Pack your gear, stuff a few T-shirts in a backpack, and don't forget your toothbrush – I imagine that's about how much thought punk bands put into packing for a quick tour here in the States. For international bands, however, traveling overseas to Gainesville, Florida, for Fest is an entirely different beast. Especially in the Age of Orange, where if you don't bleed red, white and blue you're in danger of being tossed in a cage, or at least be asked to cough up a couple hundred bucks for a work visa.
So, for most of the artists who tackle the logistically complex trek, stretching their one Fest set into a weeklong tour of the state is a bit of a necessity, if only to earn some beer money while they're over here. For an Orlando date, they often look to Craig Mazer, whose Foreign Dissent showcase gathers bands from anywhere-but-the U.S.A. and officially kicks off Fest week on the Monday leading up to the festival weekend in Gainesville.
Booking the shows is one thing; getting here with their gear is another challenge. "It leads to bands having instruments shipped to me," Mazer tells Orlando Weekly. "What they do is they'll go on eBay, or an online pawn shop, and then they just need someone to get it. ... They can fly back with whatever they get, so they just buy it in the United States."
While this can offer a solution for fill-in bits and pieces, the backline is provided by Mazer, with the help of other local musicians and scene supporters. "Without their selfless lending of gear, this event would be impossible to pull off," says Mazer.
Then, of course, there are the crafty punks who find other means, like buying instruments at a major music retailer and taking advantage of their 60-day return policy. "[One band] did a two week tour and then returned [the instruments] before they left the country," laughs Mazer. "It was genius!"
It's that sort of determination and DIY way of thinking that has bands doing whatever it takes to get here and to be part of this Fest-centric showcase.
"In year two, Astpai from Austria was supposed to play," Mazer remembers. "Zock [the singer] hits me up the day of the show and says, 'Dude, you won't believe this but we got to the airport and our airplane is broken.' ... There was only one seat that could get anyone to Orlando, so Zock says fuck it, he's going. He flew from Austria to Germany, from Germany to Orlando, landed at 9 p.m. and made it here with enough time to do a solo Astpai set!"
Other acts find a way to use their international status to their advantage. German band No Fun discovered that they could get funding from their country's government if Mazer "wrote a letter, with company letterhead, officially inviting them over as part of cultural exposure of a German band in the States" – a move that surprised Mazer, who's used to bands being extra cautious about announcing their intentions of traveling here. "Most bands don't want me to say anything; they even want me to delay putting their names on any posters."
Respect due to Mazer. In a time when the powers that be want to build walls and close borders, his work is solidly counter to fear of the "other." Though no musicians have been turned away at customs yet, he points out that it's an ever-increasing worry for the musicians he works with: "The bands have always been cautious about not appearing to come into the country as working musicians, but they were never really concerned about getting here until Trump. So far, it has not been an issue. I hope I didn't just jinx it."
This year's fifth edition of Foreign Dissent has swelled into an ambitious eight-band bill, mostly because Mazer has a hard time saying no, especially to bands he genuinely likes. "The first year I went through all of the international bands and picked my favorites and hit 'em up. The next year Tony [Weinbender, Fest organizer] started telling international bands ... to email me if they wanted to play," says Mazer. "Mostly I just want it to be a mix of sounds, but I want it to be stuff I really like."
In addition to bands from as far away as Finland, France and the Netherlands, there will be vegan dishes from Altar Offerings and CayCakes Bakery at the event. Whether or not you're pre-pregaming for Fest, this is one of those rare occasions to see bands from around the globe that you may never get a shot to see again. These bands went through a lot to get here and they're ready to pour their hearts and souls onto the stage at Will's. Show up and show them the real faces of America.