8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5 | Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. | willspub.org | $10-$16 | 18 and up
8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6 | Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. | willspub.org | $10-$16 | 18 and up
From the late ’90s to the mid-2000s, Orlando experienced an abundant sonic harvest when a crop of young bands seemed to sprout prolifically on the stage at Will’s Pub. At the original location, bands like Resident Weirdo, History, Vostok, Hurrah, Backhand, Peterbuilt and Dragbody developed into some of the area’s most notable recurring acts. As these bands set out to reunite this weekend in celebration of Will’s Pub’s 19th anniversary, the most memorable shows weren’t necessarily opening for bigger bands or playing for bigger crowds, but those nights when they shared (and owned) the stage. “Playing with national touring acts was always fun, but I’d say – for the most part – we always had the best time with other Orlando bands,” says Seth Duffala (Hurrah). “Those shows were always a good time because you could relax and enjoy yourself – there wasn’t as much pressure to really nail it (though we always attempted to). We were always heckling one another, but also appreciating what the other musicians were doing alongside us.”
“Our first show at the old Will’s was with Hurrah,” says Matt Caron (History). “We were still [called] Sound the Alarm at the time. They wore shirts that read ‘Sound the Alarm is idiot,’ and we loved it.”
“It was really more of a community thing, watching all of these kids (basically) really create a scene that’s theirs,” says pub owner Will Walker.
Toby Brown (Resident Weirdo) revived his old booking company, Ikky Entertainment, to bring together that eclectic class as if it were a rock & roll high school reunion. “What I loved about the shows back then was the ability to mash things together sometimes and still have these great shows. It was a cool sense of community in the punk/indie/hardcore scene for a while, and Will’s was like a home base for a lot of years.”
Sometimes that meant rearranging the furniture:
“The best show I ever played in Backhand was in 1997 at the old location,” Backhand’s John Duvoisin recalls. “We moved pool tables together and put a big piece of plywood on top of it and used it as a drum riser. I was 15 … and it was one of the first times I played at a real venue. Will made me feel welcome even though I was the goofy teenager in the band with young adults. We played with Peterbuilt and Carlisle, and it was something I will never forget.”
Many of these bands were among those most impacted by the tragic scene loss when the original Will’s closed in 2006. “When we really were History, Will’s lost its building about a year later,” Caron says. “It sucked. It was confusing and frustrating. It left the city with only a handful of venues, and most of them didn’t have the vibe that Will’s had.”
History later played a Will’s Pub benefit show arranged by This Little Underground’s Bao Le-Huu and former Orlando Weekly music editor Jason Ferguson. Efforts like these ensured Will’s Pub would re-open its doors in its current location. Opinions differ over which iteration of the venue is best, but recent changes to today’s space admittedly create certain perks for some of these scene kids now that they’re older.
“Going to or performing at Will’s was always like swimming in a thick, dense cloud of burning tar,” says Peterbuilt’s Ryan Fleming. “Like standing in the middle of a forest fire if the forest was made of cigarettes. The only way out was to stop, drop and roll. Or get kicked out when they were closing. I loved that place. I hated smelling like the charred insides of a crematorium furnace afterward, but I still loved Will’s. Now I get to enjoy the beers, conversations, atmosphere and I can breathe freely. Yep, I sound fucking old. Bah humbug.”
As Will’s Pub continues to support new music scene offshoots, the locals who take the stage there remain grateful for the small venue’s greater capacity for band-defining moments.
“I think the best memory I have of playing Will’s with Dragbody was our very last show 12 years ago,” says Scott White (Dragbody). “We played with a few other locals, and the show was at max capacity. The stage was low, we all got crazy, and everyone killed their sets. It was complete chaos. … We all knew it was potentially the last show, and it was all heart. Finishing the set and having everyone, crowd included, wearing exhausted smiles was absolutely perfect.”
History, photo by Nicole Kibert
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