Gonerfest is sneaking upon us again – per the usual. I’ve joked around every year (minus 2020) since 2015 with friends, old and new, that I CAN’T WAIT ‘TIL NEXT YEAR. Gonerfest is only three days, maybe four technically speaking depending on how much Sunday action you catch. So the excitement for the best weekend of the year is very real, but I must put a quick disclaimer that I always hope the ensuing Goner calendar year (October to September) doesn’t fly by too quickly. BUT it seems like it always manages to do exactly that and we’re suddenly just a couple of weeks away, just a couple of days away, and it’s here again. Time to savor its greatness all over again.
The feeling of its approach is in the air. At least here in Boston. The end of summer/transition to fall is marked by cooler morning temps (50s/60s) and shorter days. IF Gonerfest fell on the last weekend of August, I’m not certain the difference would be as palpable, but there’s a comfort that this transition I just described is PAUSED once you are in the heat of early Autumn Memphis. Don’t get me wrong there have been “chilly” evenings, but during the day? Rare. Hope I didn’t jinx it. But either way, for the obsessive/diehard/passionate/etc fan of music (a prerequisite for the Goner pilgrimage) – giddiness surely fills us until our flights (or drives) touch down in Memphis that Thursday. The in between time is when most of our conversations and attention surely drift to Goner as our Gonerfam share links and flyers of this year’s famed Afterparties.
The day will come and so will hundreds from across the world. Ready to catch 30-50 bands and eager to tell their Uber/Lyft driver what brings them to Memphis. And a decent percentage will perhaps surprisingly know what we’re talking about or be aware of this particular annual weekend in September. Although it’s a ‘small fest’ in comparison to the Coachellas and Primaveras of the world, it is BIG for Memphis and for the global underground rock n roll/punk world. There are bands coming on tour (from the US and abroad), some just coming from out of town to play Gonerfest, and how could we forget all of the groups local to Memphis? Goner Records curation of the lineups is world class. Those dudes have an impressive ability to hone in on the best and most exciting in the garage/punk world while also casting a wider net (especially in recent years) on styles and sounds one might not immediately associate with Goner. So you’ll see Goner royalty like The King Khan & BBQ Show and The Compulsive Gamblers whose members have roots dating to the ’80s and ’90s alongside Snooper and Gee Tee – bands whose ascent has been in the pandemic era. But anyway, the point is Gonerfest Is Coming and it’s probably not too late to make last minute plans? Fall break bitches. Like Ross Johnson once said.
Old timers know this, but for those on the fence… it’s a lot of music and a lot of fun. You can take in all of it – from the opening band on Thursday evening all the way to the Sunday night comedown party. Or something less extreme, which still may consist of seeing dozens of bands at Railgarten and also include the legendary Afterparties. In Gonerfest’s current configuration, the Afterparty can really thrive. These unofficial events are organized by bands, labels, who knows, sometimes months in advance. They are usually announced within a couple weeks of Gonerfest, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen new events pop up within days or during. Info can be hard to come by unless you know where to look, so I’d advise first timers to check with veterans who are most likely religiously tracking these shows. There are a number of favorable points to be made, but a big one is that the Afterparties take place at a variety of venues. Maybe you’ve heard the joys of the Lamplighter, Bar DKDC, and the Hi-Tone? Each late night haunt has its own charm and character on top of a 3 to 5 band bill. Bring some $$$ as your Golden Pass won’t cover these shenanigans. It’s also doable to catch multiple afterparties in the same night (or early morning), but this almost certainly means you’ll miss some action with shows happening at the same time. Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.
The extra layers of complication all involve meticulous planning and endurance. More on the planning in just a sec. As for endurance, it’s IMPORTANT. I’ll never forget nodding off during Gary Wrong Group at my first Gonerfest on Thursday night. Embarrassing. And that was during the main show, not even an afterparty. Or the time I headed back to the hotel at 10 PM for a short nap with the hopes of coming back in one or two hours for the last bands and any/all afterparties. I sadly got too much sleep that night. One sage local once said “It’s not a binge, it’s a bender,” but Don – not everyone’s willing to level up like that. This is, after all, a special weekend whether you are middle aged rocker with kids at home or a party hard youngster. You will see plenty of both and every one in between at 5 AM on Sunday morning at the Lamplighter. Some have flights to catch in mere hours and a lucky few may be able sleep in. If you want the full experience, you’re going to have to own and accept sleep deprivation. If you want to explore Memphis outside of the Fest experience you better wake up early on Friday and Saturday or better yet block chunks of time for Thursday and Sunday. The weekend will most certainly fly by, but enjoy it. Pace yourself, bask in its greatness, meet new people, hang with old pals, and mostly catch a ton of amazing bands from all over.
ONE more thing – as mentioned before – there are a number of touring bands that play Gonerfest. Check if any are playing near you – before or after. We’ve been lucky to go see/set up shows in Boston over the years for some amazing bands like Leopardo (most recently!), Priors, En Attendant Ana, The World, NOTs, Chook Race, and Ausmuteants.