Do Ya Hear We Fest has been my most anticipated event of the year since the very first summer I stumbled into the punk scene in Chattanooga. All of our best local bands and the bands of friends in other cities, people who travel from all over the country, play over a span of 3 days at Sluggo’s and Ziggy’s (though some years the second venue has occasionally been other places, Ziggy’s is a conveniently located and spacious alternative, as well as a prime redneck karaoke destination). Everyone in town puts up everyone else, houses bursting with floor crashing friends/strangers/both, drinking until the sun rises. I learned early on to request the weekend off work plus the following Monday, a day which is reserved almost solely for suffering, and sometimes swimming, but mostly suffering. The whole thing is a tender mess of booze, friends (old and new), sweat, and music, and it’s my best and most treasured time. I’ve been to other small punk fests, and they’ve been fun, but none of them have ever had the big dysfunctional family feel of DYHW. There is no way I could cover all 30+ bands, but I kept a disjointed list of memorable moments in a nearly incoherent note on my phone, and that is going to serve as the template of my festival diary.
Homestrings opened the weekend; their vocalist Lou is among my favorite frontpeople, and I’ve nearly worn out my tape of her old band, so it was really exciting to see her all the way from California playing with local friends. I’m disappointed they’ll be a short lived thing, kind of like Concrete Bees who played the next day, whose drummer moved to Indiana and bassist is relocating to DC later this summer. The transience of punk bands is heartbreaking but makes for a unique approach to collective memory. Over time tapes and records dwindle in personal collections until they become rare treasures, like, “do you know anyone who has a copy of so-and-so’s old demo that I can dub?” It also makes for live shows to be a rare treat. One of Chattanooga’s most beloved bands, Hidden Spots, play rarely because their drummer lives, well, I’m not sure anyone knows, but not here. Possibly under a bridge demanding riddles from passers-by if we are judging by this horrific photograph I snapped during their set. Their shows are sporadic lately, so they’re all the more intense when they do play, because they’re a scene darling. But that wasn’t til Saturday.
Something else I love about Chattanooga punk is the omnipresence of women; our scene is notoriously not “PC,” known for being sometimes too wild, but there are always girls in bands, with no intentional effort to make that happen. They just are. I think about how remarkable that is all the time, but it really struck me watching Lou and Morgan and Megan open the festival, looking around at all the women dancing in front of the stage next to me. It’s not a struggle and it’s not an overtly feminist move; no one has to demand “girls to the front” to make it happen. They’re already up there. That’s really special to me.
The show moved along, sticking to a strict schedule. Early in the night our friend with a broken foot hovered at the edge of the crowd in a wheelchair. Yelling, “no one puts baby in a corner!” a friend wheeled her out front, the crowd clearing space for him to push her in frantic circles while she laughed. The band that was on, Dirty Kills, has a song that goes, “I just wanna get fucked up with you,” which someone named the theme song of fest, and nothing could be more accurate. Even with a broken foot, it’s the time to get fucked up with the ones you love.
Later, the Everymen armed the crowd with pool noodles and silly string, asking us to fight to the death. We obliged. After that mess, a few individuals braved sitting on the now beer-soaked floor for Anna Banana’s set, kind of a tradition for her, and a few of us sat on the stage. Her set is nearly a sing-a-long for a lot of us who have her records on constant rotation at home. “And while I try to drink the pain away, I still stay so thirsty,” rung out in stereo, sung emotively through her microphone and echoed by a hum of voices in the crowd. The energy ramped backed up with Divorce Horse, Arkansas wildasses always good for a super raucous time.
The next band was a favorite local of mine–even though they play all the time, I still get excited to see Basement Benders. They’re like a sampler of people cherry-picked from my favorite bands smashed together, writing songs about mental illness that make me wish there was a such thing as punk therapy. In “Voices” especially, I feel like Terry (of This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb fame) is singing from inside my own head.
Shellshag has closed out one of the nights of DYHW every year I’ve been, everyone crowded around their lit-up drum kit. I was just behind Shag, inches away from the signature sleigh bells strapped to her waist. The friend next to me reached out and gave them a tap, as if to add some sound of her own to the cacophony, a deafening chorus of, “fuck society! fuck sobriety! fuck….everybody!” rising from the throats of everyone in the room. At some point I caught sight of my 16 year old coworker bobbing in the crowd to my left, her head just barely level with the shoulders of most of the men standing there. I reached through the forest of sweaty limbs to pull her through and into the front to dance with us, her view unobscured. Solidarity is important, and even more important for me is helping teenage girls get the most out of punk shows, because they deserve it. Those experiences shape you; I would know.
