New Friends Fest [Day 3] - Live in Toronto (Cover Artwork)

New Friends Fest [Day 3]

Live in Toronto (2023)

live show

We showed up to Day 3 of New Friends Fest a little sore and a little hoarse, but very excited and stoked to be there. Our bags were full of shirts to trade at the DIY merch swap that was being held all night in the bar area of the Main Hall so we headed there first. I found some really cool shirts to swap for including a bright yellow Negative Qualities Single Mothers long-sleeve shirt, a rad (and super soft) Life In Vacuum All You Can Quit shirt, and a really cool Ithaca T-shirt. Merch all swapped, we headed into the Main Hall to start the weekend off with Fern Sully. Before the band came on, Egin got on stage and reminded us about the charity auction that was taking place. The auction featured lots of cool things including original and test presses of Pageninetynine albums and the cardboard cutout of Rohan that had been crowdsurfing throughout the weekend. All of the proceeds were being donated to Sherbourne Health, an organization that helps 2SLGTBQ people, newcomers to Canada, and people experiencing homelessness access healthcare and provide them with a safe place to stay. A representative for Sherbourne Health came out to talk to the crowd about the services that they offer and someone who had gone through one of the programs talked about their experience. She was very emotional when speaking about what this organization meant to her and the crowd lifted her up with cheers and claps. It was an incredibly moving way to start the night.

Then Fern Sully came on stage and launched into their set. The band started out as a solo project of lead vocalist and guitarist Becca Howes before they added guitarist Mel, bassist Izzie, and drummer Hannah in 2021. They play so well together that you’d think they’d been playing together for at least 10 years. They kicked out indie emo rock (with rocking solos) that had everyone dancing and in their feelings. Becca’s voice is wonderful and the emotion they infused each song with was astronomical. You could feel every word. In between songs, the band had great stage banter including “We picked our saddest songs for today”, “Ahoy fellow punks”, and “What in the H-E-double hockey sticks is up??” As their set went on, more and more people were drawn to the front of the stage, attracted by the magnetic pull of their sound. Guitarist Mel described Fern Sully perfectly when they said, “We’re heavy in feelings, not in sound”. Near the end of their set, the band mentioned that a new EP will be coming in October and the crowd went wild. We couldn’t have asked for a better band to kick off the final night.

We raced downstairs to stake out a good place on the floor for Jetsam. Last year someone recommended that I check them out and I’ve been spinning Powerviolence Is For Lovers almost daily since then. Their set absolutely blew me away and was hands down one of the best sets of the weekend. Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe Jetsam. Their sound filled the room and the floor was vibrating with their strength. You could feel every note, every word, every drumbeat in your very atoms. They played songs from their EP along with new ones from their recently released split with Gummo including “New Colossus” which begins with an excerpt from Voltairine de Cleyre as quoted by Emma Goldman spoken over deep, instrumentation simmering with rage. The song then exploded into a furious frenzy of powerviolence. Throughout their set they spoke passionately about the vital importance of fighting for trans rights, their experience living with Borderline Personality Disorder, and how crucial it is, now more than ever, to take care of each other. The lead vocalist jumped into the pit multiple times, moving around and screaming the lyrics without missing a beat. At the end of one song, they got down onto the floor in the middle of the pit and sank into a heart-to-earth pose. Kayla from Vile Hussy got on stage and joined them for “Borderline” and absolutely tore the place up. They introduced “Staring Problem” by saying, “We always talk about women with resting bitch face, but never about men with resting hate crime face” and I proceeded to shred my voice screaming along. Jetsam fucking rule.

We headed back up to the Main Hall to catch Denton, Texas’ Record Setter. Their bassist wasn’t able to make it due to personal reasons but they had the very definition of pure energy (and extraordinary bassist) Taimir Gore filling in. Every member was going wild on stage both leading up to the breakdowns and during them. They were throwing their guitars around their bodies while playing them, they were full body head banging, they were reaching new heights jumping around the stage, and at one point popping bubbles that someone in the crowd blew their way. Needless to say, a pit formed in record time. They played a mix of new and old songs including their song on the New Friends Fest comp, “Outdated Wallpaper” from Balladeers Redefined, and two new tracks that don’t yet have names (that we were told are going to be on an upcoming album). Guitarist and vocalist Judy Mitchell’s screams were phenomenal all throughout the set. Judy introduced “An Explanation” with “You don’t owe anyone an explanation for who you are. You don’t owe anyone shit” which made the crowd erupt in cheers. It also made me tear up (in a good way).

We went back down to the Death Room to see UK-based emoviolence band Cady. The dual vocalists were superb. Their screams were A and got deep and guttural at times. The music crashed against us like sonic waves, moving hair back on our arms and buffeting our skin with the force of their killer tone. They were extremely heavy and you could hear some thrash and black metal influences which added to their depth. At one point, Cady also tore into Margaret Thatcher which got an earth-shaking cheer from the crowd.

