Just a theory, folks.
Caught a bit of Hot New Mexicans before joining up with the PPMB posse for a scenic tour of University Avenue, then back to 1982 (the club, not the year) for one of the best shows of the Fest (there have been several of these already) from Mississippi's One Reason. I'd never heard them, and had always assumed from the name they were some sort of youth crew posicore outfit, but not at all: they're a straight-ahead punk band with powerful, anthemic female/male vocals and a crowd that obviously adores them. Way intense.
Then it was time for American Steel, who I last saw nine or ten years ago at Gilman, when they were in their first heyday as the darlings of all the Gilman kids who were too young to have seen Operation Ivy and Crimpshrine. Now, having apparently decided that Communiqué, their Interpol tribute band, wasn't working out, they're back to what they do best, and the crowd absolutely loved it.
I did, too, but not so much that I didn't cut out a bit early to see Boston's Witches With Dicks play some frantic melodic hardcore to a packed house at the Sidebar. They're nowhere near as slick as American Steel, but every bit as exciting.
On my way out of the American Steel show, I ran into my old friend Beau Beau from Avail, who I barely recognized at first, because his beard had gotten so long (not to mention his Davy Crockett coonskin cap, which I hadn't seen him sporting before). He told me Avail were going to sing Happy Birthday to me from the stage, which they ended up not doing (probably a blessing for all concerned), but Tim, their lead singer, did dedicate not just a song, but the entire set to me, which was, to say the least, rather touching.
I was watching from the back at that point (Avail crowds can get, shall we say, quite lively), but after receiving that dedication, there was no way I could stay there, and went charging up to the front of the stage, where I spent the better part of an hour fending off lumpy bearded stagedivers who seemed determined to land on me, and got a big sweaty hug from Tim in the midst of it all. Things really went off during the last song, sort of they way they do during the last few minutes of a fireworks display, and at one climactic moment, three stagedivers simultaneously crashed into my head and shoulders, causing me momentarily to think I'd dislocated or broken my neck.
This is going to sound great in the emergency ward, I thought: "Um, sir, you're 60 years old and you broke your neck in the pit at a punk rock show?" But I guess the years of t'ai chi and my new gym regimen have paid off, because the old neck stood up under the onslaught and I walked away sweaty but unbowed.
Things tailed off after that; I watched part of Dillinger Four, who if possible elicited an even more insane crowd response than Avail had, but who left a bad taste in my mouth when Paddy gave a shout-out to "Brooklyn cocaine." Ironically (though I'm not sure he would have seen the irony), just a few between-songs diatribes earlier, he'd been slagging off the 70s, which of course was the last time rock stars helped create cocaine chic (as well as launching a thousand lucrative rehab centers).
What else? Had an outstanding Cuban sandwich (it's a specific type of sandwich, not an ethnic classification), ran into Toby Jeg from Red Scare Records, who despite his ferocious and belligerent online personality, turned out to be jolly and friendly as can be, and had a few minutes to reflect on how lucky I am to be here at the Fest. Just before I left New York, Aaron Cometbus said, "Don't you think it's kind of risky spending your birthday there? It just seems like there are that many more things with the potential to go wrong."
And I thought maybe he had a point, but decided to do it anyway, and it's been nothing but awesome, beards, drunks and all. Most if not all people are totally friendly, there's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to good music, and even though it's not sunny, it's warm enough to stroll around in shirtsleeves all through the day and night.
I was telling somebody that ten years or so ago, I might have been afraid to come to an event of this type because there were so many punks who claimed to be mad at me for "ruining" or "selling out" the punk scene. I often did encounter hostility from complete strangers when they found out who I was, even at places like Gilman, that had been more or less my second home.
But not only has all of that faded away - or perhaps it's just that most punks no longer know or care who I am - but also, looking around at the numbers and the enthusiasm of the people here, any attempts to "ruin" or "sell out" punk would have been pointless anyway, because it's bigger and stronger and better than ever. And I just thought, wow, all these years and all these people, all this crazy, life-giving and life-enhancing energy and I'm still here, right in the middle of it. Someday, sooner or (hopefully) later, I won't be able to do this any longer, but right now, in this moment, I can't think of another place on earth I'd rather be.