I do volunteer work for an organization called Protect. They're a membership organization that works really hard to make and enforce laws that protect children. Think of something along the lines of the NRA, but for kids' rights, not gun rights. Right now, they're fighting to close incest loopholes in certain state laws. In California, for instance, if an adult has a blood bond with a child and they have sex with them, the punishment is most often parole, not jail time. If the same person randomly picks a child off of the street and molests them, they go to jail. If effect, a predator is rewarded for fucking up his or her own family. That sucks and I want more people to know that kids are getting royally screwed in America by laws that are supposed to be in place to protect them.
I also like punk rock.
My friend Vanessa, who is a huge supporter of Protect, set the wheels in motion and did most of the dirty work. She arranged it for four bands to play a benefit for both Protect and the Civic Media Center: a well-run, essential community space and alternative library in Gainesville.
All I did, basically, was show up, eat my share of boiled peanuts, and hunt for barbecue. Here is my story. Well, parts of it.
I had no real plans besides getting on a plane in LA, arriving in Gainesville, and staying at Replay Dave's house. Dave plays bass in the band the Grabass Charlestons. He's great at cards and had just become a semi-pro gambler. He also takes his role as local gentleman very seriously.
A bike was procured for me and Dave took me on a short trip of the sights. The evening quickly evolved into a who's who of Gainesville musicians that I like. A full list would be gratuitous, but it was a veritable handshake and a "hand-Todd-a-drink-athon." Over the past eight years, I'd covered - with reviews, interviews, and pictures - a lot of these folks because they're talented musicians and good, hard-working people. I also got a chance to finally meet Razorcaker Denise Orton, who is both very smart and a sweetheart. Being a human being, I had two hands. Those two hands never went without a drink. I'd have to slam the contents of the beverage in either the left or right hand when someone gave me another one. Not a bad dilemma to have. Result: very drunk by the time the bar was flashing its lights, signaling everyone to leave.
Dave and I got on the bikes and he took off. Being almost blind drunk, I pedaled at a moderate pace, trying to keep my swerves from becoming crashes. Dave blasted out of sight, pedaling furiously into the very shaky darkness in front of me. I continued along the road for apiece, then sat down. Here's what I thought about. One: I don't really know where I am. Two: I don't know where Dave's house is. Three: I'm shit wasted and I'm not sure what I do and do not know. So I started walking the bike and its handlebars snagged a chain link fence. Seeing this as an act of aggression, I fought the fence. A regular, erected chain link fence kicked my ass. I backed away cautiously and figured the best thing to do was take a nap. It'd been a long day. Collect the senses. Chill out. Quit moving.
One thing that LA doesn't have is an abundance of open lots that don't smell like piss or aren't already occupied by someone understandably territorial, living in a box. I walked into a bricked-off hideaway in the corner of an empty used car lot. I found a nice little mound of dirt and I slept for awhile. The temperature was perfect. After a spell, I woke up and decided, heck, if Dave was going thataway really fast, that must be where his house is. So I went thataway. Absolutely nothing looked familiar. The reason why that was - and it would be explained to me later - was that Dave had felt the heavy pull of beer-dar. I, too, have felt the same heady pull many times. He had planned an impromptu party back at his house. Taking his role of local gentleman seriously, he was pedaling against the clock to go purchase plentiful amounts of beer so none of his guests would be nagged with a dry throat. Which is awesome. What wasn't so awesome is that the beer store was pretty much the opposite direction of Dave's house. So, I started my journey with my compass backwards. Although I remembered that Dave's neighbors had mannequin legs stuck in their entranceway and their feet had fluorescent orange shoes, I didn't take to noticing what address I was staying at. This is standard fare on how my brain operates.
I will tell you this; Gainesville has many, many beautiful, lush neighborhoods filled with very polite people. It's a really green city. It's also, for the most part, very flat, being in the middle of Florida, so the pedaling was easy. Gainesville, to my untrained eye, also looks very similar on a corner to corner basis. So I pedaled for four hours in a grid-like fashion, finally coming across buildings that looked familiar. After many red herrings, I found the house, keyed myself inside at 8:15 AM, and said adieu to a great first day of vacation.
The time between getting lost and found and attending the benefit, I accrued the following observations about Gainesville life.
1. Establishments and signs love putting apostrophes into plural words. For example, kegs = keg's, peanuts = peanut's. I'm not sure why that is, but it sure happened a lot.
2. If you buy a case of beer and don't want a bunch of folks narking it, buy regular beer, not light. Gainesvillians love light beer. I bought a 12er of Schlitz, thinking it'd be a nice BBQ-warming gift and ended up drinking most of it myself.
3. Sparks, the malt beverage that comes in a can that looks like a battery, can turn your tongue very orange and promotes public urination in some females.
4. Lord of the Rings pinball is pretty fuckin' bitchin'.
5. No Idea Records probably is one of the tightest operations I've ever seen run by punk rockers. Not only are they organized, efficient, and friendly, they're also music fans. They're based out of an old lawyers' office. A plaque on one of the doors says "Conference Room." Don't be fooled. It's a bathroom.
6. Aaron Lay, of the rock and roll band Billy Reese Peters, does not like wearing shirts and makes a mean portobello mushroom sandwich.
