Playback: Sound on Sound Gets Medieval

Sound on Sound’s über headliner: 23 acres of Sherwood Forest

Mi castle, su castle: Graham Williams and Ian Orth (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Kingdom overthrown, banished to the woods – time to get medieval.

Rather than the plot to a new George R.R. Martin novel, that's the bloody battlefield of Austin concert promotions. Last spring, Fun Fun Fun Fest organizers Transmission Events split with business partners Stratus Properties, losing their brand, their signature festival, and the right to hold a competing event within the city limits. The core group, now called Margin Walker, rallied under the leadership of club owner/bar czar Johnny Sarkis to find a home for what would've been FFF's lineup and arrived at a novel location: a Renaissance village east of town.

Sound on Sound's lineup is music to the ears of FFF fiends: a mix of indie, hip-hop, metal, electronic, punk, and comedy played out this Friday through Sunday on four stages – one of them boasting a giant animatronic dragon. While the lineup unfolds typically varied, including "Playback" favorites Death Grips, Protomartyr, Thundercat, Fidlar, Big Boi, and Carcass, the headliners skew young: Beach House, Phantogram, Purity Ring, Courtney Barnett, and Young Thug. Booker Graham Williams says it wasn't a directive to try and draw a youthful demographic.

"That's just the way it shook out this year," he says. "We have a lot of acts that are newer on the top of the poster, but we also have a lot of older stuff like Flag, Descendents, Guided by Voices, and Monkeywrench."

All true, but let's face it, the real headliner is the venue. The 23-acre medieval village in McDade, known as Sherwood Forest, has everything but a torture rack, and organizers are playing up the Middle Ages angle by featuring moto-jousting, a tomato throwing booth, Renaissance variety show, medieval sports bar, and, of course, turkey legs. Even if you don't know a tunic from a trebuchet, the surroundings beat a fenced-in field any day.

"The idea with Fun Fun Fun was we didn't want it to feel like a traditional festival," says Margin Walker Marketing Director Ian Orth. "That's what drew us to Sherwood. It's not three stages in a field. You're in a village watching some bands, and that village happens to be back in time."

Orth focused on selling SOS as a get-out-of-town experience. Whereas FFF staged decidedly urban, SOS offers a destination event where you truly break Austin's orbit. It took "Playback" 40 minutes to drive to Sherwood Forest. Parking's ample once you traverse the skinny dirt road leading from Highway 290, which might slow your roll.

Organizers confirm that their $5 luxury shuttle option, leaving Mohawk every half hour from noon to 11pm, has already proved popular. Meanwhile, over 1,000 attendees are camping out. "SOS Knights" offers camper-only entertainment including late-night music, comedy, and themed movies like Army of Darkness. Representatives from actual Ren faire clans will serve as cultural ambassadors in the campground.

So much uncharted territory in play, the big question is how many warriors and wenches will turn out for SOS's first run. Orth expects to sell 6,000-10,000 wristbands. That's a smaller figure than recent FFF runs, but without a corporate partnership, there's less pressure to go big out of the gates.

"We're not starting at zero like we're a brand-new fest, but this isn't year 11 either," says Williams. "It's a new name and new location. In size, we're looking at it like the Waterloo Park days of Fun Fun Fun. When you're in a big empty area of grass with not a lot going on, you feel pressure to fill that.

"Here, we can grow at a comfortable pace because the space lends itself to an awesome experience regardless."

Chip Kinman Returns

Chip Kinman hasn't played locally in 30 years, but the sound he forged here in the Eighties still resounds. You can't delineate the history of or cowpunk without Rank & File. The Slash Records breakouts, led by brothers Chip and Tony Kinman, and Alejandro Escovedo, spiked country rock with post-punk muscle.

"Recently people are starting to connect the legacy with me," chuckles an amused Chip Kinman, who launched his music career in 1977 with Cali punks the Dils. "Now record companies are wanting to do anthology records."

Rank & File moved to Austin in 1981 and after the group's 1987 demise, the Kinmans continued their collaboration with synth-pop act Blackbird and country minimalists Cowboy Nation. For the last two decades Chip's laid low as a family man.

"When I was a bachelor, I made a living playing music, but certainly it wasn't conducive to married life and raising two kids," explains the guitarist/vocalist. "Now my kids are all grown up. I have grandbaby and my son, Dewey Peek, plays in my band. He's a phenomenal guitarist and I can't wait to unleash him on Austin."

Kinman returns to his onetime home Friday with his new outfit FDMDXFD (aka Ford Madox Ford), a crunch blues/power-pop gang that debuted with a 7-inch on Porterhouse Records this spring.

"Time has put me in a place where I don't have to prove anything," assesses Kinman. "The boy and I put this band together and we're not out there going, 'I gotta make it!' We concentrate on the music."

FDMDXFD joins Wagoneers frontman Monte Warden's vintage pop outfit the Dangerous Few and Ladyband Johnson for a Continental Club triple-bill beginning at 10pm.

The Dicks Retire

Photo by John Anderson

"I don't dress up pretty very often," grinned Gary Floyd, decked out in a blond wig, fishnets, and baby-blue dress. The first of two sold-out farewell shows at Grizzly Hall, Sunday's sundering by the Dicks saw grandfathers moshing with young bucks as Texas' greatest punk band bashed out strapping versions of "Shit on Me," "Kill From the Heart," and police violence indictment "Pigs Run Wild." "So much has changed in the 36 years since we wrote that song," offered Floyd from his onstage perch. "But so much has remained the same." After the crowd chanted "We want Dicks," the reunited band, featuring OGs Buxf Parrot and Pat Deason, plus guitarists Brian McGee and Mark Kenyon, and auxiliary members Walter Daniels and Dottie Farrell, capped the hourlong performance with the ultimate encore, "Dicks Hate the Police."

Half Notes

Jennifer Houlihan has resigned as the executive director of Austin Music People. A nonprofit representing local music businesses including patrons C3 Presents, and South by Southwest, at the city government level, AMP brought Houlihan aboard in 2012 and she became a constant presence at City Council meetings espousing music as a civic priority. An executive board member at AMP tells "Playback" the organization won't immediately hire a replacement, instead taking time to consider what Austin needs AMP to be: a lobbying organization, instigators of industry development, an advocacy group – or some combination of those things.

House of Songs was profiled on PBS's Arts in Context Monday. The international songwriter exchange imports international musicians to a South Austin house where they co-write and collaborate with local musicians. The program, founded in 2009 by folk renegade Troy Campbell, also exports Austin musicians on tours and songwriter retreats in Denmark and Sweden. Arts in Context is produced by Austin-based filmmaker Mario Troncoso. Find out when to see the episode at

Viola Davis, star of How to Get Away With Murder, is producing a TV series for ABC called Zipcoders. The half-hour family comedy, set in East Austin in 1968, tells the story of a group of black teenagers who start a rock & roll band. Marshall Todd, writer of Barbershop, will handle the script.

Check out our daily Sound on Sound coverage with previews, reviews, interviews, photos, and more.

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More Sound on Sound 2016
Friday SOS Record Reviews
Planes Mistaken for Stars
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Friday SOS Record Reviews
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Sound on Sound 2016, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Transmission Events, Margin Walker, Graham Williams, Ian Orth, Rank & File, Chip Kinman, Dicks, Gary Floyd, Jennifer Houlihan, AMP, House of Songs

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