Interview: The Fest 10 organizer Tony Weinbender - Features - Alternative Press




Interview: The Fest 10 organizer Tony Weinbender

October 24 2011, 6:59 AM EDT By Bryne Yancey

Over the last decade, THE FEST has evolved from a small-time operation in which roughly 60 bands performed over two days in a few Gainesville, Florida venues to a massive event in which 6000 people and 300 bands converge upon the small college town, essentially overtaking the streets and all its venues for three days. This year is the tenth anniversary of The Fest and organizer Tony Weinbender went all out, assembling a lineup chock full of heavy-hitting Fest alumni (Hot Water Music, the Bouncing Souls, Less Than Jake) as well as the usual up-and-coming acts, not to mention a bevy of "mystery" bands. Weinbender rolled the dice and announced initial details all the way back in February—months earlier than announcements of past Fests, which usually happened in the summer—and as a result, The Fest 10 sold out in record time and has arguably garnered more buzz than the previous nine Fests combined.

With the Fest-ivities set to kick off this Friday, caught up with Weinbender from his home in Gainesville to talk about this year's stacked lineup, his philosophy on organizing the Fest, tips on how to best enjoy the weekend plus plenty of other important details (Tony likes to talk a lot).

Interview: Bryne Yancey

Although no band applications were accepted this year, there are still a bunch of first-timers on The Fest 10 lineup. What was the selection process like?

I didn't do applications because even though we always find some awesome bands through the application process, it's just a lot of bands [to sort through]. This year I wanted to try something different—I think last year, we had about 600 bands apply, so going through that, organizing it all, and getting back to the bands was just too time-consuming for the level of work that goes into this festival now. Plus, Cam Taylor, one of the guys that's helped me the most at Fest the last several years, kind of took a little break this year and trimmed his role a little bit. He had a lot going on with his band [Senders] this year, school, life, everything—that's one reason everyone else had to step up and I thought, if I can just eliminate that, that'll save us, fuck, I don't even know how many work hours.

So my selection process was like, "Hey, if you hear about a band that's cool, via Alternative Press or wherever, let's see if we can do it.". In fact, Greys I got out of AP, because it [the feature] mentioned three bands I liked and one of them was Fugazi, and I thought, "If Alternative Press is saying a band sounds like Fugazi I gotta at least listen to it."

Creepoid is another one. I discovered them from [Shores], who I was doing press for, and it wasn't Shores saying "Hey, you need to check out Creepoid," it was Shores saying "Hey, we're going on tour and this is the band we're touring with." I listened to it and thought "Whoa, this is really fucking good." The cool thing about it, even when we did applications, I remember getting that Cheap Girls record [Find Me A Drink Home] when they applied. Same with Lemuria, The Ergs, and so many other bands. I'd get these records and listen to them, and working at No Idea, there are a lot of cats that like music there, you know? [Laughs.] I'd go around the office playing records for people and it's funny because within our little No Idea world, certain people like certain stuff—I might take something to PJ [Fancher, No Idea's web developer] and he might not like it because it's really fast and really crazy and really heavy, you know? It's cool to do it that way.

There were some bands that I asked [to play] last year, and there are some new bands that I was stoked to have play like Trap Them, who had to bail. That's another thing, too—we asked bands to really look at their calendars and flash forward this year and commit a little early. So it was really awesome to see, going out of the blue and saying to bands "Hey, do you wanna do this?" and in that way it was a lot like the application process. We always do kind of a background check [laughs], call people from the area and ask about bands. I remember that's how we decided to book Cheap Girls; I called up the guys in North Lincoln and said "Hey man, this is really fresh. No one's really doing stuff like this now. What's the deal with them?" And they said, "Awesome dudes, but they will drink heavily, so watch out." [Laughs.]

This year I'm stoked that we were still have new bands on Fest 10 even though we initially said it was gonna be alumni-only. We normally release a big guidebook for all the attendees with reviews and descriptions of every band; this year, we just did a thing called "The Freshman Class" as if to say, we're hitting the ten year mark of this thing, some people are moving on, some people are doing their last hurrahs but here's some new music. As far as I know, as long as they have a good time and we have a good time, they'll be coming back next year or years after if we even do another one of these things, who knows.

In past years, Fest announcements generally started over the summer in advance of the October event. This year, however, the first wave of announcements came all the way back in February. What was the motive for announcing details that early?

