Playback: Lines, Rhymes, and Redemption
The line at Fun Fun Fun Fest wasn't the only show last weekend
I ignored the obvious signs that a shitstorm was gathering over Fun Fun Fun Fest last weekend. Indications were evident Thursday during under-attended kickoff shows at Red 7 and Holy Mountain, where early will call outposts were located. Another harbinger reared up when festival gates opened late on Friday, leaving local Oi!-inspired hardcore punks Breakout playing most of their set to an empty field.
Still, I remained blissfully ignorant, enjoying the lush grounds at Butler Park and a strategic corner of Auditorium Shores, plus nonexistent porta-potty lines, and great stage views as Dead Kennedys axis Jello Biafra & Guantanamo School of Medicine prompted the fest's first mosh pit. Reunited locals Mineral navigated sonic peaks and valleys with much pulpy emotion; curmudgeonly comedian Neil Hamburger offered topical humor (Question: "What is the compass reading that will lead you directly into hell?" Answer: "SXSW"); Run the Jewels proved the best hip-hop combo since codeine and Sprite; and an exuberantly bizarre Ginuwine "ponied" up the hits.
And yet, the festival's longest lines weren't chopped up on a mirror in any rock or rap star's trailer. They were outside where the will call booth had accumulated an eye-bugging queue stretching from Riverside across the First Street bridge and into Downtown. Among thousands of impatient outsiders, most reported waiting between two and three hours to pick up wristbands.
Greg Patterson, CEO of FFF's ticketing agency Queue, says his team vigilantly monitored the line, which maintained a 30- to 45-minute wait time until 2pm when he estimates 5,000 to 9,000 attendees arrived in quick succession. The line then became such a state of emergency that festival owner Graham Williams himself worked it.
At 7:20pm, after coordinating with the appropriate city departments, organizers let the remainder of the line inside the park without wristbands. That only took 15 minutes. Even though marquee acts from John Waters to Death From Above 1979 had been missed by many, everyone had the opportunity to feast on the main course, Judas Priest's first Austin gig in 26 years. The British steel vets delivered, most essentially sing-a-longs ("Living After Midnight") for an inspiration-starved audience.
Later that night and the next day, the fallout was naturally hostile: A popular Reddit thread shared info on disputing credit card payments, and FFF's Facebook posted a formal apology for the delays, while acknowledging that Auditorium Shores' renovation contributed to the situation. It also reiterated that FFF maintains a no-refund policy. That post elicited a hate fest of irate commenters.
In the aftermath, FFF is still handling complaints on a case-by-case basis and encourages customers to reach out. Patterson says next year will likely include mailing wristbands instead of relying on will call.
Even after that customer service nightmare, there remained two-thirds of a FFF weekend, including 50-plus aftershows. Friday found Residual Kid, newly added to Sire Records' roster, holding their own with Metz at the packed Parish, where they proved infinitely superior to the fest's other two teen bands, Radkey and the Bots. Saturday, Hotel Vegas packed to the rafters for unassuming dynamo Har Mar Superstar, and Macaulay Culkin was resurrected from a death hoax and carried onto the Belmont stage à la Weekend at Bernie's.
After such late-night raging, it's tempting to snooze through the following afternoon's fest, but remember Nas' position on the matter: "Sleep is the cousin of death." Thus Saturday yielded highlights – the deadpan songwriting of Aussie rocker Courtney Barnett – and low points: the passionless plodding of young post-punk Danes Iceage. Corpse-painted metal god King Diamond made up for those fellow countrymen by peaking day two with a deathless shriek into an upside-down crucifix made of bones from a two-story cathedral stage. Simultaneous headliners Modest Mouse conjured a comet, but the Copenhagen native and longtime Dallas dweller summoned forces doubly powerful.
Attendance, up from last year, spiked that night. No surprise, since Sunday's headliners – the lyrically unimpressive Wiz Khalifa, a Murder City Devils rerun, and reformed indie darlings Neutral Milk Hotel – were less compelling draws compared to the first two night's centerpieces, let alone last year's closer of Slayer. Not that there wasn't gold in the Sabbath's undercard.
The Internet, an R&B group fronted by Odd Future alum Syd tha Kyd, exhibited remarkable musicianship and beautiful love songs via its young, lesbian vocalist. Pennsylvania punks Pissed Jeans leveled the stage with a set so noisy and destructive it would've made David Yow flinch. NYHC legends Gorilla Biscuits embodied FFF's punk spirit with a "This is your stage, we're here for you" mentality.
The best set I saw on Sunday was Foxygen, Bay Area psych-pop sculptors known for a legendarily bad performance at last year's ACL Fest. They returned bigger – expanded to an eightpiece – and better: showcasing material from new LP ...And Star Power with electrifying energy. Frontman Sam France sprung kinetically with Mick Jagger command as the group traversed glammy pop through Detroit-style rock to uplifting soul. It was nothing less than a masterful display of rock & roll. And it meant redemption. They made fools of themselves 13 months ago and returned as champions.
Fun Fun Fun Fest will enjoy its own redemption in due time. The festival known for best reflecting Austin's underground musical tastes returns next November for its 10th anniversary. Forget growing pains, now's the time to go big.
After screening the Austin episode of his Sonic Highways series at UT's Studio 6A last Thursday, Dave Grohl migrated to Arlyn Studios where he's said to have pow-wowed with local psych shamans Black Angels about producing their next album. On Sunday, that same South Austin studio taped the pilot episode of its TV concert series Inside Arlyn with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. That included an interview by Dan Rather.
Black Fret, the new nonprofit employing the fine-arts patronage model to provide $10,000 grants to local musicians, announced its inaugural recipients on Saturday: Gina Chavez, Amy Cook, Lincoln Durham, Erin Ivey, Mother Falcon, Elizabeth McQueen, the Rocketboys, Quiet Company, Wild Child, and Graham Wilkinson.
Old Settler's Music Festival unveiled the first wave of its 2015 lineup, including tiny stringed instrument virtuosos Sam Bush (mandolin) and Jake Shimabukuro (ukulele), old-timey freshness Pokey LaFarge, country mainstays the Mavericks, and scrappy folk troubadour Langhorne Slim. Passes for the annual roots music and camping assembly, running April 16-19 in Dripping Springs, hit the market Saturday.