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My earliest memory of Comfest was probably the Summer of 2000. I was in the process of wrapping up a degree at Ohio State and living at a place on Tompkins Street. I was sort of dragooned into going by the guys who lived next door, who were more in tune with things. At that point I was unaware that Comfest – or Goodale Park for that matter – even existed.

I remember that we parked illegally in the Big Bear parking lot on Neil Avenue, which made me nervous. I think that it was either dark or getting dark when we arrived, and that I was pretty disoriented. The food stalls on Goodale Street seemed to come out of nowhere. I was fairly quickly pulled over to the main stage to see a band called the Jive Turkeys who were closing out the festival. Despite my bewildered state, the band blew me away. They were truly incredible, ending their set with Sly Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime.”

The next summer during Comfest weekend my friend Matt and I were removing a slate roof on 15th Avenue, knocking out boards from the attic floor with the flat end of a spud bar. He was pretty focused on the 32 oz. beers the Festival served at the time and fell into a sort of rhythm with the work: “big ass beers (SMASH!!) big ass beers (SMASH!!).” It was hard to argue with that.

This time we parked legally, but I still got lost. I think we spent a couple of hours listening to music and drinking while waiting in line for more drinks, which when you’re 23 isn’t the worst thing in the world. As darkness fell, this giant dude with a sleeveless T-Shirt that said “I Kick Hippies” would periodically appear out of the mist and scare the shit out of everyone.

At the end of the night we went to see the Jive Turkeys again. Before they could start, though, the stage MC unleashed a buzzkill of astonishing severity. This band was truly amazing, he said, because last year they managed to overcome an audience member dying just before their set. “Someone died – someone died man, right there!” He then pointed to a spot of grass about ten feet from where I was standing. There was dead silence – you never saw two hundred people back up so quickly.

The next year, I offered to take some friends from school down to the festival. I realized that I couldn’t show anyone around if I kept getting lost, so my brother Charlie and I drove down to case Goodale Park in advance. This led to discovering that the Short North existed, which has been an ongoing source of misery to Charlie.

So we went down on a Saturday afternoon and hung out in the shade while metal bands wearing metal clothes slogged through their metal sets at the off-ramp stage. A far more mellow vibe – the I Kick Hippies guy was not nearly as terrifying in the daylight.

Over the years I kept coming. Some wild shit went down in the early 2000’s. Gil Mantera’s Party Dream twists my brain to this day – some weirdo pumping out thumping synth beats while this other near-naked guy danced around and smoked a cigarette with his butt (it’s possible that I remember the butt smoking thing from a show at Little Brothers, but at some point I swear to god I saw that dude smoke a cigarette with his butt). I think I saw the great jazz singer Dick Mackey fronting the Mendelsonics, although that one’s a little fuzzy.

Speaking of fuzzy, I’m afraid I just don’t remember the names of a lot of the great bands I have seen.  The setting just isn’t all that conducive to digging into a particular act. Comfest isn’t just a music festival, and there is a lot of shit going on. It just makes more sense to wander – nearly everything you see or hear is worth a few minutes.

I haven’t seen many bad bands. There was this nutball bluegrass band that tortured Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” until it begged for death, but that might just be a question of taste. I’m still a little upset at the band that played “Mustang Sally” in 2014. I mean, a cover song or two at Comfest is to be expected but that’s just trash.

All in all, if your only problem is “Mustang Sally” it’s a pretty good scene. Hope to see you down there this year, and happy Comfest! (Comfest will be held June 28-30, 2019)

*This month I was asked to do a piece on my memories of Comfest over the years. The above are mostly true, with a reasonable allowance for time and confusion.

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