Honestly, last year I was just a little bit ahead of schedule and by the time Fest 9 was rolling up in my head I was already thinking, "Next year is Fest 10, let's fucking do this." Fest 9 happened and there were a lot of bands that wanted to play that couldn't—I've been trying to get Hot Water [Music] back, for example, and they're just really busy with their [other] bands and their lives and so on. So when it came down to trying to get Hot Water [Music] back, we thought, "Well, we gotta try and get the [Bouncing] Souls to come play with them." And then we were like, "Seaweed should come back, it's been a couple years since they've played, there's rumors that they've recorded some new songs, I would love to see Seaweed again and I'm not gonna go to Seattle to see Seaweed [Laughs]. Then we asked Lifetime [who have since canceled and been replaced by Kid Dynamite--ed.] and Small Brown Bike. I really just made up a quick list in my head, and on the list obviously were some bands that haven't played in years because they've gotten big, or busy, or whatever. And there's no fucking way we could fit all of our alumni into three days.

So the motive was me wanting to just do something really awesome for our ten-year anniversary, and I thought the best way to do that was to get started really early and not take that little break [after Fest 9 ended]. I started going through an Excel spreadsheet of all these bands and their contacts and looking back now, the cool thing was being able to confirm some of these bands as early as mid-December.

I feel like Fest has reached a point where, especially this year, tours are happening in the United States around Fest, which is just how I want it to be; three or four bands that are all friends that play Fest together and say, "Fuck it man, we're all going, let's do this together." Without having a Fest tour, or saying it's a Fest tour, it'd be pretty badass if one day we could get all the bands together and do one big trip around the States. Who knows if anybody would care, and we damn well couldn't make enough money to pay all the bands, but it'd be fucking fun. [Laughs.]

Many of the larger bands (Hot Water Music, Ted Leo And The Pharmacists) haven't played The Fest in years. Was it easy to get these bands to come back? What do you expect the atmosphere to be like during those performances?

You've been to Fest, you know, and if you haven't been to Fest and you're reading this you can go on YouTube and look—Fest sets are fun. Nobody's showing off, everybody's loving it and everybody's having a blast. And for a lot of people, this might be the first time they're seeing a lot of these bands but also, it's been a while since Hot Water [Music] has played their hometown in a large venue—they've been playing Common Grounds [now Double Down Live] when they come back, which is a 450 capacity venue. Amazing to see, but sometimes, I would sit on the patio of that place with about ten of my friends when any of those bands were playing, and as much as I would love to go inside, I just can't because it's 450 people in the middle of summer and that place is fucking hot. I think Gainesville clubs just can't run their AC in the summer, not because they're being stingy or anything but because their machines can't handle it or something, so you're drinking beers and singing along, and pop inside when they play your favorite song. But at Fest, old fuckers like me—I'm 35—the bands are in these big venues and those older people are in the crowd, not even fighting through the crowd but almost loving through the crowd.

A lot of the same bands perform at the Fest every year, leading to some detractors complaining about the lineup being stagnant. What do you think when you hear things like that?

I'm not saying that the Fest we do here is what everyone is gonna like. This is a festival of pretty much what I like, and it just so happens that there are 6000 or so other people that want to come because they agree with what I like. If you don't like what we're doing, go do it yourself. Make your fest. No one handed this shit to me, to us, we just decided we wanted these bands to come down and basically hang out and party with everyone because they're friends of ours and we haven't seen our friends in a while. Living in Florida, it's fucking hard; I came here from Virginia and it seems like a lot more bands went through Virginia than through Florida. Sometimes I see my friends once a year and especially nowadays, a lot of these bands only come down to Florida for Fest and that's it. In Florida it's hard; you come down here and you're stuck in the state for a while.

I want to see my friends come down, I want to see my friends play, and if I'm gonna pay a band, I hope that it's a band I like. Paying some band you don't like, why would you do that? Then you're just a promoter, then you're just doing it for money, then that's your fucking job. This is something that we curate, this is something that we like, this is what we do. So if you feel like it's stagnant and you wanna complain about it, you have every right to complain about it, but do something about it. Make your Fest. Especially people that live in this town, it's like really? We're gonna get beat up and dragged through the mud because we're doing something right? It's bringing a whole lot of attention to Gainesville, not to mention a lot of fucking money to this city. As much as some of my friends bitch about having to bartend or wait tables Fest weekend, they're not bitching the Tuesday after when I see them at the bar and they're throwing down hundred dollar bills.

