Flaming Lips & Tongues on Fire

The 11th Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Hot Sauce Festival Sunday at Waterloo Park

Flaming Lips & Tongues on Fire

Attention former computer geeks and dot-com whiz kids: You are one of us now. Welcome to slacker culture. There are a few small adjustments you'll need to make. The designer clothes looked nice, but you'll soon discover they are hot as hell when you're outside in the sun throwing the Frisbee around. Better get some T-shirts. And why not cut the legs off those Dockers and turn them into "nice shorts."

You won't be going to Comdex in Las Vegas anymore or Dot-comfest or whatever the hell you used to call your software programmer/propeller-head gatherings either. Now that you have lost your meaningful job and gone broke, you have no doubt learned to appreciate absurdity. Hence you will be joining the rest of us at such gonzo/postmodern events as Eeyore's Birthday, Spamarama, and of course, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.

We realize that many of you are new at this and don't quite understand why in the hell you want to go stand outside in 100 degree heat with 10,000 other people. And in truth, it is a little difficult to explain. So for your edification and as part of your initiation into the slacker set, we present a brief history of the event.

The first "hot sauce contest," as the event was originally known, was held at the Travis County Farmer's Market in 1991. Back in those low-tech days, jobs were scarce, houses were cheap, and we wacky slackers had nothing better to do than stand around in the hot sun and eat hot sauce.

It was just supposed to be a little Farmer's Market Fair. We thought we might get a couple of dozen hot sauces entered. There were hundreds. We expected a few spectators. There were thousands. The Farmer's Market where we held the event overflowed. Every year the event got a little bigger. Of course the hundreds of gallons of free hot sauce, great free music, and kegs of beer were a big draw, but when the crowd swelled to over 10,000, we got concerned.

In 1997, we went looking for a new venue. The Seventh Annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival was held in a clearing in the woods of Waterloo Park. There was a lot of apprehension about the move, but as it turned out, the sylvan grove fit the event like an old pair of slippers. It looked like Woodstock with picante sauce. We spread out and enjoyed ourselves under the trees and we've been there ever since.

When rents started to skyrocket, it looked like the city's slacker culture might be priced out of the housing market. But through it all, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival managed to bring out the same old faces every year. It was comforting to know that the city's zany underground lived on, even if they did have to move out to the garage for a while.

But the hot sauce contest is more than just a slacker reunion in the park. With the disappearance of Aqua Fest, newspapers and magazines around the country began to refer to it as Austin's hometown festival. By 1999, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival had risen to the status of a defining civic event on par with such classics as the Luling Watermelon Thump, the Gilmore Yamboree, the FireAnt Festival in Marshall, or the Peanut Festival in Gorman.

Maybe the job recruiters told you Austin was a big city with all the amenities. But they were wrong. Austin is a big city with a Peter Pan complex. (We won't grow up!! We don't want to be a major urban area!!) We act like hicks so that more sophisticated cities will think of us as a bunch of goofy kids -- and thus we remain a charming and laid-back place where nobody takes big bidness seriously.

Now that you're one of us, we invite you to join in at the 11th annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival this Sunday at Waterloo Park. Come listen to the free music, drink beer, eat free hot sauce, and find out what this slacker thing is really all about. And, oh yes, wear your shorts -- we expect it to be quite hot that afternoon.

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