Chicago’s Crowning was up next in the Main Hall. The five-piece kicked out wonderfully mathy, slightly sludgy screamo that had amazing energy. The guitars were shredding, the riffs were both intricate and nasty, and the vocals were off the charts. The lead singer was moving around the stage as if the music had possessed him, pausing only to scream into the crowd. Whenever a breakdown hit the crowd went wild, moshing all over the place. If you didn’t come out of Crowning sweaty, you were doing something wrong.

We headed back into the Death Room to watch Indiana-based emo hardcore band Coma Regalia. The trio came on stage wearing surgical masks and no matter how sweaty they got, kept them on and situated properly throughout the set. They had intense energy that spread into the crowd within minutes. Everyone was head banging, people were moshing, people were dancing, it was a great environment to be in. Jaccob from Burial Etiquette got on stage and sang a song from their 2015 album Ours Is The Cause Most Noble which was beyond amazing. All of the members of Coma Regalia took turns singing at some point and all of their voices were excellent. I wasn’t very familiar with the band going into the weekend but I will now be listening to their entire discography over the next few months.

The anticipation was building for the amp vs amp Battle of the Bands that was to take place next in the Main Hall. Everyone was wondering how it would be done. Everyone was talking about which band was going to emerge victorious. On one side of the stage, we had New Jersey post-hardcore band Massa Nera and on the other, we had Los Angeles-based hardcore band Quiet Fear. The bands started out the set by hugging each other and each said something very nice about the other band (as well as New Friends Fest). Massa Nera kicked off the battle with the bassist and guitarist screaming over hardcore riffs before the song broke down into slower, intricate, transcendent riffs. The crowd went wild. Quiet Fear shot back with a fast, frenetic, hardcore ripper with superb guttural vocals and kick-ass screams. People were crowdsurfing like there was no tomorrow. Massa Nera had many beautiful and brutal moments and Quiet Fear was an unrelenting well-oiled hardcore machine. The drummer for Massa Nera crowd surfed during a Quiet Fear song and the bands merged into one. The line dividing them disappeared and everyone rocked out with their friends. Blake Midgette and Chris Taylor of Pageninetynine joined them on stage for a couple of songs and the love they all had for each other was palpable. Everyone won that night.

Maryland-based Eyelet were up next in the Death Room and they took us to new depths. The trio was one of the heaviest bands of the weekend as they pummelled us with metallic post-hardcore that could drill down to the centre of the earth. The dual vocalists let loose awesomely intense screams and people were screaming along in no time. It was impossible not to get sucked into the world of Eyelet. When they were on stage, nothing else existed.

The night closed out with the first-ever Canadian show by screamo legends Pageninetynine. The band blew the roof off of the place. The room was absolutely packed and the pit surpassed the size of any other pit during the weekend. People were moshing and crowdsurfing from the moment the first note was hit. You could tell how much it meant for the band to be there and they could tell how much it meant to us to have them there. They were a whirlwind of energy as the stage (and the room) erupted in joyful chaos. The crowd held on to a tom drum while it was played and then the drum went crowdsurfing. Chris climbed up onto the balcony, ran around the perimeter, then got off on the opposite side of the stage. Later on, he got back up on the balcony and sang from there. Blake took off his shirt and knelt in front of the crowd before slowly getting up in time to the drumbeat. The entire band came together and huddled around the drum kit as a group at one point. During the set, Chris talked about why they chose to support Sherbourne Health and the importance of healthcare (both physical and mental) for everyone but especially for queer folks. They tore through 13 songs including “More Complicated Than a Sci-Fi Flick”, “We Left as Skeletons”, “Punk Rock in the Wrong Hands”, “The Hollowed Out Chest of a Dead Horse”, “Tantrum”, and “In Love With an Apparition”. They closed out the set with “By the Fireplace in White” and everyone lost their minds. The care that the band put into everything and the love they gave to the crowd (which the crowd gave back in droves) was truly something to behold. They gave the all and then some on stage. We could’ve watched them for hours.

New Friends Fest was one of the best festival experiences I’ve ever had. The people were extremely nice and everyone cared so much about what they were doing and more importantly why they were doing it. The festival could not have run if not for the time, effort, and heart that the organizers, volunteers, bands, photographers, sound people, and everybody behind the scenes poured into it. Each day the air was filled with gratitude and every single band made sure to thank the organizers and volunteers on stage whenever they had the chance. I have watched this festival from afar for a few years now and I am beyond grateful that this year I had the opportunity to go and experience it with my best friend. We were able to see bands that neither of us ever thought we’d have the opportunity to see and we met so many wonderful human beings over the course of those three days. We can’t wait to catch up with the people we met this year and meet new folks next year.

Love your friends, die laughing.