*The last note in here just says, “dick moves,” and I can’t for the life of me figure out what that means. Someone gave me Fireball, passing back and forth a bottle far larger than I can believe they’d package that death syrup in, so we can easily settle on “it means you had too much Fireball and took bad notes.”
This is the day I was most hungover; I halfheartedly made a plate of eggs that got eaten by me and whoever else wanted them, and then we went to Waffle House because there isn’t one in St. Augustine where my houseguests hailed from. Someone hilariously got the world’s most disappointing cheese grits. Recuperating was slow but one perseveres because, what, are you gonna quit after day one? This was also the day that a number of the people staying with me were going to play, so admonitions of “don’t get too drunk too early” had some weight, at least for them. I think we tried not to, even though we ended up at a bar for some time.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth between Sluggo’s and my house (a good one minute trek across the street and through my backyard) to refill my bottle of whiskey punch, a huge vat of special house punch my roommate brewed up to share with our visitors. She came home from her job site in West Virginia just to go to the show that day, flowers in hand, knowing she’d have to leave on Sunday. That’s how crucial fest is, and how much she wanted to be here with us.
Big Kitty opened the show with their special brand of psych folk, a crowd favorite to tempt people to brave their hangovers and show up on time. I think it worked–the room filled in for their set, dance worthy country songs with a rock & roll setup. St. Augustine’s Early Disclaimers played next; I’ve seen them a few times, and their emotional alt rock recalls 90s influences and is without fault just fucking cool. They sold out of tapes. I got the last one Monday morning before they left, pried from the console of the SUV they’d rode up in; 2 of them had camped out in another yard, but set me up with their drummer and his friends to stay in my living room.
Sadly, the following band Concrete Bees are disbanding due to geography; I was ecstatic to see them cover “Vanilla Blue” at least one more time, my mom’s favorite song and by far my favorite local cover. During that song I tugged on my friend’s arm, hollering, “I never realized until I saw it that Eric Nelson covering Naked Raygun was all I ever wanted,” into his ear, to which he replied, “I know, and I can’t believe it hasn’t happened sooner.” Later that night I took a breather outside, feeling panicked about nothing, as happens in big crowds, and Eric sat down with me for a while. We talked about Chattanooga, about our little punk scene and the people here. We came to the conclusion that DYHW is more a state of mind than a specific time and place. The scene in Chattanooga evolved out of the magnetism of positivity; almost everyone is from somewhere else, and could live anywhere else, but they ended up here as though drawn together by their common desire for a certain kind of tender, intimate friendship, fostered by and celebrated in music and art. We’ve got something so special and unique, and when people come here they can feel it in their bones, especially if they’re like-minded. That’s what keeps people coming back to DYHW Fest, not just the music and the mountains, but the magic.
A few of the aforementioned boys staying at my house played in the band Dildozer, and they were the absolute most fun set of the weekend. With songs like, “The Bad Boys of Rock and Roll Are Douchebags,” their front man heckled his peers and heckled the crowd, heckled everyone really, with a pop punk appropriate amount of smudged eyeliner and black nail polish. “This song goes out to everyone who’s bad at their job, which is all of you, because you all suck, especially Eliza,” he introduced a song, calling out the doorwoman of the other Sluggo’s in Pensacola. It was silly but above all there was a good heart to it, and they definitely had mine when PJ introduced the aforementioned song with a dedication to girls who don’t go to punk shows anymore because their ex boyfriends performed shitty songs about them. Dildozer gets it, and I’m really glad they slept on the giant beanbag in my living room.
The rest of the night is blurry; I know I spent a lot of time outside talking and talking. Somehow I ended up front for Purple 7, delightful Bloomington pop punk that’s hard not to dance to, then watched Street Eaters from the bar, then ended up right up front again for Hidden Spots. I caught sight of a friend who’s almost never at punk shows (least of all directly in front–more of a “arms crossed in the back” kind of guy) bracing himself against the stage, decided I had to be up there with him, and by some kind of whiskey magic I had pressed through the crowd at its apex of thickness and was right beside him, emphatically singing along and crying freely over a dedication to dead friends. “Everybody Get Together” was the tearjerker of the night for sure. The headliner was Sexy, a long broken up Pensacola band who a lot of people claimed to me were “only coming to fest” to see, which I knew was a lie, but a flattering lie. I once gave their CD to my younger brother in an attempt to get him to care about punk, and he didn’t, but my choice of CD should give you an idea of how universally likeable they are. Everyone loves Sexy. And they were great, even with a last-minute replacement drummer, the perfect end to an emotional and long, very long, day.