7. At a flea market in Waldo, FL I saw cows' hooves carved into the shapes of eagles' heads.
8. BBQ hunting is like burrito hunting. The best places don't spend a bunch of money on that "ambience" hooey. Unfortunately, the crown jewel of Gainesville BBQ, Tyrell's, which is in a trailer, was closed. Sonny's, a small chain, was pretty good.
9. Visit No Future Records. It's tiny but well stocked. I scored a record-release show Radon LP for $7 and a Born Dead Icons 7" for $1.50. Can't beat that.
10. Number of alligators, trying to be all stealthy, and slowly creeping up on birds in a sink hole: About six. Number of birds looking like alligators would eat them for about fifteen minutes: two. The birds lazily flapped away.
11. Seth Swaaley, all around awesome guy and Razorcake columnist, did a lot of the driving us around. The day before Seth moved to Gainesville, the people he was going to stay with got evicted. He's been living out of his car for over a month. If you know someone with an open room for about $200 a month in the greater Gainesville area, drop me a line.
12. I read from my book, Born to Rock, at the CMC. There was supposed to be either a.) a protest or b.) a community discussion, and neither came about. It's too long to write here about the circumstances. I did, however, have an illuminating conversation with Matt, who is the founder of the Wayward Council, a collective record store that had some volunteers who had issue with me coming into their fair town (yet they never talked to me face to face).
13. It's really easy to strike up a conversation with virtually anyone in Gainesville. What a friendly place.
And now, the show.
It was $5, sold out, and swarming with people.
The Tim Version: Russ, the singer, had previously single-handedly rescinded my "no band can rock in flip flops" clause. To the untrained eye, he just seems like a guy who throws up and smiles a lot when wobbling. During the work week, he shoots lasers through gold foil and studies electrons or some such well-paying shit, but talk to him for a couple of minutes and you can tell his heart's in music. The Tim Version are in league with Tiltwheel in that they're horribly underrated by the world at large while fully embraced by the partying faithful. I truly don't throw this term around that often, but I think there's something absolutely genius fueling the band. I can't, for the life of me, figure out why the rest of the world isn't going nutty-koo-koo-bonkers over them. Gruff, melodic, explosive without losing forward momentum with tricky-to-play, easy-to-listen-to fills that's simultaneously toe to toe with the Replacements and Leatherface. I'll also go on record here stating that I think that Sean is one of the top twenty punk rock drummers I've seen in my life. Their set was well received. Being from Tampa, they were the only non-locals on the bill.
Whiskey & Co.: Elegant and beautiful music that isn't out of place in front of a drunk, sweating crowd. My lexicon for this type of music is limited. Either I like it or I don't. Patsy Cline, I like. Emmylou Harris, I like. The lady from the Cowboy Junkies, I like. Whiskey & Co., I like. Kim Helm has a stellar voice and all of the instruments are tastefully arranged. It's not dentist office PA sterile "tasteful," but honest folks playing genuine, original, low key songs. On CD, Kim's voice sounds like Natalie Merchant's, but live, not so much.
Grabass Charlestons: I can't decide if Will, the drummer of Grabass, is pessimistic, self-effacing, or realistic when he talks about the band he's in. "We're okay. Nothing special," he says. He cites the Tim Version as a band worthy of praise. In a world that seems to be thriving on "outward punk" - punk that's defined not only by clothing, predicable tattoos, and hair gel, but instantly recognizable guitar tones and riffs - Grabass goes for subtlety and deeper roots while playing bounce-along songs that are filled with lyrics about working class toils. Of having dreams of a spear through your chest the entire day and not dying. Of minimum wage suicide. Live, you can't fault bands for putting it all out there on stage. Replay Dave has been told something along the lines of, "If they ever make a Tony Hawk video game for bands, they should have you as a bassist." He can arch so far backwards that only his feet and the back of his head are touching the ground while he's hitting note after note. PJ, the guitarist, plays like he's doing both leads and rhythm and at the same time. The band sounds so effortless and complete, if you close your eyes, it's hard to remember that they're a three-piece. Their main influences are obvious. How Grabass makes them all their own is a trick few bands have pulled off.
Against Me!: It's no secret that if Against Me! weren't on this bill, the place wouldn't have sold out. They're one of the rare examples of a great band getting the attention they deserve. People came out in droves. Young and old. Crusty to teeny-bopper. Right before they started playing, it seemed like the crowd wanted to be as close to the band as possible, to touch them just barely. It was a big, friendly, organic vice clamping down around the front of the club. There's no mistaken that Against Me! have the X factor. It was like a hidden generator was hooked up to lead singer Tom's microphone that electrified the entire club from the first word he sang until the guitars were unplugged from their amps. For me, it was a simple pleasure; watching a band play. Not just play songs. But playing with one another throughout the entire set. Not really horsing around either, but that collective brain, telekinesis, and body play that only a tremendously in-tune band can pull off. It comes off so powerfully. And everyone in the crowd screamed along with every word that was sung. If riots could be tender, this is what they'd look like.
It was success, both the weekend and the show.
Everyone who paid the five-dollar cover charge hopefully understood the treat of high quality rock'n'roll, which should never be taken for granted in this day and age. What they probably didn't fully comprehend is that a good chunk of that five dollars went directly into the fight against any man or woman who strips away a kid's innocence. Ever so slowly, kids are getting a legal voice of their own. And this time, guitars, bass, and drums led the charge.