I do ask this, though: if you're going to do your own fest, start small. Start with what you know, start with your friends. There's been some examples this year of people trying to go big and losing it. It shouldn't be a business, it should be something you care about.

The growth of The Fest year-over-year has been completely organic. How do you effectively manage that growth to ensure that this thing doesn't get too big too fast?

Like I said, sticking with your friends and with what you know. One of the biggest things we've done for Fest is getting 8 Seconds [involved as a venue] last year, giving us two venues that are around 1000 capacity. If you've never been to Gainesville, we're a small college town in north Florida. There's not much downtown and it's a small downtown, which makes it amazing for Fest because you can get from A to B quickly. A lot of the venues are right next to each other; we used to joke around that you could stumble out of one venue and into another and stumble into new bands that way.

We don't have many resources; we're not a major city at all. The city doesn't support us like other cities do for other festivals. That's our biggest thing, we manage the growth because we can't grow that much. We went big this year, we started early and planned what we wanted to do, and I got Richard [Minino, AKA HORSEBITES] to do the art again. Richard asked me what I had for an idea and I told him I wanted a big cake with all the dudes [from past Fest posters] around it as a theme for the poster, and we just kind of went with that. It's exciting to have your friend be the one to create the image, and then you get to rep your friend to thousands of people. That's how you maintain it, man.

Another thing is to not chomp at the fucking carrot when major sponsors come at you and pitch crazy or extreme ideas. That's how we manage it, but this year, we never expected that this many people would be interested, that tickets would sell out so fast, or that hotels would sell out so fast. There was so much demand this year and maybe it's because we started so early, maybe it's because we stacked the bill like we've been talking about but honestly, I think it's just our fucking reputation. Not just we as in the Fest, or we as in Gainesville, but everyone that has anything to do with it, from the bands to the attendees to the volunteers to you guys, the press. If you read about what Fest does, it's from people who care; we're not out there barking and trying to get press. We're just doing what we're doing, and I think ten years of doing it and doing it right is how you maintain it all. You don't ever get too weird with it [Laughs].

And who knows, maybe this year will be the year that something goes wrong, but I don't think so. I think this year everyone's gonna come and it'll be amazing and I don't even know how to describe it beyond that, because I don't even know what it's gonna be like.

There's a big build-up to the biggest three-day exam of life you've ever had as an organizer, and I get nervous and can't sleep sometimes just from not knowing. As an attendee, you're like, "Fuck yeah, it's the biggest three days of awesome!," and that's what we always wanted it to be. But you know, this isn't what I do for a living. Nobody taught me how to do this shit. Nobody taught me and my crew how to do this stuff. None of us are professionals—well, we fly in two professional sound guys that have done sound for Less Than Jake for years and that's how we know them. They're sweethearts, and they come down here and do this shit for us every year, work the whole time and barely get to hang out at all. They don't get paid some astronomical amount; we tried that with other people in the past that wanted to come down and they just cried and complained all the time.

This will be the biggest year of Fest yet. What's the best piece of advice you could give to first-time attendees?

The same advice that any attendee would give you: don't try to go too big too fast, pace yourself, drink some water, eat some food. If you're fucking stuck in a line forever, just go see another show; there are plenty of good bands to see. Go see a band you've never heard of; go see ten bands you've never heard of. Even when I go to festivals I always try to go see someone I haven't heard. Take some risks with your schedule. Also, enjoy this town. Take some time to break away and go somewhere where there's not a bunch of Fest people and just hang out and see what it's like on the other side.

Also I think the key to [getting through] Fest, when the shows are over, go to fucking bed. Then when you wake up the next day, you have a full night's rest, you're stoked, you get some breakfast and coffee and you may feel a little hungover, but if you stay up and party all night you're just fucked the next day. You're either asleep and you miss everything or you're just this weird walking zombie and no one likes to hang out with the zombie guy or girl. No one does. I'm saying all of this from personal experience—I've been on both sides of it. I've been that guy that's tried to go too big at festivals.

What would you say is going to be noticably different for those of us who are Fest veterans?

Well, we've got a couple new venues I'm really excited about. Durty Nelly's is back. Durty Nelly's might be the oldest venue we're using in Gainesville. It's a little Irish pub right down University [Boulevard] that's a 21 and up bar, it's always ice-cold, it's dark, you can smoke cigarettes in there, they've got every fucking beer under the sun and whiskey, and it's always cheap. They have this small little stage and a vocal PA, and they take all the tables out and it just rages and rocks in there. This year, on Sunday [at Durty Nelly's], Razorcake is celebrating their ten year anniversary as well, so there are a bunch of mystery bands that Todd [Taylor, Razorcake founder] asked to play.