It took a long time to assemble a crew into caravans, but Sunday was the day we determinedly made it to the creek. Packed with whole hillbilly families, Suck Creek teemed with everything Chattanooga has to offer–sun, crawdads, cool green creekwater to belly flop into, gorgeous mountain views, and redneck dads hollering about snakes. Mostly we just sat half-submerged on rocks, talking shit and getting sun. We got 40s on the way home, Florida visitors eagerly asking for brown paper bags instead of plastic so they could get the “full experience,” because they don’t sell 40 ounce beers in the Sunshine State.
Sunday’s show featured a change of venue; we went down the street a little further to Ziggy’s Underground, a bar behind the neighborhood liquor store. The promise of a secret opener again lured attendees there at 5, though the secret had been spilled on handouts that had been on the bar at Sluggo’s; cherished defunct Chattanooga band ADD/C (not to be confused with Australian AC/DC cover band by the same name) was heralded to be there, and they were, though their drummer Skyped in, a very punk approximation of a holograph. During the following set, Mudsex’s drummer proposed to his girlfriend in front of everyone, their union having just been sanctioned by the Supreme Court only days earlier. Maybe public engagements are kind of universal, but this seems like a pretty good example of the kind of tenderness I prize.
Full disclosure–on Sunday I piled up outdoor chair cushions on the patio and tried to take a nap outside, which mostly ended in me trying to drink beer while lying down (difficult) while people talked to me anyway. There have been a couple years I didn’t even make it to Sunday, so my presence was a miracle in itself. That’s my excuse for not seeing every band.
Ziggy’s was having some issues with power during the middle of the show; this culminated in Folk Killer’s set being periodically interrupted by breaker flips. Propelled by drums alone, they forwent powerless guitars, their isolated vocal harmonies highlighted by the mishap. It was really great, honestly. I ducked out of the room for Sandal Stomp, memories of last year’s swollen knee after a circle pit incident too fresh to risk any hardcore accidents.
I remember rounding people up, telling them, “you have to go inside for the Bohannons–they’re one of Chattanooga’s best,” and I meant it completely. Their heavy rock & roll puts me in a trance, totally fixated on the sound. My best endorsement of them came later, when I somehow ended up at a friend’s house a block away drinking rum and taking stupid selfies, when I said, “I still wouldn’t ever do it–but the Bohannon’s made me understand headbanging. Like, I get it now.”
I returned in time to catch the end of Pretty Pretty and all of Vacation. Vacation has one of my favorite records; their fuzzy, noisy pop is exactly the kind music I want to listen to, and wish more people were making. I was fading fast by the time they went on, just barely hanging on for Benny and the Jet Rodriguez, whose set I know was fun but I barely remember. But before the closing set by local favorites Future Virgins, someone was iPod DJing through the speakers and people (primarily me, trying to stay awake) were dancing around the mostly empty room. Someone put on “Shake It Off,” and a second wind kicked in. My friends Leah, Heather, and I danced around the room and on top of benches, shaking it off for an audience of practically no one; I think most people fled at the first sugarcoated hint of Taylor Swift. We stayed, though, and whoever was in control of the music was so entertained by our enthusiasm that they kept it on repeat, and we danced for two, then three, then four consecutive “Shake It Off”s until someone turned it to something else, a cue for everyone to flood the showspace again in anticipation of the final band of the festival.
Future Virgins were intense; again the crowd knew every word, screaming it back at them like we were trying to make sure even god could hear. My thighs pressed against the stage with the weight of the crowd behind me, and I could feel bruises forming, so I relinquished my claim on the front row and fell back into the squirming mass of sweaty punks. The temperature rises about 20 degrees when you let yourself be engulfed by the swell; it takes some kind of dedication to make it through a whole set, but I was up to the challenge. I had earned it–I made it to the very end.
I think the weekend can be summed up in one moment, when a friend I had made that weekend leaned into my ear to compensate for the speaker next to us and scream-whispered, “do you want to promise to be friends for a very long time?” to which I beamed and did promise, “YES.” And then we danced. And what more is there?