Fun Fun Fun Fest Saddles Up for a Sell Out
Like virtually every American music festival in 2009, last year's Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX was doused with relentless, mood-stomping rain. A quirky, communal vibe and high-octane headliners including Danzig and the Jesus Lizard made up for it, but organizers and fans rejoiced when the forecast for Nov. 5-7, 2010, the dates for this year's fifth annual Fun Fun Fun, called for cloudless skies and mid-70s temps--a lottery win for an independent festival hustling to stake a national profile. This blessed outcome, along with headliners including Weird Al Yankovic, MGMT, Bad Religion, Mastodon and a first-in-eight-years reunion of pop-punk pioneers the Descendents, helped the fest reach a 10,000-person sell-out on Saturday and near capacity on Sunday.
Not that there weren't hiccups--a week before this year's fest, Devo guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh seriously injured his hand, forcing the band to cancel a highly anticipated headlining slot on Sunday. But the last-minute Descendents deal, and the excitement it generated, saved what could have been a major setback for promoters Transmission Entertainment. And despite this year's unqualified success, construction at festival site Waterloo Park will force a venue change in 2011 that is still up in the air. According to Transmission co-owner James Moody, the first-choice venue is Austin's Auditorium Shores, which holds about 20,000 people, Fun Fun Fun's ultimate growth goal. "You just can't book a bunch of punk acts and get much bigger than that," he says. However, Auditorium Shores hosted the first Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival on Saturday, which could be a conflict in the future.
Still, organizers and fans were living in the moment, beginning with a kick-off night on Friday headlined by parody icon Weird Al Yankovic. There were some awkward but hilarious moments early on when indie-poppers the Apples in Stereo were soundchecking throughout comedian Todd Barry's set on the adjoining stage; Apples frontman Robert Schneider apologized a bit too late, and Barry told him "It's cool, I want you guys to sound good. That's why I took a six-hour flight to get here."
The Friday night fans could not have been more excited for Weird Al, a childhood hero to many and still an unstoppable force in musical humor. He opened with a medley that included his practically-wrote-itself Lady Gaga parody "Polka Face," which is set to appear on a full length album to be released next year. In an interview with Billboard.com before the show, Yankovic revealed that he has finished 11 of 12 planned songs for the record, which will also include the five tracks from 2009's "Internet Leaks" EP. With elaborate costume changes between songs and fake video interviews with stars including Eminem and Jessica Simpson, Yankovic played favorites including "Eat It," "Amish Paradise" and "Dare to be Stupid," along with newer hits like "CNR" and "White and Nerdy". During "Smells Like Nirvana," Yankovic extended his authenticity commitment to holding his guitar left handed, as the late Kurt Cobain did.
Saturday was a complete sell-out, with lines to get in filling the blocks around Waterloo Park by early afternoon. Proving that it's never too early for punk, Houston noise rockers Black Congress blew up the Black Stage at noon, followed by afternoon sets among the fest's four stages by Nashville psych-punks Jeff the Brotherhood, Wavves and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, among others. The Blue Stage, which could also have been called the Weed Stage during certain acts, hosted a somewhat stationary but well-received set by veteran rapper Slick Rick, as well as an explosive, booty-twirling party by New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia. Richmond thrash metal band Municipal Waste led pumped-up moshers in a "wall of death" and "circle pit," and recently reunited Detroit garage rockers the Gories riled up both long-time fans and some teenagers who hadn't blown off all their steam during Municipal Waste. Saturday's main attractions were Brooklyn psych-rock darlings MGMT and punk vets Bad Religion, as well as humorously competing sets from experimental rock band Dirty Projectors and costumed Richmond thrashers GWAR.
A sunny Sunday launched with Mother Falcon, Austin's 15-member, college-aged, classically trained pop orchestra, followed by feted acts including Indiana chamber pop band Margot & the Nuclear So and So's and Animal Collective founder Deakin. The afternoon's Black Stage standouts included Georgia metal stars Kylesa, who roared thanks to an endless energy supply and two exceptionally synchronized drummers. On the Blue Stage, rapper Jean Grae killed with ample audience interaction and tributes to heroes including Biz Markie, comedian David Cross, and the Muppets. As darkness fell early on the first night of Standard Time, the field in front of the Orange Stage filled for Brooklyn indie stalwarts the Hold Steady, whose frontman Craig Finn described seeing favorite band the Descendents in 1987 for what he thought was "the last time," and thanking Fun Fun Fun Fest for "making punk rock dreams come true". The Descendents' supercharged reunion set more than met expectations for ecstatic fans, while on the next stage, Atlanta metal band Mastodon drew their own frenzied crowd, despite some initial bizarre sound issues.