We're also using the Laboratory as a venue this year. It's weird because it's a fucking nerd bar. They do all this crazy electronica music there, this crazy, underground sci-fi type stuff that's more about art and presentation than the music, at least to my ears. [Laughs]. But they do all kinds of shows and it kind of reminds me of how the Hardback [now-defunct Gainesville venue] was back in the day, with a vocal PA and a tiny stage with a square marker so people would know where the band plays. They used to serve beer in beakers while wearing lab coats, it's awesome. I think every single time I've walked in there Futurama has been on the TV, and they say "Hello, Earthling" when I walk in [laughs]. But they wanted to be a venue, and they're also one of the food sponsors; we have five restaurants involved that are going to feed all of the out-of-town bands at least one meal.

Anyway, I'm kind of bummed because they asked if we could get them bands that are sort of within their scene, and we used to have bands from that scene play and it was cool, but only their friends would come see them and nobody would take a risk, but I did give them the Emotron and they will be very happy with the Emotron. I was stoked to have them involved because it's another small venue [200 capacity] that will have the feel of a DIY show. Places like that are where I grew up seeing bands—small venues and VFW halls, and that's really what most of our venues in Gainesville are like, and at places like that you can't really go crazy and crowd surf and pull other shit like that.

On that, if there's one bitchy thing I'd say to readers, it's this: respect your fucking environment. You don't have to be that guy. You don't have to be that girl. Enjoy what you have because if you fuck it up, it ain't there anymore. Then where are you gonna go? Where are bands gonna play? And bands that sort of encourage that type of shit, it's their responsibility to get the crowd to cool the fuck out. We don't need this shit going on at our shows. There shouldn't be a separation between band and fan; we're all the same kind of people. That's another thing about Fest that's different: we don't treat bands like they're fucking royalty, and the bands will tell you that. Every band gets the same fucking deal. We don't try to separate the fans and the bands; if you try to ask us for a press pass to go talk to this band, you don't have to; you can just go fucking talk to them. They're right there. All the bands that play Fest are here for the whole weekend, hanging out. That's what this scene is about.

I'm excited about the mystery bands in general. That was something I wanted to do after last year when Off With Their Heads were on tour with Bad Religion, a band canceled at the Atlantic and Ryan [Young, OWTH frontman] texted me and wanted to come up [from Orlando]; their show got out early and they wanted to come up and just hang out, but then I said, "Hold on, this band just canceled. Why don't you just take their spot? It's four hours from now." He texts back and is like, "Is it at the Atlantic?" "Yeah." He asks, "Is there back line?" "Yeah, we already have gear there for you and everything." Then he asks, "Do I have to play guitar? Can someone else play guitar?" [Laughs]. I said, "You gotta find him." And it happened and it was cool because I had no idea—I don't have Facebook, I didn't have twitter at the time—I didn't realize how fast this social media stuff spreads virally.

A lot of these [mystery] bands this year just wanted to play a smaller venue than they'd normally play. They'll come and go see their friends' bands in these other venues, and they have venues they like hanging out in, playing in, things like that. So we just built that into the schedule this year, and it really worked out; I was really happy with how it came together. Let's put it this way: this was built around my friends who were asking for this and now they're getting it, and then there were some other bands that haven't been back to Fest in a while but just didn't wanna fucking deal with playing two shows, and I fully endorse that.

It seems like rumors of The Fest's demise swirl every year. Given that it's the tenth anniversary with all these alumni playing, do you think this will be the last year of Fest?

This'll be the last year if it fucking sucks, or if shit goes wrong and everybody hates it. We've never had a fight at Fest, so if someone starts a fight we probably won't have it again. I think if it's not fun for us to put it on it'll be the last year, which, not fun for us is what most people consider brutally horrible. Just working all weekend sucks—it's the most exhausting thing I've ever experienced in my entire life, running this fucking thing. And I do it every fucking year, and I'm not the only one that does it and works the entire time. But like I said earlier, if you fuck it up it's not gonna be there anymore. Nobody else is gonna be able to do this shit. Nobody else wants to do this shit [laughs]. So yeah, if you fuck it up we won't do it again, but if you don't fuck it up I'll see you at Fest 11. alt